Don't look now, but the Dallas Mavericks are turning heads after sweeping the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. The Mavs will compete for the Western Conference title for the first time since 2006, when they went on to play in the NBA Finals.
The Mavericks' success is due in large part to Dirk Nowitzki, their All-Star seven-footer, who has been the face of the franchise since his selection [by the Milwaukee Bucks who immediately traded him to Dallas] as the ninth overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft.
Nowitzki's basketball prowess is surprising in that he didn't play in youth basketball leagues like most NBA stars. Growing up in Germany, Nowitzki played handball and tennis, which he credits for smoothing his transition to basketball. His experience reaffirms the value of cross-training [read more about the benefits of cross-training].
"I didn't get into basketball until I was 13 or 14, really," says the shooting ace. "I grew up playing other sports, and looking back at it now, I think those other sports helped me in a lot of ways."
Nowitzki is not alone. Fellow NBA stars Tim Duncan and Amar'e Stoudemire both embraced cross-training to improve their athleticism for basketball. "Swimming can help strengthen and condition the body while taking weight off the joints to help prevent injuries," says Duncan about his favorite off-season activity. Stoudemire runs wide receiver routes and plays soccer to build his cardio up before the NBA season.
Cross-training alone won't get you ahead of the competition, though. Athletes who hope to make it to the next level still need to devote significant time to their main sport, especially if they are playing catch-up, like Nowitzki. "Me seeing that there were so many guys that were better than me, I just kept on working, trying to catch up with them," he says.
The point of cross-training isn't to find another sport to excel at, but rather to provide a physical and mental break while improving your overall athleticism. Try sports like racquetball, tennis, ultimate frisbee or pickup basketball and football with your friends twice a week during the off-season.
Athletes as successful as Nowitzki have the drive and determination to get "better and better" in order to surpass their opponents, but even the best need a break. Use cross-training during your off-season to stay in shape and get some R&R after a tough season. It will help keep you fresh both physically and mentally for when you lace up and get back to your main sport.
Source: NowitzkiChannel at YouTube.com
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock