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Monday, March 9, 2009

Planning Your Off Season; Part I

In many areas across the country the high school and college basketball season is either already over or coming to an end and is wrapping up with conference and state championships and playoffs. For those still playing, good luck! For those that have finished, I hope your season was a success. This blog post is part one of a two part series that will give direction and insight for your off-season basketball specific strength & conditioning program. This information is a must read for any basketball player or coach.

This blog post will cover the importance of rest and recovery, the evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses, and examining your spring & summer schedule.

Next week I will discuss off season testing, my thoughts on the priority of AAU, and what most players should be focusing on in the initial part of the off season. I will lay out an actual weekly training plan as well as shed some light on proper footwork, over training and common training myths.

Before we even discuss an off-season strength & conditioning program, we should review why it is important for basketball players of all ages and levels to strength train and condition on a year round basis. You should always know the “why” before you commit to anything! The textbook answer is pretty standard and is something I have been preaching for the last ten years:

By making the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joint structures stronger, you will lessen the occurrence and severity of on court injuries. If and when injuries do occur, you will recover quicker. Added strength also improves performance by increasing the body’s ability to produce force. The more force you can produce, the higher you can jump, the stronger you can block out, and the quicker you can cut and change direction. In addition to added strength, a truly basketball specific and comprehensive training program will also address: proper movement and jumping/landing technique, footwork, reaction, agility, hand/eye coordination, stamina, power and explosiveness, and flexibility.

And while the above should be reason enough to work out, there is another reason players of all ages and levels need to strength train and condition; confidence. Players who get bigger, faster, and stronger are more confident players on the court and more confident people in life. Training hard gives you a mental and a physical edge.

Last year I had the pleasure of speaking with Duke Basketball Alum and assistant basketball coach Nate James. While at Duke, Nate was always one of the strongest, best conditioned players on the court. Here is what he had to say about training:

“The weight room gives you more swagger. You use the weights to get an edge and a tougher mentality so when it is time to play, you will be that much more confident. You take that weight room attitude and work ethic onto the court.”

I agree completely. Confidence is king on the hardwood.

And please understand this; strength and power are cultivated over time through hard work and progression. There are no shortcuts. With the recent outing of A-Rod using steroids, I feel compelled to add my thoughts. First and foremost, steroids of any kind are illegal and should not be taken under any circumstances, no exceptions. Please read that sentence again. If you are caught using steroids your basketball playing career will be over.

Steroids carry numerous side effects and are extremely dangerous to your body. Plus they will do very little to help you improve as a basketball player anyway, which should be your ultimate goal, so to even consider using them is foolish. You can add all of the lean muscle you need through proper strength training and nutrition. Hell, even 99% of all of the supplements out there are totally unnecessary.

And never put anything in your body you don’t what it is. Don’t drink any shake or take any pill without knowing exactly what is in it. Ignorance is not a legitimate excuse. If someone at your school or gym says, “take this, it will get you jacked,” end the conversation there. OK, end of sermon.

Now, let’s take a look at your off-season program:

The first thing you need is rest. Almost without exception, I recommend players take two full weeks off after their last game. You need to rest your mind and your body. You need to spend quality time with family and friends and get away from the game. You need to make sure your academics are on point. You need to get some extra sleep and eat some good food. You need to watch a ton of March Madness. You don’t have to be in the gym to improve; you can learn a lot from watching elite level players. And don’t just watch the obvious, watch for things like moving without the ball and help defense. Also make note of how big and strong elite level players are. Today’s game is played above the rim!

Trust me, as a veteran elite level strength and conditioning coach, this rest is one of the best things you can do, I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t believe in it so strongly. During this couple week hiatus, make sure you address any nagging injuries you may have endured during the season. If something on your body still hurts, and Advil and ice don’t seem to fix it, I recommend you make an appointment to see an appropriate specialist (doctor, physical therapist, etc.).

After a couple of weeks of rest, the next thing you need to do is evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as a player, both basketball wise and athletically. I can’t stress enough how important this step is, yet it is rarely done.

Before you can truly improve, you have to establish what things you do well and what things need improvement. This can only be done through an honest, comprehensive evaluation. I recommend you evaluate yourself and have your coach evaluate you. Make a chart on a piece of paper and rate yourself on the following:

Basketball skills: ball handling, shooting form, shooting performance, passing, rebounding, defense
Basketball intangibles: basketball IQ, leadership, court awareness, being a good teammate
Physical traits: strength, quickness, power/explosiveness, bodyweight, stamina, overall work ethic

You can rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10. Remember, this is for your eyes only. You get nothing out of giving yourself some bogus high scores. And this evaluation is what you believe; it isn’t what your parents tell you, your girlfriend tells you, or what some scouting service wrote about you. Once you are done, you should ask your coach to fill out the exact same evaluation on your behalf using the same criteria and scale. Every coach I have ever met will do so honestly and enthusiastically.

How do the results compare? For the most part, any score you and your coach agree on is probably pretty accurate. If both you and your coach believe your ball handling is an “8”, then it probably is. But what if you think it is an “8” and he thinks it is a “3”? Is it possible you think an aspect if your game is better than it actually is? Regardless, you should average out both scores and have a final rating for each of the categories. Then you should put them in descending order, meaning your highest scores (strengths) are at the top and your bottom scores (weaknesses) are at the bottom. This will help you prioritize what you need to work on. Keep in mind I said prioritize. That doesn’t mean you ignore the aspects at the top of the list, as you surely can still improve in those areas too. Heck, your top trait may still only be a “7.”

NOTE: This evaluation exercise can also be done by coaches who want to evaluate themselves and their staff. After all, how can a coach expect his players to constantly grow and develop if they don’t? A coach can evaluate himself and then have his assistants and/or players evaluate him as well. Possible areas of interest are practice plans, game strategies, scouting reports, pre-game routine, motivational techniques, teaching concepts, relationships with players, having fun, etc. How do you rate? How do your assistants and players rate you?

Once you have honestly and accurately rated yourself you can begin to plot out your training plan. At first glance, what needs more improvement and requires more focus, your fundamentals and skills or your body and athletic ability? Are you a great shooter but have slow feet? Or are you a sick athlete but can’t make a left hand lay-up? As a strength & conditioning coach, my expertise is on your body and athletic ability; proper movement and jumping/landing technique, footwork, reaction, agility, hand/eye coordination, stamina, power and explosiveness, and flexibility.

Improving these physical traits is what I will focus on next week! Before then, please take a look ahead and begin to plot out your spring & summer schedule. Take a look at anything that will necessitate your time during the week so you can schedule your basketball and your strength & conditioning workouts accordingly. Are you playing a spring sport? Do you need to meet with a tutor? Will you be playing AAU? Do you know when your practices are? Up coming tournaments? What camps will you go to this summer? Will your family be taking a vacation? The more you know in advance, the better you can plan.

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

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