I hope you are enjoying the holiday season. I love using this time of year to spend quality time with friends and family, reflect on the past year, and recharge my battery… both mentally and physically. This will obviously be my last post of 2009 and I look forward to taking my blog to another level in 2010. I am overwhelmingly thankful for all of the positive feedback I have received and sincerely appreciate the support.
In addition to my blog, I plan to devote much more of a focus to my YouTube channel: www.YouTube.com/StrongerTeamDotCom. I highly recommend you “subscribe” so you will be notified via email when I post new videos (so you don’t miss any of the action!). I am currently planning promos like “Can He Dunk,” “100 Exercises in 100 Days,” and “Every Basketball Move.” For more detail on these electrifying projects; check out http://tinyurl.com/StrongerTeam.
As most of you know, I am currently in my 7th year as the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Montrose Christian basketball program, which is located in Rockville, MD. We are an elite level program and are fortunate to work with extremely high level players (Kevin Durant is our most famous alum). We are consistently ranked as one of the top 20 programs in the country, are sponsored by Jordan Brand, and are internationally renowned. Coach Vetter just recently surpassed the 800 win mark and is in his 34th year of coaching. To put that in perspective, I am only in my 33rd year of being alive!
And while we are thankful for our stellar reputation, we certainly don’t rest on our past accomplishments. We consistently take our daily preparation very seriously, both in and out of season. Thus, the focus of this blog is to share insight into WHAT WE DO.
One of the key ingredients to long lasting success in any field is proper preparation. A player, team, or program that knows how to effectively prepare will have a greater rate of victory. Proper preparation, which is the cornerstone of WHAT WE DO, is our collective commitment to doing everything in our power to earn and deserve success.
The goal of the Montrose Christian coaching staff is simple: give our players the best chance to be successful on and off the court. 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. We know standardization and consistency lead to sound habits… which are the building blocks of success.
Last week we played in the 26th annual Nike Iolani Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii. This is always one of the nation’s top high school basketball tournaments and regularly boasts a field of several of the top ranked teams in the country. What follows is an overview of our daily preparation and how we tried to give ourselves a competitive advantage and win the tournament. Please note, the following paragraphs are written in past tense because this isolated tournament is now over. However, this overall template for preparation currently continues, day in and day out, as the season progresses. The tournament was simply a microcosm of what we do every single day.
We arrived in Honolulu three days before the tournament officially 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, 20 degrees and 20+ inches of snow in Maryland). Despite an exhausting 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 reset everyone’s internal clock as quickly as possible. We also changed all watches and phones to the local time and never referenced what time it was back home. We had our guys drink a ton of water and got them on a meal schedule immediately. Despite some serious jet lag and tired bodies the next morning, we got everyone up at a normal time for breakfast the first day. We knew the sooner we were on “Hawaii” time, the better. At our first team meeting after breakfast, I had the team do something I learned from Coach Roy Williams’ latest book, Hard Work. I wrote the following statement on a piece of paper in big, bold letters:
“I promise to do everything in my power (mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually) to help our team be successful and win this tournament.”
I then told each player that if they agreed to this statement, they should sign it, look me in the eye, and shake my hand to make it official. Of course they all signed it. A tad dramatic? Yep. A bit cliché and corny? Sure. But I wanted to plant a powerful message in their subconscious mind that would last throughout the tournament. This is just an example of WHAT WE DO.
For the first few days, prior to games beginning, we held daily practices and in-season strength training sessions. Consistency leads to success, so the things that have made us successful at home will make us successful anywhere! We made sure to keep the practices and lifting sessions brief (yet intense) because we knew that handling fatigue on a long road trip was integral. We played back to back nights prior to leaving for Hawaii and then were set to play 4 games in this tournament. That is 6 games in 10 days; a brutal schedule for any team at any level.
Over the course of the next week, everything was done with a purpose; nothing about WHAT WE DO is haphazard. Our usual game day routine consisted of breakfast at 8:00am followed by a mid-morning shoot around at 11:00am. The purpose of the shoot around was to get in a light sweat and stretch, get up some shots and free throws, run through our secondary break and offensive sets (out of bound plays, etc.) and to review the scouting report of our opponent. After the morning shoot around, we gave each player a huge bottle of water and told them to finish it before we left for the game. Then, four hours before tip-off, we met for our pre-game meal. Research has shown this is the ideal timeline to fuel for competition. We gave our players a few options with the menu to accommodate different tastes. Some guys liked grilled chicken with rice, others liked spaghetti, while others liked pancakes and scrambled eggs. To each his own. The most important aspect of the pre-game meal was for them to eat something. You can’t win the Daytona 500 without fuel in your tank! It is pointless to force feed spaghetti as the mandatory meal of choice if half of the players will only eat two bites and leave the rest. At the conclusion of the pre-game meal, we gave each player a written scouting report so they could review our opponent’s personnel and tendencies (identical to the stuff they learned at our morning shoot around). We then dismissed them to their rooms. Players were not allowed to nap after the pre-game meal to prevent a groggy feeling come game time. They were also not allowed to spend time in the sun or go swimming, as that would add to their fatigue.
On the way to the game, each player had to wear a collared shirt, dress pants, and dress shoes (we let them wear polo shirts because we were in Hawaii; at home they wear suit and tie). We didn’t let them wear doo-rags, sunglasses, or headphones. We wanted our guys to respect the game and dress with class.
Once we arrived at the gym we had our players sit together and watch the first half of the game before ours. We then headed back to the locker room at half-time so the guys didn’t have to rush to get ready. Once the entire team was dressed, we began our team warm-up. Our warm-up took place anywhere we could find room… one night was a classroom and another night was a concrete common area. Prior to starting, I brought the guys in and gave them a quick motivational jolt. Then I had “everybody tap everybody” (meaning each player had to give a pound or a slap to the other 11 guys). Then we began the actual warm-up. While the warm-up varied each night based on our space, the overall template was always the same: we got a light sweat going with a series of dynamic movement based exercises and addressed their ankles, knees, hips, groin, and core. We took 10-12 minutes to warm-up.
After our initial warm-up and stretch, we spent a few minutes in complete silence. I asked each player to visualize a time when they played the best basketball of their life. A time they vividly remembered when they were in the zone… when every shot they took went in and every pass they made was right on the money. I then had them picture themselves making a great play in that evening’s game… diving for a loose ball, making a steal, throwing an alley-oop, or hitting a 3 as time ran out. These mental exercises reduced their anxiety and put our guys in a great frame of mind to compete.
Then our associate head coach, Dan Prete, gathered the team by the dry erase board and reviewed the scouting report. Then Coach Vetter went over the keys to game (“execute our system, push the ball, run our secondary break, limit them to one shot, know who their shooters are, get in the huddle quick, play hard/smart/together”). Then we put our hands together and said the Lord’s Prayer. Then Coach Vetter said his standard pre-game prayer. Then we took the court. Our on-court warm-up consisted of a two line passing drill (chest, bounce, and hand-off), a zigzag defensive reaction drill, two line lay-ups, group work (half the players did partner shooting and the other half did partner passing/ball handling), and then finished with a group dive drill. Quick note, we recorded all missed lay-ups during warm-ups and had players run a minute drill for each miss at the first practice following the holidays. After the dive drill they announced the starting line-ups.
Then we tipped off and went to battle.
Prior to tip off, we made sure to prepare for every possible situation or emergency. We had extra sets of uniforms on hand in case anyone got blood on their jersey and we had all of our last second plays already drawn up on laminated cards for quick reference. Each assistant coach was assigned a duty during the game - keep fouls, chart stats, and keep track of time-outs for both teams. My job was to make sure our bench players echoed every call (offensive sets as well as which defense we were in) and had them stand up and clap when a teammate would come out of the game. During time-outs, the players in the game sat in position order, 1 through 5, with the other players forming a tight huddle behind and around Coach Vetter.
At half-time we gave each player a small handful of Gummi Bears to replenish their sugar stores and had them put their shooting shirts back on to prevent cooling off.
After each game our players were required to clean the area around our bench, take a shower, put their dress clothes back on, and address the media when applicable. We made sure we fed our guys a post game meal as quickly as we could, and had them ice their knees/back, to help prepare for the next day. And of course we had curfew each night to make sure each player got adequate sleep. We collected cell phone and gaming consoles to help ensure they weren’t up all night!
Every night after bed check, 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 film of our next opponent and prepared a detailed scouting report.
Despite being so well prepared, and having done everything in our power to put ourselves in a position to win, we lost our third game of the tournament to a very talented St. Neumann Goretti team out of Philadelphia. After reviewing the film three times for accuracy, we saw that we missed 13 shots in the paint, missed 12 free throws, and had 11 “empty” possessions (meaning we didn’t even get a shot off… we turned the ball over). Five of those empty possessions led to transition scores for them. No matter how prepared you are, you can’t win playing like that. You have to execute in order to win. We prepared, but we didn’t execute. There is a difference.
While I certainly can’t stand losing, I believe there is good in everything. A loss every now and then keeps our guys humble and tests their character. How they handle defeat and how they carry themselves after a loss tells me a lot more about each of them as a person than winning ever will. A person’s true colors shine through during adversity. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want our guys to accept losing or to be OK with losing. I want them to feel overwhelming disappointment. I know how much our guys have invested and how much they have sacrificed to be in our program. So it should hurt. But losing is never an excuse to be a jerk, to make excuses, or to question the importance of always doing what is right. An occasional loss will never let us question the importance of thorough preparation. It will never make us question WHAT WE DO.
Our players responded well to the loss and bounced back the following night to play much better. We beat a very solid Columbia High School team from Georgia. We finished 3rd place with a record of 3-1.
Please understand, I am not implying WHAT WE DO is the only way to prepare, but it works for our program and is the fundamental backbone of what Montrose is about. And we are proud of the results.
And believe me, those results last a lifetime. Last night, I went to the Verizon Center to watch Montrose alum Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder play against the Washington Wizards.
Playing in his hometown, in front of hundreds of family and friends, KD was spectacular. He effortlessly poured in 35 points (on 12-19 shooting) and had 11 boards. But what I was most proud of was seeing him do the things that don’t show up in the box score or make it onto SportsCenter. The little things he did that reminded me of his time at Montrose. Despite the fact KD is one of the top players in the league, he stood up and cheered for his teammates when he was out of the game. He sprinted over and helped his teammates up off the floor after they took a charge or dove for a loose ball. He thanked his teammates for making a great pass when he scored. KD is a great player, but more importantly, he is a great teammate.
After the game, he was dressed in suit and tie. He patiently went up and hugged or shook hands with every person waiting specifically for him (50+) and spent a minute or two being genuinely interested in them. I was very thankful to have the opportunity to talk to him for a few minutes. He asked me how business was going, how my wife was doing, and if I was looking forward to being a father of twins. Then he thanked me for coming. Wow. Kevin Durant is a class act and a true professional. He is an NBA superstar… but he is an even better person.
Kevin Durant is a product of WHAT WE DO; both on and off the court. I couldn’t be prouder.
I hope you have a wonderful New Year. If I can ever be of service or help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I promise to respond as quickly as possible.
Play hard. Have fun.