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Matt Sharky in the UK has been given a great opportunity to direct the training of his country's top junior basketball players from U19 down to U13. This is a tremendous opportunity to represent his country and develop young people that regularly populate the D1 teams in the United States.
At his request and my privilege, I will provide some prevailing thoughts that I think are critical in training basketball players.
1. Mobility and Stability
As I warned Matt, my views may not seem as basketball-centric as some would expect. I think athletes are athletes, and from a foundational level, human movement is the same for everyone involved. Obviously the Joint by Joint prevails, but there are singular impacts to the Joint by Joint that I think are more prevalent in basketball players.
One is the height of the players. Bottom line is that a longer lever is harder to control. No matter if it's a long femur, longer humerus or spine, length requires more stability. When the muscular and neuro-muscular systems are challenged as they are in these under- or poorly training individuals, the body will rely on bony approximation and ligamentous strain for stability as well as shifts in tone away stabilizers, creating tension in mobilizers such as the hip flexors, hamstrings, calves, etc., all the places we typically see "tightness."
Coming from the 5 foot nothing walking fire hydrant, having long levers is not the devil's spit. Longer levers typically come with bigger hands (better to grip you with) and bigger frames like shoulder girdle which provide better angles to buttress the spine.
The second point regarding mobility and stability is that most basketball players are what Gray would call Over Powered Athletes. These folks have a Ferrari engine in a ‘72 Beetle frame. The gap between high level basketball players and also-rans is very, very large. The guys that Matt is going to be working with are gifted. They have inordinate fast-twitch fibers and are beyond capable of outrunning their foundational movement dysfunction. Basically, they can still run and jump through the roof at elite levels despite the destruction they are doing to their joints. Now with the adolescents Matt is going to be working with, he can impact their strength and power. But even the U19 guys, he might already be looking at 35-42″ verts. They aren't going to be going any higher. Their durability is going to be where he can help the most. He will have to respect that even when/if strength and power can be enhanced, it must be within the framework of their Functional Performance Pyramid. Whether it's using the FMS or not, I expect training mobility and stability will be the first governor on his player's success.
2. Cervical motion
Buddying off of t-spine limitations that you would expect to see above, one of the most underrated aspects of performance is cervical motion. Taller people, much less players, live much farther away from the world. They have to bend over and look down a lot. That forward weight shift in the upper quarter adds up. The documentation of inter-regional dysfunction with poor cervical motion is clear.
I also think that tall basketball players shield their height from some sort of shame with the upper-crossed posture. I think in some ways they are embarrassed of their "differences." This biomechanical and emotional stress has very underrated effects on mobility/stability and performance.
Check on all of your athletes, clients, and patients if they can EASILY reach their chin to the chest. Get their head almost parallel to the floor looking upwards. Can they turn their head and drop their chin EFFORTLESSLY to touch their clavicle. If they can't, I firmly believe you are leaving inches on the Vertec wheels on the platform, and seconds in the lane. The neck matters for a number of reasons: fascial length tensions that span the entire body, breathing function, spinal stability, peripheral vision, reaction time. If the neck is off, the rest of your body is not optimal. A tight neck is not normal, and it is not efficient. Certainly we will see this more with basketball players.
Get a manual therapist on your team to get the neck on the swivel, and then mobility/stability training and proper breathing training is what you can do to lock it in.
3. Tall Spine
Certainly this principle applies to everyone, but the t-spine is a major offender again from the length and typical in-game postures of a basketball player. I think the T-Spine is as big a part of this ideal stereotype of spinal stability as it can impact the neck as above, the scaps, the low back, and the ribs as they would pertain to breathing techniques. Not only do we need t-spine mobility, but the tall spine posture from the crown of the head all the way down to the buttcrack should be long and stiff during all stability training. Maybe even call it T-spine stability. Longer levers are harder to control, but maybe it means just less or smaller progressions in external load. Long levers are never going to get someone to APF Elite or up on the board for top benches and squats. But that doesn't mean they aren't strong.
This principle holds for anti-spinal movement training and level changes. One of the best teaching tools for this is what I call the Frog Squat, where you take a DB or KB and hold it in goblet position and let the system drop you into a squat. All the while you are packing the neck in and getting tall in the spine. Every push into your spine should get you deeper into your hips. It's a nice teaching tool for the tall spine along with posterior pelvic tilt in all anti-extension positions.
As basketball players are often poorly educated in their training, need it be said that flexion training is complete nonsense even more so when you are taking a larger lever into a bad place. This equals more damage and an even larger struggle to crack out of the neuromuscular nut.
I would also like this principle to govern the limbs. Less load, FULL length through mobile segments of the shoulder (pull-ups, push-ups, bench press), hips (all level changes), and ankles (Deep Squat training). Especially in novice trainees, strength training should be mobility training inherently. Get LONG. Control length by going through length with limited load. Longer limbs have bigger risk/reward. Weak or inefficient athletes have "heavy" enough limbs.
4. Knee Performance
This is maybe what some are expecting when talking about a basketball player. Obviously knees and ankles are common injuries. And through the Joint by Joint, we should believe that ankle mobility, hip mobility, and core stability should beget good knee stability. I think that's true, but it's not the whole story.
The problem is that the basketball jump shot is inherently wrong everywhere. Heels are off the ground. Knees jut forward. Minimal hip hinge. Forward arms and head. If you saw this in the Deep Squat, it would look horrible, and in fact, I would gamble aggressively that most competitive basketball players not exposed to good training would score a 1 if they were pain-free on the FMS Deep Squat. But what is crucial in the jump shot is to maintain a straight up line of verticality to elevate over the defender's outstretched arm. You HAVE to use a bad squat to shoot successfully. And with that in mind, the knee pays the price. Poor surrounding mobility and stability AND knees jutting forward instills tremendous compression retro-patella and posterior meniscus. As the knee continues to flex, there is shearing of the femoral head against the back of the patella. Here is the bony stability that I mentioned above. Try this yourself. Just jut your knees forward without sitting back. Your knees will talk you out of depth. This crash is what an NBA rookie has already done maybe a billion times in the jump shot.
With this in mind, I would ask you to consider the vertical tibia in the box squat, dead lift, rack pull, and split squat as the evidence clearly supports deloading the knee with those techniques. There are both 1- and 2-leg options with the vertical tibia, and as I've mentioned before, loading is barely even necessary. I just came back from dinner with Bill Foran among others here @ Pre-Draft, and he described teaching Shaq to squat when he came to Miami with just all bodyweight.
The beauty of this training strategy is that I believe that the hip-dominant level changes create a posterior glide of the femur away from the retro-side of the patella, and when the real life movements of the real world are attempted, the compression has been attenuated.
While I am sure most would agree this is useful to restore the painful knee to non-painful, I also believe that this technique will improve performance. Clearly the posterior chain is a limiting factor to a quad-dominant squat, so if we can adjunct quad-dominant and hip-dominant choices, skewing power to quad- and strength to hip-, I think there is an accelerated balance and restoration of knee and spinal joint centration. With ideal centration in these "stable" segments, I have every reason to expect performance to improve and stave off pain. I firmly believe that folks that do not have pain simply do not have pain.........................yet.
My recommendations in this topic are box squats (high if necessary and with specialty bars to keep the bar high), deadlifts or more likely rack pulls starting at a height slightly lower than your dowel, split and RFE split squats with a long stride and vertical tibia (90/90 on the bottom). I do not think basketball players should catch the OL. The first and 2nd pulls meet these standards. The catch does not. A 1-leg unsupported squat can be done with a vertical tibia, but I'm not sure many individuals can do it. 1-leg unsupported can also be performed with a box squat technique, but these do not seem to be very challenging. I think most people just plop if not coached well.
Certainly these techniques have little honor for ankle mobility, so this must be maintained elsewhere, as well as integrated the full Deep Squat movement with such options as the Frog Squat or Toe Touch to Squat.
These suggestions are not an excuse to load up 3,4,5 wheels on a side, lock the bar low on your back, and sit back into an above parallel squat. That is trash. That technique is just an excuse to crush your spine and demonstrate that you don't belong in that squat.
Perhaps less rhetoric and theory and more meat and potatoes, these are the exercises I think have most application to fundamental movement and performance for basketball players or any individual.
Flexion-based: Deadlifts, 1-leg Deadlifts, KB Swings
Extension-based: Split Squats, RFE Split Squats
Rotation-based: Chops, Lifts, Turkish Get-ups
1-leg based: 1-leg Unsupported Squat, Step-ups
Squat-based: Squats (tread lightly with load)
Shoulder-based: Push Press, Pull-ups, Push-ups, Inverted Rows, Bent over rows.
by Art Horne
Working with Basketball at Northeastern University since 2003 I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some very talented “mid-major” players who have gone on to earn money in the NBA, NBA-D league and overseas. But being a mid-major player automatically stacks the deck against you when it comes to visibility and recognition, and when “interview” time comes, every little advantage counts when it comes to making an NBA roster.
I asked three presenters from this year’s Basketball Symposium and former NBA strength coaches what a mid-major player needs to do to crack a roster spot.
Here are their responses:
Charlie Weingroff, formally of the Philadelphia 76ers
1. Don't be a dick.
--In the NBA, the only thing that matters is if you can fill up the stat sheet. If you can put the ball in the goal, dish out or board double digits, or lock somebody up, you can act however you want. The better you are, the more leeway you have in how you conduct yourself. Hopefully this isn't too much of a surprise. But the lower down the totem pole you live, the less tolerance for foolishness there is. Every team needs to have 15 guys. It is not an insult to be number 15, but the truth of the matter is that there are more guys that be number 15 than can be 1 or 2. Don't dress crazy. Don't talk ghetto. Don't ask the equipment guy for the 4th t-shirt. Be early and don't give staff any trouble. Just show up and play hard. Don't be noticed for anything except the court, and be a good person (even if you're not in real life).
2. Know the plays
--Summer League has plays just like the regular season. And a lot of the plays are designed for the young guys that are guaranteed, not the guys trying to get a look. Summer League is more for them than anybody else. So if you screw up the plays or break the plays trying to get yours, that will piss coaches off. Even if you knock down shots, if you don't let the play run through, or screw up the motion, that is a very easy way to stand out in a negative way.
3. Respect the staff's time
--Don't think for one second that the front office and coaches don't ask the trainers, strength coaches, and equipment guys, even the ballboys about players. When there are tie breakers to be had, how players treat co-workers is on the report card. If you are trying to do whirlpools after practice and get in extra workouts, you are probably pissing off the staff that works 100 hour weeks all year and wants to get home to their families and time off. It may suck that you want to do everything you can to make the best of your opportunity, but remember that Summer League isn't as much about the long shots as it is about showcasing and exposing the guys already in the mix. If rehab and training sessions are not part of the schedule, ask in a very non-entitled way the trainer or strength coach if we do anything like that in summer league. If the Strength Coach says, oh yeah, sure, then you're fine. If the Strength Coach says, you know, we don't really do much of that in the summer, or we just do that with the guys on the team for now, then don't get pissy and just show up and play hard the next day. Maybe the hotel has a whirlpool or gym you can get your work in. It might suck or not make sense, but welcome to NBA Summer League. It ain't about you.
4. Eat right
--2-a-days and the heat of Vegas or Orlando along with playing with the best competition of your life may be some of the biggest physical challenges your body has endured. McDonald's is not the premiere choice to refuel your body. Spend some money, maybe more than you would prefer to eat better. Put down as much water as possible, and if you have a history of cramping, take more Gatorade or if there are any Gatorlytes added to the water or drinks. Salt your food unless you have a condition that says this isn't a good idea. There will typically be "nutrition" bars available, and they are probably better calories than most college athletes are used to getting when left to their own devices.
--Defending takes heart and commitment. This is what can separate you from other guys with even better talent and skills. There is always room for guys that can defend. As a strength coach and athletic trainer, it is hard for me to comment or really know how to teach defense. I guess you just know it when you see it. It is being in great condition when you show up to Summer League and being very active with your hands and staying with your man's hips. Miyagi said, "Always look eye," but I think in basketball you always look hips. The hips don't make fakes. Eyes, head, feet can all make fakes, but not the hips and midsection. Defense always gets noticed.
Keith D’Amelio, Stanford University, Formerly of the Toronto Raptors
1)Do the little things on the court
There are only so many shots to go around over the course of a game and more often than not someone who makes a lot more money than you is paid to take them. Where you can have an impact and be an asset to your team by doing the little things - Making the extra pass, putting a body on someone, fighting for loose balls, setting good screens. Most players don’t like to hear this as they think they are Kobe or LeBron and can all score 30 points any night. The reality is you are not, but that doesn’t mean you cannot help an NBA team win.
2) Do the little things off the court too
How you act, how you treat people within each organization can have a dramatic effect on your potential longevity in the NBA. NBA GM’s can be somewhat handcuffed by some players and their attitudes due to their overwhelming talent. They however do not have to put up with a bench player causing problems. If a superstar makes 20 million a year and is an ass, it is very tough for most GM’s to do something about it. If the 13th man is a jackass and causes problems, it doesn’t take much for an NBA team to pay a few $100,000 to quickly get rid of a problem. I have personally had to deal with players we brought in for the draft who were complete assholes, when the GM asked me my opinion I was nothing but honest and probably effected his potential draft status – he went undrafted. When you walk into a room, say good morning, thank the staff for things they do for you. They may be getting paid to perform a job but they are often way overworked and way underappreciated – don’t be one of the people who under appreciates them.
3) Equipment Man Rules ALL
This is someone who you have to befriend. They often run a lot more than simple laundry, and are almost always close with the GM. Treat them poorly or cause them problems and it will really bite you in the ass. Don’t ask for a new pair of socks every day, make sure your gear is always pinned or put in the bag, asking for 10 t-shirts for your friends is not going to go over well either. These guys will be more than happy to help you any way they can as long as you’re not an ass and help to make their jobs easier.
4) Take care of your body – you’re not going to play forever.
Most young players and rookies think they will play forever and have this incredible athletic talent until they are 60. Sorry to tell you but you won’t. What you do today can affect how you play in 10 years. Don’t think for a second that eating nothing but fast food is good for you or is helping you perform at your best. It probably wouldn’t make sense if I told you that Dale Ernhart Jr puts 87octane is his race car, so why would you think it’s ok for you to put a 99 cent value meal into your body – which is essentially your race car.
5) You’re not a 10yr Vet – don’t try and act like one
Hopefully you’re lucky to make it onto a roster, but please do not get caught up in trying to keep up with the vets – they have earned certain rights and have a lot more money in the bank than you do. I have seen it time after time with rookies who try and keep up with the team vets; trying to go shopping with them, buy clothes, buy cars, jewelry, etc. While yes you now make a tremendous amount of money – it is often nothing compared to what some of these vets make and have made for several years. Also vets are often quite able to go out at night and then be ready for practice the next day. Rookies often can’t handle it and will quickly put themselves in bad situations, both financially and on the court trying to keep late hours. Always keep in the back of your head too, that these Vets who are taking you all night and going shopping know one thing – they can’t play forever and some of you rookies are their potential replacements. So what appears to be a Vet taking care of some rookies may have underlying tones. Have fun and enjoy but remember you have a job to do.
Mike Curtis, University of Virginia, formally of the Memphis Grizzilies
1) Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
The most important quality any athlete or human being for that matter can posses is “humility”. Most undrafted athletes approach making an NBA roster the wrong way. They assume that scoring points is the single most important statistic that will get them an opportunity to sign a contract. There are three sayings that should be posted at the entrance of the locker room door during pre-draft workouts and summer league camps.
“Know who you are!”
“Know what got you here!”
“Do what you do!”
General managers and coaches typically select players for workouts and summer league based on scouting efforts throughout the year. If you were known in college for being a rebounder you should probably focus on rebounding. If you were known as a defender you should probably stop your opponent for scoring. I can’t tell you how many meetings I sat in on where a GM said to a scout after a workout or summer league game, “I thought you said this guy was this or that. I haven’t seen him stay in front of a guy yet or grab more than 2 rebounds in a game. “.
Every team has a niche to fill and most times the scoring need is filled by the guy they drafted in the first round. So stop listening to friends, parents, and in some cases uniformed agents and stick to your strengths. Your weaknesses can be addressed in practice or the off-season once you sign a contract. Your chances of making a team will increase if you do what the front office expects you to do first and foremost. An ability to score on top of that is a bonus.
2) Know What Your Goals Are and How to Actually Achieve Them
Making an NBA roster as an undrafted free agent is an extremely difficult task. In point number one I spoke about knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Then playing to those strengths. More importantly, it’s imperative that you put yourself in situations where you realistically have a chance to make a team and show your talents.
Some players simply want to increase their marketability and earning potential for opportunities overseas and training camp invites are beneficial. However, if your true and realistic goal is to make an NBA roster make sure that your agent is on the same page. What sense does it make to go into a training camp if you’re a wing position and the team already has 4 wings under contract for the next 2 to 3 years?
In rare cases the chance to showcase your talents in pre-season games or summer league may spark interest from another team. In most training camp situations you are just a practice dummy, there to take repetitions while the guaranteed guys take their time getting into shape.
Look for situations where you can enter the gym each day feeling as if you have real opportunity to achieve your dream. It will do wonders for your level of effort and mental approach.
3) Make Sure You are Physically Prepared the Grind
The pre-draft workout circuit is grueling. It usually consists of arriving in a city the night before. Working out the next morning. Heading to the airport after the workout and then boarding a plane for the next city and doing it all over again in the next place. If you aren’t a guy projected to go in the first round pencil yourself in for 10-14 consecutive days of this.
Summer league for most teams is 10-14 days in the worst possible destination for physically and/or mentally unprepared athletes. The temperature is usually well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the off court distractions are spectacular and plentiful.
In both of these situations you are not afforded an “off” day. That “off day’ could cost you money. So make sure you find a way to fuel your body for performance. That means hydration (water, Gatorade, etc) and complex carbohydrate dense meals. McDoanald’s, Wendy’s, and/or Taco Bell are hard places to find food for optimal performance. Additionally, get to bed and allow your body to recuperate.
Nutrition and rest are tried and true methods for recovery and given the amount of mental and physical stress associated with trying to make a team you will need as much of both as you can get.
4) Show Some Character!
Everyday is an interview for you. Your interactions with coaches, trainers, managers, and even friends will be investigated or analyzed on some level. Calls will be made to the support staffs of your college. A general manager will ask his athletic trainer, strength coach, and equipment manager about their interactions with you. From the time you put on a uniform in high school until signing day will be up for review if a team is interested in your services.
Men of character who can fill a need within a team have much higher chances of making a roster. Owners and front office personnel are getting tired of embarrassing off-court incidents. Society and front offices will give “first-rounders” a pass on character issues because they can fill up stat sheets. Everyone else is on a short leash.
5) Play Hard! and Smart!!!
Front office personnel love guys who play hard. But they really hate guys who don’t play smart. Learn the offensive plays, learn the defensive rotations, learn/understand/except your role, and play with a purpose. Dive for loose balls. Run the floor even if you don’t get the ball. Get back on defense. Guard your man. Play team defense. Finish plays you’re supposed to finish offensively.
Generally speaking, what is your philosophy for evaluating/treating a basketball player? How does it differ from other sport athletes?
To answer the 2nd question first, very simply, the answer is that my approach with a basketball player does not differ from any other sport's athlete. This philosophy is based on the notion that we must screen and assess basic fundamental presentations of mobility and stability before negotiating strength and speed. Certainly while important for all athletes, I think the inherent movement challenges of the tall athlete as well as one that plays basketball puts these qualities at the forefront.
The standard height of the basketball athlete typically yields a shift away from muscular stability towards passive stability of using tension of muscles, ligaments, and bones to support controlling a movement. Given the longer segments of the spine, arms, and legs, and relatively low training age of most basketball players, the qualities of bodyweight movement far supersede those of power and agility. Nearly all the time, improving fundamental movement patterns will be default improve the sexier qualities of vertical jump or power clean.
Coupling these natural tendencies for inefficient movement patterns, the inherent poor biomechanics of the jump shot add to the ingrained motor patterns governing the neuromuscular system. These are the patterns that I think hold priority for my attention in evaluating/treating a basketball player.
What advice would you give for young professionals looking to follow in your footsteps?
Most people are very excited to be very good or even great at what they do. Less strive to the be best they can be every day. Very few strive to be better than everyone else at what they do every day they have the opportunity to impact someone. There is a right way and wrong way to climb the ladder, but if you can manage a healthy and productive way to be better than everyone else, to be a leader in everything you do, you will automatically be the best you can be, and automatically be great. Maybe this is theoretically impossible, but if you try, you gain everything else by default. One thing I am not humble about is my drive to be better than everyone else. I am clearly not the smartest, most successful, or most charismatic, etc., but leaving nothing on table allows one to be best they can be.
What is your philosophy on basketball conditioning? Some sport coaches believe in long distance training to improve basketball specific endurance? What is your opinion?
I believe the literature has reported basketball at the national level to be played at a 1:6 work:rest ratio. This suggests for every 10 seconds of movement, there are 60 seconds of rest. This is fairly staggering for a sport requiring such a conditioning demand. Certainly these sport-requirements dictate an interval-based training program, or at least one that allows for very high intensities or VO2 max in the "on" interval and substantial rest in the "off" of the interval.
Given the facts that many coaches believe in long distance training, I do not force feed any specific intervals for basketball programming. Just do intervals! Whether it be linear patterns like ladders or 17s, etc., these are all relatively shorter distances that qualify by broad based definitions of interval training. Perhaps I should define this as High Intensity Interval Training, recently popularized by the informal literature review from Dr. Mark Smith. My philosophy relies of tremendous intensity followed by longer bouts of rest. Playing with on/off times are fun, and I am more interested in the approach than the ultimate efficiency of using only certain numbers.
If at all possible, using heart rate monitors during training is my preferred approach. I think Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the ultimate indicator of conditioning. This in a lay way is how quickly the body restores a resting or submaximal heart rate. We may end an interval after 20 seconds @ a heart rate of 185, but Athlete 1 returns to 140 in 20 seconds, and Athlete 2 takes 60 seconds. Clearly Athlete 1 is in better physical shape. RPE can also be used to run the restart of the interval.
The beauty of this type of training is that it lends brilliantly to very respectable times in a 1 and 2 mile runs or 10 mile bike time trials, which I think have a role in motivation during pre-season testing.
Please discuss your philosophy on taping/bracing ankles. Does this cause problems elsewhere? What are the advantages of taping/bracing?
My philosophy is something is better than nothing, but it needs to be the right something. This surely sounds confusing, so please let me explain.
There is no doubting the thought process popularized by Mike Boyle's Joint by Joint Theory that a loss of ankle mobility can foster knee pain in level changes. These level changes would include any strength training or athletic movement requiring a drop of the center of gravity. If a loss of ankle mobility is in the sagittal plane, this will cause an increase in anterior knee compression. If there is a loss of ankle mobility in the transverse plane, medial knee pain is more the probability. These instances are regardless of any taping or bracing choice.
Certainly using an external modality for stability such as taping or bracing will decrease ankle mobility and lead to knee pain. Instances of knee pain in basketball certainly are very high. Is it the poor eccentric control upon the landing that causes jumper's knee, or is it the lack of ankle mobility adding to joint compliance and ideal force dispersion through deceleration?
If the goal is to limit ankle sprains with the taping or bracing, we should also be quite aware that hip and core stability beget ankle stability.
But as I said, something is better than nothing. I believe proprioception can be gained from elastic tape jobs that actually provide very little support from an osteoligamentous standpoint. Maybe a neoprene ankle sleeve with an open heel would serve the same purpose. I believe this proprioception at the skin level can be very useful in "increasing the speed limit" on mechanoreception to the brain in bouts of potential ankle sprains.
Less is more, but the anti-ankle sprain muscles live in the hips, not the ankles.
Topics: Charlie Weingroff