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Plan for a Performance Result: “Neg-energy”

Recently a fellow who is the early parts of learning and developing to have as his career the performance training of athletes dropped in to ask me a very good question.

He was reading a newspaper article about a basketball skills coach who lives in his area and works with a variety of players. The article had to do with this coach’s work with a professional basketball player a few days before the end of the recent NBA lockout. The article briefly described some of the drills the coach put the athlete through and two drills in particular piqued my young friend’s curiosity. (I had also previously read the article and I was quite impressed that this up-and-coming performance coach had askance about what he read).

The first drill in question the basketball coach had this pro player perform was a drill that is certainly not new but has recently become ‘sexy’; it involves weaving around cones while dribbling a basketball and at the same time dribbling a soccer ball with one’s feet. It sounds cool and is very challenging; I asked my young friend what was bothering him about the drill: His response was that considering the training session was a few days before the lockout was to end and the pre-season was set to begin, wasn’t the drill counter-productive to performance training? Wasn’t the drill done at the wrong place in the continuum of science-driven performance training?

“Absolutely correct”, I responded. The dribble-a-basketball/soccer-ball-while-weaving –through-cones can be an excellent drill but only if applied at the right point in training. The drill promotes a high-degree of nervous-system confusion which therefore should be placed far earlier in the training continuum, many weeks, if not months previously (perhaps in the general prep training or directed prep training phases). As a new season approaches and the training should be directed towards competition-specific training, drills that promote nervous system confusion are therefore counterproductive to skill acquisition/maintenance. So, while the drill was “challenging” and exotic, the use of it at that near juncture to the athlete’s playing season was what I call a “neg-energy” – negative energy spent training – block and as such illustrated that while intending good things, the basketball coach did not understand the ramifications of what he was doing and therefore did not effectively plan his training paradigm.

The second drill that was in question was a fairly standard “strong around the hole” drill, where the player goes strong to the hoop with a 25 lb. medicine ball, exploding upward, rebounding it and continuing to jump up towards the bucket several times. Again I queried the young performance coach as to what his issue was with the drill? He indicated that while the timing of the drill – in regards to the training phase – wasn’t so much in question as the first drill, he was wondering how, or even if, the basketball coach had gone about selecting the weight of the implement being used? Was it random or an active choice?

I again had to commend my young friend for using his science-based sports performance mental acuity: The medicine ball rebound drill can be indeed be an excellent way to develop various elements of strength (starting strength, explosive strength, reactive strength); However if the weight is incorrect and has not been sports-science-formula-driven calculated to be exact, it could be too weighty causing the CNS to produce contractions/reactions indeed adequate to support the extra-body weight but ultimately causing the movement to be too slow to translate into in-game performance. (If an explosive movement in basketball happens at slower than 200 milliseconds that movement in all likelihood is too slow to be a winning one). Simply adding a weight and jumping with it may sound like a great idea but the amount of the weight must be precise in order to facilitate the actual response one wants to illicit. In order to avoid another “neg- energy” training block, hopefully the basketball coach understood and planned for the adaptive response he was looking for and didn’t just use the drill because the athlete had to ‘work hard”.

Each training activity should be planned, understood and directed with an eye towards performance. Otherwise, your training may be hard and produce buckets of sweat, but in regards to performance may just in fact be a “neg-energy” situation.