Good basketball conditioning is not preferred, it is essential. Basketball is a physically demanding game, offering little time to rest when the player is on the court. But the simple fact is, there is no excuse for losing a game because of poor conditioning.
Players need to be in shape before tryouts - in fact, that's a major factor you should have in mind when deciding who remains on the team throughout tryouts, and who gets sent home. You don't play basketball to get in shape; you get in shape to play basketball. And then you get in even better shape through the conditioning drills in your basketball practices.
Conditioning drills must be sport-specific. Basketball is a start-stop, explosive-energy game. Long distance running may create a stronger heart and more endurance, but the ability to run at a constant speed for two hours will not help anyone sprint up the floor, then back peddle quickly down court to get into defensive position, then sprint again. It is speed and quickness that basketball players need more than anything else, and so you should introduce drills and routines early in the pre-season that focus on developing this, like these agility drills, as well as a jump rope routine.
Players generally don't appreciate the importance of developing quickness as a skill, at least not on the same level as shooting or ball handling skills. Or they feel it is innate - either you are quick or you are slow, and there isn't much you can do about it. To an extent, perhaps they are right - some people just seem to be naturally quicker than others. But like any other skill, quickness is something that can be worked on and improved.
There aren't many stand-alone programs built to focus on speed. I used to advocate one that I have used and felt worked really well (the Truth About Quickness), but I can't seem to find it for sale any longer. There is another program called Ultimate Speed Development that I've checked out and this seems to be a good choice as well - something you may want to take a look at, particularly if you have some slow players. These programs focus on building players' quickness and agility, which will help them get up and down the court faster as well as improve their offensive and defensive capabilities.
Probably one of the most widely used basketball conditioning drills are Suicides, and for good reason - the start-stop movement, constant change in direction, sprinting action of suicides is a great way to improve conditioning specific to the game. You could also use Horses, which are basically an extended version of suicides, and consequently more exhausting. Both suicides and horses are great drills to use throughout the pre-season and season, but particularly good at the beginning of the pre-season to get players into shape.
Another good basketball conditioning drill is the 30-30 - again, sprinting and slowing up, sprinting and slowing up, trying to imitate game situations.
To add in a team element, and to mix up your conditioning drills a bit to make them more interesting, use Sprint Relays. This is basically relay racing that is continuous, has players working in teams, and again has players sprinting and stopping, sprinting and stopping.
Sprinting is, of course, an important skill for
basketball, as basketball is a game of quickness as opposed to endurance
- the ability to sprint for fifteen seconds at a time is more valuable
to a basketball player than the ability to jog for an hour. And getting
past a defender is a matter of explosiveness, not stamina.
But the ability to move quickly on defense is equally important and no less tiring - perhaps more tiring - than sprints, so you should incorporate drills like the Slide and Sprint to improve not only sprinting abilities but defensive slide and movement as well. Good defensive play requires proper defensive stance and movement, which requires plenty of practice.
Another basketball conditioning drill that uses a combination of physical conditioning and basketball skill is The Circuit - a very tough drill, but very effective at building sport-specific conditioning as well as basketball skills when tired. Use this one especially at the beginning of the pre-season, when you want players to develop their conditioning the most. You could also use a variation of this drill, The Lion Circuit, to add a different dimension and mix things up a bit.
These drills use movements that are common to the game of basketball. They emulate how the player moves on the court, and by practicing them over and over again, at faster and faster speeds, their muscles understand how to perform that movement easily, fluidly, quickly, with power and grace.
Consistent use of these conditioning drills - especially at the beginning of the pre-season - will greatly improve your players' cardio levels and quickness, as well as their endurance. This is especially important when it counts - in the last quarter, often in the last few minutes of the game, when the team with the best conditioning will be able to overcome any other team.
Integrate these basketball conditioning drills into your practice regimen and continually work to improve the conditioning of your players all year long.
"There are two pains in life - the pain of discipline, and the pain of regret.
Take your pick."
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