Don’t Kill the Beast

After writing yesterday’s post, I continued to watch the Pfaff seminar. In Seminar #4, he spoke directly about basketball. He talked about coaching high-school track & field at a school with a bad basketball team. The basketball guys would walk off the basketball court and onto the track running two-minutes in the 800m. Then, he would coach and train them, and he would have them running 2:10! He said that he killed the beast!

He said that he was following all the great interval schemes, and it wasn’t working. He stepped back and realized that in basketball, the guys were involved in multi-direction, quick burst, plyometric activities. Longer distance interval was making them slower compared to the quick activities of basketball.

He retells a story about one player who was going to quit because he hated the 20-minute runs, and he had shin splits. Pfaff tells him to play spring basketball and show up for the track meets. The player agrees, and his times improve as he spends more time playing basketball, and less time running intervals geared toward the 800m and relays.

What should the take away be for basketball coaches? Well, running 800m certainly would not seem to enhance one’s basketball conditioning.

I had the same experience with cross country. When I was a freshman, coming off a summer of playing basketball, I started the season as one of the top runners on the team. I finished third on the team and in the top 10 overall at our first meet. By the end of the season, I was struggling to stay in the top seven on the team. Running cross country made me slower in cross country. The same happened when I went out for track after basketball because the basketball coach said that it would make me quicker. I PR’d in our second practice. The more practice that I had with the track team, the worse I performed until I basically quit the team and returned to playing basketball. Now, I attribute some of the track experience to poor coaching, as it was our history teacher who certainly did not have the build of someone who had jumped before, but our cross country coach has produced Olympians and several state championships.

These anecdotes support the ideas from yesterday’s post that 4-7 intense 30-second bouts improve endurance as much or more than endurance training. Unfortunately, the transfer does not go in the other direction: Doing endurance work tends not to affect power or speed positively. Therefore, the short, intense nature of basketball should have a positive impact on running the 800m or cross country, but running the 800m or cross country is unlikely to have a positive experience on the athletic qualities necessary for basketball.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice

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