By Jeff King
The month of March signifies a couple of things: spring is on the horizon and the high school basketball season is gradually winding down to its end. Since mid-November, high school teams all over the United States have put in countless of hours practicing and playing up to 35 games to attain the ultimate prize of winning a league or section title. Although a few teams are only able to achieve this, every player will have put in many hours of basketball once the season is over. That means a lot of jumping and shuffling which can put a good amount of stress to the hip, knee, and ankle joints of a player, especially one who might still be developing biologically. With that being said, it’s important for a young athlete to have a sound understanding of what they can do to recover physically from the rigors of a long season and to prepare themselves for the next season. Here are some suggested things a high school basketball player can do to ensure they are maximizing their off-season time:
1. Rest, Rest, Rest– If a basketball player is not participating in a spring sport, he or she should partake in 1-2 weeks of no or minimal activity. The body has gone through a whole season of working hard six days a week for a good three months. Give the body some time to “recharge the battery” and to rest any aches and pains that might have occurred during the season. Your mind also needs time to relax and not be consumed with basketball.
2. Skill development– Once an athlete has given themselves time to rest, they should go back to participating in basketball. However, rather than playing, players should focus on their skill development. Too many young athletes devote countless hours of playing pick up games but don’t commit time to develop their skills. It’s near impossible to become better at any basketball skill, especially shooting, if you don’t take the time to practice on your own. It takes countless repetitions done correctly to become proficient at any skill and often times in a pick up game these opportunities do not present themselves enough for anyone improve on their skills. Playing pick up games with teammates is important as it will keep you in general basketball conditioning and develop team chemistry but skill development during the off-season, especially early, should be the primary focus.
3. Strength training– Basketball players, along with any athlete, should use the off-season to become stronger. The off-season is where the volume of your workload in the weight room should be at the highest. Devoting three to four days a week of effective strength training will help players becoming stronger in both the saggital and frontal plane. An effective strength training program will also aid in improving conditioning, power, and speed, all elements needed to be an effective basketball player. In terms of the strength program itself, the main focus should be on core lifts such as deadlifts, squats, rows, and presses. This is to ensure total body development.
4. Hip/Glut activation– Although this falls under strength training, its important enough topic to get its own heading. The game of basketball involves substantial amount of lateral movement, which involves the hips and glutes. In my experience of training young basketball players, many of them have poor activation of these two areas. Not only are they involved in lateral movement (i.e. shuffling) but aid in jumping. Improper activation and synchronization of these muscles can lead to inefficient movements thus causing common knee injuries such as patella tendonitis. Therefore, any strength training program should include exercises (i.e. lateral band walks, unilateral exercises) that require activation of the glutes and hip muscles. This will aid in athletes becoming more explosive laterally and to decrease risk of injury.
5. Ankle/foot mobility– Although last on the list, this perhaps could be the most important thing a basketball player can work on during the off-season. The nature of basketball causes a lot stress at the ankle and foot joints. Compound that with many players wearing ankle braces during the season and we have players with horrible ankle mobility. The combination of high top shoes and ankle braces inhibits the ability for our ankle to do what it’s intended to do which is to move. Ankle dysfunction can lead to knee issues as well. Thus, it is important for all basketball players to work on their ankle mobility. Putting the ankle through various ranges of motion with the use a band is great way to work on this.
The take home message is the off-season is a time for a basketball player to take care of their body and to work on skill development. Playing pick-ups are important but should not make up the bulk of your off-season regimen. Incorporating strength training, individual skill work, rest, and prehab will help in the overall development of a young basketball player.
Jeff King is a certified strength and conditioning coach who has been working with young athletes at Fitness Quest 10 since 2008.