If there’s one thing that coach Nick George knows how to teach better than many coaches in youth basketball, that would be EFFORT. He built his professional and international career as a hustle guy who would outwork everyone on the court. But teaching effort isn’t easy.
Effort is brought into practice from the very first training session. The reason why coaches like Nick George love testing their players with conditioning workouts first up in the season is that they:
1. Measure how much effort players put in the off-season
2. Set the tone for the season ahead
If your players kill these workouts- then you’ve got a great season coming up. If not… then they better be prepared to put in the work. So keep reading for some coaching pointers from our interview with coach George, or click here to fast forward straight to the 3 annotated practice plans!
We learned in our interview with coach George of the approaches he gained as a player for the NCAA Div I VCU Rams, team GB and several other international teams, as well as the drills he uses today as a coach for NG Pro Performance. After this interview, we realized teaching effort in practice requires three things:
Sources of inspiration to motivate players mentally
A well designed conditioning program to strengthen players physically
- A relentless attention to detail
As an athletic young boy growing up in the UK, coach George’s first memories of sport weren’t just limited to basketball- he also played plenty of football growing up. Whilst he credited football as giving him a solid foundation of footwork, without a basketball culture he found himself lacking in other fundamentals when he eventually transitioned to college basketball in the US. Today, coach George is part of the movement of developing great UK basketball players and here are some of his learnings.
Use games based drills to keep the game fun. The no.1 reason why kids play sports is because its fun, not because they want to win. Coach George knows this and use a fun game like “piggy in the middle” to teach defensive principles. “Rather than have my players run around like headless chickens, I get the defenders without balls to stand low, arms up in a defensive stance. If they want to jump, they have to explode, then land back in a low stance again… my kids are running around, having fun, and without realizing it, picking up basketball fundamentals.” These fun games are particularly great with kids in the U11 age group- at this age kids lose focus if a coach runs 30 minutes of mass defensive slides, but will stay engaged within the confines of a game. If you want more sources of inspiration for games based drills, check out our handy practice planner app!
Another idea to keep in mind is that as a coach your mission isn’t just to teach basketball- according to coach George its about teaching kids how to be fit and healthy in later life. As basketball coaches, we often have no problem spending hours explaining how the team’s 4 in 1 out offense is run, but when it comes to the stretching, warmups, conditioning, and cool downs, we’ll often be content just letting our players “go through the motions” of a familiar set. Coach George mixes up all of these as much as he does his basketball drills, and he makes sure his players all receive simple explanations as to why they’re doing it. What’s a stretch to target the hamstrings? Why is high intensity interval training a good approach to conditioning? If you don’t know these answers then maybe you should find out.
Finally, the message coach George has for other coaches and his players is this: whilst it takes a lot of effort to succeed at the highest level- it is possible to do it on effort alone. Coach George’s story is testament to that- having only started playing basketball seriously at 14, he had to adapt to both the intensely physical style of college basketball and the highly technical European pro leagues. Success was achieved through the desire to outwork his teammates, an innate desire to get better with every practice. Sharing stories like this (there’s also a great Larry Bird quote here) to your team help bring your talented stars back to earth and get your less talented players to believe. Never underestimate the life changing impact you have as a coach.
Coach George coaches players from a vast spectrum of skill levels, from pros to novices trying basketball for the first time. A few principles unite all of his programs:
High intensity- if you want your players playing with maximum effort the workouts better not be too long. Coach George limits workouts to 1 hour for his youngest age groups and pros no more than 2 hours.
Warmup, fundamentals, games- that’s the structure of his workouts, a quick warmup followed by some time devoted to teaching fundamentals- conditioning, dribbling, shooting, passing, defense. The games have rules designed to stress certain technical aspects of the game, and tend to be more free flowing than restrictive.
Small groups- particularly for teaching fundamentals, coach George limits teams into groups of 1-4 which allows coaches to focus on players and keep the intensity high. This can be done by using your assistant coaches to run circuits.
Specificity- figure out what you’re trying to improve in your players and design a session around it. Every exercise you do should work on that skill in some aspect.
Following these principles, and using coach George’s own exercises, we’ve created 3 plug and play conditioning workouts- 1 for improving leg explosiveness, 1 for strengthening the upper body, and 1 for conditioning with the basketball. Simply insert these workouts into your practice.
Download 3 conditioning workouts to insert into your practices here.
NOTE: Click on the names of the drills to find a short video/gif of how it’s done. All of these drills can be found on the Practice Planner
30 minute Leg Explosiveness Workout
|Two Foot Hop Ups||1 min||30 hops||The key for this exercise is to not rest after landing. Immediately explode off the ground and back up onto the box. This will develop a quick second jump.|
|Toe Touches||1 min||50 each foot||Remind players to use their arms to increase their foot speed.|
|Lunges||1 min||20 each side||Focus on maintaining core stability and standing straight with each lunge.|
|Squat Jumps||1 min||50 jumps||Players aged 15 and above should do the lunges and squats whilst holding free weights of 10-30 pounds.|
|Stair Sprints||1 min||120 steps||Touch every stair- the goal is to train fast feet.|
|Rest||1 min||Run this exercise as a circuit with 6 stages if you have a large team. Repeat the circuit 5 times. Allow for 10 seconds to transition.|
45 minute Upper Body Strength Workout
|Single Arm Basketball Push Ups||3x 10 reps (each arm)||Keep the core tightened to maintain balance with each rep.|
|Tricep Dips||3x 30 reps||Older players can balance a weight on the hip to increase the difficulty of the exercise.|
|Bench Press||3x 10 reps||For younger kids use a light bar (20-30 pounds) and focus only on technique. Older players can pack the weight|
|Barbell Bicep Curls||3x 12 reps||For a variation, try holding the bar outwards, palms facing down, to work the wrist flexors (used in shooting). Keep elbows tucked in.|
|Pull Ups||3x AMRAP (As many reps as possible)||Beat or match the number of reps you make in each ascending set.|
|Rest||4 min||If running this as a circuit, rest time is just the time it takes for the team to complete a round. Rest for 15 seconds between individual exercises. Repeat this entire set twice.|
1 hour Basketball Conditioning Workout
|Defensive Slide with Resistance Band||3 x 15 reps||This is one exercise where you want players moving slowly, but under control, in a push-pull motion.|
|Backboard Touches With Basketball||3x AMRAP in 1 minute||After landing, touch the basketball to the ground, then explode up again.|
|Suicide Runs||2 reps, timed||Run with a basketball to make it more games based.|
|Rest||4 min||Record the fastest suicide runs and most reps in the ball handling circuit as benchmarks for your players to improve.|
|Ball Rotations||3 x 1 minute||Coach yells out the combinations- examples include figure 8’s, around the head, around the world, and between the legs.|
|Wall sit with ball||3 x 1 minute||Players wall sit and catch and return passes to a coach with 1 hand. Forces them to focus under pressure.|
|Ball handling circuit||3x AMRAP in 1 minute||These circuits use a ladder and cones- but you can design your own to be as complex or easy as you want.|
|Rest||4 min||Repeat this entire set twice for a 1 hour workout. Rest for 15 seconds between individual exercises.|
Attention to Detail
The last thing key to effort coach George talked to us about was attention to detail. Coach George is always recording and remembering benchmarks set by his players in practice, particularly regarding conditioning drills. This means in practice he can praise players with, “Good job, you beat your time by X” or motivate players with, “just 2 more reps to beat your record”. Pushing players to achieve beyond their OWN benchmarks is the key to self improvement, and ultimately provides the source of effort that players need.
If you want to hear more about what coach George has to say, check out the full interview here.
And remember, you can get all of coach George’s drills and workouts on the Practice Planner!
Two Foot Hop Ups
Upper Body Exercises
Single Arm Basketball Pushups
Basketball Conditioning Exercises
Defensive Slides with Resistance Band
Backboard Touches with Basketball
Around the World
Between the Legs
Ball Handling Circuit
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