Hard 2 Guard Player Development Newsletter
Practice in Proportion to your Aspirations.
In this Week’s Newsletter…
- A Quick Word: Reverse Periodization
- Playing into the Future
- Leg-Stiffness and Jumping Ability
- Coaching Clinics in Ghana and Kenya
A Quick Word
The off-season is here for some teams. What should that entail? People talk about periodization – the process of varying a training program at regular time intervals to bring about optimal gains in performance (Bompa). The off-season training is divided into different blocks or cycles, and each block varies the intensity, volume and training emphasis based on one’s goals.
The first block should be active rest. At the end of the season, players’ bodies are worn out and fatigued from the accumulation of stress. Players generally lose weight through the course of the season because of the intensity of training and games, the reduced weight training and the lack of attention to proper nutrition. Moving straight to another team or off-season league or engaging in more sport-specific training is detrimental and leads to diminishing returns – players get less and less out of more and more training due to overtraining effects, lack of periodization, over-competition and a lack of recovery.
Instead, players should move to a secondary sport. While another competitive sport maintains the training intensity, which prevents a true recovery, the change of sport shifts the style and volume of training and refreshes the mind. Playing volleyball, baseball, lacrosse or soccer in the spring provides different training stressors, different training environments, and different training volumes compared to a second basketball season. The secondary sport also progresses through a pre-season before the competitive season, which prepares the body for the up-coming demands and differs from an unending competitive basketball season.
If a player has specialized in basketball, an active-rest block could incorporate pick-up games of football or ultimate frisbee with friends, riding bikes, surfing, snowboarding or other fun activities that maintain a level of activity without continuing to stress the body and mind in the same way as the basketball season.
Beyond the active-rest block, traditional periodization tends to progress from slow to fast in the training blocks. For instance, the NASM model moves from Balance (slow exercises with 12 or more repetitions, necessitating lower resistance) to Strength (hypertrophy-based training) to Reactive (incorporating more power movements). A typical conditioning program builds from an aerobic base (slow-steady state runs) to speed endurance to speed to agility.
I prefer a different type of periodization. I never had a name for it, but I saw a blog written by Nick Grantham calling it “Reverse Periodization.”
First, I want to start with the goal. Since basketball requires Repeat Sprint Ability, maybe I will use the 200m as my testing distance (as opposed to most programs that use two-mile runs which is inexplicable). Therefore, my off-season goal is to improve my 200m time or maybe even reduce my percentage decrement score in repeated sprint exercise test over five repetitions of 200m runs.
A traditional approach would start by building the aerobic base, likely through mile or two-mile runs; a second block might work on shorter distances for speed endurance, like 400m repeat intervals; a final block would focus on speed with runs of 50m-200m. For the majority of the training time, I would run slower than my goal as I build toward my goal.
In the Reverse Periodization approach, rather than running slower for longer distances, I would start with shorter distances and run at my goal speed. For instance, if my goal is a 25-second 200m, my split would be a 5-second 40m. Therefore, I would start with 40m repeats at a 5-second split. If I could not run 40m in five seconds, maybe I would start with 20m sprints as fast as possible. Rather than build the aerobic base, I would focus on speed in the initial block.
In the subsequent blocks or cycles, I would increase the distance or decrease the rest period to move to more speed endurance since my goal is not pure speed, but repeat speed ability or speed endurance (200m).
When I ran cross country, we ran training runs of 6-8 miles, but our race distance was 3.1 miles. Our goal was to run in the low 19s for 3.1 miles, between a 6 and 7-minute mile pace. However, when we trained, we ran closer to a 9-minute mile pace for the 6-8 miles. I got progressively worse the more that I trained. My best race of the year was the second race. Running slower for long distances wore out my legs, but did not improve my conditioning for the race pace. The slow runs did not improve my oxygen intake when I ran faster.
I never understood, and still do not understand, how running slower for longer makes one faster. I prefer to run at or above my goal pace and gradually increase the distance or reduce the rest periods until I reach my goal distance at my goal time.
With the off-season here or near, players should think about their goals for the off-season and coaches should work with players to create a plan to achieve those goals. Reverse periodization is one approach, and one that I favor, to assist with one’s off-season workouts and workout planning.
Playing into the Future
As the Barcelona vs Arsenal match approached, I saw this tweet:
“To play ‘in the future’, a [F.C. Barcelona Manager Pep] Guardiola player is expected to know where the ball ought to go even before it reaches him.”
In an ESPN interview, former Manchester United star Eric Cantona said:
“This is nothing new. It goes back to Cruyff and Total Football…It’s all about knowing what you’re going to do when you receive the ball. Who is free, where is the space, always with one touch.”
This is game awareness, the feeling or knowledge that often separates experts from non-experts. If a player waits until he receives the ball to start the information processing, he is too late. The space closes and his advantage disappears. If he anticipates, he maximizes his advantage.
In our passing drills, we focus on this idea of knowing where the ball will go before one receives it. This develops an awareness. If I am moving around the court, I cannot just focus on the ball; I have to be aware of nearby defenders and teammates.
When I drive, I do not stare straight-ahead at the car in front of me or the next light. I am aware of the cars to my right and left. If a car is slowing down to my right, I do not dismiss the driver as a poor driver with nowhere to go; instead, I look to make sure he is not slowing for a pedestrian. I know who is next to me so if I have to swerve, I know which way to swerve. I am aware. I anticipate issues and avoid problems.
Offensive players tend to stare at the ball or at the cut/screen that they are supposed to make next in their coach’s offense. They receive a pass and then they see the floor and begin to evaluate their options. By the time that they scan the environment, process the information, select the relevant cues, make a program and act, the opening is no longer there.
“When Johan Cruyff was coaching Barcelona, one of his players was Pep Guardiola, who now manages the team. Guardiola was not big and strong and when Barcelona was playing Mallorca, he went up against Miguel Angel Nadal [Rafael's uncle], who was tall and powerful. Cruyff said to Guardiola, ‘Don’t jump with him, because you will have no chance to win the ball. Try to realize where the ball will be going and be there. Think ahead. Anticipate.’ Clever tactics like that. Cruyff is an inspiration to me. When I was a kid and he was a player at Ajax, I wanted to play like him. Controlling the game. It’s all about Johan Cruyff.”
This anticipation – or playing in the future – comes from awareness. If I am on the weak side, I am aware of the open space, my teammates and my defender. I know whether my defender gambles for steals and block shots, whether he is slow, etc. When the pass is in the air, I make a decision. If I feel my defender too far from me to contest the shot, and I am in my range, I decide to shoot before I catch the pass. As the ball reaches my hands, my attention shifts immediately from the ball to the basket, and I fixate on my target. The decision is made.
If, as I move the ball into shooting position, I notice something unexpected in the environment, like my defender closed out far quicker than expected, I process the relevant cues and make a new decision. Since the ball was moving toward my shot, I use that as a fake and drive past the defender.
When a player makes a move or uses a screen to get open, he should have an awareness of other players – he does not want to cut into an area and take away a teammate’s space. Next, assuming that the area is open on the cut, he feels his defender. Does he have a step? Is the defender on his hip? Is he taller? As the offensive player catches, based on the feel and his knowledge of the defense, he should know what to do. Catch and extend for a lay-up to keep the defender behind him? Catch and jump stop because of the help defense? This is a feel. The feel develops through experience and awareness – keeping one’s mind open and attention focused broadly to notice small cues in the environment.
To develop this feel, awareness and anticipation, coaches need to focus on it. Long Island University soccer coach T.J. Kostecky uses warm-up drills where players are instructed to use one-touch passes and find the most open player without players yelling for the ball. The players have to scan the environment before they receive the pass to be able to make a one-touch pass. In basketball, I incorporate a tag element into passing drills; rather than the defense winning possession only by stealing a pass, the defense simply has to tag an offensive player in possession of the ball. This increases the time pressure on the offensive team, and players have to anticipate their pass before they receive the ball and find the most open player rather than passing to a teammate who will be tagged immediately. This is one way to force players out of their comfort zone with an added time stress that works to develop the awareness and anticipation skills that separate the good decision makers from their peers.
Leg Stiffness and Jumping Ability
When I ask a young child to jump as high as he can, he generally squats really low. Others bend over at the waist, flexing their hips to generate power. Is this the best way to jump? Do elite jumpers squat before jumping or flex at their hips?
This is a slow-motion video of Javale McGee dunking two balls in the 2011 NBA Dunk Contest. He plants his take-off leg around :36.
As he plants, he is extended at his hips. His torso is almost completely vertical.
The second video is a slow-motion video of Demar Derozan’s “Showstopper” dunk from the 2011 NBA Dunk Contest.
Again, as he takes off at around :26, his torso is erect and there is very little flexion at his knee or his hips.
If Derozan and McGee, obviously two gifted jumpers, do not flex into a deep squat or bend over to flex their hips, are we teaching young athletes the wrong way to jump?
Below is a clip from P3 in Santa Barbara showing some baseball players doing plyometrics.
In these repeat jumps, you can see that these athletes do not flex their knees or hips greatly. The focus is to get off the ground as quickly as possible. The athlete wants to use the force of the landing to propel him into the air (Stretch-Shortening Cycle) rather than absorbing the force.
In these examples, we see leg stiffness. “In its simplest sense, stiffness is the relationship between the deformation of a body and a given force,” (Butler, R.J., Harrison P. Crowell III, H.P., & Davis, I.M., 2003). In this case, the deformation would be flexion at the ankle, knee or hip and the given force is the ground reaction force on the plant leg.
“It appears that increased stiffness is associated with increased velocity, jump height and economy. Several studies suggest that forefoot landings are associated with an increase in knee stiffness and rearfoot landings are associated with increased ankle stiffness,” (Butler, R.J., Harrison P. Crowell III, H.P., & Davis, I.M., 2003).
However, while many accept that increased stiffness improves performance based on the greater use of stored energy from the stretch-shortening cycle, others argue that stiffer landings lead to more injuries. In fact, one widely accepted factor in the increased incidence of non-contact ACL injuries in females compared to males is the more erect landing. Therefore, if we focus on vertical stiffness in the lower body to improve performance, are we putting athletes at greater risk for injury?
In the P3 video, you can see Delmon Young’s knees cave-in as well as some ankle eversion. The valgus motion is another factor believed to influence non-contact ACL injuries.
There is an on-going study to see if an eccentric training intervention can improve vertical stiffness and if this vertical stiffness can decrease the valgus motion at the knee.
However, until then, how should one teach jump landing? Most teach the soft landing with greater joint compliance. However, is this the best way to develop an athlete? Is it a step in the athletic development process to prevent injuries in young athletes who lack the eccentric strength to land with greater vertical stiffness? Is the landing more situation-specific depending on whether the player wants to rebound off his landing (stiff) or absorb the force and stick the landing (soft landing)?
Coaching Clinics in Ghana and Kenya
For the past several years, I have sent books and email support to ALSA (Kenya) and Dynasty Hoops (Ghana) as they try to develop basketball and mentor new basketball coaches in their respective countries. This summer, I hope to travel to one or both to assist with their camps and assist with their coach training. These organizations are true grassroots organizations on the ground in Africa founded and run by local Ghanian and Kenyan coaches and educators. As such, they have no budget to pay for someone to assist with a basketball camp, even if they expect me to work with hundreds of players and dozens of coaches while there.
My goal is to arrange coaching and/or player clinics in the late spring and early summer to pay for the trip. The goal is to go to Ghana around the end of July, when Dynasty has its camps planned and before I return to school in August.
I currently am scheduled to speak at Boston University’s Sports Psychology for Coaches Conference at the end of May and the Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group’s Basketball Strength & Conditioning Conference at the beginning of June. I currently have a clinic scheduled with a local high school during the first trip, and a middle school clinic arranged with former NBA player Bob Bigelow during the second trip. I have a potential clinic in mid-June in Lexington, Kentucky. Otherwise, I am available on other dates for coaching and/or player clinics to raise some money to fund my trip to help out some organizations on the ground in Ghana and Kenya.
If you are interested in hosting a clinic, please let me know. Thank you for the consideration.