EPL’s Sunderland manager using basketball to improve team’s soccer skills

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We’ve seen Hall of Fame level NBA players — Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker and others — claim playing soccer in their youth helped them develop their basketball games. Soccer requires an understanding of spacing, angles and moving without the ball into space, skills that translate beautifully to the basketball court.

So why can’t basketball help soccer players?

Enter Gus Poyet, the manager of Sunderland in the Barclays English Premiere League. He’s a big believer that hoops can help on the pitch and explained that to the Guardian (hat tip to Joseph Prince-Wright of NBC’s ProSoccerTalk).

“Basketball can help in football, especially with marking,” said Poyet, whose late father, Washington, was one of Uruguay’s biggest basketball stars. “The way you turn is similar in both sports. The problem is basketball is not very popular in England – but I’m going to make it popular.”

Poyet’s conviction deepened on Wednesday. “I watched our youth cup game against Newcastle and watching the way the kids marked and moved I thought every player should be playing a bit of basketball. I’ve been talking a lot about basketball since then – and I’ve got a hoop put up at the training ground,

“If you play basketball certain movements become natural. There was a full-back in our game last weekend, somebody was running at him and he was turning, looking at the goal – you cannot mark like that. You mark facing the player and the ball and that’s the same in basketball. You never see a player in basketball running towards his own basket to mark without looking over his shoulder. These little things help you because you have to mark in a certain way.”

Because of the smaller space in basketball you just can’t afford to lose track of your man in the way that often happens on the larger soccer pitch. It’s an interesting point.

Sunderland is a team from the north of England (one best known in my house as the lapdogs of Newcastle, but as a Magpies fan I may be a bit biased there). Considering the weather there this time of year I hope Poyet set up an indoor hoop, not an outdoor one. We’ll see how much that basket helps.

Sunderland is solidly midtable right now but could use a couple more wins just to stay clear of the danger of relegation. The team had been home to American striker Jozy Altidore until recently, when he bolted for Toronto FC of the MLS (which is owned by the same organization that owns the Raptors).