Thoughts On Preseason Workouts

A few weeks ago, I was coaching a private session with a few younger kids. When they arrived at the gym, they told me they had just come from the pool. After hearing this, I asked a question that they seemed to dismiss as merely small talk (although I had a much larger purpose for it).

Here’s how our conversation went:

Me: “What’d you do at the pool?”

Them (looking at me like I’m crazy): “We swam of course. What did you think we would do at a pool?”

Me: “You just swam laps back and forth?”

Them: “No, we played a game.”

Ahhhh! That’s exactly what I thought I’d hear!

So then I asked about the specifics of the game (they called it “Color,” a game that was unfamiliar to me). I told them to recreate it on the basketball court, and we used it as our ball handling warm up for the day.

Now, I am fully aware that the type of ball handling being done in this game may not have led to a significant amount of transfer to a game setting. For me, this was about recreating something I knew the players liked while also increasing their body temperature.

From this interaction, I’m sure you can tell that I wholeheartedly support a games-based approach to basketball practice—and it is one that can and should be used in preseason training (especially when time on the basketball court during this period may be limited).

Recently, our basketball program started back up with preseason workouts for players who are not participating in a fall sport. We have one day assigned for open gyms, while the other four weekdays are aimed at improving certain areas of our players’ fitness.

Unfortunately, traditional preseason training is seen as boring and predictable. The players likely dread showing up—and this feeling of monotony remains present throughout the entirety of the workout. But, I’ll say it again, it doesn’t have to be that way. My first post focused on engagement mainly during regular season practices, and this is the same template we should use for preseason workouts as well.

For us, the vast majority of activities we do in preseason (excluding warm up and cool down segments) are competitions. It is, quite simply, the easiest way to increase player participation and engagement in preseason workouts.

Nearly every speed drill can easily become a tagging game or a race, and it’s not surprising that players run faster under these conditions. Ultimately, the goal for us coaches should be to create activities that are so fun that the players forget they are even “working” or “grinding.”

When I watched our players run last Thursday during our chase games, it was faster than I’ve ever seen them run. And not only were they getting faster, but I knew they were engaged. I was happy to see them laughing and cheering on each other during the competition.

Creating this type of competitive environment clearly breeds positive results, but there is one important way to facilitate this competition. Remember, a key part of the mastery portion of intrinsic motivation that I have discussed revolves around making sure the degree of the challenge is appropriate. In our program, we have speed scores (and other athleticism test scores) for our players to easily partner them up or create teams so that the players are facing other players in a similar performance range. In other words, our activities aren’t just competitions—they are winnable competitions for all participants. This further heightens the intensity and urgency, as the players are aware one small misstep could be the difference in the game.

And Mano Watsa offers another idea that gives everyone a chance to win a sprint and almost guarantees a tight finish. Watsa says a coach can create a more competitive race by starting the faster players in a more disadvantageous state (like the push-up position) while slower players take a few steps forward. As Watsa explains, everyone is now challenged and the workout is personalized for each individual.

When players walk into our preseason sessions, they usually have no idea what to expect—and that’s just how I like it. Here’s a quick look at what our workouts looked like this week, ideas sparked mostly by the Twitter accounts found in my Movement list (I highly encourage all coaches to subscribe to it).

So coaches, I ask you, how are you making physical fitness fun during the preseason?

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