As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once famously quipped: “I'm out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes!” Basketball is a game of three point shots and monster dunks, but any long-time player will tell you it is also a game of endurance.

The best time to get into shape is in the dog days of summer. Before next season rolls around, young basketball players can improve their game through practice and conditioning work in the off-season. Here are some great ways to begin next year in the best shape of your life.

Basketball Conditioning Track Work

Basketball conditioning often revolves around wind sprints, shuttle drills, and other short burst movements. It is sometimes forgotten that it is also a game of perpetual movement. For every explosive drive to the basket, there are many more steps taken by players to get into defensive position or simply hump it from one end of the court to the other. We advise track workouts which incorporate both sprint and long distance work, including:

4x4x400 workout - this workout includes running four laps around a standard track, which is equivalent to 400 meters, 1,600 in total. Athletes should sprint the straight length of the track, then jog (walk if necessary) the curves. At first, many athletes will require a rest between each lap. Eventually, the goal should be a continuous workout with the curves being the only rest.

Shuttle drills - many tracks surround a football or soccer field. If yours has a football field, try this movement. Sprint from goal line to 10 yard line, jog back. Sprint from goal line to 20 yard line, jog back. Sprint from goal line to 30 yard line, jog back. Sprint the length of the field. Rest as required and repeat.

Jogging - sorry everyone, but jogging still has a place in basketball training. Straight line cardiovascular endurance is extremely important and should not be neglected.

Off-Season Basketball Strength Training

We often hear parents concerned that their children are too young to begin strength training. Ideas like “lifting weights stunts growth” and “they aren’t fully developed yet” are frequent culprits. Scientific research has shown that responsible, properly performed resistance training is effective for athletes as young as seven (7) years old. Here are some tips which hold true for all ages when strength training for youth basketball:

  • Using proper form - above all else, proper form and equipment usage prevents injury. If a coach or parent is not qualified to teach a young athlete proper form, personal trainers may be a good option.
  • Exercise selection - no, your 8 year old does not need to clean and jerk twice a week to get strong. Choose exercises which suit the young athlete’s abilities and goals. Remember that resistance training is not just about lifting heavy weights.
  • Formulating (and sticking to) a program - most gym goers have seen the gym rat who only performs bench press or squats five times per week. It is vital that young athletes select exercises which build muscle and strength in a balanced manner. For example, every set of bench press can be complemented with a set of rows or other pulling movement. This helps promote a balanced, healthy physique.

Recover in between workouts - without a doubt the number one strength-related mistake youth athletes make is not recovering. Ample rest between exercising the same muscle group, getting plenty of sleep, and getting enough calories are all essential.

Off-season Pick-up Games: Maintaining Good Habits

There is nothing wrong with keeping it old school and staying in shape by playing the game we all love. Pick-up basketball is a great way to keep cardiovascular endurance up while improving your game. However, there are a few pitfalls into which youth basketball players can fall in summer games.

Coaches of all disciplines can attest to the fact that teaching good habits is far easier than breaking bad habits. If a youth player is serious about basketball, he or she should remain serious about it during off-season pick-up games. No carrying the ball, no crazy shots, no selfish play. These all may seem like innocent fun until they carry over to your game next season.

The best way to ensure a young athlete is keeping their head on straight is to find “good” pick-up games in which to participate. Maybe the court down the street is occupied by 30-year-olds who like to fire up 40 footers. The court a few minutes away filled with active high school ballers looking to improve their game might be the better pick. Whatever you choose to do, just keep in mind that every action on the court is building muscle memory for a youth athlete.

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