It’s that time of year, fall sports are winding down and winter sports are gearing up again. Of these sports, basketball’s approach to pre-season preparation and in-season development/maintenance is a topic of much debate I’ve had for years. The ways basketball goes about a few topics leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth because it doesn’t benefit it’s athletes. In actuality it hurts them. Here are five things that the individuals, coaches, and programs involved in the sport of basketball could benefit from:
1.)Stop With The Mile Runs
During pre-season conditioning, it seems like long distance running is a staple amongst many programs across the country.The last time I checked, basketball isn’t cross country. While basketball players require endurance to play their respective sports, the type of endurance needed will not come from long distance running. Because of the inappropriate implementation of long distance running:
A.)The number of injuries in the first month or two related to shin splints, jumpers knee, stress fractures, and other tendinopathies are directly linked to inappropriate training methods, such as long distance running, during pre-season. It is inappropriate to expect basketball players to become a completely different type of athlete, let alone in such a short amount of time. When the basketball coach throws out high doses of long distance training to athletes, who are not prepared for them, nor have the proper footwear for them, the athletes will break down and the likelihood of injury increases dramatically.
B.) Training that caters only to slow twitch muscle fibers can diminish the explosive capabilities needed to play basketball. When basketball players rely on long distance running for endurance training they wind up training their slow-twitch muscle fibers over their much needed fast-twitch muscle fibers. Implementing long distance training is the quickest way to rob gains made previously during the off-season.
C.) Many programs that implement this methodology of endurance training come from 1 of 2 sources; 1.) A coach who believes their athlete needs to run miles because they did it when they played basketball or 2.) They found a program on the Internet, thus removing the need to come up with anything. Neither of these “programs” were designed specifically for the athletes in your program so the desired results won’t be obtained.
While there is nothing wrong with implementing endurance training, it can be both counterproductive and irresponsible when done incorrectly. When an athlete couldn’t run one, let alone two miles before conditioning started, they shouldn’t jump right into high dosages of endurance training. It certainly does not benefit any athlete when the mile runs are haphazardly thrown into a “strength and conditioning program”. Often there is no planning, programming, or objective reasoning as to why mile runs/excessive endurance training are implemented. The only reason that can be given by coaches who utilize this methodology is; to test athletes if they are ready for the season, punish those who are not ready, or to teach toughness. None of which help the development of an athlete.
Try this instead:
Create a Plan: If you know that your pre-season conditioning is going to be only 4-8 weeks long, plan accordingly. Create a program that gives them a stable foundation focusing on mobility, stability, and functional basketball movement based exercises.
Assess Your Athletes:A little assessment goes a long way. Take the time to test athletes capabilities, by assessing their mobility, strength, and endurance. There are plenty of ways to approach assessing an athlete. Ask the appropriate professional or Google can definitely be a resource in this department.
Implement Your Plan: After you have a plan and you’ve assessed your athletes, fully develop the program to the success of your athletes. Correct areas of weakness and implement functional basketball movements. Also, develop cardiovascular endurance by way of; circuit training or interval training. Taking both approaches and integrating them is a sure fire way to decrease injury and increase the performance of an athlete. If a program is rigid there is no room to create a program designed to fit the needs of your athletes. It is no longer a program or plan it is pre-season punishment.
2.)Stop Introducing Lifting During Pre-season Only To Never Lift Again
One of my biggest pet peeves that coaches are infamous for is the pre-season only lifting program. Coaches force their athletes to lift for 4-6 weeks before a season starts, only to stop lifting once the season begins. It is a poor practice to implement lifting only to take it away. There are no benefits to be had from it. The body does not have the capability to adapt to the new stress and make lasting physiological changes in such a short amount of time. In 4 weeks of resistance training, or lifting, there is no significant change to body composition, most strength gains that occur are primarily from neuromuscular adaptations, and there is only a slight increase of bone density. Simply put, as an entire system the body is just figuring out what to do with this new stress placed upon it. It takes up to 12 weeks to begin seeing long term changes to muscle mass, metabolic rates, bone mass, and chemical changes within the body. 4 weeks is not enough to benefit from then quit cold turkey.
Try this instead:
Lift Sooner, Longer, and Smarter: Depending on how much access you have to your athletes will depend on how you proceed with implementing a lifting program. Handing out a program when athletes leave school for the summer has been a system that has worked for a long time. However, it’s tough to know if athletes are doing the programs or doing them right. To remedy this, there are apps and computer software that coaches can check up on athletes from anywhere on the globe. Technology like that goes a long way in ensuring that athletes not only do their lifts, but can give feedback on if they are doing the lifts correctly. Once you are into pre-season, the program should be able to build from the off-season’s progress, minimizing the stress on the athletes bodies. From pre-season to in-season the program can develop into more of maintenance/injury prevention, preventing athletes from losing gains and staving off non-contact injuries.
Keep Going, Keep the Gains: Just because the season started doesn’t mean the lifting needs to stop. Modify the program for less days in the weightroom, less weight in the weight room, and tailor make it to fit around game schedules. Keeping a lifting program going during the season gives athletes the ability to keep the gains they made all season long. For a program that keeps athletes for 4 years it only makes sense. For example: If a freshman comes in and they squat 100 pounds, builds strength and goes into the season squatting 150 pounds, they should not be squatting 100 pounds as a sophomore going into the season squatting 150-175 pounds. This is usually the result of losing gains in season. Maintaining a consistent program year round, with the appropriate peaks, valleys, and breaks in it, is the easiest way to develop players through a program.
3.) Stop Treating Female Basketball Players Differently
Basketball players are the same regardless of gender. They are all susceptible to ankle and knee injuries, they all need functional basketball training programs, and they all need to learn the same basic basketball skills. Yet, for some reason you have highschool seniors ,and worse yet, college freshman who have no concept of weight training, proper landing mechanics, no exposure to sports performance training, or even basic basketball principles. How does that happen? A perfect example of such looks like this: (Pay attention to her left knee, your right)
Details like this can be the difference between a career ending/career limiting surgery, or fixing the problem and elevating someone’s game to another level. However, because female basketball players do not get the same form of treatment, movement patterns like this aren’t addressed as often as they should be.
Second to poor movement patterns developed from lack of/inappropriate training, fundamentals are also lacking. To be specific, it’s odd to me that once a girl reaches 5’10 they automatically become a post player. Now that they are a post player these athletes aren’t taught how to dribble or shoot to their full potential. In women’s basketball these are the types of girls that can be either a guard or a post depending on where they intend to play. When they move to a higher level they might be short for their position or average height which won’t allow for them to be successful in certain situations. If they were capable of dribbling or developed a mid-range jump shot it wouldn’t matter because they could create mismatches in other scenarios. It’s doing female basketball players a huge disservice that these girls don’t learn the skills they need to succeed. Female athletes wind up being very limited in their skill sets when having a multi-faceted player would make them more recruitable.
Try this instead:
Introduce Sports Performance to Female Athletes: A little sports performance goes a long way. The right sports performance will go even further. Teach female athletes:
1.)Landing mechanics– It’s amazing how something as little as coaching proper landing mechanics can benefit an athlete. Learning to land is a great asset to have in the prevention of non-contact ACL injuries. The exact injury that female athletes are highly susceptible to. It’s also a great learning tool to get the most out of an athletes vertical jump.
2.)Decceleration drills– Just like a female athlete needs to learn to land, they also need to learn to stop in multiple planes. Coming from a dead sprint to stopping on a dime is the difference between a successful pull-up jump shot, crossover, stopping a defender after a close-out, or getting shut down on offense, embarrassed on defense, or having a knee or ankle injury.
3.)Core strength– Upright functional core strength is a must for basketball players , especially female athletes. Implementing more movements based in upright function can help the performance of female basketball players tremendously. Substitute some traditional core exercises with these types of exercises.
These are just a few examples of getting your core to work for you in upright function. Teach female athletes to minimize the “pretty” ab exercises and get more involved with functional core exercises.
Learn About the Weight Room– There is no reason for college level athletes to have no concept of lifting or sports performance training. Yet, all too often female basketball players still have this misconception that if they lift too much they will become “manly” or get bulky. The fact that this is a concern amongst athletes is mind bongling. Having muscle doesn’t make someone manly and second of all building muscle and getting stronger go hand in hand. So if getting stronger isn’t on female athletes radars being the best athlete possible isn’t either. Dispelling silly myths about the weightroom early on for female athletes will help them understand that getting better in basketball is all encompassing, from the basketball side with film, skill sessions, and practice to the performance side of sports performance training and the weightroom.
4.) Stop Training Bad Habits, Start Teaching
When you watch videos of “skill sessions” or training videos there is one thing they have in common. Each video shows a coach teaching various basketball moves. Which is great, but there is there is no talk about how, why, and when to use these moves. Basketball theory is completely ignored so understanding the game of basketball is non-existent. Yes, it is appropriate to teach basketball players an in and out or a crossover. However, it does the athlete no good if they don’t understand how to create space, situations, or basic basketball. Many times the education for basketball can come from simple labeling. Instead of saying it’s a drill label it a warm-up, instead of a skill session label it a workout. To often drills are taught that they are teaching skills when reality they are not. A prime example are drills like this:
(Fast forward to the 4:30ish mark)
No one needs to make 85 moves, especially with your back to the basket, then finish. It’s drills like these that make selfish basketball players or basketball players who have no concept of how to actually attack the basket, create space, or even see the floor. Drills are all well and good, but there always needs to be a purpose in getting these athletes better. It’s a waste of time and in some cases money when athletes aren’t being taught basketball but drills that are hard or look cool.
Try This Instead:
Plan Productive Skill Sessions: First and foremost, plan the skill session you intend to have. What are the goals for the day, how do you intend to reach them, and how are they being measured. If simple things like that aren’t addressed or kept track of it’s hard to prove development.
Implement Defensive Skill Sessions Into the Mix: This is something I have always found odd, where are the defensive skill sessions? Why aren’t athletes being taught to play defense outside of practice? Implement a skill session that has both an offensive and a defensive side to it. Teach athletes how to defend as much as score. Having defense built into skill sessions creates well-rounded basketball players.
Try Two-person Skill Sessions: These are skill sessions I feel are often neglected. Guards and posts need to learn to play together and guards and guards as well. Implementing skill sessions like this teaches; chemistry, the ability to move without the ball, and how to be a better passer. All of these skills get neglected when skill sessions are limited to one-on-one with a coach.
5.) Stop Making Excuses, Start Making Adults
Basketball season runs from fall semester to spring semester. This can often lead to a loss of a pivotal player mid season due to poor grades. If this were a normal student they would have to take their poor grade and live with it. However, in certain cases involving basketball players, coaches go out of their way to speak with teachers or professors to see what their athletes can do to get their grades changed or worse just seeing if the grade can be changed without any work involved. What is this teaching these athletes? I know for one thing, it’s not teaching accountability. Athletes become adults who are supposed to be able to contribute to society. When they aren’t held accountable for their actions because winning a game is more important, the athlete is the one that suffers. Student-athletes are supposed to be students first. Their main goal should getting an education, a highschool diploma, and ultimately a bachelor’s degree at the minimum. For some reason that’s not the case.
Try this instead:
Implement preventative measures: So athletes don’t wind up failing because of apathy to the classroom or issues with learning, prevent it. This can be accomplished a number of ways.
1.)Establish rules/standards-From day one if parents and athletes are aware of the standards you set forth as a coach it’s a part of the culture. Everyone who is a part of the program will be aware of what is necessary to make the program successful.
2.)Study Tables-I have been a part of study tables as an athlete and it’s pretty easy to fly under the radar and not actually do work. To prevent study tables from being a waste of time. Give the athletes an agenda of what to do, actually check what they have to do, and make sure that they made progress on it. If they have a test make sure they are making note cards. If they have homework make sure there was progress made on it. These are just a few ways to make sure that they are actually being productive.
3.)Progress Reports- A simple answer to making sure athletes don’t fall through the cracks is actively keeping tabs on them. By finding out if their grades are falling short before the semester is over, there can be an intervention. This way the athlete can work to get their grade where they need it to be, instead of having strings pulled for them. If the athlete has issues with understanding the materials, finding a tutor to help becomes an option.
4.)Attendance policies- In college, most of the time if you go to class and take notes you’ll do just fine. Athletes wind up doing poorly sometimes due to poor attendance. To rectify attendance problems, implement a mandatory attendance policy. There is really no reason to miss class, barring illness or death. So why not make attendance mandatory? Everyone that has a job has to go to work everyday and if they don’t there are consequences. The same should apply to students.
Accept the Consequences: If an athlete fails classes and they aren’t eligible, that should be it. They should have to accept that they didn’t do what they needed to do to succeed. If a coach is to intervene to facilitate getting extra work done so the ahlete doesn’t receive a failing grade, they should not allow the athlete to participate still. This way if your rationale is getting them eligible so that the athletes GPA doesn’t have to suffer they still have not met the standards you have set forth as a coach. I know plenty of parents, athletes, and coaches who wouldn’t agree with this mentality. However, by establishing standards and sticking to the consequences that come with not upholding the standards set forth, the athletes will benefit tremendously from it. They will learn a level of responsibility and accountability they would never earn from getting grades adjusted for them.
If basketball chose to do these 5 things it would be for the betterment of its athletes. What’s also nice is that each of these 5 things can be implemented into any program without any major overhauls. Basketball is such a great sport, so seeing basketball players not reach their full potential as athletes and young women and men is a problem. So basketball, please stop doing those 5 things.
Audric R. Warren