One of my most significant mindset shifts occurred a few years ago, when someone referred to in-season as the longest, most consistent, unbroken training block of the year. This is so true—basketball off-season is in the summer, with numerous potential non-training periods. The season is, hands down, where you spend the most unbroken time with your roster. (I wish I remembered who tweeted that first so I could give a shoutout—apologies for my lousy memory).
Before adopting this outlook, I valued in-season training…but not as much as I should have. I knew it was important and obviously crucial to our athletes’ success, but I still was probably selling myself and our athletes short when it came to in-season protocols.
Now, in-season training is much more of a focused process than checking a box that simply says we lifted that day. For both the team and private settings, here are some helpful philosophies that I’ve used to get incredible results and feedback from our athletes.
1. Off-Season Influences In-Season
One of the biggest influences in any athlete’s training should be their own personal training history. Exercise history plays a significant role, no matter what time of year it is or what phase of training they’re in.One of the biggest influences in any athlete’s training should be their own personal training history…In the case of the in-season athlete, this history is critical info, says @JustinOchoa317. Click To Tweet
More seasoned athletes will have a long list of things they’ve tried, enjoyed, and/or hated, things that worked, things that failed, and so on. Inexperienced athletes with a low training age don’t have that list yet, but they have limitations as to what their programs can look like simply based on their training age (or lack thereof).
In the case of the in-season athlete, this training history is critical info. What did they do in the off-season and/or preseason? This answer should definitely dictate many in-season decisions.
It’s advantageous for coaches to look deeply into this because every athlete will have a different off-season. This is true at every level of the game, from high school to professional. A majority of these athletes are not running a program written by their team strength coach, and in some cases, some don’t even train regularly.
- If athlete A participates in a well-organized program all off-season that includes lifting, sprint work, agility work, and skill development, I would say they had a useful off-season.
- If athlete B needed surgery at the end of the season and spent the entire off-season doing physical therapy, that’s a very different situation than athlete A.
- If athlete C doesn’t lift a single time and plays pick-up all off-season, that’s another unique scenario compared to athletes A and B.
But what if they’re all teammates? When they get back to their team, what if they all have the exact same program?
No bueno. There is no way players B and C can hang with player A in a training setting. But we see this all the time in sport. I understand the challenges that come with each sector of training, from private to team at various levels. Still, there must be some level of continuity in what that athlete has been doing and what they continue to do in-season. Otherwise, we risk a stupid and highly avoidable injury in training—which should never happen.
By using their off-season training info to drive their in-season programming, you’ll have a much better idea of their current strengths and weaknesses and how you can address each and then progress the athlete appropriately throughout the year.
2. Fill Gaps with Training
Piggybacking off point #1, in-season training is an excellent opportunity to fill gaps in an athlete’s training. This is twofold:
- First, of course, you could fill the gaps they may have from their off-season training situation.
- More importantly, though, in-season training should fill gaps caused throughout the year by the demands of the sport itself.
For basketball players, there are some catch-all red flags that we can look for as coaches, aside from the player’s individual needs.
The first gap we could potentially fill throughout the year is range of motion. Basketball is dominated by partial ranges of motion:
- A defensive stance is a wide half squat.
- Jump takeoffs often occur from a quarter squat position.
- A jump shot is released in partial shoulder flexion.
Hoopers overload those partial ranges throughout the year and could lose strength and stability in the deeper ranges of those movements.
Video 1. In this example, the athlete maximizes ROM in this lunge variation by using a large plate to create a deficit, allowing him to sink deeper into his lunge and train strength through available ROM.
Just because many of the movements we see on the court are partial ROM doesn’t mean full ROM movements never happen. They do. And by continuing to give your athletes access and ownership of those full ranges via training, you’ll help them stay prepared for all movement scenarios they may see in the game.
Another critical gap we can fill in-season is exposure to specific outputs the athletes may lack during the game.
This is where my opinion may differ from a lot of coaches out there—many coaches I know believe that we should avoid jumping in-season because the players get that in their sport or that we should avoid sprinting because they get enough of that in their sport. I disagree. We should find jump and sprint variations that they don’t get exposure to in their sport and use them as catalysts to improve the actual in-sport variations. Keeping our speed and power outputs is a major goal during the season.We should find jump and sprint variations that athletes don’t get exposure to in their sport and use them as catalysts to improve the actual in-sport variations, says @JustinOchoa317. Click To Tweet
For example, I don’t think there’s any harm in appropriate volumes of single-leg jumping for an athlete that is a two-foot jumper on the court. I feel that this gives them exposure to their non-preferred jumping style in a safe and controlled setting, enhancing their output and giving them confidence in that style of jumping.
Video 2. Believe it or not, this athlete had trouble touching the rim using a single leg (left) takeoff simply due to lack of exposure. As you can see, he doesn’t lack the physical qualities.
The highest jumper I’ve ever trained is a two-foot jumper. His max approach jump has been measured as high as 47 inches. He can get that high going left-right and right-left. At one point, he could barely touch the rim off a left-leg-only takeoff. He had no injuries or abnormalities in structure—he simply wasn’t good at it. And because he wasn’t good at it, he was discouraged from training it. And discouraged to use that takeoff in games. This could have potentially taken away playmaking opportunities.
We worked on it at very moderate doses and eventually got his ability in a single-leg takeoff within 10% of his preferred two-foot gather. Now he has access to all four takeoff styles with confidence, which has undoubtedly positively impacted his game.
Video 3. This athlete performs a 30-meter sprint against 1 kilogram on the 1080 Sprint, which is basically a full-court sprint (plus 4 extra feet), with the goal of maximal velocity and maximal recovery time between reps.
The same can be said about speed. Basketball is a game full of so many different paces, but a large portion of the game is played in acceleration. Many athletes don’t get much max velocity exposure in the games, so we can fill that gap by training max velocity during the season.
Again, just because basketball is acceleration-dominant doesn’t mean max velocity will never happen. It will. And, again, by continuing to give your athletes max velocity exposure, you’ll help them stay prepared for all paces of the game and probably make improvements along the way. More than likely, if max velocity improves, so will acceleration—it’s a win-win.
There are so many gaps we can fill as coaches during the season. The examples I used are simply the ones that I consider the most universal in in-season programming.
Other more unique examples include:
- Movement patterns: What movement patterns are basketball players not getting directly from the sport? Can you load them and achieve a productive outcome?
- Diet and nutrition: What nutrients do athletes lack during the season? Being indoors and a winter sport, I would venture to say vitamin D is probably a concern. Can we eat or supplement that? What nutrients do we lose in sweat? Can we eat and supplement them?
- Feet: Basketball shoes are great for basketball but terrible for our feet. Can we train without our shoes whenever possible to restore foot function and continue to give our foot/ankle stimulus directly on the floor?
Video 4. Tightrope walks are now a staple for our basketball players. Get them out of their overprotective shoes and let their feet feel a training stimulus again.
3. Assess, Don’t Guess
I’ve written about VBT in the past, so it’s no secret that I am a huge fan of technology in training. During the season, technology can help coaches make more informed decisions based on the trends of the data we have access to.
Some coaches have access to extraordinary amounts of tech and data, while others may have little to no tech implementation. I think there’s something here for everyone. What the Los Angeles Lakers have will be different from what the 1A high school in rural Indiana has. But having something helps!
The more you can go from “I’m not too sure” to “I think so” to “I’m pretty sure,” the better. Use whatever you can to take the guesswork out of your system.We all have access to two old school and FREE readiness indicators: the box score and the schedule. These include crucial info: minutes played and travel logistics, says @JustinOchoa317. Click To Tweet
Velocity-based training is an excellent way to have a built-in readiness test within your training. Simply looking at what the athlete did in previous weeks versus what they’re doing on that day can help you make on-the-fly programming decisions for each individual athlete. The autoregulation is built in because you’re training for a target bar velocity rather than a target load or target percentage of 1RM.
And while VBT is cool and all, we still have access to two old school and FREE readiness indicators:
- The box score.
- The schedule.
These two things include a pair of crucial pieces of info:
- Minutes played.
- Travel logistics.
Basketball season is a grind, with a lot of travel and potential back-to-backs. Depending on the level of play, this can really impact player energy.
During the season, athletes who aren’t getting a lot of playing time can capitalize on many training opportunities. On the flip side, athletes who start and play most of the game will obviously have higher levels of fatigue accumulation throughout the year. The programs for these two groups of athletes may look different from day to day.
We can use box scores as a bare minimum for readiness testing. My colleague, Coach Dre Davis, head basketball coach at Warren Central High School, uses a “Total Work Chart” to get an even more in-depth look at the box score. This chart includes minutes played, scoring, assists, rebounds, and all the typical statistics, but he also tracks high-effort situations such as charges taken, 50/50 balls won, defensive five-second calls, and other stats that don’t show up in the box score.
The amount of “total work” an athlete does on the court may not show up in the box score. However, it gives us a good idea of how active and impactful a player was during their time on the court and is another great tool to coincide with the standard box score for determining how players may feel throughout the year.Be rigid with your training goals but flexible with how you help athletes achieve those goals. This goes for training year-round, not just during the season, says @JustinOchoa317. Click To Tweet
Be rigid with your training goals but flexible with how you help athletes achieve those goals. This goes for training year-round, not just during the season—but finding ways to mold your program around the individual will always pay off.
4. Watch Film
This is my absolute favorite way to improve in-season training—watching the game that I love! The first article I wrote for SimpliFaster was about how strength coaches can influence training by watching film. Since writing that, I believe in film study with even more conviction.
Earlier in this article, we talked about filling gaps, and watching film is one way you can further understand how to do so. When you watch game film, you can take note of movement quality, repetitive movement patterns, major inefficiencies, major strengths, and more than just the X’s and O’s of the game.
When it comes to film study, you can get as deep as you want and as creative as you want. Not to mention, technology like Hudl and Synergy can sort all of these plays by player, actions, outcomes, and just about any other variable you can think of.
The possibilities are truly endless when using film study to find creative ways to help our athletes. It’s a highly untapped resource in our field, says @JustinOchoa317. Click To Tweet
Also, we can watch how things transfer (or don’t transfer) from training to the game. One of the most significant examples that come to mind is when coaches try to coach a “false step” out of an athlete. Then, when you watch the actual sport, you see nothing but “false steps.” So maybe we should just leave the false step alone because it is a natural and efficient movement strategy and train our athletes to be robust and durable enough to perform that false step without further risk of injury.
This video shows a random possession from the 2021 WNBA Finals game 4—as you can see, on the offensive side of the ball alone, there are two false steps within one possession. Trying to coach this movement out of athletes is not a good use of our time because it will consistently continue to happen naturally in games.
The possibilities are truly endless when using film study to find creative ways to help our athletes. It’s a highly untapped resource in our field. It’s fun, engaging, and outside the box. All of this helps us grow as coaches. So many hunches can be confirmed on film, giving coaches the confidence to act on those hunches and potentially make impactful training decisions for the athletes.
5. Communicate Proactively
Last but certainly not least comes communication. The key here is proactive versus reactive communication. Honestly, this might be the most important point here, but if I started the article off with something this boring and straightforward, you wouldn’t still be reading.
As much as I love technology and new ideas, I still think personal connections are the lifeblood of our industry. Earning trust, showing empathy and support, and trying to be a universal resource to our athletes at all times is probably the best injury mitigation strategy we have.
As coaches, we must remain proactive during the season with our communication and player relationship development. S&C coaches, along with all medical personnel, should know about every bump, bruise, ache, and pain. This way, we can respond to small things while they’re small and avoid them becoming big things in the future.As much as I love technology and new ideas, I still think personal connections are the lifeblood of our industry, says @JustinOchoa317. Click To Tweet
The basketball season is a grind, for sure—but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to improve through it! By taking these five fundamental actions, we can give our athletes a safe and effective in-season training experience and help reduce the myths of in-season training to help push our field forward to new levels.
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