Competition-specific conditioning for tournament basketball games is challenging, as the demands of tournament formats are not well characterized.
To compare the physical, physiological, and tactical demands of seasonal and tournament basketball competition and determine the pattern of changes within an international tournament.
Eight elite junior male basketball players (age 17.8 ± 0.2 y, height 1.93 ± 0.07 m, mass 85 ± 3 kg; mean ± SD) were monitored in 6 seasonal games played over 4 mo in an Australian second-division national league and in 7 games of an international under-18 tournament played over 8 days. Movement patterns and tactical elements were coded from video and heart rates recorded by telemetry.
The frequency of running, sprinting, and shuffling movements in seasonal games was higher than in tournament games by 8–15% (99% confidence limits ± ~8%). Within the tournament, jogging and low- to medium-intensity shuffling decreased by 15–20% (± ~14%) over the 7 games, while running, sprinting, and high-intensity shuffling increased 11–81% (± ~25%). There were unclear differences in mean and peak heart rates. The total number of possessions was higher in seasonal than in tournament games by 8% (± 10%).
Coaches should consider a stronger emphasis on strength and power training in their conditioning programs to account for the higher activity of seasonal games. For tournament competition, strategies that build a sufficient aerobic capacity and neuromuscular resilience to maintain high-intensity movements need to be employed. A focus on half-court tactics accounts for the lower number of possessions in tournaments.