If your reaction to the title of this blog is, "what off-season", then hopefully you'll continue reading with an open mind. In basketball, as in soccer, and volleyball, there is the element of the knees having to withstand; jumping, landing, cutting, pivoting, and stopping during acceleration and deceleration. ACL tears is a big problem in these sports, especially for females. The risk begins in earnest as pre-teens enter puberty; about age 12 for girls and age 14 for boys. Female athletes between the ages of 15 - 20 account for the largest number of ACL injuries. The purpose of this blog is to impress upon you the importance of allowing your athlete a portion of the year where the focus is on recovering from the previous season and then conditioning and preparing the body to be able to safely withstand the stresses of the upcoming season. Back in the day, many of us played different sports from season to season, and our body wasn't subjected to the same movements and stresses year round. I know in this age of AAU teams and tournaments, Showcase events, personal training programs for youths, etc..., that are in addition to the school's season, that my viewpoint may seem like heresy to many, but I implore all that are willing to listen, to read on, and to consider the big picture.
The type of ACL injuries I'm referring to occur with no contact, and for a deeper look into how and why this happens, please refer to this previous blog of mine. A bottom line, generally speaking, is that there are symptoms, tendencies, and habits that many athletes have, that should be addressed through training, including various drills to lessen the likelihood that they will suffer this type of injury. Continuing the year round stress on the knees with these negative tendencies, can have bad consequences.
Being able to properly and sufficiently bend during play helps to properly recruit (use) the glutes and hamstring muscles, which helps protect the knees as well as contributes to explosive movement when these muscles work properly with the quad muscles. As for an athlete preparing to run, start watching this video at the 3 minute and 12 second mark. Note how every athlete assumes a well bent position when ready to start running. It is similar to how a jack in the box toy is when the lid is closed, poised to explode. With a basketball player, being properly bent, should also be present when explosively moving; left, right, forward, backward, jumping, etc....
A problem, as was articulated in the blog I referred you to previously, is that many females do not bend properly. There may be some bend from the waist but not near enough bend from the hips (sitting back type of movement). So an important part of training needs to address this issue from a; strength, and flexibility/range of motion stand point, including working on core strength which is needed to stay properly bent while moving in various directions.
Before going further, ie; practicing jumping, cutting, etc..., there should be some type of assessment to see if the athlete seems particularly predisposed to injury because of; lack of balance, excessive stiffness and lack of range of motion in the ankles/feet and/or knees and hips, as well as checking for knee instability, ie; knock knees and wobbly knees when bending, jumping and landing. Failing any of these assessments means that first there should be a focus on addressing what the assessment leads you to.
If clearing the assessments, the athlete then needs to participate in a progression that includes bending properly in a number of stances and practice various lead up; moving, running, jumping, and landing activities; first without a basketball, then progress to using a basketball. The intensity of the activities should progressively increase also, with the goal being to be able to compete with progressively improving techniques. Many athletes that do not bend as they should are too often quad dominant, a concern that also is addressed with this type of training. If you don't feel qualified to conduct this type of training then do the necessary research and preparation, or enlist a trainer or coach who can.
Ideally, I believe it best for basketball players to begin knee care training and training for speed in the off season, and think in terms of gradually and naturally blending the results into their game, and having the muscle memory ingrained during pre-season and during the season, when the focus is on basketball specific issues.
For examples of speed, explosiveness, and quickness being used effectively; in a half court offense setting, check out some Kemba Walker footage and see how he's properly bent as he does his thing. Not being properly bent while doing these types of moves and jumping and landing, can present a problem. In a full court transition setting, check out this women's college basketball team. You can see that they use their speed in the open court, however; they always seem to be under control and land lightly from their jumping at the end of each sequence. This represents them playing safely within their capabilities. On the other hand, Russell Westbrook's capabilities are a bit different. His finishes are definitely more explosive, but he still is not out of control when he lands, and most always lands very lightly.
Watching elite athletes can inspire us and can give us direction as we try to emulate them in various ways and envision ourselves in their realm; but rather than focusing on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it always pays to focus on the process that is to get you there. Failing to adequately attempt to address care of the knees can prove to be a big mistake for basketball players.