Off-Season Training, Improvement, & Fun

Due to my schedule and the team’s schedule, we did our pre-regular season testing this week. These tests measured improvement since our baseline testing, roughly five weeks ago. In addition to basketball workouts, the team has trained with me four times per ¬†week: two times per week in the weight room and two days of conditioning. No workout has taken more than one hour from start to finish. If we had more equipment, the workouts would be closer to 45 minutes in duration, but we are limited by the number of plyo boxes, medicine balls, squat racks, etc. We have had only workout that included more than a mile of running in total volume; almost every conditioning workout was between 1200m-1600m of sprints, with no effort longer than a 100m sprint.

I used four tests:

  1. Overhead medicine ball throw
  2. Broad jump
  3. One-minute push-up test
  4. Beep test

These tests are not perfect. I do not have the Beep software, so it is hard to do it accurately, so it is better to say that we used a version of the Beep test.

As noted yesterday, six weeks often is not enough time to elicit improvements in power-related tests (Carlson et al., 2009). However, as a whole, we did improve.

Average improvement for 14 players:

  • Overhead MB throw: 1.8 inches
  • Broad jump: 2.5 inches
  • Push-up test: 10.2 push-ups
  • Beep test: 19.875 lengths (20m)

The testing told me two things:

1) The training program is working, as almost every player showed marked improvements across the board.

2) A couple players are fatigued.

The power-related tests (MB throw and broad jump) were affected by two of the best athletes decreasing in their test performance. If I eliminated two players who were fatigued from the analysis of the power tests, the average improvement would double or triple.

Because of the scheduling, we tested the day after a tough workout. If my goal had been to show improvements, we would not have worked out as hard in the previous day. However, we were already missing one day of training this week and official practice starts next week, so sacrifices were made.

One of our exercises on Tuesday was a plate push. Fourteen players were healthy and working out, so we were one short of having five teams of three (players pushed in one direction and passed off to the next player who pushed back to the beginning). Therefore, I told the team to communicate and figure out the best way, but all five plates had to stay moving. It was a bit of a team-building exercise, and they embraced it immediately. However, every time I turned around, it was the same player – the leader – going twice in a row or sprinting ahead to be the player who did an extra turn rather than resting. This player showed dramatic drop offs in her testing the next day.

Did she really get weaker? Of course not. She works harder than anyone on the team. She finished Tuesday’s workout looking better and fitter than anyone and winning the last drill. However, that effort comes with a price. This is the fatigue that we often overlook. She did not look worse for wear the next day. However, her testing showed her fatigue. Do coaches notice this fatigue? Should we push players even harder the next day to make them tougher? Is this when injuries occur?

Rather than react to relatively modest overall improvements in the power tests by increasing the workload, I backed off yesterday even though they have a day off today. I talked about the importance of recovery. I met with the player and told her to forego her extra individual workout to get some rest. Rest and recovery is the forgotten or overlooked piece of the development or improvement puzzle. Without sufficient recovery, gains diminish, and players become overtrained.

The amazing thing about the average improvements is that I believe the team enjoys the workouts. Even during the hard workout on Tuesday, they were laughing and smiling through more than half of the drills. While our work is physically taxing and geared toward improving specific things – primarily movement, but also speed and power in multiple directions – the work is also enjoyable. We workout for a short period, but everything is intense and has a purpose.

For instance, we play a lot of tag rather than just doing running drills. I don’t scream at them in the weight room. Five weeks ago, nearly half of the team failed the FMS screen – many could not squat properly when they arrived and only three players had done an Olympic lift. After five weeks, players can squat, lunge, deadlift, clean, etc. We have gone from using the two small boxes to using the two taller boxes in our jumping drills.

The key is that these players enjoy the work. They embrace the challenge. They are an incredibly easy group to coach. They listen and push themselves. Some push themselves too hard, and need to be held back. Some need a little prodding to push themselves beyond what they think is capable because they sell themselves short. As a whole, they are a self-motivated, hard-working group, and that makes my job very easy.

Making workouts enjoyable, allowing players some freedom, and having fun does not mean that players are not working hard or improving. In fact, it often means the opposite: when given some autonomy and appropriate challenges, players are often more motivated and work harder. Fun inspires effort rather than impeding progress.

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