A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take a tour of the IMG facility in Bradenton as well as take in a skill development session for the players in the basketball facility. Like many of you, I had certain pre-conceived notions of the facility and its mission, but during my tour I realized the IMG Academy is so much more than a training center.
I realized this wasn’t a traditional campus when I had to pass thru security to drive into the facility. Fortunately I had an appointment with Vince Walden, a Player Development Specialist at IMG. After getting checked out and being shown where to park so as not to get towed, I headed thru the gates.
My first misconception was that of the IMG Academy School, which is the “books” side of IMG. I thought it was not on the IMG campus but in fact it is. The athletes take their core course thru IMG Academy while their sport covers any remaining electives. It is supported by a program from the University of Miami, so it isn’t a school for jocks. The classes are serious.
I made my way to the basketball offices to meet up with Coach Walden. I thought we’d just tour the gym and maybe the weight room before lunch and the workout. Wrong. We hopped in a golf cart and proceeded to tour the entire facility.
IMG started as a tennis academy and as you can imagine there are a lot of tennis courts. But not just any tennis courts. They have clay. They have hard court. They have indoor. In all, there are more than twenty courts of different types on campus.
From there, we toured the baseball and softball fields, the golf course, and the soccer fields. The most impressive of the three was the soccer fields. The USA Soccer 18U team is housed at the facility and they train there year round. IMG also has a high profile high school level soccer program (much like in basketball) but it is not related to the USA Soccer program.
After that, we toured the living facilities on campus. From the outside it appears to be like a condominium community with separate buildings of connected units. However, there are separate areas for athletes, staff, visitors, and year-round and seasonal residents. For the athletes, they generally stay four to a unit. Each unit has two bedrooms, a kitchen area, and a living room. There are room checks each day and each room is expected to be reasonably clean and orderly. Should they fail to pass inspection, the athlete could lose training time.
From there, Coach Walden brought me to a new part of the campus. There is new program, titled “Game On”, which teaches the athlete how to handle various phases of social interaction such as interviews, giving speeches, and talking with coaches. This is done in a role-play setting and such high profile talents as Carmelo Anthony have been through the program.
After lunch, we finished up with a tour of different areas that the basketball team uses. One are that was quite fascinating was the Mental Training area. Here, the players use film and one-on-one sessions with experts to develop a greater ability to think on the move and under duress. There was also a separate area for film breakdown, where they can watch how they played in games or scrimmages and see just what needed to be done to improve in different areas of the game.
From there, we headed over to the Physical Conditioning Center. Housed in a facility as large as three basketball courts, it is bigger than anything work out facility that you might see commercially or on a major college campus. It contained free weights, universal machines, and cardio equipment. A trainer is available at all times to assist the athletes in their workout. The Center also contained the rehab area where athletes come to recover from injury. Supposedly, Maria Sharapova was there rehabbing a shoulder. Unfortunately I did not see her.
By this time, the first set of basketball players arrived for their workouts. Coach Walden put them thru a variety of individual drills but done in a group setting. First the group was put thru a dynamic warm-up for about ten minutes. From there, the players moved into shooting drills, starting with lay-ups and progressively moving away from the basket until they reached the fifteen foot mark. They were to concentrate on their form and make sure they got the proper extension in the ankles, knees, and hips.
After shooting, Coach Walden led the group thru various ball-handling drills. They started with single ball stationary drills, working on cross-over and in-out dribbles with both hands. From there, the group moved into moving single ball drills. The players were to dribble full court and at different spots make a different move (cross-over, behind-the-back, in-out, etc.).
From that point, the players moved into passing drills, using either a wall or a partner. They worked on being tough with the basketball, ripping it across their bodies and pivoting to avoid imaginary pressure and making passes with both their strong and weak hands.
As the final portion of the workout, the players worked on individual offensive moves from different spots on the floor and finishing at the basket with contact. Coach Walden would instruct them on different moves they would need to make and correct them as they progressed thru the drill.
At that point, I had to take my leave and I missed the rebounding, defense, and team play aspects of the workout. As I left, I passed by an assistant from Kansas who was coming to watch the workout. He was just one of several that had passed thru to look at players in the IMG program.
Overall, the facility is first-class, as is the instruction offered to the players that come to IMG. It wouldn’t surprise me if some players feel college is a step down after going thru the program.