Jan 29, 2015
Showing Heart at Kentucky

There’s an old saying that “you can’t teach effort.” However, at the University of Kentucky, Strength and Conditioning Coach Rock Oliver and Head Men’s Basketball Coach John Calipari are attempting to do just that. To teach lessons in effort, the Wildcats’ coaches are having players wear heart rate monitors during practices and games.

This year’s team has a core comprised mostly of freshmen and a couple of sophomores and early on Calipari noticed that the team found it difficult to put forth the effort he desired. And in monitoring the players’ behavior and communicating with them about what it means to play hard, Calipari discovered that the gap between what they perceived as maximum effort and his definition was disturbingly wide. To close this gap, Calipari decided to quantify each player’s level of work by having them where a device that measures their “exertion rate, sport zones, caloric expenditure and heart rate.”

Calipari writes on his Web site that:

“Because we have very few returning veterans that our new guys can imitate or mimic, we haven’t gotten the level of work – conditioning, toughness, effort and exertion – that we need and we expect … We don’t have guys who have been in the system that can show them how hard they have to work. I have had to convince our guys that they aren’t working hard enough because they’ve been under the impression that they are. Each individual thinks they are working hard.”

So now when the team practices or players work out, Oliver monitors each player’s heart rate and exertion levels on a sideline computer.

“At any point in practice I can look over to him and ask him what the rates are and he can give me the percentages,” said Calipari. “He can tell me if they’re going at 80 percent or 90 percent or whatever it is. If I think the rates are too low – if we are in the 70s or 80s – we get on the baseline and we run to get them back in the 90s … Because we are able to read their heart rates, now we know who is maxing out in practice and who is hiding, who thinks they’re going hard and who isn’t, who is able to push themselves through pain, and who has mental toughness to be special.

“Everybody perceives his exertion level differently. Some feel they are working extremely hard and they’re not, and others perceive that they’re not working very hard when they really are,” he added. “My hope is to get everybody in that second category. I want them to realize what their exertion level is in games compared to what it is in practice, and this device helps us do that.”

Calipari said the heart rate monitors are also a teaching tool for him.

“These devices also help me know when to back off as a coach,” he said. “The old way of me judging my team was really scientific. If I was tired, I figured they were tired, so I backed up. You laugh, but that’s the way I did it because we had no other way of doing it. We didn’t have many injuries, so it worked, but I appreciate this device because it validates what I’ve done over my career. As you all know, I’m always concerned about someone’s health and injury, and this device shows that if we’re going four or five days in the max zone, I know it’s time for me to back up.”

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