January 13, 2014 • Winning Hoops

Tournament Tough

As coaches and performance training professionals, we live and learn.

During our first trip to the state tournament, we were just happy to be there. We felt like we belonged, but in hindsight we didn’t do all the little things we could have to put ourselves in the best position to win.

The second year, we were more prepared but still a little new to the game, still putting things together.

The third year, we were on a mission. We were not only ready but purposeful in our preparation on all fronts from game planning to maximizing performance before games and recovery afterward.

Our commitment to preparation all season put us in a position to be where we wanted to be, playing in the championship game on Saturday night and cutting down the nets. As “luck” would have it, we were fortunate to do the same thing the following year. Needless to say, we are continuing to follow our format, making tweaks and adjustments as needed.

Teams all around the country are making their final push toward postseason play. It’s time to fine-tune what you’re doing and maximize every move. At this point during the season, you want your players healthy, mentally fresh and primed for peak performance.

Although there is no substitute for all the work you’ve put in to this point, there are a few things you can do from a performance and recovery perspective that may give you the edge you need heading into tournament time.

Here are four practical things you can do with your teams to maximize performance at tourney time.

1 Shorten practice. I will preface this by saying that your team must earn the right to shorten practice. We want our practices to be lively, active and full of energy. Our players know that the more efficient we are with practice the shorter it becomes. We also remind them that we must be completely engaged in what we’re doing, especially when we are only going 60 to 70 minutes.

We typically ask our players how they’re feeling and try to get a beat on where they’re at. It’s always a good sign when your players stay after to shoot and are still enjoying practice at this time of the year.

2 Start well, end well. Make sure before every practice your players are ready to go. I operate on three main principles: warm the muscles, stretch the muscles and teach the muscles. In other words, we want to raise the core temperature, take players through full ranges of motion that they see on the court, reinforce positive habits and activate the neuromuscular system.

3 Continue to lift. Consistency is king. At this point in the season we want to stimulate muscle fiber but not fatigue it.

4 Tissue time. Self-myofascial release, commonly known as foam rolling has become commonplace in many programs. Foam rolling gives players an easy and inexpensive form of massage. Knots, bumps, bruises and tightness can limit range of motion leading to poor movement quality. Foam rolling helps alleviate that by stimulating muscle tissue, improving circulation, reducing soreness and improving movement patterns.

It’s also beneficial to go through a light stretching routine post practice or competition. We use this primarily as a way to for players to work through full ranges of motion in a safe and controlled way.

Using a superband, we work four specific movements within the hip and hamstring complex. This includes flexion, abduction, adduction and internal rotation, typically holding each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.

Hydrotherapy can and should be used as a recovery and therapeutic resource. If you can get your players into the routine of using the cold tub, whirlpool or other modalities, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Here are four ways to use it effectively:

  • Hydration: This may be the most underrated aspect of performance. Players need to know that being dehydrated decreases performance and mental awareness.
  • Ice massage: The ice cup is commonly used over specific areas of the body to combat inflammation and speed recovery.
  • Cold tub: Using the cold tub can be uncomfortable for players but can improve and enhance recovery, specifically inflammation.
  • Contrast showers. Most players and programs don’t have the luxury of contrast tubs, but showers can serve as the next best thing. Alternate between cold and hot water, staying in each from one to three minutes for three to five rounds.

I’m not suggesting coaches implement all of these tips in the same day or week. Little by little, build daily habits into your practices and players. Coaching and training athletes is part art and part science. You have to read the ebb and flow of the season and your players. Every team has assumed its own personality and identity by now.

Striking a balance

If your team is struggling to run sets and having trouble with execution, you might need to lengthen practice. The point is to find a balance for your team that challenges them but does not push them to a point of constant exhaustion or fatigue.

Starting and ending well is essential, and the first five to 10 minutes can set the tone of your practices. We begin every practice by brining players in and sharing our practice plan, which includes the thought of the day, points of emphasis and other things they should be aware of. This is more a culture thing than anything else.

From a performance standpoint, our pre-practice preparation gives us dedicated time to address specific things that are important to all or individual players. Think about the cumulative investment over the course of a season.

Small actions, big difference

Continuing to lift during the season can be frustrating. We tend to lift the day after a game and include at least one day of recovery before our next game. This can get tricky down the stretch with tournaments and postseason play.

Don’t change what you’re doing at this point during the season — stay consistent. If you haven’t been lifting, it’s not really the time to start.

I’m a big believer in tissue quality. The better the quality of muscle tissue, the better quality of movement in your players. As the season goes on players need to invest time to keep their bodies moving efficiently and pain-free.

My suggestion is to keep foam rollers out and visible for players. We have foam rollers in the locker room before games and before and after practice. You might find this a little corny, but I’ll manually roll out some of our players before the game. This helps me get a pulse on our guys, gauge how their bodies are doing and it lets them know I care.

Staying hydrated

Our body is made up of roughly 50 to 65 percent water, yet it’s an easily neglected aspect of our daily lives.

Players feel thirsty when they have already lost around 2 to 3 percent of their body’s water. Mental performance and physical coordination start to become impaired before thirst kicks in, typically around 1 percent dehydration. Most colleges and pro teams have tracked this for the last decade.

Although we don’t use any official equipment to determine whether our players are adequately hydrated, we encourage players to drink water throughout the day and have three set water breaks built into our practice. Water’s many qualities make it arguably the best and easiest form of injury prevention and body maintenance.