In 2011, Dirk Nowitzki was the Western Conference MVP for the first time, and it was no surprise. The German 7-footer had been prolific since entering the league in 1998, and was always the first player anyone thought of when they thought about the Dallas Mavericks. But while everyone knew Nowitzki was good, few people knew just how good he was, until now. The reason is simple: no one ever bothered to look. Just about every other major sports team in the world has a dedicated coach for analyzing film and working with players on their weaknesses. The Mavs are one of the few that don’t.

Holger Geschwindner was the man responsible for creating many of the training regimens that helped turn Dirk Nowitzki into the superstar that he is today. His unconventional methods of training resulted in Dirk’s development into a 7 foot tall sharpshooter. But how did a guy from Germany develop such a unique and successful training method? It all started when Holger Geschwindner’s coaching philosophy was shaped by some of the most influential people in his life, which eventually led to the beginning of his coaching career.

There is a basketball academy in Würzburg where an elderly coach, Holger Geschwindner, teaches basketball with methods that seem to apply to everything but basketball.

The Institute for Applied Stupidity is a subtle reference to all opponents who did not believe in his unorthodox methods. Those methods were put to the test when Holger, 51, saw the tall, thin 16-year-old Dirk Nowitzki after a youth game in 1994. He offered to train Dirk, and Dirk accepted.

Holger Geschwindner: Basketball is an art

Holger had his own vision of basketball, he hated size and saw the sport as an art form, a dance where the best players were artistic and aggressive. There was only one thing that should have been a perfect pattern: Dirk’s jump shot.

Every part of the unique high throw that Dirk was known for throughout his career was custom made. Holger, who studied mathematics and physics, used Dirk’s physical data to calculate the optimal arc and release point for this throw. All that remained was to perfect the art, and what better way to learn than through art?

Holger’s unique coaching methods

One day Holger brought his friend who played the saxophone to practice with him. Dirk was busy with his dribble, and suddenly music filled the room. Without hesitation, Holger told Dirk to keep dribbling to the music his friend was playing. This sort of thing was common, and a big part of Holger’s coaching philosophy was to teach students to improvise and be an artist rather than a formulaic player.

Holger’s approach was to work on every aspect of Dirk’s game, both on and off the field, and this last game was perhaps the best demonstration of his unorthodox coaching genius.

In practice, Dirk shot off the foot, squat, lunge and after spin. A finger press followed, which Holger said was the best way to unload the shooter.

In his spare time, he learned to play the piano and guitar to master the rhythm of his fingers, and read physics books to better understand the mechanics of shooting and movement in general. He did a series of footwork exercises with Holger in the gym, then took rolling and fencing lessons to learn the rhythm of footwork. After dribbling and throwing to the rhythm of the saxophone, he learned to play the saxophone to improve his improvisational skills. Holger also had him read poetry and watch operas so that he would become a more holistic person and learn more about different art forms.

Dirk Nowitzki scores in NBA

In the end, the whole thing, which seemed like complete madness to outsiders, had a significant impact on Dirk’s basketball. With all the weird shooting and his experience as a piano and guitar player, Dirk could shoot and hit from almost any position and situation. All the dance and fencing classes gave him incredible footwork on the field, and all the other improv and rhythm classes helped him get out of tough situations and make baskets when he needed to. Dirk even followed Holger’s training plan when he was 18 years old. He completed his military service at the age of 18. Dirk was soon on the radar of NBA teams and in 1998 he left for the United States.

Holger not only helped him through a difficult first season, when he struggled to adjust and considered returning to Germany, but he has remained by Dirk’s side as a mentor and friend throughout his career. He helped Dirk recover psychologically from heartbreaking playoff losses in 2006 and 2007, and he was there to cry with joy when Dirk became the first European to score 30,000 points in the NBA. Dirk retired as a living legend after 21 seasons.

By Dirk’s own admission, and even if Holger won’t admit it, he has shaped and created Dirk as a player. Many players and coaches have adopted, to varying degrees, the methods that made Holger famous, but no one has been able to match the success he achieved with Dirk. Whatever one may say about him or his work, Holger’s results are a story for the ages.

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