Lightbulb moment led to a stellar career

by Roy Fleming

Any athlete who has made it to the top in professional sport, like Cam Rigby has, carries bulletproof beliefs about themselves and what they need to do to get better. Former National Basketball League veteran Cam Rigby calls them “lightbulb” moments. They are the defining moments where things “click”. They can take your skills, your strength and your commitment to levels even beyond your own imagination. Cam has now taken his clear vision to the next generation of athletes through his business Prime Athletes. But first find out where his motivation started. And what three things he suggests you can do every day to improve.

Tell us about your career history, what was your journey that led you to become a professional athlete?

As a junior basketballer in Melbourne (Diamond Valley to be precise), I made three state representative teams, and have always been a massive NBA and US college basketball fan! As soon as I saw the US college atmosphere on TV, I was hooked. THAT is what I wanted to do. Since this was before the internet, I couldn’t simply email highlight videos to coaches. I headed over to the USA (Anchorage, Alaska) with a mate at 16yo to play high school basketball in an attempt to earn a scholarship. It worked. We had a very successful couple of years. In my final year we won a state championship and there were some individual honours, ending up with a division one scholarship. I played four years of D1 college basketball then came home and landed the start of what was a seven-year NBL career. I also played in our second-tier professional league for over 10 years in and around NBL commitments.

SportsPower Cam Rigby Basketball photo

What have been some of your career highlights?

There’s lots of highlights for me:

  • Three x National Junior Championships playing for VIC, plus selected All-Australian one year.
  • High School State Championship in USA, 1996, plus voted State Player of the Year.
  • Playing four years of Division One NCAA basketball. Playing against future NBA players, the travel, the cities, the universities, the stadiums, the atmospheres…
  • Signing my first NBL contract, and playing near 200 games at the highest level in Australia.
  • Being lucky enough to play in an exhibition game with Magic Johnson on our team.
  • Winning several championships in the SEABL (2nd tier) and being voted into the league Team of the Decade (2000’s).
  • Being selected to represent AUS in a tour to Qatar in 2010 (sort of an Australia-A side).
  • The mates and stories along the way.

What does an NBL training schedule look like?

Typically we had six days of work, with one day off each week. Preseason was obviously more intense, but an in-season week was usually: five trainings and a game, or four trainings and two games (scaled to monitor workload of course), two to three weekly strength sessions and all the necessary travel thrown in.

How did/do you overcome nerves when you know people are watching, or relying on you to perform at your best?

That part wasn’t easy for me, I hated public speaking, eyes on me, that whole thing. The problem I faced is that we arrived in the USA as a huge novelty and had tv cameras and newspaper reporters at our first training session. I had no choice but to be in that uncomfortable position. From then on, I think it was just repetition and practice in front of crowds and cameras. The more success we had, the more crowds we drew, the more media attention we received, the more practice I had at dealing with it. I still register those feelings, even when I present to groups of athletes and families now, but it’s familiar. I’ve had a lot of practice at handling public situations, so I understand it a bit better and can process it a bit better. One simple thing I was told by an assistant coach in college was “There’s actually no such thing as pressure. It doesn’t exist. There is only PERCEIVED pressure.” The external stimulus (crowd, cameras, whatever) is the same for everyone involved, it’s all about how you interpret and process it.

What’s the best piece of sporting advice you have received?

SO many, probably too many to mention. Love the one I mentioned in the previous question. Others are;

  • Motivation is temporary, habits are always.
  • We all have good and crap days in terms of motivation, get into good habits of doing the right things regardless.
  • You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. (The idea of taking chances etc..)

SportsPower Cam Rigby Basketball photo

How do you stay active?

I stay active by coaching all the athletes I work with. I’m demonstrating hundreds of squats, jumps/landings, sprint mechanics, strength movements etc every week. I also train once or twice a week myself, again, out of habit.

How do you stay motivated to keep training?

As above, it’s a habit now. I have always enjoyed the feeling of “strength”, so it’s easy to maintain the habit. Was harder in lockdown, habits have been tested, but typically I just do it because it’s what I do.

How did you come to start Prime Athletes Australia?

More young athletes are sitting in front of more screens than ever, and trying to play more high impact sports than ever, with almost nothing in between.

Movement quality with young athletes across the board is pretty poor. Young people are “playing” less than they used to, instead spending more time in front of screens. This means natural movement volumes are much lower, leading to a reduction in both the quality and the capacity to run, jump, land, cut, and move well.

We want to help bridge the gap between the couch and the court/field. We want to help better prepare all junior athletes for wherever they take their sporting journey.

I had a huge shift in my career when I was first exposed to physical development coaching in the USA. I was a fairly skilled junior player, but I had never been introduced to S&C. I was now competing against some of the best athletes I had ever seen.

After my first season in high school I worked with the track and field coach and the football strength coaches and it made a massive difference. The lightbulb went off! I was faster, stronger, more athletic, more prepared for the rigours of elite sport that I was chasing.

I have always had a passion for coaching young players, right through my playing days. After I’d retired, I was lucky enough to connect with a great S&C coach at a basketball camp I was coaching at in Melbourne. We spoke at-length about the lack of physical development in junior sport, basketball more specifically, and across the board. That ignited a passion in physical development and led me to study under that coach and work for him for 3.5 years.

Some family, logistical and other pressures meant I had to change jobs, but still remain in contact with that coach and their fantastic gym. The shift in my mindset and main drive now is to improve the physical literacy and capability of  as many junior athletes as I can.  Prime Athletes is designed to share some key fundamentals with junior athletes, parents, coaches, teams, clubs, associations, schools. We want to help improve the Mechanical Habits (move well, get stronger) and Behavioural Habits (Prepare, Work, Recover, ie eat, sleep, stretch etc) for as many athletes as we can. I want young athletes to experience the same physical “lightbulb moment” I had, and help weekend sport coaches/parents better care for growing young bodies.

You can check our Prime Athletes Australia here.

What are your top three training tips for young players wanting to improve their game?

Very tough question to pick just three…

  1. Treat movement as a “skill”. Learn, practice, and continue to develop how you run, jump, land, cut etc, the same way you practice to improve how you pass, shoot, dribble, kick etc…
  2. Once you move well, get stronger. Add some strength to those improved patterns and make it a habit. Strength is a great foundation to make everything easier, better, faster, safer.
  3. Don’t rely on motivation, build habits instead. We work on the idea of ‘Prepare. Work. Recover. Repeat.’ We believe this concept works for every rep and set the gym, every game and season on court/field, and in the classroom.