Developing a Complete Basketball Player - Indianapolis Fitness And Sports Training
Sports Performance Training

Developing a Complete Basketball Player

written by Mike Robertson


As a young kid growing up, my real first love was basketball.

I grew up in the country on a small horse farm, and quite honestly, if I didn’t have a basketball goal I’m not sure what I would’ve done for 99% of my day.

You see, I grew up in a time without the internet, cell phones, and video games weren’t a big deal until I was already 11 or 12 years old.

(Don’t worry – I did have a TV. Just no cable!)

I was willing to do anything to become a better basketball player. Whether it was breaking down game film, working on my game in the gym, or lifting weights and doing more running, if I thought it would make me better, I was willing to give it a shot.

The only problem here is that I figured this out far too late in life to help my own game!

Nowadays, we work with basketball players at every level to help them become a more complete athlete.

Because ultimately, a better athlete can become a better basketball player.

So what are the physical tools that every basketball player should be working on?

Let’s explore!

#1 – Speed and Agility

If you look at the big picture of sports, two things happen as you rise through the ranks:

  1. The skill of every athlete improves. They have better handles, better shooting strokes, and/or improved footwork.
  2. The speed of the game increases. Ask any athlete that’s moved up a level, and the first thing they will tell you is how much faster the game is.

So how do you deal with a faster pace of play?

Well one answer is to better understand the game and know what’s going to happen. There’s a cognitive (brain) element here that comes with experience and a lot of reps.

But the second answer is to simply get faster!

Here’s the issue here – too many people are selling “tools” when it comes to speed and agility training.

If your speed and agility program is solely based on footwork drills with an agility ladder, or running on a high-speed treadmill, you’re missing the boat.

If you break down the movements you see in basketball, here’s what your speed and agility program should focus on:

  • Short accelerations in a straight-ahead fashion,
  • The ability to plant and cut effectively,
  • Short accelerations and decelerations in a lateral (side-to-side) fashion, and
  • A reactive element that forces you to make a decision and then react explosively.

That last piece is really critical, because it merges the two areas we discussed above (the body and the brain) to make a faster all-around athlete.

They’ve actually done a lot of work on this in football. If you look at high level college players versus pros, on standardized tests (like the 40-yard dash, pro-agility drill, etc.) the college and pro level players look almost identical.

However, when you add in an element of cognition or decision making/reactivity, the pros are head-over-heels superior to their college counterparts.

So how do you train this element of reactivity or cognition? Great question!

Simple exercises like reactive ball-drop drills, or games where you compete against fellow athletes, is the surest way to train speed and agility that will actually show up on the court.

So a fast and agile athlete is going to have a leg up on his competition. But what other physical traits or qualities are important?

#2 – Power

I’ve never met a basketball player in my life that didn’t want to increase his vertical.

It doesn’t matter if the guy is jump 12″ or 48″, he wants to have those bunnies!

And for good reason. I mean, who didn’t want to be Vince Carter dunking over a 7-footer in the Olympics?

When it comes to increasing power for basketball, though, I think too often we get ahead of ourselves.

First and foremost, we need a general strength base first (more on this below).

I don’t want to get all biomechanics geeky on you, but Power is simply Force times Velocity.

So we can either increase force (strength), or we can increase velocity (get faster), if we want to improve power.

Now there are a ton of ways to do this, such as various jumping exercises, med ball throws, and things of that nature, but writing all those up would go beyond the scope of this article.

Just suffice it to say that if you want to improve your vertical, you need to get stronger and faster.

But beyond that, another factor of improving power (and specifically your vertical jump) is a physical trait called elasticity.

Elasticity is essentially your body’s way of storing and utilizing elastic energy.

Think about it like this: If you’re shooting a rubber band at your buddy (not that I would every do something like that…), and you want to inflict maximum pain, do you pull the rubber band back slowly?

Or do you pull it back as fast as you can and let it go?

Easy – you pull it back fast so that you get more “snap” out of the band!

This is exactly how your body works as well. If you can improve or increase your elasticity, your vertical jump is going to go through the roof as a result.

Now that we’ve covered some of the more explosive parts of the game, let’s discuss why strength is so critical to your development.

#3 – Strength

While it’s not as exciting as power or speed work, strength is a critical component when building a complete basketball player.

Strength is actually the foundation (in many ways) for speed and power work. Up to a point, the stronger you get, the faster and more powerful you become as well.

But here’s the caveat: We are building athletes here, not powerlifters.

Too often, coaches take this mantra of “stronger is better” too far. They think that if a 300-pound squat is good, a 400-pound squat is better.

What happens then is this athlete, who for a long time was getting faster and more explosive due to this strength training, eventually becomes slower because they speed at which they are lifting is no longer specific to their sport.

When it comes to strength training for basketball, a few quick notes:

#1 – Use functional exercises. No I’m not talking about single-leg exercises on a wobble board, but functional exercises that build the bottom in a complete fashion.

Well executed squats, deadlifts, push-ups, lunges, etc., are the basis for any smart and well-balanced training program.

#2 – Don’t get caught up in the weights you lift. Sure pushing weights (and getting stronger) is a critical part of our program.

But remember, it’s not the only part.

The goal of strength training for sport is to make you better at your sport, not see how much weight you can move with poor technique, or to get on a silly record board at your high school.

If you learn proper technique, and build your body in the right way, you’ll not only become a better athlete, but bulletproof your body and make it less likely to breakdown as well.

#4 – Conditioning

I don’t know about you, but I hated basketball conditioning when I was growing up.

First and foremost, it’s just awful, as I know very few athletes who actually like to work on their conditioning.

But this point was driven home even further because all of the conditioning I was doing early-on was incorrect!

You see, my basketball coach was also the cross country coach. His line of thinking was that if you want to have legs that are “in shape” for basketball, then cross country is a great way to condition and prep them for the season.

The only here is, long distance, steady-state running is an awful way to condition for basketball!

Think about it like this: How many times in a basketball game do you go out and just jog at the same speed for an extended period of time?

I’ll tell you how many times: ZERO!

Basketball is a game of explosive actions, mixed with periods of lower intensity work and rest in between.

You sprint down the court on a fast break, score a bucket, then jog back and play defense.

However, other coaches have taken this too far in the other direction. They assume that if you perform a lot of explosive actions in a game, then you only need to perform explosive actions in your conditioning.

To build a complete basketball player, you need a blend of the explosive work (what we call “power” work), coupled with exercises that build your aerobic base (what we call “capacity” work).

When you combine the right dosages of power and capacity work into your programming, the sky is the limit with regards to your conditioning and performance.


As you can see, there are a lot of physical qualities that are required to become a great basketball player.

But now that you know what they are, you can better identify where you’re at as a player, and what you need to address with your programming going forward.

If you want or need some help in designing that program, we’d love to help. This July we’re kicking off our 1st annual IFAST Basketball Camp this summer, where we’re going to help you become a better athlete (and a better basketball player) as a result.

Whether it’s improving speed and agility, increasing your vertical jump, or giving you the conditioning necessary to outlast your opponent, I guarantee this camp will take your game to the next level.

Again, if you’re interested, just follow the link below for more information. Thanks!

IFAST Off-Season Basketball Camp

All the best,


Mike Robertson

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