Last month, two-time Kia NBA MVP and three-time NBA champion Stephen Curry stopped by Tokyo for the last leg of his inaugural Underrated Tour — a youth basketball camp designed to provide “underrated athletes” with elite training and to give them an opportunity to show the world what they’re truly capable of.

Joining Curry at the camp was a familiar face: his personal skills development and performance coach Brandon Payne, who has worked closely with the Warriors guard for nearly a decade to help him master his skills and train like a champion.

While the Underrated Tour is primarily about coaching youth talent, at the Tokyo tour stop Payne took it a step further — by coaching the coaches.

Payne invited 26 coaches from around Japan to share some of the wisdom garnered from his experiences molding Stephen Curry into one of the most skilled players ever to grace a basketball court.

Don’t just do drills — understand them

Drills are important. But one of the points Payne wanted to impress upon the coaches more than anything was that drills are about more than just going through the motions. For drills to be effective, both coach and player need to understand the “why.”

Payne made an example of Curry’s two-ball activation warmup — a pregame ritual that has made the rounds on YouTube and spawned countless copycats. In the warmup, Curry stands on the baseline in a shooting position and dribbles two balls simultaneously — first at the same time, then alternating, then backwards and forwards, and even between the legs.

“On the surface, it’s a ball handling drill,” Payne shared. But that’s not all: The drill’s real purpose is to warm up Curry’s brain. “If you can’t tell a player from the top down how his brain is processing the information that the ball is giving to him, you shouldn’t be doing that drill.”

Overtraining and diminishing returns

“I’ve had the chance to travel around the world and see players from different countries, see how different countries train,” Payne told coaches. “Probably the most problematic thing that I’ve seen when I get outside of the United States is overtraining.”

“I had a couple of players from Turkey come into my gym in Charlotte — they said they worked out for six hours a day. What are you doing for six hours a day? No player in the world could go hard for that long.”

Payne’s quality over quantity approach is particularly important at the NBA level. “There is no way players can work out at game speed for longer than 90 minutes, two hours max… It’s not our job to run our players into the ground. It’s our job to help them walk out of the gym a little better than when they walked in.”

Payne has coached athletes on every step of the Underrated Tour.
Payne has coached athletes on every step of the Underrated Tour.

Japan is all about grit

The local coaches in attendance were thirsty for advice from one of the NBA’s most prominent trainers.

“It’s rare in sports to hear such logical, scientific explanations behind training concepts,” remarked one Japanese coach from Shibuya, Tokyo, who coaches company teams and basketball clubs in rural areas. “In sports, there’s a lot of ‘let’s give it our best!’ and ‘let’s get fired up!” — hearing logical explanations of how the brain affects certain movements was something fresh for me.”

He also highlighted a difference between Japanese and American attitudes towards sport. “Japan is a bit obsessed with good old-fashioned grit, as if suffering is the only ingredient required for success. It was interesting to hear such a scientific approach.”

“Yesterday, I was an idiot”

“Once you think you know everything, you’re beat. Once you think you know everything, you’re going to lose.”

Payne’s final message to the coaches seemed applicable even outside the world of basketball. “It’s our job as coaches to put our players in the best possible position we can to help them improve, to help them perform at the highest level. That’s our job, that’s how we serve our players. So in order to get better as a trainer and a coach, continue to learn.”

The process is the same for both coaches and players, Payne said. “I have to wake up every day and I have to learn something new. I have to get better each day. And I have to be strong enough to look in the mirror and tell myself ‘Yesterday, I was an idiot. Today, I’ve got to be smart.’”