Where has our Basketball Off Season Gone?

With the high school, middle school, and travel/recreational basketball seasons coming to an end, I inevitably have been receiving my usual barrage of emails and questions about my knowledge of an AAU basketball team that their son or daughter can play on this spring or summer.  These inquiries beg the question, where has our basketball off season gone?  In the high priced world of college scholarships and basketball, two words come to mind: competition and exposure, which according to the masses can only be achieved through game play.  The notion of more game play leading to better competition and more exposure to colleges seems to makes sense, but in reality game play is not the answer.  In fact, a case can be made that this model is diminishing an already short off season, and ultimately destroying the development of youth basketball players in America.

Game play at the expense of an off season is not the answer to your development as a basketball player.  There are reasons that college and professional basketball players have off seasons.  During that time, they can let their bodies heal from the rigors of their season and then evaluate their performance that season, determine their weaknesses, and develop an off-season training program that combines basketball skill development and basketball specific sports performance training in order to fix their weaknesses and become a better basketball player.  Nowadays, in the United States, our high school and in most cases youth basketball players do not have an off season thanks to the growth in popularity of AAU basketball.  AAU has made game play the focus of our players “off season” and they no longer have the time to rest and recover from a long high school season and develop their game according to a self evaluation of their weaknesses.  I make the point at all of my basketball skill development workouts of telling my players that pros get paid millions of dollars for a reason and that if they are doing something on the court that works well, then we, as amateurs, should probably be doing the same thing. For example, no one wants to have a jump shot like “little Johnny down the block” but I can bet that everyone wants to shoot like Kevin Durant.  If that is the case, then why the hell do most of our youth basketball players’ jump shots look like little Johnny’s and not Kevin Durant’s?  The answer is quite simple, not enough players are watching and mimicking the jump shots of great NBA players like Durant.  The same logic can be applied to the “off season” scenario.  If pros are deserving of an off season and college players are deserving of an off season, then our high school and youth players are also deserving of an off season.  This, however, is not the case and the off season for our youth basketball players no longer exists thanks to AAU basketball, posing a major problem for these players on two fronts: overuse injuries and lack of time to develop their game.

First and foremost young basketball players are still developing physically and need the time to do so.  I laugh every time a parent asks me if it is safe for their son or daughter to strength train, but will have no qualms with having them play three games of basketball on a Saturday and five to six over the course of two days.  This amount of game play over two days is excessive and does more harm than good to a young, developing athlete’s body than a well designed and well supervised sports performance training program.  Nonetheless, this overuse of the body in the wrong way is ignored each and every weekend in the spring and summer as players are carted off to basketball tournaments around the country to play an inordinate amount of games.  The pattern of excessive game play ultimately leads to injuries from overuse at way too young of an age.  Fact is, the body needs time to rest and through rest comes proper development.  The “one tournament per weekend” model ignores this fact and does more harm than good to a young basketball player creating injuries that could ruin that player’s career.

Beyond overuse injuries caused from excessive game play, basketball players fail to develop their weaknesses in the off season because they don’t have time to properly train, but rather focus on team practices and…you guessed it, more game play. Off season development is the basis for the success of college and professional basketball players.  Look no further than Lebron James.  Lebron has been criticized repeatedly throughout his career for his jump shot being a weakness in his game.  Guess what he has been working on the past few off seasons, his jump shot.  As a result, it is much improved and no longer his glaring weakness.  As a matter of fact, Lebron currently has his highest field goal percentage of his career this season at 58% from the floor.  This type of improvement does not come by accident.  It comes through hard work, hard work that takes place in the off season, something high school and youth basketball players no longer have.  The off season needs to be devoted to developing as a player.  The primary focus of this development should be on basketball skills then developing your athleticism, and then finally game play, not the other way around.  No one should be evaluating their game after their high school season, finding their weaknesses, and then going out and playing their way through them.  That is not a remedy for success but rather a system for failure.

Why don’t today’s basketball players have an off season?  Because most parents and coaches are convinced that AAU and game play is the be all, end all to competition and exposure and it is not.  In fact, too many games makes players numb to competition and winning and losing is no big deal since there will be another game in an hour or so.  Further more, as my friend Dewey Ferguson likes to say, AAU does not get you exposure, it gets you exposed.  Why?  Players fail to develop their game any more because they do not have the time to do so.  Consequently, their skills are stagnant and when they get on the court against better competition these weaknesses become exposed and you can kiss your exposure good bye.  Finally, the most important detriment excessive game play brings to the table is that it causes overuse injuries.  Youth athletes no longer have the time to rest their bodies and develop physically through sports performance training.  They simply have no off season anymore and as a result this current model is hurting the game of basketball as a whole.  If an off season is an essential part to the games of players who get paid millions to play basketball, shouldn’t it be an essential part for those who want to follow in their foot steps?


How do you feel about game play being the be all end all to a player’s off season?  Let me know in the comments section below.



Don’t Set Your DVR’s Just Yet.

I know that I usually devote my posts to basketball training and the lesson learned from this post is an important one and can be applied to basketball skill development and sports performance training.  So I am hoping that through my experience, I will be able to help the entire Elite Basketball Training community.  As many of you know, I have been bitten by the CrossFit bug and have made it a mandatory part of my daily schedule.  I absolutely love the intensity of the training, the camaraderie of the group classes, and the sense of accomplishment I feel after every workout. Beyond that, at the age of 36 I have gotten myself into the best shape of my life, feeling like I am in my low 20’s again.  What many of you might not know, is that the CrossFit Open began last week and I decided to throw my hat in the ring to see where I stand among the world’s fittest athletes.   The Open is the first stage of the CrossFit games, a worldwide competition to decide the fittest man and woman on Earth,  the culmination of which is showcased in the summer on ESPN.  If you have not seen this on tv yet I encourage you to check it out and I promise, you will not be able to pull your eyes away from it.  However, don’t tune in or set your dvr expecting to see me there…at least not yet.

Last week’s opening round WOD (workout of the day) 14.1 was a repeat of a WOD done three years ago and let’s just say it was quite a challenge.  In 10 minutes you had to complete as many reps/rounds as possible of 30 double unders and 15 power snatches at 75 pounds.   This particular WOD can get pretty technical with the double unders and the snatch being two of the more skill laden exercises in CrossFit but beyond that it is also a major challenge to the cardiovascular system. I have decided that I would do each WOD twice throughout the competition giving myself the opportunity to feel my way through the WOD the first time and then better my score the second time.  Such was not the case in 14.1.  I did complete the workout twice but the highest amount of total repetitions I could muster up was the 265 I achieved on my first attempt,  currently putting me right smack in 29,439th place.  Like I said, don’t tune in or set the DVR expecting to see me at the CrossFit games in 2014.  That being said, despite this humbling first round experience, I am excited to find out what is in store for  14.2, due to come out the Thursday at 8 pm, and excited to get back out there and compete again this week.

It is my excitement to get back out there that can serve as a learning experience for all of my Elite Basketball Training family.  I will be fully honest, I expected to score over 300 on this WOD and with a measly 265, I failed to accomplish my goal.  However, it is in that failure that I can learn and improve and therein lies the lesson for us to learn from.  Failure is inevitable as we all cannot be at our best all of the time.  However, it is a matter of what we do with those failures that will make the difference in our lives.   Having been disappointed with my score, I could have bagged it and stopped Crossfitting, but that’s not me and that would not serve to make me any better.  So I decided to look back at my two attempts and learn from my mistakes.

So, where did I go wrong?  In the first attempt at this WOD, it was my double unders.  Admittedly, I am a total spaz sometimes when it comes to this exercise and other times I am spot on.  For my first attempt, I was somewhere in between and that mediocrity did me in (oh yeah, and having to tie my shoe in the middle of a round because my jump rope clipped it and pulled it undone) because my snatch felt great that day.  On my second attempt at this, it was pacing and stamina that sacked me.  I felt great on the double unders and my snatch was good for about three rounds. However, my efficiency on the doubles enabled me move much quicker from round to round (completing two full rounds in under two minutes and 30 seconds) and my stamina was called into question.  I was not surprised by this though as I have been suffering from an injury for about a month and it has limited my training to the point where I even took two weeks off right before the Open, something that is unheard of for me.  Based on this information, my two big takeaways from my very first Open workout is that I need to become more consistent with my double unders and that I need to get my stamina back up to were it was in mid-December.  That being said, when my annoying bicep tendon heals, I will adjust my workouts accordingly to compensate for these changes.

Mistakes and faults apparent.  No one has epic performances all day every day, but it is through these mistakes and failures that improvement takes place.  I now must learn and adjust accordingly for next week and next year.   The same can be said for basketball skill development.  If you are struggling with your jump shot, find the problem, learn from it and fix it.  Do not keep making the same mistake over and over.  For it is one thing to fail, but it is another not to learn from those failures and adjust.

Basketball Layups: The Game is NOT a Layup Line

Basketball Layups

Basketball Layups: Are You Making Them?

When you practice basketball, do you practice layups?  If so, do you practice many different kinds of layups from different angles?   Are they done at game speed?  Are they practiced in a competitive atmosphere? Chances are you answered “no” to one or more of these questions.  Probably because we as players, coaches, and trainers take layups for granted as the simplest shot in the game of basketball.  Fact is, though, that layups also happen to be the most missed shot in the game of basketball.  Most likely because we either do not practice layups or we practice them as if we are in a layup line and not under the criteria highlighted in the questions above.  That is to say, we go through layups at about 60% of our top speed, with no defense, and with the same repetitive finish over and over.

Basketball Layups: 3 Keys To High Conversion

I have been using this “layup line” analogy quite a bit lately in our basketball skill development workouts at Elite Basketball Training in order to get my players to understand three key components to practicing layups and becoming proficient at finishing at the rim:

  1. That they must always practice layups at game speed.
  2. That they must practice different kinds of layups.
  3. They must practice layups at different angles of attack.
  4. That they must practice layups against competition.

This is the only way to become better at finishing around the rim and remedy the sickness of missing layups.

Elite Basketball Training For Layup Conversion

In order to develop quality finishers at Elite Basketball Training we have several different series of finishing moves that we teach as part of our basketball skill development curriculum.  These finishing series include, but are not limited to: the single foot series, two foot series, spin series, and the floater series. Each series has a variety of moves and counter moves that the players learn to use to finish in different situations based on how the defense presents itself. For example, if you have beaten your opponent off the dribble, have a step or two on them, and a clear path to the basket you would use a single foot series move in an attempt to out race the defender to the basket. Using a spin series move in this situation would only serve to complicate your finish and potentially cause you to miss.  To learn each one of these series of finishing moves, we break the move down in order to teach the footwork required for each and have them work on the footwork at a slower speed in order to develop muscle memory.  We also explain why they would use this particular finishing move versus another at this point so that they understand which situations to use it in.

Once the players have mastered this step, we have them go at full basketball speed from different angles sometimes using chairs or the Profender to serve as a defensive player that they have to read and react to.  The final step in this process is having the basketball players use the finishing moves in a live, competitive setting like a one-on-one or one-on-two finishing drill.  This final step comes as a shock to some players initially as they get their shot blocked or miss badly for fear of getting their shot blocked or getting hit.  Nonetheless, over time, they adjust to the competition and learn to use the variety of finishing moves they have been taught based on their read of the defense.

The layup is the simplest yet most missed shot in basketball today.  It is for this reason, that players must incorporate practicing layups into their basketball skill development.  However, do not just practice layups like you would take in a layup line, practice layups like you would finish in a real game.  The game presents different scenarios based on the defense and players need to be able to finish in all of these situations.  Consequently, players must practice different types of layups, at game speed, and from different angles in a competitive environment.  Then and only then will players get out of this “basketball layup line” syndrome that is causing them to consistently miss layups during games.

If you are working on actually making speed and agility improvements specific to the game of basketball, you must check out our course on just that topic:

Basketball Agility Training Videos

“It’s a Shoulders Game…”

Last week as I watched the Iowa vs. Michigan State basketball game, a fantastic game in which Michigan St. came back and won, I could not help but be taken by a phrase that Jay Bilas used early in the game after an Iowa player drove by a Michigan St. defender and put the ball in for a layup.  As the Iowa player got a step on his defender and en route to scoring Jay Bilas exclaimed, “It’s a shoulders game, the low man wins.”   I have a lot of respect for Jay Bilas (despite his Duke playing background and my Carolina blue blood) as one of, if not the best college basketball analysts in the game today.  Bilas’ forthright and intelligent manner of breaking down the game always has me thinking and wanting to hear more.  In this case, it is no different as Bilas hit the nail on the head with his comment.   I loved it and thought of it as a must hear phrase for all of the Elite Basketball Training family.

More often that not, young basketball players play the game of basketball erect and in an elevated state.  That is to say that they stand straight up and down when  in a game or while developing their skills with drills.  There are potentially a number of reasons for this, the three most notable being: they are too lazy to even think about dropping down into a low, athletic position, physical weakness (particularly in the core) prevents them from staying in this lower athletic position for a prolonged period of time, and they do not develop their basketball skills in a way that emphasizes the low position and forces muscle memory.

There is not much I can say on the laziness issue other than kids spending the majority of their time sedentary and inactive.  Then to be thrust into a situation that requires them to be athletic is something they are unaccustomed to and therefore it mentally does not click for them unless there is a constant reminder.

Beyond the mental aspect of it though, the physicality of this position is also something they are not used to.  Basketball training should be a combination of skill development and sports performance training or athletic development.  A well designed sports performance program for basketball will mimic the actions and positions players are in on the basketball court and strive to develop them.  All of these low and athletic positions, require the player to have tremendous core strength thereby enabling the player to maintain this position without fatigue.  I remember a player that I trained at Elite Basketball a Training, once he realized that I was going to require him to be low throughout our workouts, tell me that he was constantly working on his core at home in order to maintain that position.  Trust me,  the improved core strength and  his ability to maintain that low position was noticeable, and led to better performance and improved skills.

Players, particularly when working on skill development, need to be continuously required to focus on staying low while developing their skills.  At Elite Basketball Training we use a variety of drills and tools that force the player to stay low. Drills such as handling a ball and touching a series of 10 inch cones while executing change of direction moves is a prime example of this. Furthermore, use of bands in our skill development drills hold players accountable to a standard that they are not held to without the band. It’s very difficult to move effectively in an upright position when you have the tendon of a band pulling back on you. Consequently, the player must consistently stay low in order to be effective when using the band in a drill thereby reinforcing the low position while developing muscle memory and basketball skills.

“It’s a shoulders game. The low man wins. ” A simple yet genius statement made by Jay Bilas while calling a recent Iowa vs. Michigan State basketball game.  Players todayshould hear   this statement and take it to heart. Too many players play the game up right for reasons that include laziness, weak core strength, and/or not developing their skills while maintaining a low position. Whatever the reason, basketball players who want success must become accustomed to this position and develop it because Jay Bilas is 100% correct….the low man will win every time.

“Shooting” is Not Enough

Having seen enough basketball at the lower levels, there is no doubt that  a “bad jump shooting” epidemic has developed  in basketball.  Most of the coaches, parents, and players that I have spoken to have chalked it up to the notion that either their team just does not shoot the ball well or  that their son or daughter is just not a good jump shooter.  This rationale is ridiculous!  Jump shooting is a basketball skill and it can be developed like any other skill through proper technique and hard work.  The problem is not that these players and teams are simple “bad shooters,” it is a lack of devotion to learning the proper technique combined with continued repetition of that poor technique through repetitive drills that further exacerbate this jump shooting problem.

I have made the case over and over that good jump shooting is about learning to shoot properly and then doing it over and over.  Recently, while reading Alan Stein’s article, “14 Things Great Shooters Do” I came across this fantastic quote that lends street cred to my philosophy.  “Great shooters go to the gym to make shots; not take shots. Anyone can take 500 shots. The name of the game is to put the ball in the basket.”  Players need to begin to understand that shooting just to shoot is not going to make you any better especially if you have improper jump shooting form.  In fact, this can actually make you a less effective jump shooter because it is furthering bad habits through repetition.  Similar to a person continuously ramming his head into a wall and expecting his headache to stop.  Repeatedly doing to wrong thing over and over is no way to correct or fix your problem.  Fixing the problem, in this case the inability to shoot the basketball consistently well, requires players to fix their improper technique first.

Correcting improper technique can be a maddening thing for a player who is accustomed to shooting a certain way.  First and foremost, it requires the player to unlearn bad habits that have been developed over a prolonged period of time.  Muscle memory has ingrained these habits into the fabric of their minds, creating strong roots that are very hard to dislodge.  It can, however, be done through concentrated practice.  When fixing your jump shot, it is not good enough to simple go out and shoot. You must learn your jumper and know where you miss your shots on the rim and why, and then make your corrections based on those misses.  For example, if a right handed player continuously misses to the right then chances are they are following through off the outside three fingers.  They must therefore realize this and begin working on reaching their index finger through the center of the rim on their follow through, ultimately keeping the ball straight.

Beyond learning your jumper and the cue to correct your misses, you must also learn to accept that through the course of learning the proper technique and working to correct your jump shot you will experience even more missed shots…at first.  This is your body adjusting to something new and it will take time to make that adjustment.  However, once it has, your makes will begin to increase more than ever before.  Do not let this discourage your quest towards a great jump shot.  Ask yourself, do I shoot more like Kevin Durant or “Little Johnny Down the Block”  (my apologies if you are “Little Johnny Down the Block)?  If you answer is Little Johnny, than you have nothing to lose and you need to fight through the initial period of misses in order to make great gains.

“Great shooters go to the gym to make shots; not take shots. Anyone can take 500 shots. The name of the game is to put the ball in the basket.” Having read this quote on Alan Stein’s blog it further supported my notion that great shooting comes with learning how to shoot the basketball properly and then doing it properly over and over.  In today’s game, this is not always the case as many players and coaches have disregarded learning or teaching proper shooting technique, and have chalked their myriad of misses up to just being a bad shooter or shooters.  The focus of these players is all wrong and they are only making themselves worse at jump shooting because they are not learning their jump shot, how to fix it, and correcting their poor technique.  Instead players are exacerbating the problem by repetitively shooting the same incorrect way over and over thereby building on bad muscle memory and making it even harder to correct their form.  We as coaches, trainers, and players need to stop this madness immediately and start to cure this poor jump shooting epidemic.  Coaches need to take the time to make corrections on players jumpers.  Players need to learn from these corrections and concentrate on fixing their problems.  Then and only then will we as a basketball community solve this poor jump shooting problem and players can go to the gym and focus on making shots, not just taking shots.

For more information on learning the Pro Shot System and how to shoot the way the pros do, contact me today for personal jump shooting workouts.



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