Two days after I posted last week’s blog on the Ankles & Feet, the Wall Street Journal’s David Bideman (coincidentally) wrote a provocative article on why Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash prefer wearing low top sneakers when they play. Here are a few key points from the article:
Kobe Bryant specifically asked Nike to make his latest signature shoe low-cut because “I feel like I can move around better.” Steve Nash agreed. When asked why he doesn’t wear high-tops, he said “I feel less mobile.” They both admit that having their ankles freed up and unencumbered allows them to play better. This is coming from two guys who have combined for 17 All-Star appearances and 19 playoff appearances in the last 10 years alone!
The article also offered an eye opening stat to back up my belief that high tops and ankle braces (or tape) do very little to prevent injury. According to NBA statistician Harvey Pollack, NBA players missed 64% more games last season because of foot related injuries than they did 20 years ago. Wow.
Also, after seeing my blog and video on the Ankles & Feet, a colleague turned me on to the Ankle Foot Maximizer (www.AFX-Online.com). I ordered one immediately!
OK… now on to our topic.
I get hundreds of emails per month from youth basketball coaches around the world asking questions about proper training. One of the main topics they ask is about athletic testing.
Should we test?
What tests should we do?
How often should we test?
These are all valid questions.
I think proper testing can be a valuable tool for identifying athletic strengths and weaknesses as well as for monitoring progress over time. With that said, you must pick appropriate (standardized) tests, collect accurate and reliable “scores”, and conduct additional follow up tests throughout the year to measure improvement. And even then, it is only useful if players participate in a comprehensive training program that addresses their specific needs. Telling a player “their agility score is really low” without giving them the specific means to improve it is absolutely useless.
High school basketball players can be tested at the following intervals:
· The end of the school year (now!)
· The beginning of the school year (to measure their summer off-season improvement)
· The beginning of the playing season (to measure their pre-season improvement)
· The end of the playing season (to measure their in-season improvement)
· The end of the school year (to measure their spring off-season improvement)
If you are interested in the athletic testing protocols we use for youth basketball players, please check out http://tinyurl.com/StrongerTeamTesting.
If you really want info from an expert on athletic testing, please visit www.BamTesting.com. Paul Schmidt (BAM Testing – Basic Athletic Measurement), a friend and colleague of mine, is the master of athletic testing. Last weekend Paul directed the testing portion of the annual NBA Pre-Draft Combine. As always, he did a phenomenal job. He is a master at his craft and someone I truly respect.
However, in my opinion, athletic testing is a much more valuable tool for working with youth basketball players than it is for players on the cusp of the NBA. For a player who has progressed to the verge of playing professional basketball… the scores from athletic testing become irrelevant. At that point, all that matters is can he play?! Jonathan Givony of Draft Express wrote a brilliant article a few years ago that I wholeheartedly agree with, http://tinyurl.com/CanHePlay.
Athletic tests do NOT predict future success on the court.
If you have ever seen John Wall play, you know he is an exceptional athlete on the court. He possesses all of the qualities you want in a basketball player - quick, explosive, elusive, and has a motor that doesn’t stop. From what I was told, he also happened to test very well at the combine.
But what if he hadn’t?
What if his vertical jump, agility shuttle, and ¾ court sprint weren’t so stellar? What if they were mediocre scores? Should that give the Wizards’ some doubt in drafting him? Of course not! Regardless of his scores, John Wall has already proven with his play at Kentucky that he possesses the necessary ability to compete in the NBA.
Now that was a hypothetical example because John Wall did test well. However, if you comb back through the test results from the last few years, you will see numerous examples of players who didn’t test well but have still gone on to become elite NBA players.
Don’t believe me? Three years ago, Kevin Durant ranked second to last at the combine (including the inability to bench press 185 even once). DJ Strawberry, on the other hand, ranked the highest overall. What has happened since? KD was the 2nd overall pick in the draft, won Rookie of the Year, and is currently an NBA All-Star and the youngest player in history to lead the league in scoring. DJ was drafted at the end of the 2nd round and is currently in the D-League.
Their fates were the exact opposite of their combine numbers!
And there are dozens of similar examples. Heck, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade weren’t even the highest rated athletes when they went through the combine. You know who was? Troy Bell. Who is that? Exactly my point.
Using the current combine tests to predict success on the court uses faulty logic. Look at the bench press as an example. Having long arms is a huge disadvantage when bench pressing. The longer your arms, the farther you have to move the weight. That is why the world’s best bench pressers have arms like a Tyrannosaurus Rex! Yet having long arms is a distinct advantage on the court. Long arms make you a more formidable defender and helps with your ability to shoot, rebound, etc. So if having long arms is an advantage on the court, why would you have a test where long arms are a disadvantage? It makes no sense. I have bench pressed 185 lbs as many as 25 times before. Do you think I should be drafted?!
Let’s examine this faulty logic from another perspective. Each of the athletic combine tests are closed skills. By definition, closed skills are “performed with a predetermined starting point and finish. They do not require the central nervous system to process feedback from external stimuli in order to properly perform the movement.” Too scientific? Closed skills do not require the player to react, which is an integral ingredient in basketball. Also, closed skills can be practiced, over and over for thousands of repetitions, until the nervous system has “memorized” the movement. Meaning yes, if you run through the pro lane agility a million times before the combine, you will improve your score. But is that time well spent? Does having a fast pro lane agility time guarantee you will be quicker on the court when you have to move and react to the game? No! It's apples and oranges.
While the combine tests are closed skills, basketball is a game of open skills. Open skills “require the player to process information from external stimuli and react accordingly. The player must take this external information, such as the movement of an offensive player, process it and then produce appropriate movements.” I know, too technical, sorry. Whether going for a rebound, guarding an offensive player, or cutting to the basket to catch a pass – basketball is predicated on being able to read and react. Basketball is a game of open skills. So why do folks place so much emphasis on testing players with a battery of closed skill tests?
In order for the combine to predict success on the court, they need to come up with tests that measure reaction, anticipation, basketball IQ, competiveness, leadership, or toughness. After all, these are traits that will dictate how successful a player will be at the next level. A player’s college body of work as well as his performance at the individual team workouts should be the most heavily weighted indicators of future success… not his score on the bench press or vertical jump.
Same goes for testing kids at the high school level. Seasonal tests can (and should) be used to make sure players are progressing… but should not be used as a predictor of future success on the court.
We have just completed the 8th week of the Can He Dunk? Project (www.CanHeDunk.com). The program is going very well and all 7 participants have made tremendous progress. We will release the promo video in mid-June and the final webisodes will air in early July (which will include each player’s weekly dunk attempts, player interviews, and highlights from their workouts).
Also, this past month I have been working out the key members of the DeMatha Basketball team before school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Here is a video clip of our before school strength training workouts: http://tinyurl.com/DeMathaMorningWorkout.
If you like motivational quotes, please follow me at www.Twitter.com/AlanStein.
Please let me know if I can ever be a resource to you for your program. I would be honored to help. You can email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com.
Train hard. Train smart.