Mar 31, 2017Behind the Success
Since 2004, Strength and Conditioning Coach Amanda Kimball has helped shape the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team into one of the strongest in the country. Under her care the team has competed in the most consecutive NCAA Division I Final Fours, men’s or women’s (10, 2008–2017), along with amassing its famous 111 game winning streak.
As relayed in a recent article in the New York Times, Head Coach Geno Auriemma’s philosophy is to utilize the same amount of energy and excitement that players will face in their games throughout the entirety of practice. To ensure that can happen, Kimball has implemented a dynamic workout routine for players.
“The reason we’re fit is that we practice at an intensity that no one else does,” Kimball said. “To maintain that intensity, it’s important to make sure we’re doing the right things in the weight room.”
To keep workouts up-tempo, a 24-second shot clock is often used and there are strict time limits for each drill. According to Longman, one such drill requires three players at a time to run the length of the court, and then return to the starting side after they have made a basket. All of this must occur within 10 seconds. To add variety to this drill, players are sometimes asked to do an additional sprint to midcourt and back, with only seven seconds of additional time.
Another often-used drill is called “Kansas.” Lasting anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes, this drill calls for five players to run the length of the gym four times, while practicing plays and fast breaks the entire time. Even when they are tired, the action doesn’t stop, as players are asked to end the exercise with the addition of defensive players.
After this the players may move on to the 11-woman drill. “The 11-woman drill is a full-court, 3-on-2 exercise that lasts for five minutes as players rotate in and out,” writes author Jere Longman. “Afterward, the team runs from sideline to sideline for 30 or 60 seconds and immediately proceeds to a shooting drill called ’35,’ where the ball is not allowed to touch the court.”
“We do things to get us tired, and then when we get tired, we do things that require us to be mentally smart,” said junior guard Kia Nurse told Longman.
This is the mentality that Kimball and Auriemma are striving for, as they want to create players who continue to play at their best even when they feel exhausted. “UConn’s brisk, two-hour practices are designed to prepare the regulars to play 30 or more of a game’s 40 minutes and to make quick and correct decisions when they are tired,” writes Longman. “To be able to hit a shot, make an intricate pass and guard the opponent’s top scorer in the closing minutes.”
Another key to keeping these athletes mentally strong is their dedication to the weight room. While some teams tend to take it easy during the regular season, and especially during championship play, Kimball says this does not apply to UConn. She knows that strength is just as important as conditioning in keeping players working at 100 percent effort until the very end.
Throughout the season, Kimball has players lifting at least twice a week. Towards the end of the season, weight room sessions will vary to give specific parts of the athletes’ bodies a bit of a rest. Instead of focusing on squats, many times Kimball will have the athletes do dead lifts with a trap bar.
“That’s why we always look so good at the end, because we’re still getting stronger, or at least maintaining, where other teams are not lifting, possibly, or they’re backing off because they want to stay fresh for the tournament,” Kimball told Longman.
And keeping up with a variety of workouts doesn’t stop when the season is over. According to Longman, “For training in the off-season and preseason, Kimball also has devised a diverse set of workouts: sprints using weighted sleds, spin classes, yoga and pool exercises that include running, plyometrics and relay races.”