Weeks before basketball teams step on the court for their first game, they endure grueling conditioning practices. During those practice sessions, players build the speed, power, endurance, agility and leaping ability necessary to play the game, as well as honing crucial skills.
A Conditioning Staple
Basketball's most notorious conditioning drill is known by a few names: progressive runs, line drills and, most often, suicides. It has been a part of preseason practices nearly as long as the ball has been round and the hoop 10 feet high. To perform the drill, players line up across the baseline and sprint to the near free-throw line, where they bend down to touch the line, then turn and sprint back to the baseline. They repeat the process to the half-court line, then to the far free-throw line, then finally to the far baseline. During the drill, players sprint a distance approximately five times the length of the court, while also accelerating and decelerating and mimicking the game's sudden changes in direction.
Ladder Drills for Agility
Agility ladders are among the most useful tools in a basketball coach's arsenal for improving foot speed, actually the result of strength and torque in the hips and core, during preseason conditioning. EACH player navigates a series of twists and turns through a ladder-shaped set of ropes, typically about 15 feet long. Players advance through the ladder by hopping off one or two feet, sprinting between rungs of the ladder and placing one or both feet inside a box, or shuffling one or both feet outside the ladder.
Defense Through Repetition
Learning to play defense in the proper stance -- with bent knees, feet spread shoulder-width apart, a low center of gravity, head up and arms extended -- requires a player to repeat moving from that position over and over. Coaches can simulate defensive stance and movement by using a zigzag drill, where a player alternates between sliding across the court in a stance and sprinting diagonally up the court, or a pitter-patter drill, where defenders chop their feet up and down from a defensive stance for a prescribed period, up to three minutes. To add a twist to the pitter-patter drill, a coach can call for players to make a defensive slide in one direction, or jump vertically from their defensive stance.
Shooting Under Fatigue
It's no accident that many basketball coaches wait until after their most intense conditioning drills to add shooting work into their practices. Performing shooting drills when players are most fatigued builds the strength in the legs -- and discipline in the mind -- that players need when shooting late in games. In particular, practicing free-throw shooting under fatigue simulates the feeling of shooting after the physical strain of a foul, while also improving concentration.
To perform the fatigue free-throw shooting drill, station three players at a basket, with one shooter, one rebounder and one player sprinting a lap around the court. After sprinting the lap, the already winded player rotates to the line for two free throws, then finally rotates to the rebounding position. Continue the drill, best done at the end of practice or before a break in your practice schedule, for 10 minutes.