Two of the most common basketball training techniques can actually decrease your child’s chances for in-game success. Aerobic workouts and trying to develop “muscle memory” through hundreds of repetitions of a shot not only don’t improve basketball-specific skills for games, but can actually interfere with performance.

Creating an off-season training program that prepares your child to meet the specific demands of a basketball game will increases the chances of a successful tryout and winning season.


Dispelling two myths

Two common misconceptions parents make about basketball is that it is an aerobic activity and that standing at the free-throw line, practicing hundreds of free throws in a row, promotes “muscle memory.” Both of these are false.

Myth #1 – Aerobic Workouts Are Best for Conditioning

While basketball requires an aerobic base, it’s an anaerobic sport that consists of many fast, start-and-stop points. Watch kids or even the pros during a game and you won’t see them panting during fast breaks and long points – it’s in between points when you’ll see players with their hands on their knees, gasping for breath.

Basketball conditioning requires the ability to recover quickly after high-intensity plays, and this means your pre-season training should focus on sprint training as you get closer to tryouts. Unlike anaerobic (basketball) activities, aerobic exercise uses slow-twitch muscles fibers and burns more fat to fuel the workout. Basketball players need to train their fast-twitch muscle fibers, and they need more glycogen than fat for fuel.

Myth #2 – Repetition Creates Muscle Memory

When does your child ever get a chance to take 99 free throws in a row during a game to get into a groove for the 100th that will count? There’s no such thing as “muscle memory” (your muscles don’t have a brain and can’t remember anything). While repetition is helpful when learning a new skill, practicing and honing a game-specific skill requires that you practice like you play (or you’ll play like you practice). When kids practice many shots over and over, they might also fatigue their muscles and develop bad habits.

Create a training calendar

Depending on how much time you have, create a training calendar that spans several months before tryouts or the start of the season. Let your child recover from a tough basketball season by taking time off from any type of practice or training. If your child is like most kids, she’ll be staying in shape playing softball, tennis, volleyball or soccer anyway.

  • Several months before basketball season starts, begin strength-training workouts. This can be as simple as using dumbbells or resistance bands to build leg and arm muscles. Kids don’t need to use heavy weights. Rather than performing a few reps using heavy weights, perform more reps, using an amount of weight or resistance that fatigues the muscles to failure within 90 seconds, recommends the American Council on Exercise.
  • About two months before practice starts, reduce the amount of weights or resistance your child uses and begin circuit-training exercises to improve muscular endurance. This will help your child play long games without cramping or fatiguing. Use less weight or resistance and perform more reps, but at a slightly higher intensity. Perform reps for 60 to 90 seconds, and then take a one-minute break to recover. Start the next exercise. Complete a 10- or 15-minute circuit each training session.
  • One month before tryouts, focus on muscular endurance workouts that tire the muscles with 60-second sets and 60-second recoveries. Move to sprint training and end any strength-training and aerobic workouts they’re doing.

Practice vertical leaping

You can work on your child’s jumping ability with a variety of simple exercises. These can include jumping on and off boxes, running and jumping, jumping from a stationery position or jumping with weights.

Use sprint training for conditioning

Improve game conditioning by using high-intensity interval, or sprint, training. Have your child run at roughly 75 percent of his top speed for 30 seconds, then walk back to the starting point.

Running the length of a gym, then walking back, is a good example. Perform six of these sprints, and then have him take a break of one or two minutes before you start the next exercise. Next, have him practice high-intensity footwork drills for 30 seconds, recover for 90 seconds. Start again and repeat for a total of six repetitions.

As he gets in better shape, increase the intensity and length of each sprint, up to 90 seconds per sprint. You can use a treadmill, elliptical or other exercise machine for sprint training by using the correct intensities and durations.

Talk to your family doctor before beginning sprint training (or any other type of physical activity program).

Practice skills in a game-like environment

Work on basketball skills in a game-like environment to trigger the correct reaction during a game. Feel free to warm up with multiple repetitions of jump shots, fadeaways and free throws, but then practice them in a game-like scenario. This means playing some shadow defense, running the length of the floor, moving side to side, and then taking a break to shoot two – and only two – free throws. Put game-like pressure on your child to simulate what she’ll experience when it counts.

Eat right

Young athletes need complex carbohydrates to fuel sports performance, and lean protein to help muscles recover. Avoid lots of white, processed starchy carbs and eat the colors of the rainbow during the day. Eat lean protein after practices, such as tuna, chicken breast and turkey breast. Believe it or not, sports dietitians recommend low-fat chocolate milk as an effective post-activity muscle recovery drink. Drink plenty of water before, during and after practices and games.