The Psychology of Individual and Team Sports

LACityWhile overall enjoyment of sport participation and experiences of optimum psychological state do not appear to depend on the type of sport, research in the field of sports psychology has yielded some significant differences between athletes in individual and team sports, especially in terms of sources of motivation, coaching, and training.

Read more the basic psychology of team or individuals sports or understand the technical psychological aspects.

Articles by Alycia Parnell

The Psychology of Individual and Team Sports (Technical)

LACityThere is no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ but what if you’re only playing for yourself? Many factors beyond basic physical conditioning work together to contribute to athletic performance, but what about the nature of the sport itself? In the vast array of competitive sports played by athletes, a key difference could have a major effect on the psychological aspects of athletic performance—whether the sport is individual or team-based. This attribute plays a role in all stages of performance, from basic motivation and preparation to in-competition functioning.

Perhaps the most prominent difference between team and individual sports would be sources of motivation. In solo activities, such as long-distance running, the athlete is responsible for the training and strategy required to ensure his or her own success, whereas in a group sport like football, team members must work together toward victory. In its most general sense, motivation refers to the reasoning that leads to a behavior or absence thereof (Keegan et al. 2011). Most people are familiar with the concept of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, with intrinsic motivation referring to the drive to perform an activity for its own sake without requiring any external impetus (Deci 1975). Extrinsic motivation would be the opposite—engaging in an activity not for its own sake but as a means to an end which involves expected outcomes not inherent to the activity itself (Vallerand 2007).

Several theories of motivation that draw upon this concept have been established in psychological literature, one of the most prominent of which in the field of sports psychology is Deci and Ryan’s (2000) Self-Determination Theory (SDT). This theory expands upon intrinsic motivation, stating that such behavior is prompted by the satisfaction of three psychological needs, all of which turn out to have social implications: competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Competence refers to the ability to effectively interact with one’s social environment, relatedness would be the desire to feel connection with other individuals, and autonomy is the basic need to see one’s own behavior as freely chosen. It seems that all three of these factors would influence the motivational aspects of athletes involved in both individual and team sports. A 2008 study by Gillet and Rosner investigated just that. They hypothesized that athletes involved in individual sports would exhibit more self-determined behavior. Athletes in the study were asked to complete a series of questionnaires measuring different types of motivation in relation to their sport. The data collected revealed that athletes involved in individual sports did indeed experience greater feelings of autonomy than their team-based counterparts. This could be due to the greater freedom to make decisions provided to individual athletes, such as a tennis player choosing when and where to register for competitions (Gillet and Rosner 2008).

Individual athletes may exhibit higher levels of intrinsic motivation in terms of autonomy, but team athletes could have an advantage in terms of relatedness. In addition, extrinsic motivation is an effective and not necessarily negative phenomenon. Deci and Ryan (1985) expand upon Self-Determination Theory to address extrinsic motivation, some types of which still involve varying levels of autonomy. The first type, arguably the most classic example of extrinsic motivation and also the least autonomous, would be external regulation, which is motivation on the basis of external factors such as rewards or punishment. This would be the grade school student who joins the softball team in order to earn a trip to Disneyland that her fitness-conscious mother promised to reward that behavior. The next type of extrinsic motivation is introjected regulation, which is prompted by pressure imposed upon the individual by his or her own volition, such as the risk of guilt or anxiety if he or she does not attend a practice. The third type, identified regulation, is more autonomous and involves freely  choosing a behavior because it will be beneficial in the long run even though it is not inherently pleasant. An example of identified regulation would be a football player who dislikes eating vegetables, but does anyway because he knows a balanced diet will improve his performance. The last described type of extrinsic motivation, also with a fair amount of autonomy, is integrated regulation, which involves making choices to balance various aspects of the self, such as a swimmer who postpones a late-night movie with friends in order to perform well at her swim meet the next morning (Vallerand 2007).

As described, different types of motivation play significant roles across the board among both individual and team athletes. It may be easier for members of individual sports to experience autonomy thanks to the greater capacity for decision-making in their chosen sports, but all athletes perform extrinsically to some level, such as during uncomfortable practice sessions and lifestyle choices.

In addition to motivation, several other factors could contribute to different experiences between individual and team athletes. Participating in a team sport comes with its own set of challenges. Team members each play an individual role, yet they have to successfully meld their responsibilities and talents in order to create success for the group. When successful, this works quite well, but it also creates an additional opportunity for failure that individual athletes do not experience—the team will fail if members do not effectively synchronize their efforts, in addition to the standard threat of failure due to athlete inability. However, the flip side of this conundrum is that particularly stellar team members can help mediate the shortcomings of team members with lower ability levels.

Another variable affecting team performance is the need for a large amount of coordination in a dynamic environment. Especially in the realm of professional sports, team members must cope with managers and stakeholders who often have contradictory agendas, as well as sometimes function as a ‘virtual team,’ wherein all members are not centrally located. Next, leadership plays a critical role in the success or failure of a team. Regardless of the natural ability and coordination among team members, it is up to the leader to make the necessary goals and judgment calls that lead to success (Zaccaro et al. 2002). Among these responsibilities of the coach is the need to individualize training for team members. Regardless of the nature of the sport, not all athletes are the same, and each team member needs a specific training plan that is applicable to his or her role within the team and ability level. Although athletes in all sports have important relationships with coaches, research has found that empathic accuracy among coaches of individual sports was higher than team sports (Lorimer and Jowett 2009). Individualized attention from coaches in team settings is important- as prescribing the same training plan to all team members could result in detraining of the athletes in less active roles, and overtraining for those who receive larger amounts of playing time (Hoffman 2014).

Overtraining, defined as an increase in volume or intensity of physical activity that is met with inadequate recovery (Hoffman 2014), is a widespread problem among athletes from all sports. Success in endurance activities relies on progressive training increases, and it is generally accepted that some level of overtraining is a prerequisite for peak performance (Morgan et al. 1987). Intense training sessions will naturally produce a state of acute fatigue that dissipates within a day or two. However, overtraining can lead to chronic fatigue and subsequent underperformance, often referred to as a state of physical ‘staleness’ (Morgan et al. 1987). Staleness is a risk among all athletes, though research has found that its incidence is higher among participants in individual sports. A 2001 study of Swedish athletes by Kentta, Hassmen, and Raglin found that 48% of study participants involved in individual sports reported staleness as opposed to 30% of the team athletes. This could be attributed to individual athletes’ greater levels of autonomy in developing their training plans, resulting in overambitious goals and higher incidences of overtraining.

Differences between individual and team athletes are apparent when it comes to motivation and training, but does the nature of a sport affect performance during competition? A good indicator of this would be how often athletes enter ‘the zone,’ or a state of psychological flow. Flow is described as an optimal psychological state in which the perceived challenge of a given activity is balanced with an individual’s ability, which involves complete absorption and focus in the activity (Csikszentmihalyi 1990).  Research indicates the positive relationship between athletes’ experience of psychological flow and optimal performance (Jackson et al. 2001). Nine factors have been found to help facilitate flow in athletic performance: pre-competition preparation plans such as repeated rituals, confidence and positive thinking, physical preparation, good performance during warmups, focus, optimal environmental conditions, positive coach/team relationships, optimal pre-competition arousal, and motivation (Jackson 1995). Several studies have investigated the effect of sport type on achieving a state of flow among athletes. It is possible that factors more likely to be experienced by athletes in team sports, such as lower levels of intrinsic motivation and negative interactions with coaches and team members, could be more likely to disrupt flow and subsequent performance. In spite of this possibility, research indicates that the experience of flow is universal among athletes regardless of what sport they play (Young and Pain 1999). Additionally, a specific analysis of flow state in college athletes in team and individual sports failed to indicate a statistically significant relationship between type of sport and occurrence of flow state (Russell 2001).

Research in the field of sports psychology has yielded some significant differences between athletes in individual and team sports, especially in terms of sources of motivation, coaching, and training. However, in terms of overall enjoyment and experience of optimum psychological state, the type of sport does not appear to have an effect on an athlete’s output during performance itself. Satisfaction from a particular type of sport would depend on the personal preferences and experiences of each athlete.  For the rest of us trying to decide if one type is better than another, it really depends on whether you ask a runner or a football player.
By Alycia Parnell
Alycia Parnell holds degrees in Psychology and Environmental Studies from the University of Utah. She lives, works, and writes in Salt Lake City.

Literature Cited 

Csikszentmihalyi, M. 1990. Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. Harper & Row, New York, NY, USA

Deci, E. L. 1975. Intrinsic motivation. Plenum, New York, NY, USA

Deci, E.L., and R. M. Ryan. 1985. Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. Plenum, New York, NY, USA

Gillet, N., and E. Rosnet. 2008. Basic need satisfaction and motivation in sport. The Online Journal of Sport Psychology 10.

Hoffman, J. 2014. Physiological aspects of sport training and performance-2nd edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, USA

Jackson, S. A. 1995. Factors influencing the occurrence of flow in elite athletes. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 7: 138-166.

Jackson, S. A., P. R. Thomas, H.W. Marsh, and C.J. Smethurst. 2001. Relationships between flow, self-concept, psychological skills, and performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 13: 129-153.

Keegan, R., C. Harwood, C. Spray, and D. Lavallee. 2011. From ‘motivational climate’ to ‘motivational atmosphere’: a review of research examining the social and environmental influences on athlete motivation in sport. Pages 1-55 in B.D. Geranto, editor. Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge, NY, USA.

Kentta, G., P. Hassmen, and J.S. Raglin. 2001. Training practices and overtraining syndrome in Swedish age-group athletes. International Journal of Sports Medicine 22: 460-465.

Lorimer, R., and S. Jowett. 2009. Empathic accuracy in coach–athlete dyads who participate in team and individual sports. Psychology of Sport and Exercise 10: 152-158.

Morgan, W. P., D. R. Brown, J. S. Raglin, P. J. O’connor, and K. A. Ellickson. 1987. Psychological monitoring of overtraining and staleness. British Journal of Sports Medicine 21: 107-114.

Russell, W. D. 2001. An examination of flow state occurrence in college athletes. Journal of Sport Behavior 24: 83-107.

Ryan, R. M., and E. L. Deci. 2000. Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist 55: 68-78.

Vallerand, R. J. 2007. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in sport and physical activity. Handbook of Sport Psychology 3: 59-83.

Young, J. A., and M. D. Pain. 1999. The zone: evidence of a universal phenomenon for athletes across sports. Athletic Insight: The Online Journal of Sport Psychology 1: 21-30.

Zaccaro, S. J., A. L. Rittman, and M. A. Marks. 2002. Team leadership. The Leadership Quarterly 12: 451-483.

The Psychology of Individual and Team Sports (Basic)

LACityThere is no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ but what if you’re only playing for yourself? Many factors beyond basic physical conditioning work together to contribute to athletic performance, but one could have a major effect on the psychological aspects of athletic performance—whether the sport is individual or team-based.

Perhaps the biggest difference between team and individual sports is what motivates athletes. In solo activities, such as long-distance running, the athlete is responsible for the training and strategy required to ensure his or her own success, whereas in a group sport like football, team members must work together toward victory. Most people are familiar with the concept of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the drive to do something for its own sake (Deci 1975), and extrinsic would be the opposite—doing something as a means to an end, like a reward or punishment (Vallerand 2007). One theory of motivation, Self-Determination Theory, expands upon intrinsic motivation, stating that it aims to satisfy the three psychological needs of competence, relatedness, and autonomy (Ryan and Deci 2000). One study found that athletes involved in individual sports experienced greater feelings of autonomy than their team-based counterparts, possibly due to greater freedom to make decisions (Gillet and Rosner 2008).

In addition to potentially lower levels of intrinsic motivation, members of team sports face a number of challenges, such as the need for a large amount of coordination in an ever-changing environment. Next, leadership plays a critical role. It is up to the leader to make goals and judgment calls, as well as individualizing training for team members (Zaccaro et al. 2002). Research has found that empathic accuracy, or the ability to accurately gauge the thoughts of another person, among coaches of individual sports is higher than in team sports (Lorimer and Jowett 2009). This could affect individual attention from coaches in team settings, which is incredibly important, as prescribing the same training plan to all team members could result in detraining of athletes in less active roles, and overtraining for those who receive larger amounts of playing time.

Overtraining, defined as an increase in amount or intensity of physical activity combined with inadequate recovery, is a widespread problem (Hoffman 2014). It is generally accepted that some level of overtraining is a prerequisite for peak performance, but pushing too hard can lead to chronic fatigue and underperformance, often referred to as a state of physical ‘staleness’ (Morgan et al. 1987). The incidence of staleness has been found to be higher among participants in individual sports (Kentta et al. 2001). This could be attributed to individual athletes’ greater autonomy resulting in overambitious goals.

Differences between individual and team athletes are apparent when it comes to motivation and training, but what about performance mid-competition? A good indicator of this would be how often athletes enter ‘the zone,’ or a state of psychological flow. Flow is described as an optimal state in which an individual’s ability matches the challenge of an activity, which involves complete absorption and focus (Csikszentmihalyi 1990). Research indicates the positive relationship between athletes’ experience of psychological flow and optimal performance (Jackson et al. 2001). Several studies have investigated the effect of sport type on achieving a state of flow among athletes, but it seems that flow is universal among athletes regardless of what sport they play (Young and Pain 1999, Russell 2001)

Sports psychology research has yielded significant differences between athletes in individual and team sports in terms of motivation, coaching, and training. However, when it comes to overall enjoyment and reaching an optimal psychological state, the type of sport does not appear to have an effect. Satisfaction would depend on the personal experiences of each athlete.  For the rest of us trying to decide if one type is better than another, it really depends whether you ask a runner or a football player.

By Alicia Parnell
Alycia Parnell holds degrees in Psychology and Environmental Studies from the University of Utah. She lives, works, and writes in Salt Lake City.

Read the more technical psychological aspects of team and individual sports.

Literature Cited

Csikszentmihalyi, M. 1990. Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. Harper & Row, New York, NY, USA

Deci, E. L. 1975. Intrinsic motivation. Plenum, New York, NY, USA

Deci, E.L., and R. M. Ryan. 1985. Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. Plenum, New York, NY, USA

Gillet, N., and E. Rosnet. 2008. Basic need satisfaction and motivation in sport. The Online Journal of Sport Psychology 10.

Hoffman, J. 2014. Physiological aspects of sport training and performance-2nd edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, USA

Jackson, S. A. 1995. Factors influencing the occurrence of flow in elite athletes. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 7: 138-166.

Jackson, S. A., P. R. Thomas, H.W. Marsh, and C.J. Smethurst. 2001. Relationships between flow, self-concept, psychological skills, and performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 13: 129-153.

Keegan, R., C. Harwood, C. Spray, and D. Lavallee. 2011. From ‘motivational climate’ to ‘motivational atmosphere’: a review of research examining the social and environmental influences on athlete motivation in sport. Pages 1-55 in B.D. Geranto, editor. Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge, NY, USA.

Kentta, G., P. Hassmen, and J.S. Raglin. 2001. Training practices and overtraining syndrome in Swedish age-group athletes. International Journal of Sports Medicine 22: 460-465.

Lorimer, R., and S. Jowett. 2009. Empathic accuracy in coach–athlete dyads who participate in team and individual sports. Psychology of Sport and Exercise 10: 152-158.

Morgan, W. P., D. R. Brown, J. S. Raglin, P. J. O’connor, and K. A. Ellickson. 1987. Psychological monitoring of overtraining and staleness. British Journal of Sports Medicine 21: 107-114.

Russell, W. D. 2001. An examination of flow state occurrence in college athletes. Journal of Sport Behavior 24: 83-107.

Ryan, R. M., and E. L. Deci. 2000. Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist 55: 68-78.

Vallerand, R. J. 2007. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in sport and physical activity. Handbook of Sport Psychology 3: 59-83.

Young, J. A., and M. D. Pain. 1999. The zone: evidence of a universal phenomenon for athletes across sports. Athletic Insight: The Online Journal of Sport Psychology 1: 21-30.

Zaccaro, S. J., A. L. Rittman, and M. A. Marks. 2002. Team leadership. The Leadership Quarterly 12: 451-483.

Fast and Furious: How Muscle Fiber Type Influences Basketball Performance

Muscle-fibers-631x421Professional athletes use a unique combination of speed, agility, strength, and power to stand apart from the rest. This winning combination of traits is largely due to the slow-twitch (ST) and fast-twitch (FT) fibers found in their muscles. ST fibers are important for endurance, as they allow the muscles to contract at a slow rate for a long time. On the other hand, FT fibers contract fast and hard, but only for a short time, and are important for sprinting. The body first turns to the ST fibers for movement, then focuses on the FT fibers in their legs, calves, and buttocks as the athlete increases speed. A combination of balance, lateral movement, T-drill exercises, and core training are important to increase this muscle response time and maximize gains.

Read about basic muscle fiber and performance or learn the technical physiological explanation.

Articles by Josh Silvernagel

Fast and Furious: How Muscle Fiber Type Influences Basketball Performance (Technical)

Introduction 

A unique combination of speed, agility, strength, and power sets professional athletes apart from the rest.  Are these attributes genetic, or do they result from hard work and dedication?  In science, answers are rarely black and white and this question is no different.  It is a complex interplay of genetics and training, which sets off a cascade of physiological and anatomical mechanisms, that produces our professional athletes.  These mechanisms are wide in their scope and intricate in their complexity.  Therefore, this article focuses on explaining muscle fiber properties in the context of basketball related performance.  It also presents some training principles to help the athlete improve his or her performance.

Muscles and Contractions 

When we decide to move a part of our body, the brain sends a signal through the nervous system. The signal, carried by motor neurons, then travels to the muscles required to perform the desired action, causing contraction and movement.  Despite this apparent simplicity, much more actually occurs, making this process quite complex.

The neuromuscular junction is the location where the signal from the nervous system meets the muscular tissue.  Motor neurons branch as they approach muscles to the point where only one individual branch innervates a muscle fiber (Seeley et al. 2006).  There is a small gap between the neuron and the fiber called the synaptic cleft.  The signal carried by the neuron causes a release of particles called neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft, signaling the muscle fiber to fire (Seeley et al. 2006).

On the molecular scale, muscle contraction is a result of what is known as the sliding filament theory (Huxley and Hanson 1954, Huxley and Niedergerke 1954).  Briefly, each muscle fiber houses a sarcomere.  Inside the sarcomere, a thick filament composed of myosin and a thin filament composed of actin reside.   Upon neurotransmitter signaling, the thick myosin protein uses a ratchet motion to move the actin protein and cause contraction (Seeley et al. 2006, Plowman and Smith 2008).  A more in-depth explanation of the sliding filament theory and muscle contraction is given in another article: 95 miles per hour: Performance Physiology of Pitchers.

Muscle fibers are categorized into two groups: slow-twitch (ST) and fast-twitch (FT).  For the purposes of this article, we will consider the most common forms of these two fibers found in the literature.  Type I fibers are ST fibers and type II fibers are FT.  There are two classifications of type II fibers called type IIa and type IIx (Baechle and Earle 2008).  A surface level difference between fast- and slow-twitch fibers is the amount of blood supplied to the muscle.  Type I fibers have a well established blood supply and stain red during histochemical staining while type II fibers have a less developed blood supply and stain white (Zierath and Hawley 2004).  This can be seen in a chicken or turkey where breast meat is white (fast-twitch) and the legs and thighs are dark (slow-twitch).

Type I fibers have a small diameter with a large population of mitochondria, giving them a high aerobic capacity (Baechle and Earle 2008).  This aerobic capacity directly relates to the slow relaxation and twitch times, but also predisposes the muscle to fatigue slowly (Plowman and Smith 2008).  In physiology, structure always determines function.  The aforementioned structural characteristics give good evidence to say that type I fibers are used primarily in weak or moderately strong contractions that must take place over extended periods of time or that occur in a repetitive manner (MacIntosh et al. 2006).

Type IIx fibers are on the opposite end of the spectrum from ST fibers.  These fibers have a large diameter with a low density of mitochondria, thus, their aerobic capacity is low but their ability to function in the absence of oxygen is extremely high (Baechle and Earle 2008).  In stark contrast to ST fibers, type IIx fibers contract fast and hard but fatigue very easily (Plowman and Smith 2008).

In between type I and type IIx fibers are type IIa fibers.  These fibers are essentially a mix of the properties of the two extremes.  Their diameters could be considered intermediate in size and the density of mitochondria is at moderate levels as well (Baechle and Earle 2008).  They have the ability to work in oxygen rich and oxygen deprived situations, meaning they can function in long duration activities and those of shorter, more intense, effort as well (Plowman and Smith 2008).

So, does this information mean that when you want to go fast your body activates FT muscles and when you want to go slow it uses ST?  The answer to this is no: the body evokes a specific pipeline of recruitment to carry out all skeletal muscle tasks (MacIntosh et al. 2006).  The body starts with type I muscles, and then evokes type IIa in addition to type I as the need for contraction increases.  Finally, type IIx fibers can be recruited if the need for stronger contraction continues to grow (Vollestad et al. 1984, 1992, Vollestad and Blom 1985, Zajac and Faden 1985).  However, in specific fast or sudden corrective movements, the body does allow for type II units to be selectively activated (MacIntosh et al. 2006).  This phenomenon can be clearly seen in many reflexive actions.

The body’s specific protocol for muscle recruitment has implications for athletes.  If there are more ST muscles, it will take longer for the force of contraction to grow large enough to recruit more FT fibers.  Conversely, if there are fewer ST fibers, then type II fibers may be recruited sooner in those individuals.  Therefore, we will next look at the distribution of fibers within individuals and athletes.

The distribution of fiber types can vary from one person to another in the same group (Saltin et al. 1977) and depends on the genetics of individuals (Simoneau and Bouchard 1995).  However, scientists do have a general idea of locations in which each fiber type is in high density.  Muscles that contribute to sustained postural activity tend to have the highest amount of ST fibers (Plowman and Smith 2008), whereas the limbs contain more FT fibers (Seeley et al. 2006).  The percent of ST fibers in sprinters has been shown to be more than half that of endurance cyclists (Fox et al. 1993).  Furthermore, it has been shown that these differences can be attributed, to a degree, to sport specific exercise and training (Saltin et al. 1977).  What these data indicate is part of our distribution of fiber types is due to genetics, and some is due to sport-specific training.

Basketball’s Physiological Requirements 

Understanding the training needs for basketball requires more than just knowing about muscle fiber types.  It requires a thorough knowledge of the systems needed during competition.  Therefore, this section will briefly discuss the muscles, energy systems, and recovery principles that contribute to speed, agility, and power on the basketball court.

The upper body demands of a basketball player are greatly inferior to those of the lower body.  For this reason, the focus will be on the lower body only.  The buttocks, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves play the most significant role in speed, agility and power.  Core stability has been shown to contribute to running performance (Sato and Mokha 2009), so it must be considered as well.

A study done by McInnes et al. (1995) sought to quantify the physiologic load placed on basketball players, lending insight into training demands for athletes.  They found that players change direction on average every 2.0 seconds.  Additionally, they did about 105 high-intensity sprints per game, one every 21 seconds, lasting an average of 1.7 seconds.  Data indicate glycolysis as the primary energy producer, meaning that anaerobic endurance is required.  Furthermore, players had an average heart rate of about 169 beats per minute throughout the game.  All these data led the authors to conclude that metabolic and cardiovascular demands are high in basketball players (McInnes et al. 1995).

Fitness and Training 

It is important to review the needs and goals of a training program designed around a basketball player.  First and foremost, the program must train for FT fiber development in the legs.  At the same time, the anaerobic energy system must be trained to ensure stamina and recovery during high intensity bursts.  Finally, agility (which is the ability to change direction) needs to be incorporated.

Agility training has been shown to increase muscular response times in the quadriceps and gastrocnemius (calves) (Wojtys et al. 1996).  T-drills, lateral movement drills, and balance drills are all components of agility training.  The type and variety of agility drills is endless, essentially any drill that incorporates quick movements with changes in direction in 5-15 second intervals will improve agility, build anaerobic endurance, and develop FT fibers.

Plyometric (plyos) and ladder drills are two effective means of increasing quickness and explosiveness through FT fiber development.  Plyos are generally very rapid, short distance jumps that occur in 5-20 second sets.  Dot drills and four-square setups are the most common.  In both, there is a pattern of dots or numbers on the ground in which the athlete uses one or two legs to hop about the pattern in a variety of ways.  Speed ladders are similar but all movements move the athlete along the ladder, making these drills less stationary.  These two methods are nearly endless in their variety.

Incorporating core training must be done as well.  Swiss ball, stabilization, lower back, and hip flexor exercises work together to build the entire core.  We have discussed that the stabilizing core muscles are primarily ST fibers, so exercises need to be designed with this in mind.  Rapid repetitions are less important here as the body is genetically predisposed to maintain ST fibers in this region (Plowman and Smith 2008).  Long duration core stabilization exercises like leg raises and planks should be the focus.

Finally, it is important to work the training protocol around the previously mentioned activity data from McInnes et al.  These data tell how to design recovery times between sets and between training sessions.  Recovery should never be taken lightly as it is just as important as the actual activity in improving performance.

Conclusion

The principles presented in this article can be applied to a wide range of sports whose demands are similar to those of basketball.  It is important to remember that there are limits to everyone’s abilities.  Most of us will never get close to the level of Michael Jordan or LeBron James, yet each person does have room to improve in some aspect of their game.  The requirements for improvement are simple: hard work and dedication.  With these two ideas in mind, it is nearly impossible to produce a training program that does not improve performance.

 

By: Josh Silvernagel, Graduate Student, Bioengineering, University of Utah
Josh Silvernagel received undergraduate degrees in Exercise Science and Mathematics from Bemidji State University (BSU) in Bemidji, MN.  During his undergraduate studies, he was a four year starter in baseball for the BSU Beavers, where he both pitched and played infield.  In addition to providing sport specific training for ametuer and professional athletes following school, Josh spent two years coaching the sport at both the collegiate and high school levels.  He is currently working on a Ph. D. in Bioengineering at the University of Utah, where he studies cardiac electrophysiology in the CARMA Center.  Josh and his wife, Danielle, are recently married.

Reference:

Baechle, T. R., and R. W. Earle (Eds.). 2008. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.

Fox, E. L., R. W. Bowers, and M. L. Foss. 1993. The Physiological Basis for Exercise and Sport. Pages 94–135. Brown & Benchmark, Dubuque, IA.

Huxley, A. F., and R. Niedergerke. 1954. Structural changes in muscle during contraction: Interference microscopy of living muscle fibres. Nature 173:971–973.

Huxley, H., and J. Hanson. 1954. Changes in the cross-striations of muscle during contraction and stretch and thier structural interpretation. Nature 173:973–976.

MacIntosh, B. R., P. F. Gardiner, and A. J. McComas. 2006. Skeletal Muscle: Form and Function, 2nd edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.

McInnes, S. E., J. S. Carlson, C. J. Jones, and M. J. McKenna. 1995. The physiological load imposed on basketball players during competition. Journal of Sports Sciences 13:387–397.

Plowman, S., and D. Smith. 2008. Exercise Physiology for Health, Fitness, and Performance, 2nd edition. Kippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA.

Saltin, B., J. Henriksson, E. Nygaard, P. Andersen, and E. Jansson. 1977. Fiber types and metabolic potentials of skeletal muscles in sedantary man and endurance runners. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 301:3–29.

Sato, K., and M. Mokha. 2009. Does Core Strength Training Influence Running Kinetics, Lower-Extremity Stability, and 5000-m Performance in Runners? The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 23.

Seeley, R., T. Stephens, and P. Tate. 2006. Anatomy and Physiology, 7th edition. McGraw Hill, New York, NY.

Simoneau, J. A., and C. Bouchard. 1995. Genetic determinism of fiber type proportion in human skeletal muscle. The FASEB Journal 9 :1091–1095.

Vollestad, N. K., and P. C. S. Blom. 1985. Effect of varying exercise intensity on glycogen depletion in human muscle fibres. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 125:395–405.

Vollestad, N. K., I. Tabata, and J. I. Medbo. 1992. Glycogen breakdown in different human muscle fibre types during exhaustive exercise of short duration. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 144:135–141.

Vollestad, N. K., O. D. D. Vaage, and L. Hermansen. 1984. Muscle glycogen depletion patterns in type I and subgroups of type II fibres during prolonged severe exercise in man. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 122:433–441.

Wojtys, E. M., L. J. Huston, P. D. Taylor, and S. D. Bastian. 1996. Neuromuscular Adaptations in Isokinetic, Isotonic, and Agility Training Programs. The American Journal of Sports Medicine 24:187–192.

Zajac, F. E., and J. S. Faden. 1985. Relationship among recruitment order, axonal conduction velocity, and muscle-unit properties of type-identified motor units in cat plantaris muscle. Journal of Neurophysiology 53 :1303–1322.

Zierath, J. R., and J. a Hawley. 2004. Skeletal muscle fiber type: influence on contractile and metabolic properties. PLoS biology 2:e348.

 

Fast and Furious: How Muscle Fiber Type Influences Basketball Performance (Basic)

A unique combination of speed, agility, strength, and power sets professional athletes apart from the rest.  This article focuses on explaining how muscle fiber properties produce this combination in the context of basketball.  It explores muscle fiber type properties and some training implications that can be gleaned from what science knows about these properties.

Muscle fiber types fall into two main categories: slow-twitch (ST) and fast-twitch (FT).  Slow-twitch fibers are also known as type I fibers, and FT fibers have two subcategories: type IIa and type IIx (Baechle and Earle 2008).  Type I fibers have many mitochondria which make them able to contract weakly or mildly for long periods of time at low intensities (MacIntosh et al. 2006).  Type IIx fibers have little mitochondria and function to contract very hard and rapidly for short durations.  Lying between type I and type IIx fibers are type IIa fibers.  These have a moderate amount of mitochondria and contract at intermediate levels for lengths of time that fall between types I and IIx (Plowman and Smith 2008).

It is important for basketball players to have large amounts of FT fibers in their legs, calves, and buttocks.  To sustain these muscles over the course of activity, strongly developed ST core muscles need to be trained as well.  Focusing training on these aspects will allow the athlete to meet the high metabolic and cardiovascular demands required of the sport (McInnes et al. 1995).

Agility training has been shown to increase muscular response times in the quadriceps and gastrocnemius (calves) (Wojtys et al. 1996).  Therefore, a combination of balance training, lateral movement training, and T-drill type exercises are important.  Plyometric exercises (plyos) are important for training in this sport.  Finally, core stabilization and recovery principles must be incorporated to maximize gains.

Learn more about the technical aspects of muscle fibers and their influence on basketball performance.

By: Josh Silvernagel, Graduate Student, Bioengineering, University of Utah
Josh Silvernagel received undergraduate degrees in Exercise Science and Mathematics from Bemidji State University (BSU) in Bemidji, MN.  During his undergraduate studies, he was a four year starter in baseball for the BSU Beavers, where he both pitched and played infield.  In addition to providing sport specific training for ametuer and professional athletes following school, Josh spent two years coaching the sport at both the collegiate and high school levels.  He is currently working on a Ph. D. in Bioengineering at the University of Utah, where he studies cardiac electrophysiology in the CARMA Center.  Josh and his wife, Danielle, are recently married.

References:

Baechle, T. R., and R. W. Earle (Eds.). 2008. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.

MacIntosh, B. R., P. F. Gardiner, and A. J. McComas. 2006. Skeletal Muscle: Form and Function, 2nd edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.

McInnes, S. E., J. S. Carlson, C. J. Jones, and M. J. McKenna. 1995. The physiological load imposed on basketball players during competition. Journal of Sports Sciences 13:387–397.

Plowman, S., and D. Smith. 2008. Exercise Physiology for Health, Fitness, and Performance, 2nd edition. Kippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA.

Wojtys, E. M., L. J. Huston, P. D. Taylor, and S. D. Bastian. 1996. Neuromuscular Adaptations in Isokinetic, Isotonic, and Agility Training Programs. The American Journal of Sports Medicine 24:187–192.