Knowing the Score

To make your basketball athletes the best they can be, consider using the Performance Index Evaluation, which scores hoops players on several different physical abilities.

By Ben Cook, Chip Sigmon, & Alan Tyson

Ben Cook, MA, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Chip Sigmon, CSCS, and Alan Tyson, PT, LAT, ATC, SCS, CSCS, work at the Carolina Sports Performance Center in Charlotte, N.C. Cook is the former strength and conditioning coach for men’s basketball at North Carolina and author of “Total Basketball Fitness,” published by Coaches Choice. Sigmon is the former strength and conditioning coach for the Charlotte Hornets and author of “52-Week Basketball Training,” published by Human Kinetics.

Training & Conditioning, 13.7, October 2003,

Evaluating basketball ability is a tall order. Improving it is harder still.

Some athletes develop great shooting and dribbling skills but physical limitations prevent their bodies from moving through suitable ranges of motion. In others, muscular tightness or weaknesses result in a reduced base of athletic abilities, such as speed, power and strength, balance, and flexibility. If not addressed, these physical limitations can encumber a player’s basketball skills and may cause the athlete to engage in a series of physical compensations that can lead to injury.

In response, at the Carolinas Sports Performance Center, we developed a Performance Index Evaluation (PIE) for basketball players at the high school level. The PIE scoring system combines numerical grades of several separate tests, aimed at helping coaches better understand athletes’ physical abilities and, if needed, create a sound plan of corrective exercise.

The individual parts of the PIE were specifically selected to encompass the basic physical attributes all basketball players must possess in order to perform effectively and safely. These tests evaluate physical stature, muscular endurance, functional movement or positioning, lateral quickness and speed, and muscular power through jumping ability. Some also take into account the differing physical requirements for each position.

The following details the tests and how to score athletes on them. Once the PIE has been conducted it falls back on the player, coach, and athletic trainer to correct any physical limitations.

The Crabwalk
Having your players perform the crabwalk is a quick and easy way to assess core strength and muscular endurance of the torso and shoulders. The core is critical to a basketball player because it controls twisting and turning of the shoulders and hips. A basketball player with greater core strength can better control his or her body as well as deal with the push-and-pull style of play in the post areas and around screens.

To conduct the test, have the athlete assume a push-up position with both arms fully extended. Keeping the body completely straight from the head to the back of the heels, have the athlete begin to move laterally. To facilitate the movement, have the athlete move his or her opposite arm and leg laterally at the same time. Have more experienced athletes crab from the baseline to half-court and back. Lower level players should move from the baseline to the top of the key and back.

Athletes who are unable to complete the assigned distance should receive the lowest grade, a 1. If at any time they bend either upward or downward at the hips, even if they complete the course, they should receive a grade of 2 or 3 depending on the number of breakdowns. If the athlete completes the distance and remains straight he or she should receive the highest grade offered, a 4.

Athletes can improve their core strength by focusing on lower abdominal exercises, prone elbow supports, oblique crunches, and knee-ups from a hanging position. Upper-body strength can be gained with these exercises: push-ups with various grip widths, zig-zag push-ups, bench presses, decline presses, and alternate dumbbell presses.

Snatch Position
To test your players’ flexibility, have them perform squats with a dowel instead of a weighted bar. This is the most efficient way to assess bilateral mobility of the shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, and low, middle, and upper back.

To conduct the test, the athlete assumes a shoulder-width standing posture. He or she places a dowel across the shoulders and grips it so that the arms create 90-degree angles at the elbows. The dowel is extended at arm’s length overhead. Have the athlete perform three or four slow, controlled squat movements by flexing the knees, hips, and ankles. The heels should be kept on the floor, the knees should be in line with the second and third toes, and the head and chest should face straight ahead. The dowel should be pressed fully overhead during the entire motion, and the athlete should be able to squat slightly below parallel.

The most common area of tightness is the hip flexor region. If an athlete is tight in this region, he or she will not be able to squat past parallel. A second common area of tightness is the shoulders. If the athlete has tight shoulders, the stick will move forward as he or she squats. A third area of tightness is in the calf and Achilles region. The athlete may be able to squat past parallel, but will not be able to keep the heels on the ground or keep the feet square.

Here are some ways to improve flexibility:

• Hip flexor stretching can be accomplished by the athlete taking a kneeling position and stretching the arms as far as possible, or by having an athletic trainer, coach, or teammate stretch the athlete off the edge of a table (the Thomas Test stretch). Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

• Focus on shoulder flexibility by having the athlete perform the prayer stretch. Get on all fours on the ground. Keeping the hands flat on the ground, rock back, taking the buttocks toward the heels. To increase the stretch, the hands may be positioned further out in front or turned so that the palms face upward. This stretch should be felt in the shoulder and latissimus region but should never create discomfort. Hold for 30 seconds.

• Stretch the calves both with the knee straight and knee bent (the knee-bent position focuses on the Achilles region). Hold the stretches for 30 seconds.

• Practice the snatch position each day. Repeating this movement will help stretch many joints at once and encourage muscles to work together as a team, not in isolation. After one week of practice, the athlete should notice improvement.

Lateral Lunge
Basketball players must move laterally to play defense and offense. If a player is unable to assume suitable ranges of motion in the lunge, this will carry over to the athlete’s side-to-side mobility and reduce the ground he or she can cover. It can also indicate a susceptibility to groin injuries.

Have the athlete assume a posture with the feet double the shoulder width. The athlete then lunges laterally by allowing one leg to flex at the knee, hip, and ankle while attempting to keep both feet flat to the floor. The arms may be held out in front to help distribute body weight and maintain a better center of gravity. This will also test the inversion flexibility of the out-stretched ankle.

The keys to the lateral lunge are not letting the knee go past the toes, not sitting back on the buttocks, not letting the trail foot come off the ground, and keeping the buttocks and knees parallel.

Athletes can improve their groin flexibility with specific stretches. One is the classic butterfly stretch, where the athletes sit on the floor and bring their feet together with soles touching, and push their bent knees toward the floor. A second exercise positions both legs out in front of the body. While seated and keeping the knees straight, separate the legs as far as possible. Slowly move the upper body forward while keeping the back straight until a stretch is felt in the hamstrings and groin. Achieving this position requires some strength, so side-to-side squats or lunges and strength training of the outer hips will help. These positions should be practiced daily.

The Vertical Jump
The number one question that basketball players ask strength coaches is, “How do I improve my vertical jump?” Jump height is always critical in a basketball game, but from a coach’s perspective, testing the vertical jump can also give you a good indication of the overall explosiveness and power of an athlete.

First, record the athlete’s vertical reach by having him or her stand with both feet on the floor and reach up as high as possible with the dominant shoulder and arm against the wall. Then have the player jump using a no-step, two-footed take-off, and measure the distance between the maximum standing reach and highest jump-mark.

There are many ways to increase vertical jump, but the most important aspect of the movement is proper mechanics:

• Keep the chest up throughout the entire movement.

• Bend at the knees instead of the waist.

• Have hands track right beside the legs on the downward and upward swing of the arms.

• Always look at what you are reaching for.

• Once you hit the bottom of the knee bend, jump without any hesitation or delay.

Vertical-jump exercises include:

• Simple jumping and bounding drills, such as double- or single-leg hops, or bounding on and off boxes.

• Using a weighted vest to increase resistance and create overload when jumping.

• Weight-training exercises such as the squat, leg press, and even the bench press will help create the extra strength and power that is critical to vertical lift.

• Trying to touch or reach for an object just out of reach can really improve jump height.

The I-Shuttle is a great way to test an athlete’s speed, agility, acceleration, and deceleration. Knowing how to decelerate, change direction, and accelerate will help players’ movements in game situations.

The equipment needed for the shuttle test is two socks and a stopwatch. The athlete straddles the mid-court line within the tipoff circle. He or she then turns and sprints to a sock placed on one of the free-throw lines. The athlete picks up the sock, turns, and sprints to the other free-throw line and picks up the other sock, then turns and sprints back to the mid-court line, finishing with a sock in each hand.

Improving performance in this test entails performing any types of agility drills similar to the I-Shuttle.

The Lane Box Drill
The Lane Box Drill is another great way to test change of direction. This agility test examines forward, lateral, and backward movements in one package.

The athlete starts at the top of the lane at the right elbow (cone 1) and sprints to the base line. When the athlete reaches cone 2, he or she power slides to the opposite side of the lane while facing away from the court. When passing cone 3 at the bottom of the lane, he or she then back-pedals up the lane and past cone 4. Once past cone 4, the athlete shuffles across the free throw line facing the near basket. Once past cone 1, he or she reverses course, shuffles back to cone 4, and continues the drill in the opposite direction by sprinting to cone 3. After power sliding across the base line to cone 2, the athlete will finish the drill when they cross cone 1 while back pedaling.

When working on their lateral movement, players should stay low, keep the chest up, hips back, and the back flat. They should also stay on the balls of the feet and not bring the feet together during the movement. When practicing backward runs, athletes should again stay low and use forceful shoulder and arm movements to create acceleration. Also concentrate on keeping the head slightly out over the toes while running on the balls of the feet. An eight- to 15-pound weighted vest or resistance tubing will add the overload that helps the body build the strength and power needed to increase acceleration and speed.

Adding It All Up
When we use the above tests with basketball players in the Charlotte area, we add up the scores of the tests and compare them to grades we have developed based on the abilities of athletes with whom we have worked. A score of 21 to 24 equals an “A” and 18 to 20 a “B,” for instance. A score of 12 to 19 may indicate that the athlete needs to focus on developing certain abilities in order to pursue the sport at a higher level.

Ultimately, the overall score an athlete receives is not the most important point, however. The key is using the scores to see where an athlete needs improvement and then developing programs to help him or her improve in the problem areas.

A version of this article also appears in our sister publication, Coaching Management-Basketball.