Monkey See, Monkey Do: Why it's Important to Watch Great Basketball

Humans are visual creatures. 30% of our brain is devoted to absorbing and processing visual stimuli (as opposed to 8% to touch and 3% for hearing). We learn better by seeing. Hence the phrase, monkey see, monkey do. 

If we watch something intensely, we learn it much faster than if we hear an explanation of how to do it. So let’s apply this to basketball. Watching Kobe shoot a pull up jumper is going to teach you a lot more than hearing someone explaining where to place your feet, how to grip the ball, how to turn your body etc. But it’s more than just watching superstars make great moves. 

Watching great basketball players is like going to basketball school. If you watch closely enough, you can pick up little nuances everywhere (this is why I started my film room series)

For example:

  • Subtle body positioning on finishes at the rim.
  • Intelligently timed cuts to get to open space. 
  • How defenders can use their hands without getting called for fouls. 
  • When screeners should set a hard screen and when they should slip it.
  • How point guards use their eyes to manipulate the defense (Click here for a detailed article about how Chris Paul terrorizes defenses using his vision).
  • Timing on when to go for strip steals.
  • When to push the ball in transition and when to pull the ball back out and run a set.
  • How big guys use leverage to gain post position.
  • The differences between triple threat footwork going left vs right.
  • How to draw contact and get to the free throw line.
  • Waiting to use an off ball screen until the passer is ready.

The more you watch great basketball, the more tips you’ll pick up. But it takes concentration. 

In Daniel Coyle's great book, “The Little Book of Talent” he uses the phrase “stare at who you want to become.” When he says “stare” he doesn’t mean have a game on TV in the background while you’re on twitter on your phone. “Staring” means being completely absorbed in what you’re looking at.

So during the playoffs this year, take advantage of the opportunity to watch some great basketball. Pick a game and just watch it. Nothing else going on, no distractions. 

Utilize your brain’s natural preference for visual stimuli to your advantage. Leverage all 30% of the brain’s capacity that's dedicated toward analyzing what you’re looking at. If you stare hard enough, you’ll be surprised what you can learn. And learning it is the first step to being able to do it. Monkey see, monkey do.