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Effective Basketball Performance Training For Youth Athletes: Building a Strong Foundation for Future Success

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Kristi Smith, Strong, Quick, Fast and Fluid


By: JC Moreau, Director of Sports Performance/Founder –  Strength U® 

15 years of training men’s and women’s basketball players, from Junior H.S. through the professional ranks will teach you things. One of the many things it has taught me is that certain training protocols have clearly had the greatest positive impact on the performance and health of these athletes. The more I read about self-proclaimed “basketball-specific” trainers or methods, the more I am reminded of what these athletes really need. And it’s not the latest gimmick, but the basic principles of sound performance-development.

Despite the various ways we can define “sound performance training principles”, my experience has shown that proper movement, structural balance and postural integrity are king. And the progressive overload of fundamental strength movements are still the ideal way to accomplish this.

For the purpose of this article, I will not present specific exercises for each category, but instead I will discuss more general movements as well as several key exercises that are paramount in the development of each young basketball athlete, both boys and girls.

Our first priority should be to have EVERY athlete screened by a physical therapist or credentialed sports performance coach trained in the principles of movement screening.  Once an athlete is cleared of mobility issues or pain, then it is safe to proceed with some form of resistance training. From my perspective, the best way to maintain or enhance postural integrity is to work on unilateral movements for the upper and lower body and train upper body pulling movements which emphasize the retraction of the shoulder blades, as well as basic bilateral and unilateral leg exercises. All of these must initially be performed in higher rep ranges (8-15) and multiple sets (2-5) with a slow eccentric tempo for most movements (3-4 full seconds). Perfect posture and positions are prioritized while performing ALL movements from warm up to cool down. When this is combined with higher volume and controlled tempo it goes a long way in developing a solid foundation, which includes greatly improved postural integrity.

While there is much debate pertaining to what the “best” leg movements are I prefer the Goblet or Front Squat, Split Squat and unloaded (bodyweight) Single Leg (SL) Squat progressions with my athletes.  The reason has everything to do with developing the performance outcomes I stated earlier.  First, in order to perform a squat of any kind or a split squat the athlete must first be able to move through those ranges of motion with adequate mobility and stability.  If they cannot, they then need to correct this before adding a load (weight) to the movement.  Second, the Goblet or Front Squat requires considerable engagement of the “core”, and minimize the forward lean at the low back making it safer during the introductory phases. When that aspect is combined with a slow tempo, as stated earlier (example: 4 seconds down, 1 second pause at bottom, 1 second up and 1 second pause at top) you also improve the athlete’s postural integrity, as a lack of strength in this area hinders proper form at higher numbers of reps.  Third, the Split Squat is an effective introductory, unilateral, static single leg movement.  The athlete can still use the back leg for balance, but the movement focuses primarily on the front leg, making it work independently from the other.  Additionally, the Split Squat enhances flexibility in the hip flexors and groin, as well as improving balance.

Finally, the Single Leg Squat. This is the one exercise taught from a partial range of motion before progressing to a full one, followed by additional resistance.  The reason for this has to do with the leverages involved in the exercise. The movement is particularly difficult for most athletes and the lack of support from the opposing leg makes proper alignment between the knee, hip and ankle difficult to maintain, particularly while controlling the tempo.  Once an athlete attains proficiency with this movement to a point to, or slightly below parallel, we are able to add resistance with weight vests, weight plates or dumbbells.

It is the implementation of sound performance principles, applied programmatically, that make up the foundation of our basketball training protocols.  Our objective is to produce an athlete who operates from a good base of mobility, demonstrates proper movement patterns and can maintain postural integrity for the duration of a game or practice. Once that has been attained, we know they have developed the strength required to minimize the potential for non-contact injuries, have a far better chance of remaining healthy and can also take their “game” to the next level.

Recently, an AAU Basketball Coach commented on the improved stamina, quickness, explosiveness and body position of his players in their last few tournaments.  When he asked how I had managed to accomplish this with his players my answer seemed to surprise him with its simplicity; “We made sure they could squat and lunge properly and then we got them stronger in those areas.”

We certainly did more than two exercises, but by focusing on proper structural balance and postural integrity, while improving leg strength the players were able to remain in a defensive stance longer and quite simply played the game with better body position for two full halves.  The result was athletes who were in a better position to take a first step, could take a STRONGER (thus FASTER) first step, remain in a strong “box out” stance under the net, jump higher, run faster, stop, breakdown and cut more effectively. And they could do all of this for a much longer duration.

Sure, we perform an equal amount of upper body strength work, including some hoops specific rebounding, grip, passing, pushing and pulling work in the weight room. We also train speed and agility drills, some basketball specific footwork, balance and core work, ball control and other drills. Just like everyone else. But, when asked how to improve basketball performance in players from 10 to 22, my short answer is, “Get them stronger!”

The Squat is the Foundation of Most Athletic Stances

The Squat is one of the most functional movements we perform in sports, and everyday life.  Even though it can be challenging for some taller athletes to squat correctly that is NOT a reason to avoid this movement!

Iowa City and North Liberty Youth Sports Training and Athletic Performance

Contact us at or on twitter or Instagram @TheStrengthU

Postural Integrity: The Foundation of Speed, Efficiency, Power, Balance and Stability

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Postural integrity simply refers to the ability to maintain proper posture through a multiple motions and through the entire range of that motion. It also implies maintaining this muscular stability for a given time. Although there is no magic number as far as time goes, ideally one can maintain postural integrity for the duration of an athletic contest. The reasons for this are numerous, but it is fair to say that once we have lost correct posture our movement becomes flawed, we are more susceptible to injury and far less strong or powerful. You can simply watch the end of any sporting event and look at those athletes who are still able to maintain a perfect “athletic position”. The athletic position is simply a perfect defensive stance in basketball, football, baseball, softball and most sports. The knees are bent, hips flexed, back is flat and tight, the chest is over the feet, head is up and shoulders are back. Those who can do this will still be moving as well as they can, or very close to it. Those who cannot will be noticeably slower and not move as quickly of efficiently. Although leg strength and conditioning will play a role in this as well, it is ultimately an athletes postural integrity that will give way before the other two.

We will look at some specific components of perfect posture in future articles, but at its most basic it requires proper spinal alignment, neutral pelvic tilt, a tall stance with the head up straight and the shoulders in a neutral position or pulled slightly back. Think back to when you were a kid and if you ever had a teacher, parent or coach tell you to “stand up straight” they were saying stand with perfect posture. Suck in your gut, stick out your chest and stand as tall as possible. If you have you athletes do these things they are likely practicing good posture. In my opinion posture should be worked on constantly because it can. Every drill, movement or exercise you do with your athletes that is in a standing position is an opportunity to develop perfect posture. Something as mundane as a knee hug is a great example of a warm up exercise that can be used to develop perfect posture and even work on single leg balance. Be sure to remain tall the ENTIRE duration of the drill and “Own” the movement, do not lean into your knee, and rather pull your knee to you while not leaning at all. There are countless examples of movements like this that are not designed to develop posture but are a great occasion to do so.

More challenging exercises that develop postural integrity could be pushups, pull ups, rows, lunges, RDLs, squats and various farmer carries. When performing any type of push up it critical to keep your entire body rigid and not break at the hips, round at the shoulders or “sag” at the lower back. The same is true for rowing motions, however, these movements specifically strengthen the musculature that allows us to retract our shoulder blades and keep our shoulders back. Unfortunately, I see far too many people perform these movements incorrectly, often because the weight is too heavy. One way of preventing this is to initiate all pulling movements by first squeezing the scaps together and then completing the pull or row.

Lower body movements such as the front or goblet squat are excellent at emphasizing core stability and spinal alignment while under resistance. I have all of my young athletes begin with goblet squats using a 4:1:1 tempo (4 second negative, 1 second pause and 1 second concentric) for the simple reason that it forces them to “feel” the full range of motion, and to focus on maintaining postural integrity. If they do not the DB or KB will likely fall forward and/or they will begin to lean forward to the point where the set should be terminated. The same holds true for all forms of lunges but perhaps the best lower body movement for strengthening the musculature of the posture is the RDL. Holding a load in front of, or beside, your body, keeping the shoulder blades back, head up straight and back/core set and strong is challenging as the weight becomes greater. Adding the hip hinge and the forward movement of the chest makes maintaining this position even harder. To emphasize this position I have my athletes perform RDLs with a pair of DBs in the beginning and use a 4:1:1 tempo. As they improve I switch to a bar, which makes sustaining the perfect posture position even more challenging.

The final group of exercises I use with my athletes, and especially young ones, are farmer carries. Using DBs that they can only hold for 30-60 seconds the athletes simply holds them to their side, while maintaining the perfect posture position. The core remains set, head tall and shoulders back, and to add a level of difficulty you may have the trainee walk down a 1”x 6” plank (mine is 10 feet long), which adds a balance component. Other variations can include performing single arm racked kettlebell walks with the weight held upside down, climbing up and over objects during the carry, holding one DB directly overhead and alternating arms after a given time, carrying a sand bag or ANY object you can think of that will make it difficult to keep their postural integrity.

From an athletic standpoint posture is critical for two reasons, good posture is the cornerstone of great acceleration mechanics, and the ability to accelerate and decelerate (Stop) as quickly and as efficiently as possible is what separates good athletes from great ones. It is also one of the most effective ways to prevent non-contact injury, including ACL tears.

With how much time today’s youth spend sitting in class, the car, on the bus, in front of the T.V. and playing video games, it is no wonder that they develop bad habits such as slouching and muscular imbalances like a protracted shoulder girdle (rounded shoulder). The good news is that it is also a very correctable deficiency. We have covered several ways to accomplish this, but the most practical way to improve posture is to practice good posture.

RDLs are a great way to develop postural integrity.

Notice the straight line from their shoulders down their back leg. Without the ability to maintain this position these men could not transfer the force they produce into world-class speed. Posture is absolutely essential in order to maximize speed!

Contact JC Moreau at with questions or for more information.

Acceleration and Strength: The Physical Attributes We Truly Covet

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By:  JC Moreau, Founder and Director, Strength U

Perhaps the most common question I get from coaches and parents is “how do I get my son or daughter faster/quicker/jump higher?” and they are often surprised by my response, as well as what I am about to discuss in today’s article.  My answer is typically “get them stronger” and that is usually met with a look of confusion so I elaborate.  In my last article on the values of squatting through a larger range of motion than simply to 90 degrees I explain in greater detail how strength is undeniably effective at developing speed, quickness and vertical jump height in athletes, especially young ones.  What I did not discuss was the next part of my answer to that question “you should be far more concerned about developing their ability to accelerate and decelerate, and this is largely accomplished with strength work in addition to drills that focus specifically on these skills, rather than top end speed.”  The reason for this is quite simple, nearly every sport requires quick bursts of speed over 1 to 15 yards, the ability to stop on a dime and then change direction and accelerate again.  In other words the world’s greatest 400m. sprinter will be quite average at soccer, football, baseball, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse or any other running sport if he or she cannot stop quickly, change direction and quickly accelerate.  If you are having a difficult time envisioning this, simply think of the great Running Backs in the NFL or Point Guards in the NBA.  Many of them do not run a 4.4 40 yard dash (VERY few do), rather they can hit top speed in a few steps, stop, cut and hit top speed again very well. So how do you develop these things?  By training acceleration and deceleration mechanics, and strengthening the movements and positions that maximize the athlete’s ability to perform these skills.

As we have discussed strength is a big part of this for a couple of reasons. First, our acceleration and top end speed are both a result of how much force we can produce through our foot as we strike the ground, and then how efficiently our bodies use that force.  There are many factors that play into this but strength, posture and body position are the most critical ones that we can always improve on.  What I want to focus on in this article are the acceleration drills we like to work on in order to maximize the force we do create, and ideally learn how to create more and/or waste less.  Assuming two athletes are the same size and possess the same amounts of strength and muscle fiber type (ratio of fast to slow twitch) there are a few mechanical and structural factors that will impact their ability to accelerate and/or decelerate.  Those we tend to focus on are body position/posture, Angles (adequate forward lean), knee drive, foot & shin positions and arm swing.

When elite level sprinters run to 100m. dash they are typically not upright until at least 35+ meters into the race.   The reason is simple to accelerate the body has to be in position that allows the athlete to put their force into the ground down, but also slightly backwards.  This is a simple concept because most athletes will quickly understand that if you push straight down you will go straight up.  So one of the first things all athletes must be taught is the correct body position required for ideal acceleration.  To do this there are several drills and training aides that can be used and the most simple and readily available is a wall.  By simply leaning forward at somewhere between 45 and 60 degrees, and keeping the body tight (as if doing a plank) from head to heel the athlete is now in a great position.   From this Position we have our athletes work on basic leg drive with their knee up and heel under the glute of the raised leg, all with a flexed foot.  We want maximum knee and foot lift and tell our athletes to envision a rod coming out of the opposite knee.  We want our foot to be above this rod while maintaining posture.

From here we do individual ground strikes and then progress to alternating strikes and eventually to multiples of 3, 5, 7, 9 etc…, or for times of 5-15 seconds.  Remember we are not training for conditioning we are training to develop the ability to produce violent, powerful ground strikes while maintaining ideal postural integrity and a flexed foot, since the more force we put into the ground the more we will get back.  So far so good, right?  Hopefully, but I am regularly reminded just how hard it is for most young athletes to maintain this position for more than a few seconds without beginning to move their feet forward (thus changing the angle we established), sticking their butt back (breaking at the hips which leads to tremendous energy leaks), or tilting the head forward and looking down, which also tends to lead to several postural issues.

Since this position is critical it is important to A. Stress the correct form and ALWAYS correct these flaws and B. identify if the issues taking place are happening due to a lack of postural control (strength/stability) or is the athlete is plenty strong and just needs improved mental focus.  In 99% of youth athletes the cause is both and the postural strength issues must be addressed since without correct body positioning and alignment their full acceleration  potential will never be reached.  Also, the inability to focus long enough to complete this mundane yet vital task may make speed the least of their concerns, but this is another topic altogether……

To develop the athlete’s ability to maintain perfect posture over extended periods of time we must focus on this area in all phases of training.  We can develop the musculature required to hold many of these positions by performing simple glute bridges and planks (done properly with the core gently braced at all times), I have found too often that athletes plank incorrectly and just hold their bodies up, try to palpate the athlete’s entire core (low back, obliques, glutes, hip flexors etc…) to be sure all muscle groups are activated.  In addition to these I have found that focusing on postural integrity during everything from warm up to cool down also makes a huge difference, so anytime the athlete is standing essentially is a good time to drive home the importance of standing tall, shoulders back, core braced, head in a neutral position etc…

Once the acceleration position has been worked on and the athlete understands the basic reasoning and concepts that necessitate it we move to starts.  The tricky thing about having the body in the required position is that the only way to get it there is by leaning into or against something, such as a sled or thick resistance band, or by starting from positions that put you into a forward lean.  The most common way we do this is with a traditional 3 point “40 yard dash” start, a falling start or a single leg falling start.  The point of emphasis must always be to explode out and to stay low.  In the 3 point stance start the back leg does very little other than cycle through and ideally do so quickly and be in a great position to take step 2.  However, the front leg is the one that must explosively push the athlete out because it is ultimately a series of strong, powerful, efficient “Pushes” that lead to impressive acceleration.  In his latest book Coach Mike Boyle describes a start drill he coaches that uses a large crash mat for his athletes to literally jump out and land on to teach the aggressive drive required to fully grasp this concept.  The athletes simply get into a starting position and explode out of the position so aggressively that they will essentially dive onto the ground, this is where the mat comes in handy!

If you can get your athletes to correctly perform these drills while maintaining postural integrity, and slowly developing the habits of correct arm drive and foot position they will see a dramatic improvement in their 10 or 20 yard dash times.  These times are what separate the 4.6 athlete from the 5.0 athlete, but more importantly they will have far greater carry over to ANY team sport than performing “top-end” speed drills, such as those taught by many “speed camps” and used by track athletes, such as B-Skips.  Over the years I have found that developing proper arm swings and flexing the foot takes a tremendous amount of repetition in those who do not naturally do these well.  For this reason I recommend incorporating some very short drills to work on these during warm ups as a way to get almost daily exposure to them in a college or in-season competitive club sports athletes.

Every quality that coaches and parents desire for their athletes is rooted in strength, either the ability to produce force or the ability to maintain postural integrity.  So when a parent or coaches preaches “first-step quickness”, speed and agility remind them that each of these is largely dependent on getting stronger AND learning how to transfer that new found horsepower into more explosive, deliberate and efficient movements.  How fast an athlete steps has little to do with the step and almost everything to do with the drive leg’s ability to produce force and do so quickly, that is what results in a fast an explosive start.  The same principles hold true for developing the ability to pull away from a defender or close the gap on a player ahead of you.  So whether you are a coach or parent, the next time you are looking for “speed development” remember that it is actually strength and movement development that you desire because perfect running form without these traits is like a beautiful race car with a golf cart engine.  It may look sleek and fast, but will take three days to reach full speed.

JC Moreau

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J.C. Moreau has attained a level of coaching success that is typically reserved for sports professionals a decade his elder. During his 15 year coaching career he has established himself as one of America’s premier sports performance experts, and is now able to apply his world-class knowledge and skill-set working with youth athletes. “Much of the philosophy that I developed coaching top Division I and professional athletes is even more applicable to young athletes, especially kids.” Moreau says. “When you focus on developing postural integrity, structural balance and proper movement patterns, while simultaneously introducing a variety of loads and resistance, and perfect speed (acceleration and deceleration) and jumping (single and double leg + landing) mechanics, you can take the time required to ensure that each athlete develops to their full potential.” It has been this focus on safety, balanced physical development and the ability to motivate and teach young people the value of intangible qualities, such as resilience, character, accountability, persistence and purpose that has set Moreau apart.

JC Moreau, Sports Performance Coach, Featured on Influencers Radio

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JC Moreau, sports performance coach, was the featured guest on Influencers Radio show. He discussed how he helps young, developing, male and female athletes from all sports, become well-rounded healthy athletes, while achieving peak performance.

Moreau has worked with elite athletes at the major Division I and professional levels, including Olympic gold medalists and world champions. He has also worked with athletes of all ages, from elementary school through collegiate-aged athletes.

As a sports performance coach, he focuses more on the body’s movements and posture, versus sports-specific tactical skills. He works to develop the whole athlete, hoping the skills he teaches become life-long habits.

According to Moreau, “I enjoy the younger age groups so much because you really lay a strong foundation, good movement habits, and a better understanding of their body. There is a big educational component and that’s one of the things I try to get through to parents. What I do is not a magic solution to anything, where it’s going to be a short, one-time program and then you’re all of a sudden significantly faster.

It’s hopefully an ongoing process that will last years. You start off, like anything, in a very conservative, controlled manner and there’s a very well-planned out progression that you follow as the athlete becomes more advanced and develops.”

A sports performance coach has different training and advanced certifications from a personal trainer. Moreau shares, “Most of those in high level positions have an advanced degree, such as a Masters. The certifications for sports performance are definitely different than they are for personal training. They are more about athletic development, energy systems, analyzing movements and correcting dysfunction. Preventing injury and maximizing their potential as an athlete. So it’s not about you becoming a better baseball player, rather a better athlete.”

He emphasizes that there is no quick fix for improving an athlete’s performance. Weekend boot camps and sports-specific skills are not necessarily going to produce quick, long-lasting results. Maximizing an athlete’s performance is a process that takes long-term commitment. Starting at a young age, it’s important to focus on proper body movements (mobility) and having a good control of their body (stability).

There is also a strong emphasis on training for injury prevention, which may involve countering the movements that they’re doing repetitively in their specific sports or in their daily lives. Moreau points out that young children today are sitting too much and not doing the outside activities children used to do years ago. This is impacting how prepared their young bodies are for playing sports today.

As an athlete becomes older and more advanced, they need to be learning about proper nutrition, proper supplementation and other healthy living skills that can become lifelong habits.

The experiences Moreau has teaching boys and girls, as a Head Coach for a decade at the NCAA Division I level, working with professional athletes, and coaching youth athletes have contributed to a highly skilled educator who young athletes are lucky to be working with.

You can hear the full interview at:

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