With spring in full swing, FasterSkier presents a workout from Central Cross Country (CXC) skier Kyle Bratrud, who finds making like former NBA Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is not only important for switching up regular ski-training routines, but also working in early season coordination, competition and college-style fun.
Free throws, foul lines, farcical slights? Though streetball-court commonalities such as these don’t often make their way into nordic workouts, there are occasions when it’s acceptable for them to be a part of the training plan.
According to CXC’s Kyle Bratrud, spring ski training is sometimes best achieved by making it swish.
After graduating from Northern Michigan University (NMU) last year and joining the CXC program for the 2015/2016 season, Bratrud, who currently lives in Marquette, Mich., frequently finds himself on the NMU basketball court, gearing up for a game of “21” against a few of his former college ski-team teammates.
“It’s spring time so we try to do stuff a little different than ski training,” Bratrud explained on the phone. “After a strength session in the spring, we will finish by going back to our ski room and there are basketball courts right outside of our ski room so we play there; it’s pretty convenient.”
For Bratrud and his NMU basketball ski buddies, the game of choice is “21”. In Bratrud’s version, each player is his/her own ‘team’ and in order to win, an individual player must score 21 points. Much of the rest of the rules are the same as regular basketball, with the exception of what Bratrud called ‘tips.’
“If you shoot and the ball goes off the rim, [another player] can shoot it — they have to be off the ground, [the player] can’t be standing on the ground when they shoot it — but if they shoot it back in and make it, then you get tipped and you go back to zero points,” Bratrud explained.
Essentially, the ‘tips’ rule follows that, if an individual misses a shot and another individual rebounds the shot in, any points the original shooter had accumulated are reduced back down to zero.
“In that way, the game can take anywhere from an hour to many hours,” Bratrud said. “Sam [Elfstrom] and I are often on the basketball court an hour after everyone else. There are days where we’re in there and we have to get kicked out.”
As indicated by Bratrud, having players around like Elfstrom, an incoming senior on the NMU ski team, is motivating for many reasons.
“We’re both the most competitive,” Bratrud said of Elfstrom. “He knows that I hate losing to any of them and especially to him … There are a lot of times where Sam and I play this game or a few games, for two to four hours.”
While not many are easily enticed by a four-hour game of basketball 21, Bratrud points out that there are benefits for those who hold out for the last few hoops.
“I think the game is really good,” Bratrud said. “Whenever we go to any camps where [U.S. Ski Team Development Coach] Bryan Fish is playing, he always goes extremely hard and he always likes to talk about how the mobility and the hand eye coordination is good for us because it’s not something that a lot of skiers necessarily do.”
Bratrud also finds that taking a mental break from ski training by playing hoops in the spring, is well-justified.
“It’s something nice in the spring where if the weather kind of sucks and you don’t really want to go out and train, you can just play basketball inside,” Bratrud said. “This way, you can still get a workout in and not feel like you had to apply any mental effort to training.”
– Find a group of nordic skiers (or any athletes) with some knowledge of basketball and a decent amount of competitive spirit
– As a precursor to hitting the court, hit up the gym
– Review a few rules of the game
– Savor competing with fellow cross-country skiers in something other than skiing
Total Workout Time: Depends on the competitive level of other players, but Bratrud says if they’re anything like Elfstrom, expect a two- to four-hour game
Bratrud’s Top-Two Tips for Spring Basketball
- Don’t Shirk the Right Shoes. The right footwear, Bratrud indicates, can make or break a spring basketball experience. “A lot of us start out by running around in Nikes or running shoes, but the traction isn’t great,” he said. “Basketball shoes definitely help.”
- Test your ‘Trash-Talk’. Sharp shooting isn’t quite complete without witty wisecracks. “We have music in there sometimes,” Bratrud said. “But generally, it’s just trash talking basketball. That’s a good time.”
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.