Many strength coaches utilize the exam "break" as an opportunity to fit in extra lifts and training sessions for their basketball teams. At the same time, many basketball coaches utilize this time for additonal film study, shooting drills and prolonged practices since their athletes are not taking classes.
Is the additional "stress" of exams, late night studying along with extra training and court work counterproductive?
How are you managing the extra time over exam break with your athletes?
During the break, you have to pick your poison. As the saying goes, “you can’t ride two horses with one ass”. Surprisingly, as a staff (and this is probably unusual for most college basketball programs), we’ll do less on-court activity (forty minute maximum and mostly skill work) and more off-court activity (weight training, non-impact “light/tempo” bike work, corrective exercises, therapeutic work, etc.). I work mostly with female basketball players and the physical attribute that a collegiate female player needs more than any other it’s strength. If you can continue to improve their strength level throughout the year then you can continue to enhance their athleticism and reduce the incidence of on-court related injuries. In a nutshell, the break gives us the advantage and opportunity to do more strength/movement work (something that is difficult to do throughout the competitive season in my opinion). We want our players to be strong and healthy prior to our Big Ten conference schedule which is grueling. In addition, the break allows our redshirt and freshmen players who play limited minutes (and who are physically underdeveloped) more opportunities to improve their strength level as well.
University of Wisconsin
Besides changing each year, the only consistent philosophy that I have stuck to over the Christmas break is to not bury our athletes under the bar. When I was younger, I thought this was a good opportunity to throw in extra training sessions or increase the volume or intensity or sometimes both (yes, I was young) during this time since our athletes were no longer going to classes and “only” taking exams and thus had ample time to recover. Needless to say, I forgot that our athletes were actually student-athletes and the “stress” of studying and preparing for exams placed a tremendous physiological stress load on them which made additional productive training sessions almost impossible. For the few guys that had exams finished prior to the actual exam week we will provide opportunities to work on individual skill development and/or additional training sessions to address specific weaknesses and not just to get a “work out” in (for some guys this means also addressing nagging injuries in multiple treatment sessions). For the last two seasons we have played in a holiday tournament (Hawaii and Mexico) followed by another tournament right after, then directly into league play. The additional commercial travel after exam week followed by 3 games in 3 days, travel some more, then 2 games in 2 nights followed again by 3 league games in 5 days makes recovery our primary focus during this time. When we travelled with a squad of 15 athletes last year, the individual load in practice was much less than the volume incurred this year with only 11 athletes practicing and at sometimes only 10 which meant no breaks for most of the guys during each and every practice.
Art Horne, MEd, ATC, CSCS
I am in a unique situation here at one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world, as a result these kids are under amazing pressure from not only an athletic standpoint but from an academic one too. When they say they have been up all night studying, they are telling the truth. It is super tough for me as my head coach also demands a ton from them on the court and pushes them pretty hard at all times. Last year (my first in the college setting) I saw this 2 week break from games, Stanford has a rule that no games finals week and the week before, as a time to really get after it and push them a bit more in the weight room. It completely backfired b/c our coach had the same mind set and these kids were just getting run into the ground. We came out of the break and our guys started to breakdown just after the New Year. Minor injuries mounted and we had a rash of stress fx’s. Now I know these take time to build but I don’t think the added work we did helped the situation This year I completely changed my mindset and approach for this break. I eased up in the weight room focused on more individual corrective work, worked on things that had potentially become issues due to the mounting # of practices and games. I also brought in a yoga instructor (something I have used in the off-season before) to do a team session. This was more from a relaxation standpoint. I think that this year backing off made it a bit easier on my guys to not only get thru finals but also our coaches practices over that time. We’ll see if the strategy will help us start off the Pac-10 season with a little more pep in our step….
Keith D’Amelio, MS, ATC, CSCS, PES, CES
Stanford University Men’s Basketball
Last May I looked at our schedule and planned our training year with an increase in volume and intensity during the so called "break". We had a 10-day period between games and the opponents during the period in most years would be considered lesser opponents.
Between May and December a number of things transpired that changed our "working of the plan"
1) We didn't add 2 more walk-ons in the pre-season so our main guys (12 scholarship+1 walk-on) were getting considerably more repetitions in practice than I predicted.
2) We had some misfortune or poor preparation(my fault) and had some injuries that once again added more overall physiological load to the student-athletes who were healthy and practicing.
3) I forgot how demanding academically this institution is. If you subscribe to Hans Seyle's work/theory you accept that stress is stress wether it be physical or psychological. Our athletes were really trying to be STUDENT-athletes.
So going into the break I scrapped the Accumulation and Intensification microcyles that I originally wrote-in and focused more on reduction in volume in our primary lifts and instituted more targeted corrective exercise for specific athletes. I cut out most of the assistance exercises and replaced them with the corrective. I didn't compromise the targeted or relative intensity in the training session in the primary lifts, I just cut back on the the total volume.
When they get back from a few days off for Christmas I'll research anecdotally what they felt in regards to recovery during that period with a TQR questionnaire.
Mike Curtis, M.Ed., CSCS, USAW, SCCC, NASM-PES, CES
Head Strength & Conditioning Coach, Men's Basketball
University of Virginia Athletics
I don't believe in adding "extra" workouts in just because there is extra time to do it. I try to help my guys recover as much as possible by constantly monitoring volume. I've found that keeping my focus on volume, guys are able to recover and be ready for the next session.
Boston University, Strength and Conditioning Coach