Nathan Sobey | Athletic development and some lessons for other killers out there. From one of the be
Updated: Apr 13
Pictured: “Aussie Westbrook”. Sobey caricature. Credit: Adam Ballinger art.
As I got to know Nathan’s psyche and what makes him tick I have decided to put him into my category of “killer”. Someone that is a deep competitor, willing to live the life that will see him get better day after day, to be the best he can be. “I always want to challenge myself to be better than the next person but also just want to be the best I can be”, says Sobey. Nathan is always looking for that edge and using those that say “you can’t do it” or “you are not good enough to make this team or that league” as positive development tools, not the other way round. “I love to prove people wrong” he says at one point in our chat. This mindset sounds all too familiar with the athletes I’ve worked with that are featured at www.highperformancehoopsnetwork.com. By the way, we recently wrote an article on athletes being cut and how to deal with the situation which you can see here; By Andrew Jantke | So, you have been cut? If not, you will be!!
When you watch Nathan Sobey play you see someone that just plays the game with an amazing smoothness. He is an incredible athlete, but able to play with that athleticism in control, the game looks like it is slowing down for him at times. He is an athlete with a rare mix of great decision making and ability to see the game, all in synch.
VIDEO: Sobey with a rare mix of athleticsm, skills and determination has emerged as one of the best Aussies in the NBL. NB: The great screen by past blogger Daniel Carlin at the 10 second mark of these highlights. Daniel's blog is here: By Daniel Carlin | Focussing on what counts in the game – some lessons from the journey so far
Like all of our featured athletes, and all our athlete guest bloggers for that matter, his journey has not been completely smooth. He never made a state team in his junior years. Trying out once, to be cut at the first trial, coming up through Warnambool, in country Victoria. When heading to college he went the hard path too, going through a junior college before finally landing and University of Wyoming in the Division 1 Mountain West Conference. It was not until his 2nd and final year at Wyoming that he really began to hit his straps, joining the starting unit.
Jye Watson of Mogul Sports group, the company that represents Sobey ,and past blogger for www.highperformancehoopsnetwork.com offers these insights into Sobey:
“Nathan is an underdog in the true sense of the word. A small town kid, that was overlooked many times from state teams, to colleges (originally) until he showed glimpses of greatness, enough for Wyoming to pick him up. NBL teams originally overlooked him off for offers, and Cairns came through with a DP spot, but Nathan was determined to show his worth. Joey Wright saw a star and picked Nathan up, and Nathan’s work ethic and focus to stay on the path eventually paid off, including picking up a Boomers, NBA Summer League and a spot in Greece. With Nathan, the sky’s the limit.”
PICTURED: Since joining the Adelaide 36ers in the National Basketball League Nathan's career has really gone to elite levels in booming professional league, globally. Nathan credits Joey Wright with much of that development stating of Joey; "He sees a lot in players that other coaches don’t! Very good coach!"
One of the things that shone through to me is his determination and competitiveness. I asked him about what motivates him and his goals going forward; he spoke about people telling him it can’t be done as a big motivator for him. He referred to not making teams and how that just makes him more determined to prove people wrong. This mindset reminds me a lot of the process all featured athletes have been through, Isaac White also describing this mindset in his blog (Isaac White | Mental Toughness and Dedication).
We also spoke about his drive to continuously improve and how he does not see himself losing this motivation. "There is always something next to be done", he says. In that vein he does have some big but very achievable goals to drive him.
Win a championship
Make National team – Like Brett Maher he really values playing in the Green and Gold. For another example of this mindset see Brett’s blog here Brett Maher | The Olympics! By a triple Olympian
Play in the NBA
PICTURED: With Utah Jazz in NBA Summer League. Nathan has hit NBA radars having played at the 36ers with lottery draft pick Draft Pick, Terrence Ferguson, in 2017, and then being invited to the NBA Summer League himself.
I love how these goals of Nathan's are a mix of team and personal goals. I personally don’t think you can achieve them without each other. I tell the Athletes I work with they need a mix of personal and team goals, with an understanding that both add value to each other. A point youth coaches wherever might need to think about and value in their athletes too. I feel too many times youth coaches are overlooking personal goals purely for team goals and not explaining the connection between personal AND team goals working hand in hand. There is a blog on individual goal setting here; Importance and process to individual goal setting
To fully appreciate Sobey’s development as an athlete over the years we need to consider his journey so far.
Nathan’s journey as mentioned above was not always a straight line of success we see in the movies or sport’s documentaries. Invariably every athlete is going to be challenged in their journey. Often it takes one person that sees their talent along the way, before anyone else, and is willing to fight for them, with no regard for self-preservation. That person believes in them and the athlete knows this and is ALSO willing to fight to earn the belief of their believer. I often see the bandwagon jumpers that jump on board athletes when they are good but not willing to take athletes from the ground up and believe in them. Nathan mentions Tim Gainey at this stage of his life as the person that really believed in him. Never playing in a state team and playing local basketball in Warnambool, Gainey was still willing to make commitments and promises on Sobey's behalf to Jerrry Carillo, the Head Coach at Cochise College, a Junior College in Arizona. Carillo, who had formerly coached Gainey, listening closely and believing in Gainey’s promises, before deciding on giving Sobey a go.
PICTURED: Nathan, around the time Tim Gainey spotted him, as a typical 15 year old Victorian Country kid with Warnambool Seahawks.
Gainey says of Sobey at the time;
“He had snuck under the radar basketball-wise and was probably leaning towards AFL Football. His family were more of a football family. But Nathan had skills and was definitely a gymrat. I could see he could do well at the Junior College level and took on helping him get to my old school. I pushed hard with Coach Carillo and he trusted me. Nathan ended up there and since then has taken all his opportunities, made the most of them, to establish his career in the sport.”
“He had that Mamba mentality as they call it today. When I came out here as an import in Warnambool he was 14-15, but with us every single day. You could see the effort he was putting in. He had the attitude for it always wanting to get better and asking lots of questions. He got better all the time.”
Cochise never looked back once Sobey arrived. Winning the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference Junior College championship in 2012, going to the national Junior College Tournament. Whilst that process was going on division 1 college coaches were flocking to the school to recruit for their schools. Nathan admits initially they were not coming to recruit him. They were coming to recruit 6’9’’ Power Forward Matt Korchek. However, whilst they were there did begin to pickup on Sobey and so his recruitment really began to take off too. Korchek did infact play 2 years at University of Arizona in the Pac 12 and, interestingly as an aside, has recently joined Carlton in the AFL as a US Import.
Nathan narrowed it down to Weber State and Wyoming. His reasons for ultimately choosing Wyoming were the size and level of the Mountain West Conference being much bigger and stronger than the Big Sky, and like many determined athletes that love the big challenge, bigger is better, and thus he was attracted to Wyoming. Sobey says of his choice; “Definitely did not choose Wyoming for the location. The conference Wyoming was in was really strong at the time. The rosters of other teams were strong and I felt I could push myself to get to the next level there. Coaches at Wyoming were also really welcoming and I felt that was the best program for me and my development.”
In his first year Wyoming it was a challenging one, again earning his stripes. But in the 2nd year he was elevated to the starting lineup, helping the program to rise to middle of the Mountain West Conference and a post season ticket to the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournament.
PICTURED: Sobey had 2 years with Wyoming in the tough Mountain West Conference.
Sobey loved his college journey, particularly enjoying the opportunity to train 6 days a week, the strength and conditioning but the opportunity to live overseas away from family support network, experience a different culture was also great for his development into manhood. Says Sobey of his College experience;
“Yea I loved my 2 years in Arizona, loved winning a championship there. I still get to play with one of my Junior College team mates back home in Warnambool now. Moving onto Wyoming I did love that too. Going and getting that culture and using the game to do something different to other kids my age.”
He then was able to join Cairns Taipans as a development player, eventually elevated to a roster spot. However, it was whilst with the Adelaide 36ers that his career really began to take off. Nathan crediting a lot of his development at the 36ers to Head Coach Joey Wright, Sobey explaining about Joey's influence;
"He has given me the platform to play and took a chance on me when others didn’t. And since then he always works on new things with me. He sees the game from every angle and if he sees any little thing that can help then he will help work with me on it. Anytime I call to workout he is the first to put his hand up to come and work with me."
He fits the system of pushing the ball well with the 36ers and has continued to develop his skillset and athleticism. In talking to Adam Murphy, Strength and Conditioning Coach, with the 36ers says of their game style:
“We are a run and gun team, we pride ourselves on being the fittest and fastest team in the NBL.”
We look at 3 components to Sobey’s development as an athlete here:
Inherent character traits
The college journey
As a professional
The focus of this blog article is on Sobey’s athletic development. However, you can’t understand that aspect of his game without learning about his “Determination, Drive” and “The Journey”.
Without the determination and drive to push through the challenges he would have at times given up, especially early in his career, never able to realise his full athletic potential. He would not have the drive to work so hard to develop his athleticism. Talking to Gainey he says Sobey was always a good athlete, with a mix of speed and skills but most definitely did not have the “bounce” he has today. That was definitely developed over time;
“He could have made the AFL, the family were into AFL but once he decided he wanted to play basketball I knew I had to help him. My coach was willing to take chance on him”.
“He definitely developed jumping ability whilst he was at College. He was always quick, could handle the ball. The American system of training 6 days a week, the strength and conditioning developed him. When he came back everyone was shocked with his newfound jumping ability. I don’t think he even lifted a weight when he was here in Australia, but of course at college it was a lot of weights and conditioning.”
That development is where the journey comes into it. Sobey loved the college path he chose and heavily credits strength and conditioning coaches in both is Junior College program and Wyoming for developing his athleticism and also developing his understanding of how to develop himself for life after college.
“I had a little bit of athleticism before College but I guess over the years there with all the athletic training, high explosive type training, and that sort of thing, helped build my athleticism to what it is today.”
“The Strength and Conditioning coach at Cochise was a former Division 1 college player. He was really good. The Wyoming S&C coach was really good as well and I was lucky to have him whilst at Wyoming.”
Sobey goes onto mention that the Wyoming strength and conditioning coach, Wes Long, who is now working at UCLA basketball, really helped him focus his development on fast twitch training for basketball. Developing fast twitch muscle clearly of value to Sobey’s athleticism and game something that all athletes should look into.
PICTURED: The 2 Aussies going at it in the Mountain West Conference. Sobey in Yellow with Wyoming and Hugh Greenwood in Grey for University of New Mexico. Greenwood now playing AFL with the Adelaide Crows.
Sobey loves cross training and functional training. He says his priorities sit in between weight training and cardio training. I found this surprising given advocates of athletic development do not always advocate cardio. Sobey says he likes to keep the body in shape, thus the cardio, and would prefer high rep weights than heavy power lifting. Whilst strength and conditioning experts advocate periodisation this is just not practicable for Sobey at this stage of his career. Basketball is almost all year round with NBL, Europe, NBA Summer League, Commonwealth games, Big V with his hometown team of Warnambool Seahawks over the past couple of years. This does not allow time for periodisation type training plans. He likes to mix up training a lot and loves always adding new challenges to his training regime to challenge himself.
As a professional he is always interested to try different things. In the gym he says “plyometric exercises are performed more than heavy weights, and most weights are not sitting, rather involving dynamic lifting”.
For the past 3 years he has also spent a lot of time at the Attack the Summer, a summer camp based training school that his future parents in laws run. There is lots of information on this gruelling program here: http://sahq.org/ats.php. This involves crazy sand dune running which he finds great for his fitness and also leg strength. “The desert hill climb and sand dune climbs we do are pretty insane”, Sobey says.
He also uses the Vertimax a lot back the future in laws gym. A machine where you can weight your body down using bands and then jump with specific levels of resistance. He also makes sure most of his weight training is dynamic, functional and plyometric centred.
PICTURED: Example of Vertimax training Nathan mentions. Picture from: http://www.vertimax.com/product/vertimax-v8/
The gym in Warnambool Nathan works out at has an altitude room which he speaks highly of too: “I love it because I played in Wyoming which was really high altitude and it is so it is good to come back and have something like this. I feel like when I compete in games or at practice it tops me off to go on when the others are getting tired.”
He also credits a lot of his current development to Adelaide 36ers Strength and Conditioning Coach Adam Murphy. Nathan says; “We trust Adam a lot and I still even text him from back home here in Warnambool for training programs and advice.”
We also caught up with Adam Murphy. Adam describing their preseason regime which sees them as one of the fastest and most athletic teams in the National Basketball League:
“This means a lot of on court conditioning... We focus a lot of HIIT sprint training, utilising the Tabata method. We also use cross training programmed into the macro-cycle. Cross training is a great way to add variety to the schedule, we use Jui-Jitsu, pool work and boxing. I will phase in a gym program for them to follow. This includes, strength training, hypertrophy, functional hypertrophy and sports specific power training.”
Consistent with Gainey’s observations, and my own thoughts when getting to know Nathan, Adam states of Sobey’s work ethic and approach to training, strength and development:
“Sobz is a very hard worker, he is typically first in the gym and he puts in 100% every time. People often think he is unenthusiastic, mainly because he is expressionless, but I know he is just an extremely focused athlete, that likes to get the job done."
"Unfortunately I can’t take all the credit for Sobz athleticism, even though I would like to. He has some naturally gifted abilities, but he has worked extremely hard to build on them and turn himself into the athlete he is now."
"Sobz is great fun to train, he is very strong willed and challenges me with why I get him to do the crazy things I do, but (I think) he appreciates why I do them and trusts me that I will look after his career and body.”
We also wanted to pick Adam’s brains on advice for young athletes based on what he has seen in his role:
“Train in your sport as much as you can, look after your bodies and eat the right foods.”
Nathan shows a mix of determination, resilience, that has helped him push himself harder in training, with the college pathway greatly contributing to his athletic abilities today.
We also asked Nathan about his skill development clinics and clothing brand. Both work hand in hand with kids often purchasing items at his skill development sessions. Nathan runs a brand called NS20 (for obvious reasons) and is hoping to expand this clinics here in Adelaide.
What a great opportunity to learn from an athlete as driven as Nathan is, with all his experiences in overcoming challenges to become one of the best Aussie guards in the National Basketball League today. Follow Nathan on Instagram for more details on his clinics: https://www.instagram.com/sobes2zero
PICTURED: Nathan wears the Green and Gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. We think this will be the first of many Boomers call ups for this talented athlete.