Jan 29, 2015
All In a Week’s Work

jacobs-head.jpgBy Rich Jacobs, MS, SCCC, CSCS

Ever wonder how a strength and conditioning coach approaches in-season work for a big-time college basketball team? Rich Jacobs, Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Xavier University, provides a glimpse into a week with the school’s top-10 women’s basketball team. During this stretch, the Lady Musketeers beat a then top-20 Mississippi State University team 61-36 on Dec. 17, and lost by a point to the then-second-ranked Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Dec. 21.

Head Coach Kevin McGuff is great to watch in action. He is very animated and brings a lot of intensity during the practice week. He is very deliberate with his planning. Most often, he reminds the team that we focus on our strengths and on the little things to get us through. His constant focus on the little things is vital to our current success.

When it comes to strength and conditioning, he trusts me to get the job done, and that freedom enables me to play an important role in keeping our athletes healthy and strong through the season. My main focus this time of year is to keep the women feeling strong on the court as competition becomes more intense and to make sure our starters are competing until the end.

One of my responsibilities during at this point of the season is to warm the ladies up before every practice. This time of year, the season can begin to feel like a grind and it becomes harder to motivate a team for warmups and practice. To take a little of the edge off, I have started to incorporate jokes into warmups to help engage the girls and focus them on practice. I know this is an unconventional approach, but sometimes you need to adapt to the team’s personality and find a way to get them ready for the rigors of practice.

Here is a breakdown of our busy week: Monday, Dec. 13: The jokes started off clean and fun, but they eventually became a little too risqué to be put in this diary. After seeing a few smiles I can see that the players are locked in and ready. Our practice warm ups are similar to game days, but there is a lot more freedom.

The goal is to warm the players up and get them loose. The basic skeleton of our warm ups is either a down and back or a full lap. We follow that with hip swings or a variety of hip rotations on the floor. At this point, we either do ladder drills in combination with dynamic movements (shuffles, cariocas, skips, etc.) or I may have them do some short hurdle work. We then performed dynamic stretching such as straight leg kicks and combo lunges.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my goals is to keep players healthy and injury-free. As female athletes who perform high-impact, multi-directional movements, they have a higher percent chance of incurring an ACL injury than men. Therefore, I incorporate ACL prevention techniques within the warmup such as multi-planar lunges, lateral and 360 degree skips, and single leg balancing.

Warmups last for about 15 minutes. Players have a few minutes at the end to get their minds right and stretch anything else they individually need.

Practice today focused on getting better together and not focusing on Mississippi State yet. It was an intense practice with medium volume.

In the weightroom, we implemented our in-season full-body workout. Guards and posts have their own programs developed to focus on their performance requirements on the court and injury prevention based on the position. We focused on progressions and attacked the major compartments of the body: hips, posterior chain, chest, back, shoulders and abdominals.

Key lifts that we are performing on this day are kettle swings, DB lunges, and weighted pushups. Auxiliary lifts include leg curl, pull downs, single leg squat, and touches. Our abdominal movements use the entire body such as medicine throws and band rotations. Tuesday, Dec. 14: This was an off day. Our players were in the midst of their finals week and rest is just as important as work.

Wednesday, Dec. 15: We again had joke time before warmups. Warmups consisted of ladder drills today. Players performed a basic foot drill followed by a dynamic movement such as a skip or shuffle. We then followed up with dynamic stretches. This was a higher volume workday. We prepared for Mississippi State by breaking down its offense and worked on our own offense by practicing attacking the basket.

In the weightroom, we had another full body lift day. I designed it with different exercises than they executed on Monday to add variety, but still hit the major compartments of the body. Key lifts include rotational DB snatch, Russian hamstring, split squat, and rows. Auxiliary lifts focus on injury prevention with rotator cuff rotations and scapular retractions. Abdominal exercises were similar to the day one lift.

Thursday, Dec. 16: Our new joke ritual before warm-ups continued. This practice featured lower volume, higher intensity work to prepare for the next day’s game. Coach McGuff incorporates micro-cycles of training within the week by adjusting volume and intensity.

We accomplished two days of lifting this week, which is sufficient to increase strength this time of year. Any work that we did post-practice consisted of foam roller work and stretching. We usually do not lift a day before a game. Friday, Dec. 17: Time to compete against Mississippi State University! Game days are very structured and ritualistic. During the end of preseason, the team and I create the game day warmup and use it for the entire season. This process of giving them some control over the warmup is to encourage intrinsic motivation. I want them to enjoy the process on game day and feel like they are in control of their environment before it becomes chaotic.

I originally did not tell jokes on game day because I felt that we needed a more serious focus. However, the women reminded that they not only play to win, but they like to have fun while they compete. The jokes help to remind them to have fun, so it is now part of our game day ritual.

According to sport psychologists, rituals help athletes to focus in on specific tasks. Therefore, I believe that by being consistent with the warm ups and jokes, I am playing a very small part in helping the team up their concentration. Saturday, Dec. 18: Start the day with a joke, then warmed up. Our warmup consisted of very basic dynamic movements and dynamic stretching. I followed our dynamic warmup with team static stretching to try and loosen up from the night before.

This was a high intensity practice really focusing on Duke and breaking down the Blue Devils’ offense. Volume of work was slightly lower. The girls were still a little tired from the previous day’s game, and fortunately, McGuff understands how to balance intensity and volume.

Any girl that did not play at least 20 minutes performed 30 minutes of cardiovascular work. I usually prescribe bike work to get the heart rate up. Although I believe treadmill work is better, I like to give their legs a break from the constant pounding they get running up and down the hardwood.

Sunday, Dec. 19: Started the day with a joke and our warm up. The warmup focused on more movement drills to prepare for a harder practice. The goal of practice was to prepare for Duke and the specifics of its offense and defense.

After practice, we lifted. Our lift was the same as Monday. During the season, I cycle through two days of lifting to add some variety. Volume is very low, so I push intensity as well as progressions. This will be our final lift on the current program.

Prior to our conference season, I implement a new program for the rest of the season. This is to break up monotony, periodize the program, and to implement other exercises that may be helpful to encourage strength gains. Due to the muscular soreness that will occur after a new program is implemented, they will be able to perform the lift three times and a week before our next competition. Monday, Dec 20: Today’s practice was at Cameron Indoor. It is great to get some time in such a historic building and get used to the environment. Warmups ran smoothly and without a hitch. Practice was more of a shoot-around and allowed our team to get used to its new surroundings.

When we got back to the hotel, a few girls wanted to do some bike work, so we did. Tuesday, Dec. 21: Matchup with Duke University. Coach McGuff does an excellent job of focusing on us and not thinking about rankings or the scoreboard. However, the team is not naive to what is going on around them. This was a big game. I could tell that the team appeared to be focused, but uptight. Following a joke, they loosened up a little and we performed our game day warmup. They appeared to be level headed and ready to play their game following our ritual.

Prior to a big game, I am nervous for our team. It is a culmination of a daily grind and constantly trying to get better with one purpose: win. For me to be a good leader, I don’t share my feelings or show them my nervousness through body language. I show confidence, strength and fearlessness. If a coach can’t embody all these attributes, how can the players?

More importantly, I don’t want to be a distraction. Sports are more mental than anything. Athletes respond differently to stimuli and I attempt to only be positive. I can’t win the game, but I sure can lose it by not being a constant in their ritual or by bringing negativity to their psyche.

Although the outcome of that game was not what we had practiced or fought for, our efforts in adverse conditions were valiant and we plan to stay the course throughout the season to accomplish our goals.

Rich Jacobs, MS, SCCC, CSCS is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Xavier University. He can be reached at: [email protected].

FEEDBACK Really like the idea of having players help design game warmups for the season; thanks for the great idea!!!

– Jeff Diritto

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