Mental Training without Games or Practices

In Basketball, Mental Training by Brock Bourgase

In a lockdown, players and coaches must be adaptable to train. Going outside, running hills, cross-training… creativity is a requirement when so many facilities are closed and activities suspended. Finding the motivation for physical training is as much of a challenge as the exercises themselves.

It is equally challenging to train mentally during this time. Without games and scarce practices without defense, the incentive to prepare for them may be lacking. Nevertheless, technology and the power of habit give players a chance.

Develop a Pre-Practice Routine: So much gym time is wasted during the idle time before a practice begins. Teacher-coaches need to set-up and there are some things that players must work out for themselves. During this time, players can create a effective routine to develop their skills before practice. In limited spaces or at an outdoor hoops, guards can work on their handles or posts can work on their finishing. Players can focus on the shots that they take during a game and compose a tight routine. Using  those small chunks of individual time productively, players can make a big difference over the course of a season, fifteen or twenty minutes at a time.

Stop & Think: During a game, it is easy to follow the ball or react to the skill and athleticism of elite players. There will certainly be more time to watch games when everyone is recommended to stay home and it’s no fun if you ignore the joy of basketball. However, take advantage of these increased “reps” to understand what is happening and why. How are is the defense guarding screens? How is the ballhandler reading the play and making decisions? What is the offense trying to do and how is the defensive seeking to disrupt them? What adjustments would you make if you were on the court? Don’t just react to the play, anticipate it.

Watch Film: Coaches aren’t the only team members who can be Captain Video. There is so much content on YouTube, such as full games, clinics or detailed breakdowns, that is more educational than highlight clips. Don’t let SportsCentre limit what you see because watching the entire fourth quarter puts the last second play into context. I always like watching away from the ball and think that players should consider this, given that they spend more time without the ball. See how N.B.A. players give each other space or cut efficiently and it will reduce the amount of iso-ball in your youth game. Refs are watching film together on Zoom to get better so players should take initiative and do likewise, even without the coach.

Read: Learn about the history of the game. It will also reduce your exposure to blue light. Basketball wasn’t invented in 1995 when it came to Toronto; over a century of history led to that moment. Amazon is a great resource for cheap books. Try this, this or this if you need ideas.

Reflect: It seems as if we are really busy but not doing much at the same time. Games were happening far too frequently before the pandemic and players may not have been able to reflect on their performance. Ask the coach for film and rewatch last year’s games in a more critical fashion. Think about classes or projects at school, identifying what went well and what could have gone better. Decompress at the end of the day and practice some mindfulness exercises.

So often, we feel that there is not enough time to improve. Now there is more than enough time to develop yourself mentally in one or two areas. 2020 will separate the players who truly love playing the game from those who merely love talking about it.