Many consider Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player in history. While some of what he did---soaring above the hoop, making last-second winning shots---are beyond most players' capabilities, the hoops legend can offer some helpful advice to improve your game.
Working Out and Eating Right
Although he explains that it can vary with different athletes, Jordan recommends working out every day with a variety of methods. He says mixing weight-lifting with aerobic exercise is ideal for conditioning. He encourages stretching before and during workouts, running sprints to build stamina, and doing some---but not too much---longer-distance running.
Rather than taking a day off, change your workout so that you are conditioning your body in a way that allows parts you worked out the previous day to rest. For instance, weight training with arms one day, with legs the next. Running sprints one day, doing stretching and light weights the next, then doing some long-distance the next day.
He also emphasizes that meals should not be missed or replaced by power bars and the like. In fact, he says a healthy breakfast of pancakes and eggs, then a workout, then a healthy meal later, will help your body maintain what it needs for the conditioning. On game days, Jordan would eat steak and potatoes four hours before the game, saying it gave him the energy he needed for the game and provided good recovery afterward.
Instead of battling to get in position, Jordan says moving without the ball and keeping the defensive player from setting up position against you can help get you an open shot. For example, when a defensive player is in pursuit---which he will be if you are continually moving---you can come around a screen (one of your teammates effectively blocking the defender) and be in a position to receive a pass and take a shot. As soon as you come off the screen (past your teammate), you should plant the foot on your dominant hand's side, turn and square up and take the shot, much as you would a free throw.
Jordan also emphasizes that the best offense is one that adapts. Instead of deciding as you come down the court with the ball that you are going to try to get inside for a layup, take what defense gives you. If the defense is working to keep you outside, take a jump shot. Don't try to force "your" shot inside. Taking the shot will force the defense out to cover you. Once this happens, you'll have more opportunities to drive to the basket. He says this kind of perspective will also force you to develop your game.
Anytime you stand straight up while guarding another player, you give that player an advantage. Jordan says to stay crouched "so that your butt is parallel to the floor," stay on the balls of your feet and mirror the offensive player's movements. Your dominant hand should be raised and your other hand should flick at the ball if it is in front of you, trying to knock it loose. Stay crouched. If the offensive player moves, follow him by stepping and sliding.
Jordan argues that while some coaches will tell you to keep your eye on the ball or on the player you are guarding, this is not the best way to play defense. Instead, position yourself between the two. You should be able to see the ball and the player you're guarding with your peripheral vision at all times. Turning your head back and forth between the two, or "swiveling," as Jordan calls it, will result in your losing sight of one or the other. When either or both move, you move as well to keep your vision on both.
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