Hard 2 Guard Player Development Newsletter
Practice in Proportion to your Aspirations.
In this Week’s Newsletter…
- A Quick Word: Work
- Skill Development and Strength & Conditioning Coaches
- Ankle Injuries and Shooting
A Quick Word
I conducted a clinic for Evolution Basketball in Boston last week. After one of the clinics, the club’s director, Randy Bennett, emphasized a point that I made during the session: Do the work before you get the ball to make your move easier. More specifically, I pointed out that a player is not encumbered by the rules when he does not have the ball. Once a player possesses the ball, the task is far more complex – players have to obey the rules (traveling) and manage the ball. Do the work before you receive it, and the move or the shot will be easier with the ball.
Skill Development and Strength & Conditioning Coaches
Here are the slides from my talk “Skill Development and Strength & Conditioning Coaches” from the Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group conference at Northeastern University:
Here are some of the additional notes that I put together:
Ray Eady, Strength & Conditioning Coach at the University of Wisconsin, spoke before me about implementing isometrics into a weight training program. During his talk, he said that basketball coaches see basketball-specific athleticism, which is not necessarily the same thing as great general or overall athleticism. Players need general athleticism first, and coaches need the ability to assess whether players have adapted athleticism that is sport-specific, and will lead to a lower peak, or adaptable athleticism which will lead to better overall performance. As I have written frequently, the things that coaches (and media experts) identify as athletic are not always the best indicators of true athleticism.
I developed this topic after watching a strength & conditioning coach run a workout using shuttle runs. The players used poor technique when changing directions without any corrections, instruction or feedback from the coach. Essentially, the S&C coach was serving as a “workout guy” organizing a hard workout, not as a coach. Movement skills are skills – coaches, whether the S&C coach or the sport coach – cannot take the performance of the movement for granted and must teach a change of direction or jump landing just as one would teach proper shooting technique.
The goal is to think of strength & conditioning as more than training muscles – movement is directed by the mind. Athletes need to develop the proper motor patterns and build the muscles to increase force production on top of the proper motor patterns. Increased force production with poor motor pattern efficiency leads to less than optimal results and often leads to injury when the load exceeds the capacity for the movement or skill; for instance, when the player develops the muscles necessary to perform a 40-inch vertical jump, but has not developed the proper motor pattern (skill) to reduce force effectively and efficiently upon landing, some form of injury develops, whether acute (ACL tear) or chronic (patellar tendonitis).
Basketball coaches are not movement experts. On this slide, the players are performing a lateral movement drill, sliding from cone to cone. A basketball coach would see this as a “defensive slide drill.” However, look at the technique: can anyone defend an opponent in any of those positions? How is the player in the white shirt in the top right-hand corner going to defend an opponent? Sport coaches tend to focus on the intensity of workouts – “Go harder! Go faster!” without emphasizing the quality of the movement. Is that drill going to translate to better game performance? Is it really practicing “defensive footwork” with such poor posture and technique? Finally, defense requires the ability to react to an unexpected external stimulus (offensive player, teammates, the ball), while moving from cone to cone requires no reaction.
From the perspective of jump landings and the performance characteristics, does the work done by the S&C coach persist from workout to workout or workout to the game? To learn a skill, there must be persistence. In the case of the “defensive work” mentioned above, does that work create persistent performance improvements in subsequent workouts or games? Also, learning requires adaptability. Do the players transfer the practice to the game situation? Does jump training off the court (box jumps, hurdle jumps, tuck jumps, etc) transfer to better jump training and jump landing performance in more variable, game-like situations?
What are the restraints upon the basketball player that the girl from the Crossfit does not face? The girl has constraints related to the height of the box and possibly fatigue from previous events in the competition. The constraints in the game include the ball, the opponents, the pressure of the game, foul trouble, fatigue and a variety of other potential constraints which influence the performance of the skill. When training, we want to create situations that mimic the complexity of the game situation. According to Gentile’s Taxonomy, games involve body transport, variable conditions (each repetition differs) and a variable environment (the court does not change, but other conditions such as opponents’ presence differ). Therefore, to train for the game, training must progress to the same level of complexity as a game, which means adding medicine balls or overhead targets or other types of objects and variation to more general exercises to add complexity. The goal is not to create simulated performance, as players need general athletic preparation. Instead, the objective is to increase the task complexity to mirror the complexity of the game situation which involves variation from repetition to repetition, movement, objects and variable environments. Doing a set of 5 box jumps, as an example, lacks variation, variable conditions or object manipulation. It is a less complex task.
In the ACL studies, nearly all the incidents of injury involved the ball (attack, rebound, turnover) or an overhead goal (rebound). These objects and orientations change the body mechanics. Look at the Crossfit girl’s visual orientation: her eyes are down on the box. Is the male basketball player going to look at the ground at landing? How does this influence body position? We have to account for these differences in training.
Many coaches have eliminated the jump stop. A friend called me last week because a youth coach had his daughter jump stopping, and he had heard on ESPN during the NCAA Tournament that girls were not supposed to jump stop. The issue is not the jump stop; the issue is the inability to decelerate. Even if you eliminate jump stops, players have to stop forward motion, change directions and land from jumps on rebounds or after shooting. We must train these general skills, not eliminate specific sport skills and cross our fingers for the rest of the game. We need to develop cockroaches (adaptable), not dinosaurs (adapted).
In the jump stop study, players initially performed the skill incorrectly. College players played 8-10 years of basketball and developed incorrect movement patterns that increased the force on the knee. Coaches at some level must identify these movement errors and correct them to enhance performance and prevent injury. The researchers found that their intervention to change the center of pressure upon landing decreased the force on the knee and enhanced performance in the jump after the stop. Win-win: fewer injuries and better performance! However, these college players had never had their movements corrected with enough consistency to learn a new (proper) movement pattern.
Because basketball players often have their eyes directed elsewhere when landing, they rely on feed-forward motor control to anticipate the landing and develop the requisite muscle stiffness to absorb the force of the landing. When players are allowed to rely on their visual system in training, but do not have vision on landings during the game, they may not have sufficient feed-forward motor control to anticipate the landing properly. They may not have sufficient muscle stiffness or activation to reduce or reuse the force. Players also need to train in reactive situations, as reacting to a stimulus (ball) changes the biomechanics of the movement.
Ankle Injuries and Shooting
During Clare Frank’s talk at the Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group, she mentioned ankle sprains. She said that an ankle sprain that is not rehabilitated fully creates a new movement pattern. When a player develops a new movement pattern, he creates the potential for a new injury because a new ligament or muscle compensates because of the lack of dorsiflexion in the ankle. More importantly, the new movement pattern often leads to suboptimal performance.
During my first practice in Ireland, we shot free throws. I looked down to the other end of the court and noticed my starting shooting guard’s shooting technique. I asked him when he had hurt his ankle. He asked how I knew. He said that it did not hurt anymore and that it happened two years earlier. I knew that he had an ankle issue because he did not extend fully on one side when he shot. He was a poor shooter because he had an ankle injury that he never rehabilitated because the pain dissipated. Practice was not going to improve his shot. He had to learn a new (corrected) movement pattern. He had to rehabilitate his ankle and return proper flexion/extension function before he was able to improve his shooting.
In Peter Viteritti’s BSMPG talk, he said that a treatment has not worked until the player returns to his pre-injury performance. If a player returns to play and makes the same number of shots, but has an altered movement pattern, the treatment did not work. It means something else is compensating, and the player is developing a new movement pattern. This new pattern may be suboptimal and may lead to an injury when the load becomes greater than the capacity – for instance, studies have shown that there is increased risk for an ACL injury after an ankle sprain. If I sprain my left ankle, and therefore have reduced dorsiflexion on landing, I may favor my left foot and land more on my right foot. This increased load may exceed the capacity of my right leg to absorb the force.
First, players need to rehabilitate injuries fully to return to the ideal movement patterns. Second, skill performance may be limited by suboptimal movement patterns created by an injury. To improve the skill, the player must correct the issue to return to the proper movement pattern. It is not necessarily shooting practice – it may be single-leg balance work to return proprioception and strengthen the ligaments or another similar exercise to attack the lack of dorsiflexion. Practice isn’t always the answer. The coach has to be able to see the whole body, not just the upper-body shooting technique.