Leadership and the Two Handed Set Shot

I’m a tall person and from my earliest years was drafted into the world of basketball. I had a fair amount of success on the court ranging from high school and college teams to various tournaments and Men’s leagues. I’ve coached at the HS level and when my children were born, I was privileged to coach their tyro teams and as they got older, their AAU clubs.

When kids are young and shooting basketballs in their driveways they have to generate a lot of motion and energy to get the ball up to the hoop which is 10 feet high. After all, they’re little, and that’s pretty far up. They grip the ball with two hands and heave it over and over again, until it starts to rattle in to the basket. After lot’s of this kind of practice they get pretty good at shooting this way. It serves them well when they are playing alone or just shooting around for fun.

old time set shot.0

Then comes the day they want to take themselves to the next level. They want to play the game of basketball. They want to play on a team competitively. It’s here that they run into a coach like me. One of the first things I try to do with these young players is to teach them to shoot more effectively. I let them know that the two handed set shot that they have perfected is not going to serve them as they move up the ladder in the basketball world. It’s too easy for a defender to block the shot. It takes too much time to shoot it. Watch any high school, college or pro game and  you will see is the one handed jumper, not the two handed set shot that rules the game.


So, I take the time to teach them and have them practice this new and more effective method of shooting. For them it feels clumsy and all wrong. They clank shot after shot off the backboard. They can’t seem to get it near the basket. They get discouraged. When I look out of the corner of my eye (when they think I’m not paying attention), I can see them shooting their two handed set shots and swishing them in. It feels good to them. It has brought them success to this point.  I know what their thinking,  “If I can make the shot with two hands, why change?”

Some of them get the message that they need to learn and master this new way of doing things, others don’t. Some work through the discomfort of abandoning something familiar and practice the new and uncomfortable way of doing it. Over time it becomes embedded in their muscle memory. It becomes their new normal. They are prepared to compete at higher level than ever were before. Their commitment and practice pays off.

Others, for whatever reason, stick with the old and familiar ways and are not successful at the more competitive levels and, in time, drop off the team and leave basketball completely.

I believe there is a lesson here for leaders.

Most of us are self-taught. We use what we know and what talents we have to succeed. One day we are promoted, or we run into an difficult individual, dysfunctional organization, or a challenge that requires us to move to a new level. We need to up our game. We need new competencies to succeed. For some of us, it’s just too uncomfortable to change our old behaviors. We like our two handed set shot. The first few times we try some new leadership behaviors they flop, like the kids’ first one handed shots clanking off the backboard. We may decide that the problems aren’t with us, it’s with the folks who are giving us the problems. Their the ones that need to change.

A few of us, stick with it, realizing that the challenges that vex us are calls for us to abandon the behaviors that are not serving us anymore and to learn and practice new behaviors that will allow us to succeed as the game gets more competitive. We may find a leadership coach to help us perfect our ‘one hander’. We may find a friend who can support us as we deal with the discomfort of mastering something new. It can be daunting at times; but one day we find ourselves leading effectively and the one handed shots are raining in from all over the court.

So, are you going to keep shooting the two hander, or move on?


8 thoughts on “Leadership and the Two Handed Set Shot

  1. So how does one exit the game gracefully and become a “leadership coach” if the competencies constantly change?

  2. Dan,
    I like your question. The best answer I can give is that you have to keep on learning. While there are certain basics that are universal, in order to be of greatest service, you must be in training as a leader all the time.

    Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, were two of the best players of all time; but they kept coming to the basketball court early to keep sharp and keep improving. They never stopped honing their skills.


  3. Pee,

    I think I need to remediate my game. I need to leave the game and practice so to speak. The technology is too quick for me – not too hard. It’s still a stranger and I need to get to know it better. Immersing myself in this class was helpful, but I recognize huge gaps and need to address those before proceeding.

    Your basketball example resonates with me, but I finally learned the one handed shot in my teens and I will learn technology in my _______ rather not say.


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