Basketball has a culture unlike any other sport. In my experience working with athletes of all sports, the thing that I have noticed, which causes basketball players to be so different from other athletes, is there dedication to their craft and skepticism to anything that takes away from that time on the court. When I work with football players, track athletes, and even soccer players the majority of them see the importance and impact of getting in the weight room and improving their basic athletic competencies. However, in my experience working with basketball players, many believe that all their work needs to be done on the court in order to help them improve.
In this article I will go into detail on 5 areas every basketball player should address during their off-season. These areas are the same that I address with each of my college and NBA clients during their own off-seasons in order to evaluate their bodies and prepare them for their upcoming season.
The first area to be addressed in the off-season is rest. Basketball players, specifically, lack the adequate amount of rest during the season that their bodies need in order to recovery and repair the broken down muscular and connective tissue as well as recharge the Central Nervous System. This theme of intense training with inadequate rest between bouts starts at a young age when middle and high school players engage in year-round basketball including school and travel ball. If players are fortunate enough to play collegiately they will begin training the summer leading into their collegiate freshman year and continue this training for the next four years. Finally, we are all familiar with the grueling NBA schedule involving a rigorous 82 game season, summer leagues, and overseas play. For this reason alone, rest is my number one goal of the summer.
After the season ends, whether it concludes at the end of the regular season in April or if it concludes in the post season closer to June, I will mandate that they take a full month off. During this month I ask that they sleep as much as possible, take vacations, eat the junk food that I typically don’t allow while in training and spend time doing the things they don’t have time for during the season. If they feel the need to get out and do something active I prefer that they do something other than basketball. They can play baseball, frisbee, sand volleyball, or anything else that allows them to use muscles that they normally wouldn’t use and move in planes that they typically don’t move in during the season. This month is also the perfect time to begin lining up your programs for the summer. You should take your time selecting a strength and conditioning specialist, speed and agility specialist, shooting coach, nutritionist and massage/physical therapist. These individuals will constitute your Athletic Development Team. If someone tells you they can do 3 or even all of these things for you then they are not the right person for the job. You want professionals who specialize in a specific area, not just professionals who dabble in everything.
During your month off you should be meeting with each of these people to discuss your collective strategy for your off-season program. You should be discussing things such as the previous years’ success’ and failures, any injuries or pains that occurred throughout the season, and your goals for the following year. Everyone on your Athletic Development Team must be filled in on the upcoming season’s goals in order to form a well-rounded plan to achieve those goals. These professionals should also be in contact with each other in order to make sure the programs are coinciding well and you are making the most of each day of training.
Once the first month of the off-season is over it is time to begin your program. This is not the time to jump back into all of your activities. I would wait another 2-4 weeks before resuming basketball drills. The second month of the off-season should be reserved for rebuilding your athletic foundation. This begins with assessing your movement literacy. This is a very unpopular area, especially with young athletes. As humans, we constantly want to move forward so it is hard to ask an athlete to take a step backward and relearn basic movement concepts such as breathing and running. However, as we grow and progress as young children we don’t always pick up the best concepts. By taking the time to re-learn some of these movements we can become more efficient in these patterns. Begin by having some type of movement assessment performed. Most sports performance coaches, athletic trainers, and physical therapists can perform this. The results of this assessment will give your Athletic Development Team an idea of specific mobility and stability areas that need to be addressed. This information paired with the information on your past/present injuries is enough to have a corrective strategy designed for your specific needs.
From there you should begin your movement based training. This training should be performed without a basketball. Again, think of this as your time to rebuild yourself as an athlete. It is like creating a second, new and improved, version of your athletic abilities. This training should break down the movement patterns to the simplest form before building them back up into the complex speed and agility drills that we often see on Youtube and Instagram. These drills should start very basic, unspecific to basketball, then become more complex and basketball specific. Your coach should take you through basic movement patterns as well as accelerations, decelerations, and a variety of lateral movement drills.
Strength and Power Development
The second month of the offseason is also the perfect time to begin implementing your strength and conditioning program. Again, this program should be used to assist in the redevelopment of your athletic foundation to prepare you for the upcoming season. The movements should be programmed in a way to help decrease injury risk, increase strength, and ultimately increase power output. By evaluating your previous year’s performance and also going through your movement assessment your strength coach, he/she should have a good idea of the areas to place extra attention within your program.
Basketball Specific Skill Development
As you enter your third month of the off-season this is the time to reintroduce the basketball. It is typically August when most of my athletes reach this point in their training schedule. With them having to report to training camp October 1, this gives me 2 months of solid on court work. This on-court work will supplement the speed and agility, and strength and conditioning work that they are still doing. Due to this I have to be very aware of the amount of time we are training each day. We typically perform 2 speed and agility sessions, and 3 strength and conditioning sessions each week. This leaves us time for a couple conditioning sessions and 3-4 on court sessions per week. The on-court sessions are led by a basketball skills coach, not myself, for about 60-90 minutes. The athletes will perform 20 minutes of ball handling skills as a warm up before moving into positional work for the rest of the session. Again, you should have met with your skills coach prior to this day in order to talk about your previous year’s success’ and failures as well as the forth-coming year’s goals in order to have a training plan assembled.
System Recovery Modalities
Finally, throughout your off-season you should use the time to play with different types of recovery methods. I will have my clients try different methods such as ice baths, Epson salt baths, compression, cryotherapy chambers, hyperbaric chambers, massage therapy, acupuncture and anything else they can come up with in order to find the things that work best for them. Everyone reacts different to different modalities just like training. For example, I can put 20 basketball players through a workout and the next day I will get 20 different responses as far as degree of soreness, areas of soreness, and amount of fatigue that they are experiencing. The same goes for recovery modalities. Once you have found the modalities that work best for you make them a staple in your program and be consistent with them. Once you get back into training camp and the season begins you need to rely on the modalities in order to keep your body healthy and recovered. You must be as intentional about rest and recovery as you are about training.
As basketball season has come to an end it is time for players of all ages to begin their off-season work. Above is not a list to pick and choose from at your convenience. Be intentional about your progress and development. The work that you perform in the off-season is what will drive your performance when you get to season.