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The Recipe


Like baking a cake there is a recipe to player development. It’s not a complicated recipe, but the amounts are pretty specific. No different than the cake, if the amounts you put in the bowl are wrong, you’re not going to get your desired result. Here are the ingredients:

- Team play

- Skills development

- Strength and conditioning

Not too complicated right??? Except for the balance and amounts of each need to be correct. This is where mistakes are made.

Team Play. You obviously need to be on a team, without it there is no purpose for the other two ingredients. Play on your winter team (high school, youth league, club) and play on your spring/summer team (AAU) and that’s it. Do not play on multiple teams, meaning you should not be on 2-3 teams at once. Playing on multiple teams at once takes away time for the other ingredients (skills and strength). In addition to playing on a team, try to play pickup as often as possible. This is harder for players today, whereas in generations of the past it was normal. I can’t recommend pickup enough assuming it’s competitive games. Go hunt competition.

Skill Development. We all know we need skill development, but how much? This ingredient to the recipe never stops, it’s a constant year-round component and truly becomes a part of life and daily routine. It should be working with a trainer, but it absolutely needs to be also working on your own as well. You can’t be a good enough shooter, no one ever went 500-500 from the 3-point line in a season. The key here is to be productive in your skill sessions by both working on the right things and not going through the motions. For example, a player on their driveway shooting around taking random shots at barely half speed is not a productive skill development session.

Strength and conditioning. This part changes as players get older. If you’re a parent of a 6th grader it’s different from a senior in High School. When you are young, you need to be stronger and in good shape, but the human body isn’t necessarily ready for heavy lifting yet. So building a base level of conditioning and strength is necessary, but not going overboard. Start with sprints or a mile run along with body weight exercises like pushups or planks to build the core. As players get older, developing strength, explosiveness, agility, and a high level of conditioning will be a separator. By the time High School rolls around 2-3 days a week of lifting and agility work should be the normal routine. In season a High School player should definitely cut back, but March to November should be a part of the nearly daily routine.

So putting this all together it should look something like this:

September to November is preseason. The main focus is on the individual and developing their skills and conditioning to get ready for the upcoming season. Playing on a team is not necessary, but if you do, it should come secondary and be a light schedule.

November to March is in-season. There is a huge separation here between high school and younger players that needs to be noted.  As high school players, this is the real basketball season and you need to be dedicated to your team 6 days a week leaving little room for anything else. Your strength and conditioning and individual skills work comes second, but you need to do enough to at least stay sharp. This won’t happen in your team practice, so finding some time outside of practice to get reps is important. It doesn’t need to be hours multiple days a week, but 1-2 days a week of a light lift and shooting session is beneficial.  For 8th grade and below, you probably have 2 (3 if you’re lucky) practices a week and 1-2 games on the weekends. This leaves plenty of time to spend on skill development and strength and conditioning on other days.

Somewhere between the winter team and your spring/summer AAU team there should be a break. I would love to say a month, but I know that’s not realistic. Give yourself a couple weeks to rest take some downtime, let the body recover. During this time your focus can go back to you and not the team so do what you need. That may be rest, that may be work on your shot.

March to July. This is AAU time where college recruiting becomes important if that’s your focus. For players not focused on college basketball, AAU is not necessary, but can be a way to get more game experience. As a general rule, your AAU schedule should never be so busy that you can’t fit 2-3 days of individual skill building sessions into your week. That doesn’t mean all of them should be with a trainer, but 1-2 probably should. Likewise, depending on your age, 2-3 days a week of strength and conditioning work is necessary as well. So if your AAU team practices 2x a week, that leaves 3 other weekdays to do skills and strength work. Then weekends are tournaments, but not every weekend, be strategic in how you use that time. Some weekends take off completely and goof off. Some weekends get in another skills session or two (by yourself or with a trainer).  If you are not playing AAU, you should be focused on a combo of skills training and strength and conditioning about 5 days a week.

August. This is your time. Protect it. Go on vacation, goof off, be a kid. Don’t completely take the foot off the gas and get out of shape, but the human body and brain needs some recovery. A day a week of training, a couple days of strength and conditioning, and several days of rest each week. Do not play on a team.

This is the recipe for building a great player. It’s been time-tested and proven. Fight it if you want and you’re going to get a bitter taste in your basketball cake. Follow it and enjoy the sweet taste of success.

Author: Alex Harris

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