Training with the game in mind
by Steve Scalzi
It's 6:00am on a summer day. The air outside is already humid and another scorching hot day is on tap. Still, the devoted players rise, beat the hustle of the campus life, and arrive at the gym to put their work in. Dribbling through cones, coming off fictitious screens, going to the foul line with the game hanging in the balance - if only in their mind.
Coaches and trainers stress the need to practice as one would play. "Recreate moves at game speed, envision competing and improving under game conditions" they preach. Operating as though they're in the moment, so when their chance arises, they've already been successful in that very spot.
But what about while training? When the court beneath a player is replaced with turf, or their familiar high tops are traded out for Nike Frees, are they still in the arena in their mind? Counting down the final seconds for a desperation game winner is easy. But when they're running stairs do they see the value of each rep? Does each movement on the slide board register as having an important impact in their ability to stunt and recover on the defensive end? Is it clear to your athletes that an asymmetrical kettle bell lunge is directly related to their ability to gather themselves in transition, take a bump and finish with contact for that game changing basket?
From a college coach's perspective, when you can't work directly with a student-athlete in the summer time, and technically cannot make workouts a mandatory occurrence, a major concern is not simply that they get in the gym, but that while in the gym players maximize their time. With summer training occurring 3-4 times a week as a major focus of improving one's game for the fall, I say the notion of game pace and visualizing basketball success is equally important in the weight room as it is on the court. As a strength and conditioning coach, are your workouts consistent with what will be physically required for their position? Does each exercise combine as pieces of a puzzle to create a more complete player? No question the readers of Everything Basketball have well planned workouts and philosophies that prepare a player for success. However, do the players recognize and understand that running “17’s” leads to the ability to provide one inch of improvement in their chase for a loose ball? More importantly, are strength coaches consistent with the basketball staff in their terminology and nomenclature inciting visual images of how their training session relates to the game? Players can go through motions in any workout, meet any bench mark or time required, but doing so and understanding the connections the training has to their overall game, relating specific exercises to intricacies or facets of the game, is priceless.
This can be simple, or this can be done at a high level. In our second season at Northeastern University, we took on perhaps the toughest non-conference schedule in the country. We had merely one non-conference home game and ventured into hostile arenas such as Illinois's Assembly Hall, Maryland's Comcast Center, the Carrier Dome, and Gampel Pavilion. The summer before, only days after our schedule was released our strength coach, Art Horne already had the images instilled in their minds during tough workouts.
"Don't stop! Give me three more reps, Maryland's Sea of Red wants to see you fail."
"Get your hands off your knees. Don't show the Carrier Dome that you're tired."
It can be as simple as helping them step into the arena in their mind or it can go further by implementing the coaching staff's terminology.
"We close out with high hands on their strong hand gentlemen. Take shot out of their mind as you closeout in this defensive conditioning drill.”
Simply put, some players want to win a sprint our put in max effort out of competitive pride. Some will complete training sessions just so they're merely finished. But when a player's mind set shifts from simply completing a sprint, and changes to envisioning success on the court within the context of the game, that's when true improvement is achieved. As a college coach who has to be quite hands off in the summer, there's nothing greater than trusting a strength coach to drive these elements home.