The Four Laws of Learning Applied to Basketball

The Four Laws of Learning Applied to Basketball

Shaquala Williams is an assistant women’s basketball coach at Seattle University and is “primarily in charge of the Redhawks’ skill development of guards and wings, scouting opponents, recruiting, and coordinating the team’s camps.” She was previously an assistant coach at Sacramento State University. Along with coaching, Shaquala played at Oregon University and also in the WNBA and overseas professionally. She is a bright up and coming coach with a good feel for the game.


Skill Development is a never-ending commitment to filling the gap between what a basketball player is and has the potential to be. Skill development is a learning process for players, and since good basketball coaches are teachers first, understanding the most effective ways to teach is a great way to get the most out of players and a good professional development tool.

Edward Thorndike, a psychologist who specialized in the learning process and how to learn best in educational settings, developed the “Laws of Learning.” These laws are fundamental principles of the learning process, proven to make learning more effective. Four of the “Laws of Learning” have great parallels to basketball coaching and are highly useful for a better understanding of the most effective ways to coach players.



1. The Law of Exercise = Quality Repetition

Practice does not make perfect, but meaningful practice and repetition lead to development and improvement. Meaningful practice means basketball players have a greater focus on proper technique, acceptance of feedback, and the desire to correct any errors or weaknesses. Quality repetitions help athletes retain information longer, so skills eventually become second nature.

Focus on the quality of repetitions, not quantity

2. Law of Readiness = Engagement and Investment

Just because a basketball player is present does not mean they are engaged. Individuals learn best when they are physically and mentally prepared to learn. Engaged players find value and purpose in what they are doing, which keeps them motivated.

Engagement made me think of a video from Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban, who compared investing time vs. spending time. When players are engaged, they are invested in their improvement. This creates ownership, and increased ownership creates greater engagement and investment.



3. Law of Primacy = Create Good Habits the First Time

Doing something the wrong way creates bad habits. Players retain the first thing they learn more readily, so teach it right the first time. Focus on details and correct technique. Early in executing basketball drills, players should be kept at a pace that allows emphasis on technique. Increase speed as basketball skills are mastered because doing something full speed incorrectly does not develop good habits or improvement.

Detail – Master the details
Speed – Perform full speed with correct technique
Contest – Perform vs. game-like conditions



4. Law of Intensity = GS3

The Law of Intensity states higher intensity material is more likely to be retained. A clear, vivid learning experience teaches more than the same boring routine or experience. Make basketball training visually game-like by using cones, garbage cans, or chairs. Push basketball players out of their comfort zone to grow; choose goals just beyond their present abilities, and make workouts game-like.

Game Shots
Game Spots
Game Speed


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6 Responses

  1. Great lessons in the article and video from Coach Saban. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great lesson not only for basketball coaches/players, but many athletic practice organizational needs and improvement endeavors! Great video! Thank you for this article!

  3. Well done
    A very true and effective approach
    I have been fortunate enough have been coaching and learning our game for over forty years
    This is great
    Your players are fortunate to have a coach who thinks about what they are doing and Why they are doing it
    I find monitor and evaluation to be of vital importance in order to be effective

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