May/June 2016
Blueprint for improvement From Henry Barrera, CSCS, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia

Every year around this time, I get a ton of questions about what both teams and individuals should be doing to maximize improvement during the offseason. By this time of the year, you should be deep into offseason training or getting ready to jump in. Whether you’re already into your offseason training or just getting started, let’s take a look at my offseason planner at Liberty University.

First, here are a few thoughts about improvement. The more time I spend around people who are elite in their fields, the more I’m convinced that true professionals look at the world just a little differently. Here is a quote from a book I highly recommend that shares an authentic description of what it means to “turn pro.”

“Turning pro is free, but it demands sacrifice, wrote Steven Pressfield in his book, ‘Turning Pro.’ The passage from amateur to professional is often achieved via interior odyssey whose trials are survived only at great cost, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. We pass through a membrane when we turn pro. It’s messy and it’s scary. We tread in blood when we turn pro.”

What I’ve noticed in watching professional basketball players’ workouts on the court and in the weight room is that they are laser focused in their approach and on what they’re doing. They pinpoint specific areas to be improved and tackle those with relentless attention. It’s not about the countless drills or exercises, but rather the simple and effective movements that make a difference.

I don’t believe that every one of the players I work with will literally become a professional basketball player, but I do expect that they approach the game and their lives in a professional manner. This is an integral part of life for every one of us, and it’s something that will last far beyond the game.

The underlying question for every individual player, coach and program is: How do I go from where I am to where I want to be? At the end of every season, I consider what our players need as individuals and what our program needs as a team. My checklist looks something like this:

1. Anthropometric measurements. I want to know where players stand physically. Did they lose or gain weight? What is their body fat percentage? This objective feedback pulls no punches — it is what it is. I take before and after pictures because I believe they speak louder than anything I’ll ever say, and athletes can see their results or lack thereof.

2. Functional movement screen. Do the players have the mobility, stability and motor control to move the correct way? When building offseason training programs, the first thing you should look for is how players move. In a previous article, I examined the functional movement screen and the insights it may give both players and coaches. Basically, coaches want to be sure that players can move pain free, efficiently and effectively. In essence, can they squat, lunge, reach, rotate and perform all the movements essential to the game of basketball. The test is not absolute, but it can give you great insight into how to help players.

3. Performance capabilities. This is a battery of tests that give you a baseline of where your players stand. We typically use a vertical jump, max touch, some form of agility test, a 3/4-court sprint and a capacity test. I don’t use this information to rank or rate players, but I use it to give them objective feedback and a starting point.

I have a very specific process for building offseason training, and I start with the end in mind. I sit down and look at the whole year and think about what we need at specific times of the season and begin my planning. By no means is this set in stone, but it provides a big picture view of the entire year. From this point, I breakdown specific phases or blocks, and I pinpoint where I want to go with those. Finally, I can breakdown specific weeks and even daily sessions. This is what strength and conditioning or performance professionals refer to as periodization.

I love the proverb that says, “You can’t sit down and stand up at the same time.” This, to me, is the essence of great training. When you start to focus on too much, you lose site of everything.

Train for a specific and exact response. You get what you train for. If all you do is run, you might want to signup for the next track meet because that’s where you’ll have the most success. Think about what you want from your training for your players.

What we’re doing must specifically translate to basketball and, if it doesn’t, we’re wasting our time. That doesn’t mean that everything we do has to mimic the game itself, but it has to translate to athletic movements that are common on the court. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best people on the planet, and the attention to detail is always what I take away. The top coaches teach players how to master movements, maximize power and express that power on the court repeatedly throughout a game.

Our first order of business is to test players, and we want as much pertinent information as possible. This gives us the ability to build programs according to player needs and it gives players the objective feedback they need to set goals. You must understand that this is a living blueprint and it changes on a daily basis according to what will best serve our players and program.

As you continue or begin your offseason training, I hope this stimulates thought and challenges both you and your players to “turn pro.”

Henry Barrera, CSCS, is the director of performance for men’s basketball at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @hoopdiaries.

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