The training secrets of NBA star Steph Curry
By any measure of success, Steph Curry is one of the NBA’s greatest players of all time. In his eight-year career he has turned Golden State Warriors from also-rans to champions of 2015 (beating LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals), the same year that he won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. In 2016, Curry would become the first player to be elected MVP by a unanimous vote, while this March he moved into the top 10 on the NBA’s career three-point list at the age of 28.
While Curry is undoubtedly an extraordinarily gifted sportsman, in new book Head in the Game: The Mental Engineering of the World’s Elite Athletes, author Brandon Sneed reveals how that talent was honed through unconventional training techniques focussing on the most important ‘muscle’ in the human body: the mind.
So if you want to nail that shot from downtown time after time after time, read on.
The man Sneed credits with making Curry the player he is today is trainer Brandon Payne of Accelerate Basketball. Payne found a perfect pupil in Curry when they began working together in 2011, thanks to Curry’s willingness to experiment and try new ways to train. One of the first of these was Sensory Performance Technology’s Eclipse strobe goggles, designed to develop better vision by building a stronger brain.
The goggles’ lenses deliver a strobe effect, continuously obstructing the wearer’s vision for a fraction of a second. Payne incorporates them into a series of dribbling and passing drills, for example, making Curry bounce a basketball with one hand while repeatedly catching a tennis ball with the other. The theory is that by doing this whilst wearing the goggles, the brain becomes faster at processing the 109 gigabytes of data our eyes send it every second. Curry himself credits them for his ability to slow the game down.
Another set of drills that Payne has devised for Curry involve the Fitlight system: a number of plate-sized discs that can be fixed to poles, a wall or laid on the floor, and that illuminate at random intervals in order to test an athlete’s speed, reaction time, agility and coordination. They fit perfectly with Payne’s drive to boost a player’s “neurocognitive efficiency”; in other words, to enable their brain to make better decisions faster from the information supplied to it by their eyes.
For example, Payne will place the Fitlights at different places on a court, using a remote control to trigger them, with Curry having to perform different moves and take certain shots according to the colours he sees them flash up. The sensory overload that this creates will overload the mind with stress and force Curry to make quick decisions, perfect for the split-second timing needed to excel during a game.
His brother Seth also trains with this method:
Sensory deprivation chamber
To let his mind relax and refocus after all the stress Payne’s training places on it, Curry likes to spend time in a sensory deprivation chamber, also known as a floatation tank – an enclosed pod filled with a shallow pool of water heated to body temperature. The water has a high Epsom salt content, which results in the user floating on the surface. Once the chamber’s lid is closed, the person inside is left in total darkness and silence, deprived of all physical sensation and with only their own thoughts for company.
While the salt water is good for sore muscles and the weightlessness decompresses the spine, the biggest benefit is felt by the brain. Curry said the chamber helps him get away from the demands and all the stimuli that life throws at him. There may well be something solid to it too: research has found that a sensory deprivation experience rivals that of a meditation expert reaching a peak meditative state.