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by Jean Makesh

Jean MakeshTo initiate and to continue learn, a child must have seven essential building blocks. The seven essential building blocks are gross motor skills, fine motor skills, visual skills, language skills, listening skills, reasoning skills and social-emotional skills.

In order for a child to learn the basic and advanced skills of basketball, it is extremely vital that all the seven building blocks are developed and strengthened throughout the course of training. If any of the seven essential building blocks are compromised, it would hinder learning of a new skill or may even obstruct the desire to repeat and practice. Strengthening the seven essential building blocks is a lifelong necessity.

In order to evolve and mature to different demands of the game, one must continue to be flexible to learn and endure. Developing endurance and mastery to a skill or specific sets of skills will certainly be compromised to a certain degree if any of the seven essential building blocks are hampered.

Movement is a critical part to play basketball.  Movement skills can be acquired through practice or sometimes through mere observation. Initially, learning a movement or any type of motor skill is often slow, stiff, discouraging and can be difficult even with pencil sharp focus. However, with frequent practice and repetition, execution of a motor skill becomes smoother and without a conscious effort. 

According to T. Brashers-Krug, R. Shadmehr and E. Bizzi, the neuroanatomy of the brain is widespread throughout the brain. P. Atwell, S. Cooke and C. Yeo theorize that motor memory have two stages: a short-term memory encoding stage, which is fragile and susceptible to damage, and a long-term memory-consolidation stage, which is more stable. The memory encoding stage is often referred to as motor learning and requires an increase in brain activity in motor areas as well as an increase in attention.

Muscle memory consolidation involves the continuous evolution of neural processes after practicing a task has stopped. The exact mechanism of motor memory consolidation within the brain is controversial. However, most theories assume that there is a general redistribution of information across the brain from encoding to consolidation. Hebb’s rule states that "synaptic connectivity changes as a function of repetitive firing." In this case, that would mean that the high amount of stimulation coming from practicing a movement would cause the repetition of firing in certain motor networks, presumably leading to an increase in the efficiency of exciting these motor networks over time.

When participating in any sport, new motor skills and movement combinations are frequently being used and repeated. All sports require some degree of strength, endurance training, and skilled reaching in order to be successful in the required tasks. Muscle memory related to strength training probably involves elements of both motor learning, and long-lasting changes in the muscle tissue.

Evidence has shown that increases in strength occur well before muscle hypertrophy and decreases in strength due to detraining or ceasing to repeat the exercise over an extended period of time precede muscle atrophy (Adkins, DeAnna L.; Boychuck, Jeffery (2006)).  To be specific, strength training enhances motor neuron excitability and induces synaptogenesis both of which would help in enhancing communication between the nervous system and the muscles themselves (Adkins, DeAnna L.; Boychuck, Jeffery (2006).).

Skilled motor tasks have been divided into two distinct phases: a fast-learning phase, in which an optimal plan for performance is established, and a slow-learning phase, in which longer-term structural modifications are made on specific motor modules (Karni, Avi, Meyer, Gundela. 1998).  Even a small amount of training may be enough to induce neural processes that continue to evolve even after the training has stopped, which provides a potential basis for consolidation of the task.

Whether strength or endurance related, it is plausible that the majority of motor movements would require a skilled moving task of some form, whether it be maintaining proper form when dribbling the ball, or shooting the ball. Endurance (long lasting) training assists the formation of these new neural representations within the motor cortex by up regulating neurotropic factors that could enhance the survival of the newer neural maps formed due to the skilled movement training (Adkins, DeAnna L.; Boychuck, Jeffery (2006)).
The way in which a child learns a gross motor skill can impact how long it takes to consolidate it and be able to reproduce the movement. In a study with preschoolers, looking at the role of self-instruction on acquiring complex gross motor chains using ballet positions, it was found that the motor skills were better learned and remembered with the self-instruction procedure over the no-self-instruction procedure. The use of self-instruction will increase the speed with which a preschooler will learn and remember a gross motor skill. It was also found that, once the preschoolers learned and mastered the motor chain movements, they ceased the use of self-instruction. This suggests that the memory for the movements became strong enough that there was no longer a need for self-instruction and the movements could be reproduced (Vintere, P.; Hemmes, N. S.; Brown, B. L.; Poulson, C. L. (2004).).

The brain does not function as a hard wired computer. Learning processes can alter the pattern of impulse transmission within the brain. Motor imagery is a mental process by which an individual rehearses or simulates a given action. It is a mental practice of action. This type of phenomenal experience implies that the subject feels herself/himself performing the action. Mental practice refers to use of visual-motor imagery with the purpose of improving motor behavior. Visual-motor imagery requires the use of one’s imagination simulate an action. It has come to the forefront due to the relevance of imagery in enhancing sports performance. Motor imagery is an accepted procedure in the preparation of athletes. Such practice usually covers a warming up period, relaxation and concentration, and then mental simulation of the specific movement (Suinn, R.M. (1984).

Dribbling or shooting the basketball can be mentally rehearsed frequently to learn, memorize register and master the skill. Motor imagery could be an attractive practice option, easy to learn and to apply without physical exhaustion or harming self.

Therefore, a skill or set of skills for a basketball game or any game can be learned by recognizing the need to strength the seven essential building blocks and by incorporating both muscle memory and motor imagery in one’s training and routine.