Tom Emma was a graduate of Duke University, where he was a three-year basketball starter and captain his senior year, and was later drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1983. He held a Masters degree from Columbia University, and specialized in sports conditioning. He was the owner of Power Performance, Inc. and published several books, including "101 Strength and Conditioning Exercises & Drills for Basketball", "Peak Conditioning Training for Basketball" and "Peak Conditioning Training for Young Athletes". Tom also authored several other articles on this web-site. I appreciate this excellent article that Tom has contributed to the web-site. Sadly (after the original posting of this article), Tom died on June 8, 2011... Coach Gels.
One of the most important (and difficult) aspects of a basketball coach's job is managing long-term player fatigue. This type of fatigue, unlike being winded during a game or practice session, describes the cumulative effects of a basketball season on a player's body. It is a subtle performance inhibitor, hard to recognize by even the most discerning of eyes, and is inevitably debilitating to individual and team success.
Ascertaining how a player feels physically at a given point in time over the course of a long, grueling basketball season is far from an exact science. In fact, it qualifies much more as an art, requiring coaches to develop an intuitive feel for players' physical capabilities and recovery needs. And to make matters more complicated, every player is distinctly unique when it comes to recovery requirements; some recover quickly from even the most intense physical demands, while others need substantial rest periods to be ready to go at 100% capacity after hard exertion. Most are somewhere in-between this broad continuum.
Once coaches become comfortable with their players' physical tolerance levels they must then proceed to act accordingly. Unfortunately, what it is to act accordingly isn't always so clear-cut. For instance, one way to assuage an overly tired and worn down player is to cut his or her playing time. But what if an important game with post-season ramifications is in the balance and said player is your leading scorer or rebounder? Bench time for the player may help avoid long-term fatigue down the road, but will it help win the game today? This scenario illustrates just how complicated dealing with long-term player fatigue is. Do everything to win the game? Or rest the player for future battles? Tough choice to say the least.
Despite the challenges, long-term player fatigue can be dealt with effectively and often avoided all together, by employing a series of proven strategies. Below, after the major warning signs of long-term player fatigue are listed, these strategies are explained in detail.
Warning Signs of Long-Term Player Fatigue
Notwithstanding a player's desire to play (a good trait, by the way), coaches must aspire to limit minutes conscientiously, especially those of starters, throughout the season. This strategy will pay great dividends late in the campaign and during the post season in terms of keeping your athletes fresh and strong.Some ways to limit court time for high minute players include:
To help coaches organize the above variables (and others), I suggest incorporating a numbering system from one to five with one being the least necessary at the time and five being the most needed. Simply put a number next to each aspect after practice ends and use that figure to plan the time breakdown for the following days session. (It is always better to make these number delegations immediately after practice when things are fresh in mind.) This will ensure that players are not being overworked in one particular area, thus helping to avoid long-term fatigue.
It is absolutely imperative that the lines of communication from player to coach are open at all times concerning player physical status. Some symptoms of long-term fatigue such as muscle and joint soreness, insomnia, and loss of enthusiasm for practice and conditioning workouts, coaches just won't be privy to unless the player speaks up. As such, coaches must create an atmosphere that encourages just that. Let players know from the first day of practice that their physical concerns are important and worth communicating about openly and honestly.
It is suggested that coaches set up bi-weekly brief (5 minutes or so) meetings with all high-minute players to discuss individual physical condition. Obviously, if signs of fatigue are readily apparent in a certain player, a discussion with that player should be undertaken immediately. Additionally, coaches should consider assigning someone on their staff (assistant coach, team trainer, or even a team manager) to watch closely for any signs of long-term fatigue amongst players. This will give a busy head coach one less responsibility and make sure nothing on the long-term fatigue front is missed.
The practices themselves can take many forms. They can be fitness oriented where stretching, light aerobic exercise, and strength training are included; or they can be totally recreational in nature (an enterprising young coach I once played for arranged games of volleyball and wiffle ball on the basketball floor in lieu of practice); or, if coaches want to get some basketball related work in, include some fun-oriented shooting games pitting backcourt players vs. frontcourt player, reserves vs. starters, or even coaches vs. players.
Of course, what coaches do during recovery practices is only half the equation. The other important half is when they're planed. Coaches must develop an intuitive feel for the physical status of the team as a whole, and when they feel that the squad is collectively dragging, guess what? It's time for a recovery practice.
And finally, don't hesitate to use the element of surprise. There's nothing quite as musical to the ears of a player as hearing no tape today! This means, of course, that ankles won't be taped and practice therefore will be of the non-contact variety.
While this approach is understandable, and often useful from a psychological standpoint (players certainly will be motivated not to go through this type of torture again!), punishment practices must be incorporated selectively and carefully, especially during the heart of the season when players are susceptible to physical breakdown. Energy and physical strength are finite resources over the course of a long, grueling basketball campaign and they must be maintained as conscientiously as possible. Punishment practices may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to lighting an emotional fire under your team; however, they can also be the tipping point toward sending players' physical equilibrium into a tailspin.
Coaches must stay on top of their athletes to seek treatment for even the most minor of injuries. This means seeing the athletic trainer at the first sign of pain, and then proceeding to follow his or her recommendations to the letter. A conscientious injury treatment program is one of the cornerstones of preventing long-term player fatigue and body breakdown. Make sure your team has one.
There are numerous ways to implement a basketball strength program. It is suggested that coaches, especially those who are not well-versed in strength training or have limited time, seek out a sports strength and conditioning specialist, preferably one who has experience working with cagers, and have him or her develop a suitable team strength program. If this type of individual is not available, there are many books and videos on the market today that cover the subject of basketball strength training comprehensively. The best of these products can in essence serve as your team's strength coach.
To ensure that players are in shape to play the demanding game of basketball when fall practice begins, an organized running program, one which encompasses the entire off-season, should be implemented and combined with other training disciplines (skill development, athleticism enhancement, strength and flexibility training, etc.). This not only will make for crisp pre-season practices, but also help players avoid long-term fatigue as the campaign moves toward its later stages. Developing a strong base of conditioning will also go a long way toward preventing injuries.
At the end of the season, coaches should present each player a written running program, which progressively builds cardiovascular fitness over the summer months. As with the previously mentioned strength training program, you should feel free to consult a sports conditioning coach to help develop the running program or research the numerous informative basketball conditioning books and videos available today.
Entering a basketball season in an overtrained state is a sure recipe for long-term player fatigue down the line. As such, coaches must emphasize the importance of restraint in off-season physical training. Too much off-season work can be just as damaging to subsequent on-court performance as can too little training. Encouraging players to train hard and consistently during the summer months is fine. Just remind them to train smart as well.