Jiu-Jitsu Letter

Sometimes Wrong Works

Precision especially matters early on, because the first reps establish the pathways for the future. Neurologists call this the “sled on a snowy hill” phenomenon. The first repetitions are like the first sled tracks on fresh snow: On subsequent tries, your sled will tend to follow those grooves. “Our brains are good at building connections,” says Dr. George Bartzokis, a neurologist at UCLA. “They’re not so good at unbuilding them.”

That’s from Daniel Coyle’s The Little Book of Talent.1

I often stress that we need to learn to do things correctly, or else we just become good at doing things the wrong way. I’d mentioned this in a previous post, but as usual, there are always exceptions.

For whatever reason this week, I was thinking about Steve Nash, and that led to me remembering an old story about him and his “wrong foot” layups.2 The story is from a book called The Art of a Beautiful Game: The Thinking Fan’s Tour of the NBA:

What is initially a weakness will later become a strength (and this is to become something of a theme in Nash’s basketball career). Watch Nash now, playing the NBA, and you’ll notice he still rarely goes off his left foot for a right-handed layup. Rather than hindering him, however, this actually makes him more difficult to guard, as defenders can neither anticipate nor time his unconventional moves, which include floaters and scoops and all manner of flip shots that appear to have been concocted in a particularly crazy game of H-O-R-S-E. Similarly, because Nash doesn’t focus on elevating to the rim, he is able to better protect the ball. “A lot of times I try to jump that way”—and her Nash points on a horizontal plane—“rather than up.”

When teaching, major errors get a correction, but I’ve become a lot more tolerant with how the students apply their techniques. Rather than nitpick, I mostly make sure it’s being done efficiently.

There is a “best” way, but somtimes doing something the “wrong” way can become an advantage.

  1. This was his follow-up to The Talent Code, which I recommend to my students and friends often. ↩︎

  2. Generally, players shooting right handed layups would jump off their left foot, and vice versa. It feels awkward going right foot-right hand or left foot-left hand. But over the years, following the success of Nash and others, we’re seeing the goofy foot finishes a lot more often from a lot more players. ↩︎

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