In the past I have spoken about how basketball training, whether it is skill development or sports performance training, needs to take place at a particular speed. As a matter of fact, as recently as this summer, I wrote a post entitled Are you Training at Your Threshold? which cited the significance of threshold training. What do I mean by threshold training? In other words, finding the speed at which you can push yourself with near perfect skills and then consistently training at that speed until you advance to a new level or threshold.
The concept of threshold training has recently resurfaced for me in the last three weeks with a local travel team that I am training for basketball skill development and who each week initially tries to loaf through the drills until told to do otherwise. As a matter of fact, this just came up at this week’s practice when we were executing a drill that focused on entering the ball into the post, finishing in the post, cutting and relocating for a jump shot. This multiple skill development drill was designed to develop skills as they pertain to this basketball team’s offense as well as correct deficiencies that surfaced while playing games this past weekend. As always, I demonstrated the entire drill, then broke it into its individual parts in order to explain each more thoroughly, and finally showed the drill as a whole again. Once questions were asked, the players were instructed to go to their respective baskets and run the drill. Within two minutes, I had seen enough and called them back to show them how they looked running the drill. As I demonstrated the drill this time, I walked through the drill very slowly and then asked the players what the problem was. They immediately answered, “It’s too slow.” To which I responded, “If you know that, then why did you all run the drill that way?” The look on their faces answered my question, and I sent them back out and they responded by running it at a more game like speed.
Threshold training, game speed, or whatever you wand to refer to it as, needs to be designated as the speed to improve. On countless occasions I have made the point that training slow will only get you good at being slow and that is not how the game of basketball is played. Basketball training, whether its skill development or sports performance related, needs to be at a speed in which players can improve. This speed must push that player’s threshold and it must be representative of the game itself. In fact, basketball training should take place at a speed that is faster than actual game play. Execution of drills at this speed will make the game seem easy and will ensure that you are training at the speed to improve.
As many of you know, since I met Paul Hoover and adopted his Pro Shot System, breaking down the jump shot has become a key component to my basketball skill development program at Elite Basketball Training. The Pro Shot System’s approach focuses on body mechanics, the basic premise being that the body is a system that when used properly runs efficiently and creates a better jump shot. This theory appeals to me beyond just the jump shot. As a basketball trainer who preaches the importance of sports performance training and its relationship to basketball skill development using the body in an efficient way to attain results has always been a integral part of my basketball training programs. In the past two years, I have studied the jump shot extensively, watching professional basketball players who are great jump shooters and having studied their jump shots to determine what the keys are to shooting a basketball. Consequently, I have become fairly adept at breaking down a player’s jump shot, finding the problem, and then building it back up. So when recently I was in the gym training one of my players and I heard another trainer training one of his say to an onlooker, “He keeps missing short, and I don’t know why.” I had to chuckle to myself and shake my head for a number of reasons but most importantly I knew that I could fix that players jumper in a heart beat.
Why do basketball players miss short on their jump shot? Missing short more times than not has to do with the player’s shoulders and where they begin and end in the jump shot. The starting point of a basketball player’s shoulders needs to be slightly forward at the initial part of the jump shot and this forward position should be accomplished by bending or hinging your hips slightly back (the very first movement in a back squat). This, “hips back, shoulders forward” position is an absolute necessity because it places the body in the correct and balanced position for the player to explode up into their jump shot, sway the shoulders up and back while sweeping the feet forward and reaching full extension on their jumper. The swaying of the shoulders, sweeping of the feet, and the full extension are the keys to not missing short. When the body is not in the correct initial starting position and the shoulders are vertical or leaning back there is absolutely no way for them to sway up and back and this position will produce a jump shot that may have arch but will miss short a majority of the time. In contrast, if the players shoulders are too far forward, a position that occurs when they initiate the jumper by bending their knees out past their toes, they are off balance falling forward, producing a jump shot that has no arch and will miss short and in some cases hard off the back rim. In the case of the player in the gym who kept missing short, he was too vertical at the start of the jumper and therefore could not sway up and back to produce enough arch to get the ball to the rim.
Paull Hoover’s Pro Shot system has been adapted from years of research on how the best jump shooters in the NBA, WNBA, and college shoot the basketball and it is far different from the old school mentality that many coaches still use to teach the jump shot. Unfortunately, this old school mentality makes for a multitude of bad jump shooters, producing a slow mechanical shot that too often results in a miss. Jump shooting is an athletic movement that needs to be taught in such a way. This comes down to breaking down the jumper into smaller components, teaching the proper way each component should work, and then repping the heck out of it in order to make the correct form habitual. Jump shooting is all about learning how to shoot properly and then shooting properly a lot. With that in mind, lets start to focus more on this and make good jump shooting a priority.
With basketball season rapidly approaching, players are looking to get themselves prepared in the quickest and most efficient way possible. Often times this includes a myriad of basketball skill development workouts and very little sports performance training that is relative to basketball. It is understandable why basketball skill development would take precedence in your training but keep in mind, the best players are always in the best shape and that is NOT an accident. Being in the best possible shape for basketball season comes with a well designed sports performance training program. So why does sports performance training as a preparatory measure for basketball season take second fiddle? Very simple, society is confused as to what quality basketball training and more specifically sports performance training for basketball involves.
This confusion has reared its ugly head as in the past month alone, I have had at least three players tell me that they were running cross country to get in shape for basketball and one other cite swimming as their method of conditioning for hoops. Seriously!?! Neither cross country nor swimming relates to basketball as a sport and in no way is either a valid form of conditioning for basketball. Furthermore, this does not include the players who tell me that they go running to get in shape…once again, serving no relevance to basketball.
Conditioning or more appropriately sports performance training for basketball needs to involve movements and training that is specific to the game. Cross Country and swimming) do not relate in any way to basketball. Cross country is a sport that requires the participant to jog at a slower pace over a long distance usually three plus miles. Basketball requires a player to sprint up and down a court that is 94 feet long. Cross country runners jog continuously in a straight line. The game of basketball is far from a linear sport demanding the athlete start stop and change direction and movements (sprinting to backpedaling to sliding) almost randomly based on the action on the court. Cross country has no explosive movements whatsoever in it. Basketball is filled with explosive movements like sprinting and jumping. Furthermore, the notion of jogging for distance is an aerobic exercise and has been scientifically proven to build slow twitch muscle fibers and decrease an athlete’s overall muscle mass, speed and power. If you need proof of this, go do a Google search of Olympic distance runners and one of an NBA player and compare. This decreased muscle mass, speed, and power is a detriment to any athlete trying to play an explosive sport like basketball and that is why NBA and college players don’t waste their time running excessive distances.
So with all of this information, why run cross country? As stated earlier, players and parents are clouded by the belief that running cross country builds stamina. To some degree, they are correct. However, the same stamina built is at a detriment to the strength, agility, and power that is necessary for a sport like basketball. Consequently, more can be gained from proper basketball specific training focused on anaerobic exercises that develop power, agility, strength, and speed in a way that is not a to the detriment to the athlete. Cross country is in no way a form of conditioning for basketball. It is a aerobic, activity that requires the athlete to run straight over a long distance. In contrast, basketball is a sport that requires the athlete to sprint, cut, change direction, slide, and jump randomly and repetitively over shorter distances. Nonetheless, I hear it every year that a few of my athletes are going to run cross country to get in shape for basketball and after providing them with the same information, I always end by telling them to run cross country if they enjoy it but if they are looking to get in shape for basketball, there are far better ways.
Many of you might not know this, but since May I have become an avid CrossFitter. As a former athlete in their mid-thirties, I have really taken to the sport of fitness because it provides me with the competitive edge that I remember from the basketball and track days of my youth. It also provides me with shorter intense workouts in a communal setting (that includes my wife) that makes being their quite enjoyable. So much so that in June of this year I went out and became a CrossFit level 1 trainer. With this I have been coaching classes at CrossFit Red Bank since then. This past week, I have been covering for one of the other coaches and coaching her On Ramp class, which consists of beginners. When I get home, my wife and I usually break down that day’s WOD (workout of the day) and she asks me about how my coaching went. As I was telling her how the class went I used the word cue to describe a prompt that I used to help an athlete understand how to execute a particular lift and to my surprise, she asked me, “What’s a cue?”. I guess I was surprised because I use the word cue all the time in my training whether it be youth basketball coaching and basketball skill development, sports performance training, or CrossFit and I always assumed that everyone knew just what it was. Now, I am beginning to think that I am wrong and that little three letter word is worthy of an explanation.
As mentioned earlier, a cue is a word, phrase, or an action that is used to prompt another in performance. As a basketball trainer, sports performance trainer and CrossFit coach, cueing is vital to your athletes’ success and developing clear and meaningful cues should be a necessity. Successful cueing comes down to ones ability to communicate effectively with their subjects. Basketball players and athletes develop by learning from their mistakes and the only way to do so is by pointing out the mistakes and providing meaningful ways to correct them. These meaningful ways are your cues. For example, many young basketball players make the mistake of initially bending their knees forward thereby taking them on to their toes too early and throwing them off balance. The fix is to have them bend at the hips first, not the knees. This puts them in a more balanced powerful position that will allow them to use their entire body to shoot and enable their shoulders, which have been pulled slightly forward by the hip bend, to sway up and back thereby putting arch on the shot. I use the chair touch drill in the video below to enhance this position and then once the player understands the position I can now cue them by saying “butt to the chair”, or “hips back”, or even “chair drill” when they make that mistake.
In regards to sports performance, let’s use the start bottom position of the deadlift as an example. Often times, the starting position of the deadlift is taught and executed incorrectly. Athletes are put in a position that is too squatty, meaning that their hips and butt are down too low forcing their knees to project out over the bar. This may seem like the natural way to pick something up off the floor but in reality a squatty start will put your back in a bad position and cause you to miss the lift and potentially injure yourself. When fixing this position, I will have the athlete stand with their ankles directly under the bar and force them to get their knees back and their hips up. This will often times require me roll the bar back towards the athlete’s shins and tell them to keep it up against their shins at the start a position. I call this position, “vertical shins” to represent the shins being straight up and down and that is the cue that I would use to get the athlete there once they have been coached to do so. “Hips high” or “hips up” would be my cues to have them get their butt out of that squatty position into a more efficient start position. I also tell them “Chest up” or instruct them that I should be able to read the logo on the front of their shirt in order to ensure that their back is not rounded at the start, another major no, no. These cues often help the athlete tremendously and it will ultimately prevent injury and achieve higher weights in their lifts.
A cue is a word, phrase, or action that is used to prompt another person toward an action. Cueing is an essential part of being a successful coach and trainer. Successful cueing is synonymous with effective communication and it can be the difference maker in an athlete’s performance. In the case of the off balance jump shooter, the use of the “hips back” cue will serve as a reminder of the chair drill and put them into a much more powerful and balanced position to shoot their jumper. In regards to the athlete performing the deadlift, cues such as “vertical shins” and “hips high” will help them visualize and execute the proper bottom position of the dead lift and therefore perform in a safer and effective manner. As a basketball trainer, sports performance coach, and CrossFit coach it is my job to ensure that my athletes perform to the best of their abilities. To do so requires effective communication and cues that will help them visualize and perform correctly.
Last weekend I ran into a parent of a player who trains with me off and on for basketball skill development and sports performance. I had not seen the parent in a while because lately his son had been more off than on. As his dad and I spoke, I began to figure out why. This player’s father explained to me that all his son wanted to do was work on skills and play games, not work on his athletic development at all. He further elaborated on this, saying that he personally was confused and just did not understand why this was the case since he continuously explains to his son how being in good athletic shape is important to basketball or any sport for that matter. As I stood there and listened, I shook my head in disbelief at how the notion that sports performance training should be entirely eliminated from one’s training regimen is baffling to me. All a young player, parent, or coach who thinks this is the way to go has to do is look at the bodies of the players in the NBA and college and realize that these guys are in tremendous shape, and not by accident. The top players in the world spend just as much time on their athletic development as they do on their skill development and so should you.
As a basketball player, your athletic development (or what is referred to as sports performance training at our gym) needs to be an integral part of your player development program. It’s really simple, the best players are in the best shape (Alan Stein) and as stated earlier, that is not an accident. Top players around the world are working on their athletic development anywhere from three to five days per week. Their training includes a combination of speed, agility , strength, power, flexibility, conditioning, balance and coordination all of which are on display in the video below. Furthermore, their nutrition is impeccable as they realize that they cannot out train a bad diet. Their meals consist of lean proteins, vegetables, and whole grain carbohydrates not ring dings and ho hos. These players look good, feel good, and perform great because they train their body to be great, they do NOT just eliminate an entire aspect of their training.
The best players are in the best shape (Alan Stein). They are athletically prepared for their basketball season because they train for it in a variety of ways that includes both skill development and sports performance training. They do not neglect one entire aspect of their training. Basketball is a great sport because it combines athleticism and skill. If you are leaving one of the two out, then I guarantee you that you are falling short in you development as a player and you will not perform on the level of the player who is training both.