The flexibility you have in your offseason training offers the largest opportunity to build and change your profile of strengths and weaknesses, and consequently make greater contributions to your team. As a model of the process of offseason transformation, consider this story about how LeBron James used his 2011 offseason to turn his team into champions. Give it a read, and then come back for some commentary on how you can use this process for your own transformation
“That [2011 NBA Finals] loss… fueled one of the greatest and most important transformations in recent sports history.”
Do you really want to transform your game? Why? Some people seek external rewards, such as a championship. Some seek internal rewards, such as growth, mastery, or service to the tribe. James sought a championship. Know what drives you so you’ll have the motivation to persevere with the hard work of training when you encounter the inevitable challenges along the way.
Where are you starting your journey? Talent is just another name for ability – what you’re capable of doing. It’s a combination of hardware and software: the hardware is your physical body and its ability to respond to various training programs, and the software is acquired skills. Assess your current self for both.
“He’s got a physical mismatch pretty much every night”
James was a “physical freak” – genetically gifted for basketball. Do a basic inventory of your “natural gifts” like your body type and historical tendencies to excel at things requiring speed, quickness, endurance, strength, and jumping. This information may help determine your potential in various roles. (For example, if you’re short and have had trouble improving your vertical, you might have a harder time finding success as a deep defender than as a handler defender.)
“James is not only the NBA’s most valuable player, he is also the league’s most versatile player”
In professional sports, there are teams of coaches and analysts using sophisticated technologies like SportVU to quantify player contributions. James was extremely versatile and was generally operating at a high level in all categories, although his team’s offensive structure was constraining his shot locations.
The best way to determine your individual skill profile is a self-assessment based on a rubric developed by you or your coach. 1) Define the skill attributes that are considered important for your team. 2) Define criteria for best-case, nominal, and worst-case expression of each attribute. 3) Assign these criteria to a scale from 7 (best case) to 1 (worst-case). For example:
Throws Greater Than 40 Yards
7 – I can reliably complete a variety of throws in this range regardless of defense or weather conditions.
4 – I can reliably complete an open side throw to an open receiver in optimal conditions.
1 – I am unable to complete throws in this range.
Do this for each attribute you think is important for your team. Rank yourself honestly. You’ll need this for the next step to assess liabilities, determine potential roles, and set goals.
- Survey the Tradespace and Plot a Course
You have limited time and energy to devote, so you want to train wisely. After you know who you are as a player, the next step is assessing opportunities for greater individual contribution to the team. The offseason is all about improving your role-relevant weaknesses.
In ultimate, everyone has to catch, throw resets, and generally play D at some point. These basics are relevant to every role, so you have to be at least passable in all of these areas. (What’s considered passable is dependent on your team and level of play. Coaches should help define “the standard” – the baseline level of competence.) If you’re borderline in one of these areas — i.e. you feel this weakness is not just a relative personal weakness, but also something that negatively affects the team — address this first. If you’re below a “4” in a category like “marking” and it negatively affects your team, set goals around improving this up to a “4.” Eliminate liabilities.
After you’re comfortably clearing the standard, addressing your role-relevant weakness means different things for different people. If you consider yourself a specialist — if you’re really great at one particular thing, or you already have a role that you own with pride and want to continue to own — choose something very specific to improve that will benefit you in that role. Coaches and players should collaborate to define what success looks like. Be intentional and specific. For example, if your team relies on you as a hucker, and you want to continue in that role, maybe you want to move from a “5” to a “6” in the category of “throws greater than 40 yards.” You can set goals to extend your accurate throwing distance five yards, add a throw with a flight path you don’t currently use, or learn to huck against different defensive situations.
If you’re a generalist, meaning your strength profile is pretty flat (regardless of how skilled you are compared to others), decide who you want to be as a player. Don’t wait to fill a gap. Leverage your hardware, your current software, and assess your interests. Develop a killer app. You have to be well-rounded to meet the baseline standard, but after that point, what is it that you are so good at that the team just has to have you on the field? Be specific.
“I knew we needed low-post scoring”
Going back to James, we can consider him a generalist because he was an all-around excellent player. James and coach Spoelstra recognized that James was versatile, previously perimeter-oriented, a physical mismatch with the stature to compete reliably in the low post, and surrounded by strong shooters. So the direction for James’ offseason training was obvious.
If your strength profile, as determined in the previous step, is flat (and above the standard), train for what your team needs from you. Does your team need someone to get blocks in the air, defend quick handlers, or reliably break the mark? Based on your physical abilities, physical potential, and skill profile, set goals around helping the team.
Now that you know why you’re training and what you’re training, how are you going to do it?
“I wanted to improve and I sought out someone who I thought was one of the greatest.”
While you probably won’t be able to train full time in a private gym, you are not totally lacking resources. There are experts in individual skills all around you in your teammates, opponents, coaches, and in online videos; seek them out and model them.
“I worked on one thing or I worked on two things and tried to improve each and every day.”
This is the “secret” to improvement. It takes dedication and daily work to grow skills. You have to build habits around deliberate practice. Don’t do stuff; intentionally train your body and build muscle memory.
The training video is a great example. It’s fascinating. The first thing that jumps out is the nearly incomprehensible athleticism of these guys, most of which was genetically given to them. And yet, the movements that look so natural for Olajuwon look so awkward for James at first. Even if you’re one of the best, most skilled athletes in the world, you are what you train to be. Embrace the everyday nature of the training that will transform your game.