Not too long ago I had the opportunity to watch a middle school game, a high school game, a junior college game, an NCAA Division I game, and an NBA game over a period of five days. I have watched plenty of games at each of these levels before but never on five consecutive nights and the experience reminded me of something extremely important.
Progressively working my way up the ladder of competition made it easy to recognize how much bigger, taller, and longer each level was compared to the one just below it. Even during warm-ups when every player was on the floor at the same time, the middle school court seemed huge, even though its physical dimensions were actually small. On the other hand the size of the players made the NBA court seem tiny even though its physical dimensions were actually fairly large.
However, the most glaring difference from one level of competition to the next is the speed and quickness of everything. Not only are the players themselves physically faster and quicker but they play that way as well. They run faster, dribble faster, close out faster, help faster, recover faster, set up their offense faster, get their shot off faster, etc. In other words, the overall tempo of the game gets faster and faster as the level of competition increases.
Exactly what does that mean to you as a player? That means just to stay EVEN with everyone at the next level YOU have to play faster and quicker than you are now! And to EXCEL at the next level your skills have to improve to the point where they are even more efficient than they now while being executed at a much quicker pace.
However, even though most players realize this, many of their workouts suggest otherwise. For example, when “working” on their shooting they will take a shot, walk after the rebound, walk back out to the three point line and repeat the process at a very easy and relaxed pace. Forty five minutes later they brag to their friends how hard they have been working when in reality they didn’t take a single game shot at game speed. Of course, the same is true when it comes to their ball handling, passing, and agility workouts, if they do them at all.
I hear way too many players say “When I get to the next level I’ll start working harder, faster, and with more focus.” Wrong! Those types of players usually don’t make it to the next level and if they do get lucky to get a spot, they waste their first year trying to adjust to the increased intensity. Just look at how many “good” eighth graders can’t make a lower level high school team. Why doesn’t every freshman make an impact on his college team and every rookie dominate the NBA? Critics usually say it’s because they’re not “good” enough but in reality those players just aren’t as effective as they used to be now that they are forced to play faster.
If you have dreams of playing at the next level and continuing your career as long as possible then don’t wait until it’s too late to start preparing. Whenever you are attending club practices,
individual skill workouts, or pickup games at the park, start doing everything faster and with much more intensity. Your ability to execute efficiently at an increased speed could very well be the difference between you being on the court and being on the couch when next season rolls around.