This is the first of a series of interviews with industry leaders in fields such as Strength & Conditioning, Coaching, Physical Therapy, Sports Psychology, Nutrition & Physical Education
This week we are lucky enough to hear from one of the most knowledgeable young coaching minds in Australian basketball, Justin Schueller. I have known Justin going on almost 30 years and have seen first-hand the passion, determination and perseverance which he shows to develop himself as a coach. Justin has an exceptional understanding of coaching pedagogy and the history of the game in both Australia and overseas, but is also one of a handful of young coaches who has a strong grasp on how S&C and Sport Science can assist his coaching and his athletes.
I hope you enjoy the interview.
Can you share with the readers a little bit of your background (education, sports, previous/current role, interests).
I have been a high performance coach for the past 8 years in the sport of Basketball, 6 years with the Tasmanian Institute of Sport (TIS) and the past two with Basketball Victoria. My entire employment career has involved working in the industry, from a development officer to coaching director to running my own basketball business.
Your current role is High Performance Coach (Country) for Basketball Victoria, can you detail for the readers what this entails?
My role is to provide leadership throughout our Country side of the program as well as daily and weekly coaching delivery throughout our high performance pathway. The bulk of my work is done at the top two tiers of our pathway, National Intensive Training Program (NITP) which caters for potential short term state level players and long term potential internationals, and the National Performance Program (NPP) which is a Basketball Australia program working with our Nationally identified athletes for international representation in our green and gold teams.
For both of these tiers the critical component to the role is to provide the best possible daily and weekly training environment to meet state based and national based outcomes.
The challenge in the role is the tyranny of distance between the pockets of our top tier athletes. Through our satellite hubs we are able to provide the best possible weekly training environment while providing daily training requirements for our NPP athletes which includes individuals, team practice, shooting sessions and strength and conditioning.
For me, this means attending these hubs fortnightly and working with the athletes and coaches at these hubs.
In your current or previous role(s), can you detail the Strength & Conditioning or Sport Science which you have had access to?
Throughout my time at the TIS I was fortunate to have two strength coaches and a sports scientist assigned to my program and athletes. This was an ideal scenario as having full time service providers that were able to assist in meeting KPIs for athletes and hold athletes to account on their holistic development allowed us to aid many athletes to the Australian tier of the sport.
In my current role we have a partnership with the regional Academies of Sport through country Victoria. This scenario assists our athletes with S&C delivery but currently we do not have access to sports science.
Throughout both programs physical testing has been a component of our program to measure athlete progression but also align KPI’s to ensure athletes keep progressing forward and don’t stagnate.
How has this made an impact to both the athletes and coaches in your programme?
Physical development is a critical component in my opinion to athletes being able to perform at the next level; on the international stage. Every level you go up, the game gets bigger, stronger, faster; so to me it is often the point of difference between an athlete making a national team or not.
For this reason at every tier of our pathway we try and influence some form of S&C that is basketball specific. For example with our U14 Academy’s we implement bodyweight resistance and balance work so that as the athlete moves to the next tier of the sport, that they already have a base to build upon.
When you get an incoming group of new athletes, what are the key performance metrics you are looking for? Do these metrics have any impact of team selection?
Our High Performance year runs 1st of August through to 30th of June. We are in an all year round sport, which makes periodization tough at times but we make the focus of the program to be about bench mark Australian events, such as National Championships or Australian Camps.
I have a shopping list of sorts of things that we want to look for when identifying athletes through various tournaments. These are shooting ability, 1 v 1 offence ability, 1 v 1 defensive ability and basketball IQ.
In addition to this, body type matters but we seek athletes for our pathway programs that possess the above.
Once athletes are in the program, progression in these areas is critical to team selection.
From a Strength & Conditioning perspective, have you found any differences with coaching males compared with females?
I treat all athletes the same; in our sport the critical component is getting athletes to value their S&C as much as they value reps of shots.
This is no different between both genders. Keeping athletes accountable to set KPIs and percentiles set has allowed us to have consistency on this view over both sides of the program.
What have you found to be the most effective type of ‘Strength’ or ‘Conditioning’ for basketball?
Our sport is one that requires all physical components to be measured. Personally, the critical components are power and agility. Without these two areas being of a high level it is tough for athletes to progress to others levels. That said, this is also determined by what position an athlete plays.
If you could give some advice to young athletes, where should they place the greatest focus to improve their performance?
I have a saying that ‘if you can’t shoot, you cant play’. Being able to shoot matters in our sport. It is our master skill, and unlike some other sports, athletes have to play both ends of the floor. All other aspects of the game are important but this is the most critical in my opinion.
As far as overall performance, what are the major differences between elite and sub-elite junior basketball athletes?
For me two key things separates the athletes that progress to the next tier and those that don’t. 1 is accountability to do the work; they must have a love of practice and don’t make excuses or take short cuts. I am big on being elite doesn’t mean you make ‘sacrifices’, you make ‘choices’ to do what you do. The person that views early morning practice or doing extra sessions as a ‘sacrifice’ generally doesn’t make it in the end. The athlete that chooses to do it; to keep improving ends up alright.
2 is that they are in control of their careers and are self driven. The athlete that relies on only going hard when a coach is around or waits for someone else to tell them what to do will reach their ceiling pretty quick, versus the athlete that seeks ways to get better and implements things themselves.
Specific to basketball, what is your experience and opinion on athletes’ specialising in one sport (basketball) in early adolescence?
My experience is you can’t be great at something if you are trying to be good at everything. We implement that once an athlete is identified at an NPP level and has potential to represent Australia; they have to become a one sport athlete. This is to ensure they can max out their potential and we can implement a daily and weekly training environment that will assist this. This generally occurs at an U16 level for our sport.
Prior to this, I believe there are benefits in athletes playing other things as it allows them to develop in other areas. Our sport is a highly skilled and technical sport so it is challenging for the late starter to the sport to make the gains needed to progress in the sport.
I know you have many close contacts in the NCAA and at the professional level, both in Australia and Overseas, what are the key indicators these coaches are looking for in athletes interested in getting to the next level?
Reality is there isn’t one thing that all coaches look for. Each coach has their own ‘shopping list’ of things they look for and this can be specific as to what position. For example, for me and bigs (6’8’’ type players and above); I want athletes that can run the floor and have good hands, others may want just sheer size. All coaches are different.
The one constant is low maintenance, coachable athletes, which our Australian athletes are renowned for. Every coach at every level will ask that question of an athlete.
Just before we finish up, we constantly hear about our overseas stars, Patty Mills, Dante Exum and Joe Ingles, but what is the current state of basketball like in Australia?
Having been involved with our Silver medal men’s team at the FIBA U17 World Championship and again with the team for the 2016 campaign, we are in a very strong position with genuine blue chip talent.
It has been a bit of a purple patch for talent on the boy’s side, with talent coming through in all positions and that trend doesn’t look like slowing up.
I credit this to the work being done in each state by my counterparts. We have a great unified approach to development across the nation at the moment, probably more so than any other point since I’ve been in the chair. Everyone is doing the work.
From a senior angle, our teams are all world class and the depth of our talent is as good if not better than ever, with men and women playing in the best leagues in the world. It is a great and exciting period for the sport and exciting to be a part of things at the moment.
Thanks to Justin for being the first coaching contributor to the College Strength & Conditioning Blog.
Follow Justin on Twitter: @JSchueller15