*Editor's note: this article is co-authored by Bryan Meagher
As AAU basketball has expanded, basketball for the high school-aged player has become an almost year-round sport. This makes it very difficult for a player to find time to truly focus on athletic development. The preseason provides a special time for the players to work together, gain each other's trust and embrace the process of becoming the best at getting better.
A key success factor in Oak Hill Academy's championship-winning basketball culture is our legendary preseason workouts, known as "The Oak Hill Grind."
The goal is not only for each player to become a better athlete and player through a focused and comprehensive strength, speed, power, quickness and injury-reduction plan, but also for the players to become better teammates, competitors and individuals.
At Oak Hill, our players are required to give their best effort in everything they do—in school, work, games, practices and workouts.
With this in mind, we design our preseason workout program as competitions, not only to make each athlete stronger, more explosive and more resilient to injury, but also to teach them to be competitive in everything they do.
The Oak Hill preseason workout program starts with individual baseline testing. We test our players in strength, power, endurance and injury-reduction assessments. These tests include but are not exclusive to the Bench Press, Standing Broad Jump, Vertical Jump, Chin-Ups, the Mile Run, the Push-Up Stability Test, and the ACL Hop and Stop Test. These initial tests set the stage for designing each player's individualized program and for our pre-season competitions.
In our preseason competitions, the players choose their own teams. The teams then become the player's workout groups for the rest of the preseason.
- Develop competitive attitudes and mental toughness.
- Become better teammates.
- Gain basketball-specific strength and power.
- Learn how to absorb force, how to bend, how to decelerate and how to land properly.
- Improve basketball speed, quickness and agility.
- Improve basketball-specific endurance.
- Embrace the process of becoming better every single day.
Preseason Training Period
After our initial baseline assessments, the players are grouped into four athletic development categories:
Each individual player's workout program is based according to their specific developmental category. At the high school level, all of our players' "training age" is relatively young. Therefore, we continue to adhere to the five core values of our athletic development program. These include:
PROTECT: Everything we do in our strength program is designed to protect the athlete from getting injured in the game of basketball.
MOVE WELL: We want all of our athletes to have proper fundamental and functional movement patterns to allow them to progress in the most efficient manner possible. An increased importance is placed on mobility, stability and the ability to absorb force properly.
MOVE STRONG: As an athlete gets stronger, they will become more explosive, quicker, faster, have less chance of injury and obtain more overall self-confidence.
MOVE FAST: We will consistently work on every athlete's ability to react fast and move rapidly both in a linear and lateral motion.
THRIVE: Our athletes will develop skills that will translate to improved sport performance, a lifetime of wellness, and the ability to overcome obstacles and maximize their potential in all areas of life.
It's important to note that this is a unified athletic development program, but NOT a uniform athletic development program. This means that all of our athletes are training to the same goal of maximizing their athletic development as it pertains to the game of basketball, however, it is not uniform given that each athlete does not perform the same exercises, sets or reps.
During the preseason, our players complete basketball-specific strength and power training three days a week. On the remaining two days, their focus switches to plyometrics, speed, quickness, agility, deceleration and force absorption drills.
Every other Friday, the players compete with their selected preseason workout teams in strength, speed, agility and endurance competitions. To foster an aggressive mindset in the athletes, points are awarded according to where each team finishes each competition. The goal here is for the players to bring their competitive desire into the weight room. This helps foster that competitive mindset as it translates to the court and the game of basketball.
Basketball-Specific Strength and Power
At Oak Hill Academy, we use a variety of strength and power exercises that are selected according to each individual player's athletic development category. These exercises can range from bodyweight fundamental movement patterns to many different types of explosive, Olympic-style lifts. An emphasis is placed on the athletes gaining a relative strength base.
Basketball Speed, Quickness and Agility
We make a conscience effort to design all our plyometric, speed, quickness and agility exercises to simulate the game of basketball. We also explain the purpose of each drill to the players so they understand how it will help them become quicker and more explosive on the court.
The first day of the week, our drills are focused on short, powerful plyometric movements.
The second day of the week focuses on agility and quickness through closed and open chain change of direction and agility drills. Again, these movements may vary according to the athletic development category each individual athlete is placed in.
Finally, we add competition to each workout by incorporating games like tag, which is one of our favorite agility and quickness drills. Tag is a great drill because athletes rely on speed, agility and quickness to avoid getting tagged. We make sure our players know that this is not just a little kid's game. If you're a true athlete, who is really quick and agile, you shouldn't be tagged.
Training with basketball-specific endurance exercises (repeated movement with short bursts of sprints) is something we take pride in. We believe it is a reason why our players perform at their best late in games.
One of our favorite drills is the "Kentucky Ladder Drill," where players continually build on how many lengths of the court they run according to an assigned time. In addition, we do have our players run a timed mile. This may not be a basketball-specific exercise, but the mile run is still a great cardiovascular workout, and it teaches our guys to compete to beat their previous times. You can learn a lot about a player's competitiveness, desire and work ethic by their mile run time.
Every workout of the week contains some form of team competition. The competitions can vary from Push-Up to Pull-Up competitions to relay races to team Broad Jump competitions. Also, on every other Friday, we make the competition the centerpiece of the entire workout.
To be great, basketball players need to be driven. The competitions help keep our players motivated to continue working hard throughout the long preseason. The competitions also teach the athletes the importance of competing in everything they do.
Building Better People
There is no better place to equip young people with the tools to be successful in life than through a training program in the weight room. We are blessed to be able to work with some extremely gifted and talented young basketball players, but our duty as their coach goes far beyond just maximizing their athletic potential.
The goal of our strength and conditioning program is to teach our players life lessons and provide them with the experiences necessary to maximize their potential in all areas of life. We want to equip each of our athletes with the self-confidence and character traits necessary to chase their dreams in all areas of life, not just basketball.
Bryan Meagher is the Associate Head Coach at Oak Hill Academy and is entering his 17th year there. During his professional career, he has been part of five high school basketball national championships and coached numerous NBA players along with dozens of Division I players. These players include: Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith and Keldon Johnson. Bryan was named a 2018 Top 40 under 40 Sports Professional.
Micah Kurtz is the Assistant Athletics Director & Director of Sports Performance at Windermere Preparatory School. In addition, Coach Kurtz serves as the Strength and Conditioning Consultant Coach to the 9-time high school basketball national champions Oak Hill Academy, and has consulted on projects regarding youth athletic development education for the NFL, USA Basketball, USA Football and Nike Football. Coach Kurtz has won many awards in his field including: NSCA National Strength Coach of the Year, 2018 Top 40 under 40 Sports Professional, and two-time South Carolina State Strength Coach of the Year in 2013/2014.
Photo Credit: Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina