by Devan McConnell
When working with female college basketball players, there are two main factors, which just about every young woman needs to address. The first is simply strength. The bottom line is that most women playing D1 basketball are simply not strong enough. Not strong enough to compete at their full potential, not strong enough to withstand the demands of a rigorous season, and unfortunately not strong enough to stay healthy. The second factor which I see all the time with young women playing at this level is an inability to move well. What do I mean by move well? Efficient, precise, powerful, and athletic movement is movement, which is fun to watch, but is still in control.
I think these two components are largely intertwined. Too often the sports performance professional spends all or the majority of their time developing strength and power with the female basketball player, while minimal time is spent actually developing proper movement. What they often end up with is a "weight room strong" athlete, whose newfound strength doesn't transfer well onto the court. Or worse, they end up with an athlete who now has a Corvette engine with Ford Focus brakes. In this case, the athlete might actually be too powerful for herself, and injury can occur as she lacks the ability to decelerate herself properly while performing on the court.
I'm not saying we shouldn't be getting our female basketball players strong. I'm saying we need to be spending time teaching them how to jump, land, accelerate, decelerate, and change direction properly. If we do this, we will increase the player's ability to play the game of basketball, which is of course the ultimate goal. Strength and power development need to be viewed as a tool in the sports performance coach's toolbox, just as specific exercises or recovery protocols would be.
If the female basketball player possesses and displays efficient and controlled movement mechanics, then go ahead and get her strong. Build that Corvette engine so that she can out perform her competition. But if she does not possess that skill set, be careful not to build "strength on top of dysfunction" as well known Physical Therapist Gray Cook is fond of saying.
In our program at Stanford, all aspects of "athleticism" are worked on at all times. That means that we are always practicing and becoming more proficient in our movement technique, while still addressing strength, power, stability, mobility, and any other factors which we deem to be important to the overall development of our women's basketball players. As I stated earlier, strength and power development should be viewed as "tools" and not necessarily the "be all, end all" to development. That being said, I view many of the exercises we use in the development of our female basketball players as part of their movement training.
In my eyes, proper movement in our weight room exercises reinforces and complement proper movement on the court. For example, we clean from the hang as opposed to from the floor. The primary reason for this is because quite simply most of our players are not built to pull from the floor. I also do not allow my players to drop the bar in most situations (unless they miss the lift) because I want them to develop the eccentric posterior chain strength necessary to rapidly decelerate the bar as they lower it back into position. I believe this skill and strength is very important when it comes to the ability to decelerate and change direction on the court. This is also why we catch in the power position as opposed to an Olympic style deep squat. I want my players to be concentrically explosive, but also be able to eccentrically "put on the brakes".
Likewise, a staple exercise in my program is the unsupported single leg squat. From a performance standpoint I want my players to be able to produce force off of one leg. But from an injury prevention standpoint as well as a movement standpoint, I want them to be able to reduce or withstand force with good biomechanical efficiency on one leg. This directly carries over to on court drills such as the 1-2 stick, where a player must forcefully shuffle laterally and come to balance on one leg, controlling multiple segments through simultaneous mobility and stability.
Female basketball players need to get strong. No doubt about it. But they also need to be taught how to move correctly. Addressing only one or the other is a great disservice to the potential of these talented athletes, as I believe one cannot live without the other.