Basketball Periodization: Why do top seeds flop in the Playoffs?

The Virginia Cavaliers made history last month by becoming the first men’s team in the NCAA tournament to lose to a 16th seed. Interestingly,  flopping seems to have become commonplace for heavily favored teams in the men’s tournament (Duke 2012 & 2014, Missouri 2012, Georgetown 2013, Arizona 2018, etc.). And with the NBA playoffs due to start this weekend, we may see one or two more favoured teams exposed to the dreaded flop.

So what causes favored teams to lose early on in the playoffs despite their dominance throughout the regular season? One explanation: failure to peak at the right time. Here are what I believe to be a few of the key points that can help teams peak in the playoffs and turn their regular season dominance into playoff success.

STAYING FRESH

Fatigue is a major contributor to reduced performance in late season competition. Often, many  top-seeded teams seem burnt out from the season. Poor training load management (physical) and demanding school schedules (emotional) both likely play a role in reduced player energy. Coaches and players often use ‘lack of energy’ or ‘no legs’ as the reason for poor performances or losses. Lack of energy is often caused by lack of smart practice periodization. When it comes to peaking performance, basketball practice periodization is an entirely different task than “strength” periodization. During my time working in the English Premier League, the teams I had most success with implemented football (soccer) specific periodization. At Manchester City, I was fortunate to work with and learn from Raymond Verheijen, the leading expert in football periodization. I saw how effective periodization can be and took this methodology with me as I transitioned to the NBA in 2009.

Basketball Periodization

BASKETBALL PERIODIZATION

Implementing a periodization program in the NBA is trickier than in the EPL. The schedule is more inconsistent and there are many more games. However, it is achievable and great team success can be gained from it.

The goal of basketball periodization is to create a season-long plan that allows the head coach to best execute their technical and tactical objectives with the best team on the most consistent basis. It ensures that the best players are kept fresh and always available, there are far fewer injuries overall, and that players can maximize their fitness development in the context of the game. The head coach’s tactical and technical philosophy and objectives are always the starting point, with the coaching, fitness and medical departments all providing their input on how every practice should be structured in relation to content, volume, intensity, recovery and individualization.

Although this type of basketball periodization is challenging to implement in the NBA, teams can benefit immensely when taking the time to strategically deploy this approach. With the end of the NBA regular season now here, mounting injuries (linked to fatigue) have caused some playoff-bound teams to lose momentum at the wrong time. Unfortunately, many injuries are to All-Star players, who of course, are the high minute players (Steph Curry, Demarcus Cousins, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, etc.).

In comparison to the NBA, a college schedule is far easier to periodize due to the reduced amount of games and increased game consistency in the college playing schedule. You can find a FREE BASKETBALL PERIODISATION example on this link.

COLLABORATION

The importance of coaches, fitness/performance and medical staff working hand-in-hand to achieve a common goal of winning cannot be overstated. I have found that utilizing basketball periodization allows best for a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach and leverages all the best expertise a sports organization has to offer. It maximizes player buy in and builds a solid foundation for all other practices such as sports science and player tracking to be best utilized. Moreover, collaboration helps coaches optimize player readiness and create the most effective training and game strategies that provide the player and his/her team the best opportunity for success.

Periodization in Basketball

In this article, I described three keys to peaking player performance: staying fresh, basketball periodization, and team-wide collaboration. In my next article, I’ll focus on the role player tracking and monitoring devices play in supporting basketball periodization and try to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the use of technology in the sport science space.