One of the most humbling laws of sports, and of life for that matter, is that success is never guaranteed. It has to be earned, day in and day out. On any given night, anyone can be beat. Most college basketball analysts thought UNC was invincible and practically unbeatable, yet they lost at home this season to unranked Boston College. Heck, even Kobe Bryant, arguably the best player on the planet right now, lost in the NBA finals last year. And UNC and the Lakers are two of the most storied and successful programs/organizations in college and pro sports respectively.
But even though success is never guaranteed on the basketball court, a team can exponentially increase their odds of being successful and winning a championship if they are naturally talented, have a relentless work ethic, never quit, exude teamwork, and of course prepare appropriately. Over the years, I have learned that preparation is one of the key ingredients to long lasting success. Part of preparation is having everyone involved, from the coach to the players to the managers, do everything in their power to earn success.
I am currently in my 6th year as the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Montrose Christian in Rockville, MD. We have a very elite level program and are fortunate enough to coach very high level players (Kevin Durant is our most famous alumni). We are consistently ranked as one of the top 20 programs in the country, are sponsored by the Jordan Brand, and are internationally renowned.
And while those are certainly nice accolades and we are thankful for our stellar reputation, we certainly don’t rest on our past accomplishments. We take our preparation seriously every day, both in and out of season.
The goal of the Montrose Christian coaching staff is simple: To prepare by doing everything possible to give our players the best chance to be successful and win. As a staff, we never want to look back after a game or season and say, “what if we would have done this…or would have done that.” We take into account every aspect of preparation and don’t believe any detail is too small. As mentioned before, proper preparation drastically increases our chance to be successful.
Earlier this season, we were fortunate enough to play in the 25th Anniversary of the Iolani Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii. This is always one of the nation’s top high school basketball tournaments, and this year was the best yet. This year’s field included 6 teams ranked in the top 25 in the nation: Oak Hill, DeMatha, LeFlore, Fairfax, Whitney Young, and Montrose. We knew going into this tournament that the winner could possibly end up as the #1 ranked team in the nation. And for frame of reference, there are over 26,000 high schools eligible to be ranked!
While we take pride in proper preparation for every game, we really made it our focus for the incredible opportunity of playing in this tournament. Here is some insight into some of the ways we tried to give ourselves a competitive advantage and win this tournament:
Our team arrived three days before the tournament started and one full day before any other team arrived to better acclimate our players to the new time zone (5 hours behind EST) and weather (80 degrees in Hawaii versus 10 degrees in Maryland). Despite a full day of travel, and the vast time zone difference, we forced our players and staff to stay up to a normal bed time the first night to re-set everyone’s internal clock and get acclimated as quickly as possible. We also immediately changed all clocks, watches and phones and never referenced what time it was at home. We drank a ton of water and got on a meal schedule immediately. Despite some serious jet lag and tired bodies the next morning, we got everyone up at normal time for breakfast. We knew the sooner we were on “Hawaii time” the better.
We practiced every day and lifted every other day, just like we were at home. We believe consistency leads to success, and certainly the things that make us successful in Maryland should help us be successful anywhere in the world. We knew that handling fatigue would be integral to our success. We played back to back nights prior to leaving for Hawaii and then were to play 4 games in this tournament. That is 6 games in 10 days, a brutal schedule for any team at any level.
Per our usual pre-game routine, we had a walk through and reviewed the scouting report every game day afternoon. We also had our players eat a high carb, high protein, low fat meal exactly 4 hours before tip off. Research shows this is the ideal time and way to fuel for competition. We also made sure to feed our guys a post game meal within an hour after each game, which helps them refuel for the next day. We also make sure our guys drink water all day long. And of course we had curfew each night to make sure each player got 8 hours of sleep and wasn’t up celebrating a win from one of the early rounds of play. We also collect each player’s cell phone at night to ensure they aren’t up all night talking to their girlfriends!
Every night the coaching staff stayed up into the wee hours of the morning breaking down film and setting a game plan. They reviewed the stats as well as watched the film from our previous game to note what we did well and what we needed to improve on. They also watched our next opponents’ prior game. Our coaching staff always prepares a thorough scouting report for every team we play. They review personnel, plays, tendencies, and then use that to put together our game plan.
Our players always wear ankle braces for all practices and games as an injury deterrent. Even a minor ankle sprain to one of our top players could have a detrimental effect on our chances of winning it all. We encourage our players to ice their knees and/or backs after all practices and games. We make sure to allow for a very thorough warm-up and dynamic flexibility session prior to both practices and games.
Players were not allowed to sleep after the pre-game meal to prevent that groggy feeling you get from taking an extended nap. They were also not allowed to spend much time in the sun or go swimming so they wouldn’t add to their fatigue and wear themselves out.
Our pre-game routine is standard; everything from what time we leave for the game, to what we wear, to our warm-up routine. Nothing we do at Montrose is haphazard. Everything is done with a purpose. We make sure to prepare for every possible situation or emergency. We have extra sets of uniforms on hand in case anyone gets blood on their jersey and we have most of our last second plays already drawn up on laminated cards. Our assistant coaches are all assigned a duty during the game; keep fouls, chart stats, and know how many time-outs we have (as well as our opponent). After our initial warm-up and stretch, we review our match ups and “keys to winning the game.” Then we spend a few minutes in absolute quiet visualizing and preparing mentally. Then we say a team prayer and take the court for our standard pre game warm-up. Then we tip off and go to battle.
Wow. Now that is the definition of preparation! I know first hand of numerous college programs that don’t do what we do.
With such detailed preparation, and not to mention we have a very talented team (6 seniors, 2 potential McDonalds All Americans, and the #1 ranked freshman in the nation), you would think it was destiny for us to win it all, right?
Boy I sure did.
Despite being so well prepared, and having done everything in our power to put ourselves in a position to win, we lost in double overtime in the championship game to Oak Hill Academy. In my 6 years at Montrose, this was by far the most heartbreaking loss we have suffered. I still can’t believe it.
Let me say this; losing sucks. It really sucks. I hated losing when I was a kid and it hasn’t changed a bit now that I am an adult. But it is a part of life and it is certainly a part of sports. Without exception, every time two teams take the court, someone has to lose.
But how you handle defeat and how you carry yourself after a loss says a lot more about you as a person and reveals a lot more of your character than winning ever will. Your true colors always shine through during adversity. Don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t accept losing nor should you be remotely happy after a loss. It should hurt and you should feel overwhelming disappointment. It’s supposed to hurt. If it doesn’t hurt then it didn’t matter, and if it didn’t matter, why even play? But losing is never an excuse to be a jerk, to make excuses, or to question the importance of always doing what is right. You think this loss will let us question the importance of thorough preparation? Never.
After our gut wrenching loss to Oak Hill there weren’t many dry eyes in the locker room, which is expected after losing a game of that magnitude. And there is nothing weak about crying, I am proud that our kids care enough to get that emotional.
I am also proud to say our kids exercised good sportsmanship, didn’t point the finger or make excuses, and walked out with their heads high. And that defined the type of kids we have at Montrose. And while I am saddened that we let a golden opportunity slip away, I absolutely could not be any more proud of our team and the character we showed in defeat. Our entire program, from players to staff, did everything in our power to prepare for that game and to deserve success, it just wasn’t meant to be. Our guys went out there and played their hearts out, and did it with class.
As a coach, that is all I can ever ask for.
If you have any questions or comments about this blog, or my services in general, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will do my best to respond as promptly as possible.
Train hard. Train smart.
Alan Stein, CCS, CSCS