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Pre-Season Basketball Conditioning and Workouts

A college assistant coach called me this week about the team’s off-season workouts. He felt the head coach was concerned only with conditioning and not making the players better. The sentiment that he expressed seems consistent with many trainers who concentrate on workouts, not skill development.

If there’s one thing practically guaranteed to break down your form and bring improvement to a halt, it’s a workout.

Think about it. Workouts, by conventional definition, mean working harder or longer to train your heart and lungs and muscles to ignore exhaustion. That means more laps, or harder laps, or both – fatigue by design. The point of these conventional workouts is to do all you can to tire yourself out; then, when you’ve succeeded in making yourself tired, all those crucial refinements you’ve been working on so consciously…go right back out the window…(Terry Laughlin, Total Immersion).

Conditioning is obviously a part of basketball, and players need to be able to execute skills through fatigue. However, not when they are learning the skill. When teaching a new skill or developing a skill, the player needs to be fresh to concentrate on each repetition. Too many coaches use conditioning drills as their skill development, and they maintain the players’ current skill level rather than helping the player improve.

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As Laughlin writes about his teaching methodology:

“Here, fitness is something that happens to you while you practice good technique.”

When I train players, I do not make a conscious effort to make the training hard or to improve conditioning. With my own teams, if we need additional conditioning, we use separate sessions for conditioning or we work on fitness at the end of practice and without a ball.

Skill development is skill development, and conditioning is conditioning.

However, players’ fitness often improves through the different drills. This is similar to my recent post about the strength coaches who appear not to teach proper movement skills in their conditioning program.

In my first pre-season session with a new team – a try-out day to pick the team – I taught the hockey stop. Now, every time that the players run a line drill, they use the hockey stop and develop a good habit.

When I used the baseline shuffle drill (see Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter Vol. 3, No. 37) in a subsequent practice, they knew the hockey stop so the instruction progresed much quicker. Therefore, the players did more repetitions at a faster speed, which challenged their fitness through a basic ball handling drill where the focus was developing a new move.

As a coach, you have to decide on your goal for the session and the skill level of the players. If the players have mastered and automated a skill, you can incorporate the skill into conditioning because you are not developing or teaching the skill – for instance, using a medicine ball in a chest pass drill with college players or using a full-court, undefended lay-up drill with varsity players. This is conditioning, not skill development.

When the goal is to develop a new skill – practicing 1v1 moves on the perimeter – fitness or conditioning should be of no concern. The goal is teaching the skill and giving the player the time and repetitions with full concentration to learn the skill.

Conditioning is not skill development. Pick a goal for your session and stay true to the objective rather than trying to do everything at once.

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