The ultimate resource for applying evidence-based ideas in basketball

Gain access to 10+ free CLA activities for your next practice Get Access

The ultimate resource for applying evidence-based ideas in basketball


As part of our mission to transform the basketball world, access our free resources to learn more about contemporary skill acquisition ideas.

Transforming 101

Discovering Transforming for the first time?
We have compiled some go-to resources on this page to help understand how the ideas we share can be brought to life at all levels of basketball

We receive multiple enquiries every week from coaches and other practitioners within the basketball world asking how they can start exploring the ideas we share. An evidence-informed approach means adopting concepts that are been supported by studies and research. These ideas can be integrated into any organisational role within basketball. Transforming Basketball exists to share the what, why, and how behind these ideas.

A lot of the ideas we share are centred around an ecological dynamics framework. An ecological approach may impact how we coach, deliver video sessions, conduct a scout report, design a rehab program for a player recovering from injury, deliver athletic performance tasks and even how we design entire offensive and defensive defense principles of play!

Ecological dynamics is a theoretical framework aimed at studying the behaviors that emerge between neurological systems (extending to human beings and basketball players) and their environment. It comprises of ideas from dynamical systems theory and ecological psychology. Dynamical systems addresses the emergent coordination patterns we see in on the court. Ecological psychology on the other hand explains how players pick up information on the court to regulate those behavioral patterns.

The constraints led approach (CLA) is coaching methodology that is underpinned by ecological dynamics. By taking into account three categories of constraints (task, environment and individual), basketball practitioners can analyze emergent behavior and then manipulate variables to invite new behaviors to emerge. The CLA can be used to make sense of basketball performance by looking at how movements emerge to satisfy the interaction of constraints.

Constraints are boundaries which shape how movement behaviours emerge. Constraints are placed into three categories (Karl Newell’s Constraints Model, 1986): task, environment and organism. Task constraints are readily available for manipulation with examples such as rules of the game, coach instructions, or equipment. Environmental constraints are more global in nature and include crowd noise, surfaces, lighting as well as sociocultural values and beliefs. Individual (aka organismic) constraints refer to an individuals personal characteristics like their height, cognitions and physical capabilities. Constraints are omnipresent and always shaping what actions occur.

Opportunities for action embedded in the environment. These properties are individually scaled and time dependent. A teammate is only open so long and capable of receiving a pass before an opponent recovers and take away that opportunity, while simultaneously, the passer must be capable of throwing to and perceiving that opening in order to exploit it.

Intention is how a player(s) directs their attention to explore and perceive relevant information for their actions. In other words, the HOW of human behaviour. Attention is the information players detect and exploit when intending to act. Essentially, WHAT players are focusing on while moving.

The level at which the information in a practice activity is representative of the performance environment. Questions to ask may include: Does this look, sound, and feel like a basketball game?

Small sided games (SSG) are modified games played often in a reduced space, with smaller number of players and with specific rules. Different SSG formats (e.g. 1-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-on-2 etc) allow for the principles of representative learning design to be adhered to by creating small slices of the game in practice. While SSG’s form a key part of the CLA, they are not the CLA in their own right (see “what is the difference between a games approach and the CLA”).

Differential learning (DL) is a coaching methodology proposed by Wolfgang Schollhorn. DL is based on the notion that through exploring a wide variety of solutions for a particular task (different stances, ball sizes, etc.), the individual will sort out what elements of the solutions space are critical and what elements can vary. Stochastic resonance is a key theory underpinning DL.

Your theory is the foundation of upon which all your actions are built upon. We all have one, whether you are aware of it or not! We act towards a particular goal that is based on the idea that it will be effective. Having an awareness of your theoretical underpinnings and grounding them in sound theoretical principles is a great way to ensure your players can benefit from evidence- informed ideas.

No (technically elements of differential learning can be completed on-air). Instead we want players to make the most of the limited time they have available to practice. If they have access to other people who can serve as real defenders and teammates, they should take advantage of that. Practicing by oneself, especially when other players are not readily available, can add to any individuals’ creativity and exploration of the game.

Though both approaches use small-sided games to facilitate skilful behaviour, utilising a CLA involves intentionally manipulating constraints to afford new movement behaviours. In a games approach, activities have rules but they aren’t necessarily trying to invite particular behaviours. This may result in a somewhat vague and generic developmental approach. In the CLA, constraints for the activity/game are softly assembled around a particular intention and adapted based on the behaviours that emerge.

Beginners are treated the same as any other individual: we want them to spend time in representative learning environments. The difference lies in the level of complexity they face. Instead of taking away key elements such as defense, teammates, or other critical variables, coaches can decrease the complexity beginners are encountering in the task to match their current skill level. This is a concept known as task simplification, which can be achieved by scaling equipment, increasing or decreasing space, number of opponents, constraining the defense etc.

They’re not inherently ‘bad’. They don’t have cruel intentions. However, they can have cruel consequences as many of these activities are not designed to cultivate the skills they intend to. These traditional drills miss critical aspects of the environment (e.g., defenders, consequences, teammates, time and spatial elements, etc.) which shape how skills emerges in competition.

Using Constraints

Constraints are often seen merely as limiting factors. This is simply not the case. As suggested by Keith Davids, constraints are “boundaries where players can explore and search for movement solutions afforded to each individual within a perceptual-motor workspace.” 

Task constraints are most readily scaled by coaches, and therefore, we have provided some of our favourite examples at Transforming Basketball. These can be applied to any small-sided game (SSG). As with all the content we share, please be sure to thank the passer and credit Transforming Basketball if these are shared on social media. 


Floor is Lava

Players must escape the imaginary lava (the area inside the 3PT line) by spacing back to the perimeter or the weakside dunker after every pass or cut. A turnover is called if players catch the ball inside the lava or do not get back out to space within two seconds of a cut or pass. This applies to half-court and transition activities.



An imaginary wall can be used to shrink the space within any small-sided game. This can be made more representative by using extra players/ coaches to stand on the wall and act as extra stunt defenders. The wall can be fixed or change in shape and size across every repetition. This avoids small-sided games with fewer players taking space in the whole half-court area, which is not realistic.


Variable Clock

A variable shot clock can be used for any activity, with players not knowing the available time until the coach starts counting out when the repetition starts. This is usually anywhere from 3 to 15 seconds. This impacts the movement solutions that subsequently emerge. For teams practicing with a shot clock, a random figure can be used each time. 


Three Lives

Players have ‘three lives’ within any small-sided game or scrimmage. Teams win by getting to the most points first, or if the other team loses all three lives. Lives can be lost according to whatever principle of play the coach wants to emphasise. E.g., a life is lost each time a defensive coverage is not called out in a leadership voice. 


One Opportunity

Offensive players have one opportunity to create an advantage out of any trigger. If no advantage is created, the repetition immediately stops and a turnover is called. This incentivizes the defense to execute one great defensive coverage, while the offense attunes to affordances to start dominoes (coverage solutions). 



Another concept invented by Alex Sarama to increase time-on-task. Instead of traditional rotations within drills, players stay in the same roles (e.g. offense/ defense) for a series of repetitions, or even better, across a fixed time period. New teams may then rotate in to play against them. This creates a high amount of repetition without repetition. 


No Score, No Basket

Rather than the coaches keeping score for the players, a culture must be created where the players keep score themselves in every practice task. This is done by the players calling out the score after every point(s) is earned. If no new score is communicated, the basket does not count and the players must continue playing on their old score. 


Golden Snitch

If the coach desires to make one affordance particularly enticing, the golden snitch scoring system can be used. If the golden snitch is caught, the game is automatically won without needing to reach the required points threshold. This means a team could be losing, but if they catch the snitch, they immediately win. One of countless examples may involve awarding the golden snitch for a reject in a pick and roll.


Gold and Silver Medals Only

Gold medals are the most efficient shots in basketball: fouls and finishes inside the smile (restricted area). Silver medals are catch and shoot threes from any location (corner is preferred). Players must explore alternative movement solutions to seek out the most efficient shots. Bronze medals (off dribble threes and paint twos) may be taken by certain players or in the last 8 seconds of the clock. 



One of the most popular Transforming constraints used by coaches all over the world! This is particularly useful for developing conceptual offensive and defensive principles. The choice of trigger may be constrained (e.g. gets), with the offense required to score running a get in four different ‘strike’ locations to win the game. The defensive coverages may also be constrained. 


Basketball Fortnite

Another popular constraint, Fortnite scoring encourages players to explore different ways to create an advantage out of different triggers. This places an emphasis on coherent coverage solutions. Fortnite scoring involves a team winning by scoring off the assigned coverage solutions. For example, to win an activity the team needs to score off one reject, one slip, one ghost screen and one advance pass.


The Joker

One player has a surprise constraint which can be used in different ways, subject to the constraints used. For instance in a 3-on-3 task, the Joker may earn one bonus point for their team off every screen or pass assist. Alternatively, the Joker could be used to play as either offense or defense to create a 3-on-4 or 4-on-3. This creates unpredictability for both teams as they do not know which side the Joker will play on.

Research Papers

Access the research papers below to read about the theoretical framework behind the ideas we share...

Take your Learning to the Next Level

Step One

Listen to all the podcasts our founder, Alex Sarama, has appeared on.

Step Two

Watch an all access team practice to see how the ideas on this page are brought to life.

Step Three

Read about the potential for applying evidence-based ideas in basketball.

Step Four

Check out these extra resources from leading individuals and organisations within the skill acquisition community.

Federations we have worked with