Articles & Resources

March Madness by Steve Scalzi

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Apr 2, 2011 8:25:00 AM

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March Madness offers some of the best unscripted drama in the entertainment industry.  Movies and literature would be critically chastised for overdoing the amount of plot twists and surprise endings the real life theatrics of our nation’s NCAA Tournament produces nightly.

The Cinderella stories are compelling.  America is a sucker for the rising underdog.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t note my tremendous respect for our conference rival VCU.  Excuse the tangent, but their run has been fantastic for the Colonial Athletic Association.  And are CAA teams really underdogs at this point?

Stew on these numbers for a moment.  Since the 2006 NCAA Tournament, the CAA is 4-2 vs. the Big East, 3-0 vs. ACC, 2-1 vs. the Big Ten, and a combined 2-2 against the Pac 10 and Big 12.  The CAA is a combined 11-5 vs. BCS conference foes over the past five seasons.  News flash to
prideful “expert” analysts… when the CAA has more than twice as many wins as losses against powerful high-majors its not twice as impressive they’re capable, you’re twice as wrong when you continue to devalue this league and question a CAA at-large bid.  If we’re pointing to numbers and figures such as SOS and RPI to keep VCU out of the tournament, can we instead point to the numbers above to keep the mid-major at large bids coming?

College basketball is not governed by algebraic logic.  That A is greater than B, and B is greater than C has no bearing in a match-up of A vs. C.
University of Richmond defeating VCU 72-60 in December, and Kansas vanquishing Richmond 77-57 meant nothing in a match-up of Kansas and VCU with a trip to the Final Four on the line.  RPI and SOS are completely irrelevant when the moment demands you rise to the occasion and play. The CAA has done that, time and time again.

What makes the tournament so memorable, Cinderella and heavy favorite alike, is the fantastic moments of delivering under so much pressure.  Few people will ever dare to test themselves the way these kids are tested. To hone in, feel the fear of failure, ignore it and produce on a national stage is awe inspiring.  While I’m passionate about the CAA’s tournament success, perhaps the greatest performance of the entire month of March took place without you even realizing.

In the Division II national semifinals between BYU-Hawaii and undefeated West Liberty, BYU-H guard Jet Chang put on one of the greatest performances you can imagine.  West Liberty came in 35-0 and it was going to take a special effort from BYU-H to overcome the multiple weapons the WLU Hilltoppers boasted.

How impressive was Jet’s performance?  Forty-three points on 14-17 shooting 7-9 from downtown and 8-9 from the line.  Those are videogame numbers. (Enjoy it here – just simply sign up and access it via Internet Explorer - ).

He followed it up with 35 points in a three point loss in the National Championship game. When the moment demanded he rise, his focus was other-worldly.  In the Final Four he averaged 39 points and shot 73% from three.  Just ridiculous.

What kind of zone was Jet in? The experience, its definition and its conditions, vary slightly for everyone.  Simply put, you know when you're there.  And you don't arrive there accidentally. The zone is a mental state, often credited first to Mihaly Csikszentmihayi, of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.  It seems to involve a measure of proper pre-game preparation, determination, and proper game circumstances. Feeling like your jump shot is working is useless if coach has you sitting next to him.  The experience of being in the zone begins to snowball with each game possession and suddenly the rhythm of the game is easily tuned to. You make the right pass, the proper box out, the defensive rotation the team needed and everyone’s favorite part, you feel like you can't miss. Watching Jet in the zone was compelling drama, perhaps the most compelling of the entire NCAA Tournament. So many players have raised their level to provide special performances. Arizona's Derrick Williams may have skyrocketed himself into the top overall draft pick and Kemba Walker has exemplified leadership, big plays and fight. But Jet rose to the moment in the national championship game. The biggest moment his level can offer. As we watch the Division I Final Four this weekend, we'll see other great players raise their game to the moment as well. Just know, it's not by accident. Preparation, potential, and focus mesh to create special performances under heated circumstances few people will ever face.  Enjoy the moments and unscripted drama.

Topics: Basketball Related, Steve Scalzi

Your Season Is Over. Now What?

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Mar 26, 2011 9:03:00 AM

by Art Horne

So your basketball season ended earlier than you had wished.

Hey, there’s always next year right?

But what makes you think that next year will end any different than this year?  Sure, there’s always that touted incoming freshman that everyone is talking about, or that transfer from another school that is sure to help your team make that championship run.  But freshman always take time to mature and transfers have to sit out for a year per NCAA rules. So it looks like next year starts with you – and next year starts now!

In Geoff Colvin’s book, Talent is Overrated, he points to one of the greatest NFL players of all time as an example of an athlete that overcame a lack of “talent” (many would argue that Rice was clearly the most talented wide receivers of all time) by simply outworking his opponents in the off-season.


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So what made Jerry Rice so good?

1. He spent very little time playing football

a. “Of all of the work Rice did to make himself a great player, practically none of it was playing football games.” (pg. 54)  It’s clear once you compare the amount of time in a game, and then more closely at the amount of time that Rice spent on the field that the time there paled in comparison to his other football “related” activities.  So what does Jerry Rice and football have to do with hoops?

b. Try this on for size – many athletes always look to play as an means to improve their game, but how many shots do you get during a summer pick-up game vs. time with a teammate (coaches can’t be with players in the summer) working on your left-hand hook shot?  You could probably count on one hand the number of times in an afternoon of summer pick-up games that you were able to execute a particular shot.  In contrast, a specific shot can be practiced and rehearsed over and over in preparation for real time execution.

c. Pick-up games are required? Great – stop using them to run slow, argue and BS – use it as your summer conditioning and insist that you guard the opposing team’s best player each and every time.  Defensive work is probably the one skill that is hardest to do (and probably impossible) on your own.  Use this time with others to work on skills that REQUIRE others, and dedicate the majority of your other free time to individual skill development.

2. He designed his practice to work on his specific needs

a. “He (Rice) had to run precise patterns; he had to evade the defenders, sometimes two or three, who were assigned to cover him; he had to outjump them to catch the ball and outmuscle them when they tried to strip it away; then he had to outrun tacklers. So he focused his practice work on exactly those requirements.” (pg. 55)

b. Most athletes won’t admit that they are not good at a particular skill.  It was the ref or some other outside force that kept the ball from dropping in the hoop, time and time and time again.  Before working on those specific skills players must be brutally honest with themselves and admit that they don’t have a complete skill set to compete at the highest level.  Sure you may be able to windmill dunk or you have a killer back-to-the-basket post move, but is your skill set complete or evolved to the point where you can make the leap to the next level?

c. A quick look at your shooting percentage at the end of the basketball season will clearly demonstrate whether you have earned the right to shoot from beyond the arc.  Still think you have what it takes to play in the NBA? Grab two rebounders and shoot uncontested 3-pointers up to a hundred – if you didn’t make 75 then you need to swallow your pride, find a coach and ask him how you can improve you stroke.  NBA 2-guards make 75/100 and elite shooters like Ray Allen make 80-85.


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d. You’d have to play an entire days worth of pick-up games before you have an opportunity to make 75 3-pointers – very little time should be dedicated to actually playing the game if you are looking to improve a specific skill.

3. While supported by others, he did much of the work on his own

a. The collegiate basketball season starts Oct 15th with official practices and ends with the national championship the first week of April (if you’re lucky). That leaves 7 months of individual work that can be accomplished before team practices begin again.  More than half the year can be dedicated to individual work and skill development.

4. It wasn’t fun

a. Basketball athletes rarely ever work on skills that they’re not good at simply because failure really isn’t that much fun. Imagine being a decent shooter, say 35% from three-land?  It’s not bad, but to make it to the next level a minor tweak or change may be necessary to get your percentage above the 40% range.  So you make a few adjustments and begin shooting from beyond the arc with your new and improved shooting technique – do you think you’ll shoot better or worse for the first week?

The answer is worse.

Not to mention now going through this process during a “friendly” game of pick-up with your boys reminding you that you missed again your last trip down the court.

b. Rarely will athletes work through this “learning” period, especially when they’ve experienced “success” with their previous form.  If you’re going to work on a skill that you’re not great at you must first be prepared for failure – lock in and accept that it won’t be fun this summer (fun comes next season when you’re making it rain from beyond the arc!)

So looking at just one football star clearly doesn’t constitute a scientific study of any kind, and still the question remains, why are some people simply more successful at sports than others, or at any skill for that matter?

Consider a study conducted in the early nineties examining a music academy in Berlin to discover why some violinist were better than others.

The Role Of Deliberate Practice In the Acquisition of Expert Performance by Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Romer. Psychological Review. 1993, Vol. 100. No. 3. 363-406.


basketball resources

Summary points:

1. Practice Makes Perfect: When asked to rate the relevance of music-related activities and non-music-related activities to their progress towards becoming the very best, solitary practice was far and away number one.

2. The More The Merrier: Although they all knew that this practice was essential, they didn’t all do it.  The two top groups, (the best and the better violinists) practiced by themselves about 24 hours a week on average. The third group (the good violinists) practiced by themselves only 9 hours a week.

3. Solitary Practice Is Essential: Each violinist recognized that the most important activity, the solitary practice was neither easy nor fun!

“When they rated activities by effort required, solo practice ranked way harder than playing music for fun, alone or with others, and harder than even the most effortful everyday activity, child care.  As for pleasure, practice ranked far below playing for fun and even below formal group performance, which you might reasonably guess would be the most stressful and least fun activity.”

4. No Outside Help Needed:  Although solo practice does not require outside help – no coach or instructor is needed – and thus completely in the control of the individual and almost limitless, only those that chose to practice more became excellent at their skill.

“Solo practice is unusual among music-related activities in that it’s largely within the individual’s control.   Most other activities – taking lessons, attending classes, giving performances – require other people’s involvement and are therefore constrained.  But with 168 hours in a week, a person can practice by himself or herself just about without limit.  In fact, no one in the study came anywhere near spending every available hour on practice.
So all the violinists understood that practicing by themselves was the most important thing they could do to get better. Though they didn’t consider it easy or fun, they all had virtually unlimited time in which to do it. On those dimensions, they were all the same. The difference was that some chose to practice more, and those violinists were a great deal better.” P. 59


As much as you’d like to believe it, practice, deliberate and focused practice isn’t much fun.  You’ll experience failure many more times than success if you are truly working on skills that need improving.  Whether it was Jerry Rice running stadium stairs or world class violinists practicing for hours on end, both learned to love the process of getting better and realized that failure in the moment (games or recitals) when it matters the most, is far less fun than any amount of practice.

“There are two pains in life, the pain of preparation and the pain of regret.”


basketball resources


Register now for our Conference on June 3-4th, 2011.  Seats are limited!athletic training resources

Topics: Basketball Related, Art Horne

Half-Time Preparation - What Do You Do?

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Feb 27, 2011 2:53:00 PM

Recently I was asked about what to do during halftime to get the guys prepared for the 2nd half of play.  Currently I don’t do anything (stretching/warmup) as a team or for an individual unless they ask or there is evidence that something isn’t right.  We do some half-ass layup lines with 8 guys, while 4 players wait to be personally stretched by our AT for the 2nd or 3rd time....

Prior to the game we shoot from the 90-60 minute mark and stretch at the 30 minute mark for 5-6 minutes at a good pace.  The rest of the time is to get shots up etc. 

My initial thought is to continue with our layup lines and possibly a more structured shooting drill.  I’ve thought about a team stretch but at this point, neurologically, they’re either turned on or not.  This would be our 3rd or 4TH STRETCH OF THE DAY if you include shoot-around!!!!



This is a good question and I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer.  It really depends on your situation and what the head coach will ALLOW you to do.  One things for sure, the outcome and performance by your team in the 1st half will probably determine what you may be able to do with the team during half-time (unlike the pre-game movement prep which is typically a structured routine).  If you are up by 10-20pts, you may be able to take the team through a “structured” movement/stretching routine (because the half-time talk may not be as long and psychologically, the head coach and players are feeling good).  However, If you are losing by 10-20pts, you may only get 2 minutes and the coaches and players may want to do some quick “on-court” shooting because their focus is strictly on the game and executing their on-court strategy. 

Personally, I would rather have my players especially the starters go through some “position specific” on-court movement/shooting drills (regardless of the available time).  I want their focus to be strictly on the game and competing (personally, I don’t want to be a distraction).  If players have individual needs then myself and the athletic trainer will address those issues.


Ray Eady

University of Wisconsin





Topics: Basketball Related, Art Horne

Congrats Ray Allen

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Feb 13, 2011 3:04:00 PM

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"When people say God blessed me with a beautiful jump shot, it really pisses me off. I tell those people, 'Don't undermine the work I've put in every day.' Not some days. Every day."

- Ray Allen

Topics: Basketball Related, basketball conference, athletic training conference, Ray Allen

Inner City Weightlifting - An Opportunity To Give Back by Sarah Cahill

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Jan 23, 2011 10:50:00 AM

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For the past three months I have been dedicating my Saturdays to an incredible program called Inner City Weightlifting.  The program takes young people who are on a direct path to gang involvement and provides them with opportunities to participate in the sport of Olympic Lifting.  Inner City Weightlifting provides students with career opportunities working for the nonprofit itself and in the field of personal training.  The sport, coaches, and atmosphere facilitate a positive change for these students.  As a student attempts to set a new personal record (PR) for weight lifted, everyone stops and watches.  The lifters help ‘pump up’ the student’s morale and something unexpected happens: children who have been given limited support outside of a gang, are now encouraging each other, and a bond and team is formed.  Every Saturday I look forward to spending time with this group of amazing young people and am reminded of the power of believing in the potentiality of others.

Stories demonstrating the success of the program

One student came to us 2 months ago. He was a member of one of the most high-profile gangs in Boston, and had been in and out of jail since his early teens. In January, 2010 he was shot 5 times in the torso. He was left paralyzed from the waste down, and homeless.

When we first started working with him, his future was dim. Over the last two months, however, his attitude has changed. We found him a job opportunity working with us, he is considering furthering his education, and he has made incredible progress in the strength and motion of his legs.

A few weeks ago, we got a call from his caseworker at Boston Medical Center. In the background we heard his voice shouting "ask them how many pull ups I do now!"

At the next practice he approached the coaches.   He was getting papers signed, so we can work closely with his psychiatrist as well. Our coaches said, "Of course. Always let us know if there is anything we can do to help."

His response, "You already are."

Another story about one of our students….
 “Eduardo” grew up on streets claimed by MS-13. He joined the gang at age 13. By 14, he was locked up for a year. Upon release he was stabbed and jumped several times.  He faces an almost overwhelming pull to return to a life of violence.
Eduardo was under house arrest when we met. We set up equipment in his basement. At this time he was considering dropping out of school. During our sessions he spoke about what he had been through. We listened.  At his next court appearance we lobbied his probation officer to let us work with him in a proper training facility.

Eduardo has been training at our gym for four months now. In truth, he has a chance. He’s set a goal of lifting more weight than anyone else in his weight class. He’s begun to speak about turning his grades around and attending Michigan State.  Lifting, he’s told us, is his way to stay out of trouble. It is something he cannot do drunk or stoned. He cannot be at the gym and wandering the streets simultaneously. Eduardo now wants to come to practice every day.

Program Update

The biggest obstacle which we are facing at Inner City Weightlifting is finding facilities where we can bring our students to train.  Many facilities have closed their doors after learning more about the students we work with and what backgrounds they have.  Less than 1% of the population in Boston is responsible for more than 50% of the youth violence.  Inner City Weightlifting is providing these youth with the confidence to say no to violence and yes to opportunity.  It’s amazing what can happen if we open the doors for opportunity.

Links and Videos

Here is a news clip which aired on Channel 5
Here is a link to the Inner City Weightlifting website

-Sarah Cahill

Topics: Basketball Related, Guest Author

Winter / Exam Break - How Is Your Training Changing?

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Jan 16, 2011 5:20:00 PM

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.

Ray Eady
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
Northeastern University


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.

Glenn Harris
Boston University, Strength and Conditioning Coach

Topics: Basketball Related, Art Horne

Maryland Basketball Stays In Shape With An Unconventional Workout Routine

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Jan 9, 2011 12:08:00 PM

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By Liz Clarke

Washington Post Staff Writer

It starts with Maryland's basketball players standing on opposite sidelines, crossing one foot over the other and rocking back and forth to stretch their feet and ankles.

Next comes a series of choreographed forays across the width of the court and back, in which the Terps move like dancers in a Thriller video - skipping, high-step jogging, crab-walking sideways. That's followed by a sequence inspired by yoga's Warrior Pose in which players adopt a stance resembling a runner frozen mid-stride, then touch the floor, reach skyward, twist at the waist and repeat.

Maryland's eight-and-a-half minute, pregame stretching routine - conducted while most opponents shoot lay-up after lay-up at the opposite end of the court - is called "Movement Preparation." And it's designed to get the Terps' muscles ready for the full range of explosive movements demanded by the 40 minutes of competition to come.

It's just one aspect of the men's basketball team's strength and conditioning program that's unlike that of most other colleges in that it blends concepts from professional football and baseball regimens, as well as yoga - all with the goal of improving players' mobility, stamina and confidence.

The program was developed by a former Penn State offensive lineman, Paul Ricci, who spent nine seasons training the Baltimore Ravens for the rigors of the NFL before joining the Terps.

Though it's tricky to draw a direct link between gym workouts and on-court results, the Terps have had just one missed game and one missed practice by a starter in two-and-a-half years. And players, to a man, say they're in the best shape of their lives.

"We are stronger," says Coach Gary Williams. "And we are quicker."

Sophomore center Jordan Williams is a case in point.

As a standout at Torrington (Conn.) High School two years ago, the big center was viewed by most recruiting gurus as more of a project than a blue-chip prospect - a late-bloomer wrapped in a bit too much baby fat. "Runs the floor reasonably well," declared ESPN's 2008 Player Evaluation. But "needs to continue to improve his footwork and post moves . . . [and] continue to improve his body."

Since joining the Terps, Williams has shed more than 20 pounds, pared his body fat from 19.5 percent to 12 percent and seen his performance and stamina soar.

In the Terps' last game, the Dec. 12 loss to Boston College, Williams delivered his ninth double-double of what is proving a remarkable statistical season, looking every bit a contender for college basketball's Naismith and Wooden awards. Moreover, he played a career-high 38 minutes - unfathomable as recently as last spring, when Williams got winded banging bodies with the ACC's big men after just 25 minutes.

"He has changed my whole physique," the sophomore center says of Ricci. "It's like night and day from when I came in here. I give him a lot of credit."

The pregame stretching is a small part of the Terps' strength conditioning program that also includes weight training after home games, even if it's 10 p.m. or later. The 15-minute sessions are voluntary, Ricci notes, but well-attended, designed to help players get a jump on the recovery process and mentally unwind after games.

And it entailed a grueling regimen this summer in College Park, in which the Terps pushed heavy sleds back and forth across the Comcast Center loading dock, ran sprints in August's sweltering heat and lifted in the gym.

There's a philosophy behind each of these exercises. And it's a radical departure from the prevailing wisdom about how basketball players should prepare in Gary Williams's playing days as a Terp in the mid-1960s.

"You weren't allowed to lift weights," the coach recalls. "The theory then was that if you lifted weights, it would restrict you as a shooter and you'd get too tight, too muscular. Also back then, you weren't allowed to drink water during practice."

Water, many old-line coaches believed, caused cramps. Worse, they viewed thirst as a sign of weakness in players. So they gave them salt tablets instead, exacerbating their dehydration.

Williams concedes he's no expert in exercise physiology. But he liked what he heard about Ricci after the Ravens' coaching staff disbanded following Brian Billick's ouster and invited him in for an interview.

"Part of coaching is you have to know your weaknesses," Williams says. "I knew we needed a good strength program for our basketball players."

After hiring Ricci as Maryland's first director of basketball performance, Williams asked him to get the squad in the best possible shape for the start of practice, to develop each player to his potential, and to build a more explosive team capable of sustaining the press defense he favors.

Ricci consulted basketball trainers in the pro and college ranks to develop a program to accomplish just that. He borrowed the idea of postgame weight-training from his work with the San Diego Padres, where he learned that pitchers routinely lift weights after they've thrown. Many NBA teams also lift weights after games, though it's a rarity in college ball.

It has both physiological and psychological benefits, Ricci says. It jump-starts the recovery process by stretching players' muscles. It calms their nervous systems, which are invariably ramped up after games. And because few, if any, college teams lift weights after games, it gives the Terps confidence that they've outworked their opponents and can withstand a rigorous second half or overtime if need be.

But Ricci's first task was a sales job.

"The main thing about getting them in peak shape is shaping their attitude toward doing it," Ricci says. "A lot of these guys have not had somebody dedicated to them and dedicated to taking care of their bodies like a professional athlete. If they want to take it to the next level - whatever that might be - they have to put in the time right away."

Ricci found that his most powerful ally was any televised NBA game in which LeBron James participated: King James was Exhibit A of the merits of a sculpted basketball physique. Maryland's Greivis Vasquez also drove the point home, transforming himself from a lithe freshman to a muscular ACC player of the year and first-round NBA draft pick.

But initially, some of the exercises Ricci prescribed seemed foolish to Jordan Williams.

"A lot of the stuff! It was like, 'What are you doing?!' " the center recalls. "But when we feel the results, and see the outcome of what he has done for us, it's just remarkable. . . . Last year I probably averaged 24, 25 minutes a game, and throughout the game I found myself kind of tired. Now I think I can play at a good pace the whole game, with a break here and there."

For a more scientific way of gauging the Terps' fitness, Ricci uses a so-called "Bod Pod" - a $45,000 machine, acquired last year through a private donation, that measures body composition through the displacement of air when an athlete sits in one of the two cocoon-like chambers.

That way, players can compare their body fat to the NBA's guidelines (6 to 10 percent for guards; 11 to 14 percent for post players). And Ricci can monitor their progress. Any backsliding suggests an athlete has slacked off on his workouts or strayed from his diet.

Ideally, the Bod Pod will soon be housed in a new weight-room outfitted for the specific needs of Maryland's men's and women's basketball teams, to be located in 2,000 square feet of former storage space in the Comcast Center basement. The floor plan has been mapped out, and private fund-raising is under way.

Meantime, Ricci can tell the Terps are progressing by plain-old body language: the way they carry themselves and flaunt their chiseled physiques.

"You'd think these guys would be confident all the time, but you can really see it change their self-esteem," Ricci says. "Hopefully it builds some confidence when they're playing against the best players. They know they've paid the price."

Topics: Basketball Related, Guest Author

What is Learning by Brian McCormick

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Jan 2, 2011 6:25:00 PM

by Brian McCormick

Last week, I wrote about learning as a skill. However, what is learning?

Our most colloquial term referring to motor performance is “muscle memory.” However, while this term is accepted generally and practically, learning occurs in the brain. When we talk about “muscle memory,” we are referring to motor programs stored in our procedural long-term memory. Since learning occurs in the brain, we cannot see learning. Instead, we infer learning based on performance.

Learning requires improvement, consistency, stability, persistence and adaptability. Performance is temporary. Kobe Bryant shoots 7/25 on one night and 14/19 on the next night. Did he learn better shooting technique in between the two games because his shooting performance improved? If he shot 6/21 in the next game, would that indicate forgetting?

No. His performance varies due to performance variables: fatigue, defense, shot selection, time constraints, travel, pressure, etc. His technique - his motor programs - do not change from game to game; his skill is learned. However, his performance of these skills varies due to external and internal factors.

This is an important concept in learning and coaching. How does a coach react to a player’s performance? The coach’s reaction or instruction can become a performance variable and affect performance positively and negatively. Of course, the coach’s instruction is also a learning variable, as the instructions affect the player’s learning of the skill.

One measure of learning is adaptability from situation to situation. I have written previously about this concept in terms of movement away from the ball and used Vern Gambetta’s idea of adapted vs. adaptable. An adapted player learns his offensive set and can execute the set as if following a set of instructions; an adaptable player learns the skills and adapts those skills to different situations. When I played, I adapted to the pattern of the Flex offense in junior high school; however, I did not learn how to use a down screen generally, just within the context of the offense. Therefore, my skill was not adaptable to different situations.

A coach’s approach and instructions affect the player’s adaptability. When coaches limit players, they often affect their adaptability. When coaches use only block drills, they affect their adaptability. For instance, if a player learns a chest pass in a typical two-line drill with no defense, is that skill adaptable to different situations? Will he be able to use the skill in a game situation when pressured by a defender? We assume that skills transfer; we assume that because a player can make an unguarded two-hand chest pass to a stationary target, he will be able to pass off the dribble to a moving target while defended. These assumptions account for many breakdowns in skill execution and coaching. If the player adapts and executes the pass in a game under time stress, then we say he has learned the skill. However, if his skill is useless to him because of the load or time constraints, he has not learned. He is able to perform the skill under certain situations, but he has learned the skill only in those specific situations.

Assuming a high school varsity player has learned his shooting skills, how should a coach react to a mistake? Many coaches and parents immediately yell at a player who misses a free throw to use more legs. However, this type of instruction interrupts the skill execution. A varsity player has learned the shooting technique - he may need to improve, but his technique is consistent, stable, persistent and adaptable: he shoots the same way every time. If his technique changes on one shot because of fatigue or balance or defense, he quickly returns to his technique and does not change his technique permanently; his technique persists over a period of time; and he can shoot in different gyms against different defenders.

When the coach tells the player to bend his legs, the player changes from an automatic processing to a controlled processing. The conscious overtakes the subconscious execution. In a time-stressed task, this usually leads to err because it takes too long to think consciously and make a decision. In a skill like shooting a free throw, the conscious thinking diverts the player’s attention from the rim (external) to the bend of the knees (internal). The player becomes more acutely aware of his body and tries to control the shot, which often leads to sub-optimal performance. When I shoot free throws, and allow my mind to wander, I hit 20, 30 in a row. However, as soon as I realize that I am shooting well, and try to analyze the shot to feel something or to learn something to share with the players who I train, I inevitably miss because my coscious mind controls the action. By thinking about other things, I divert my conscious mind away from the task and allow the subconscious to control the process. Since the skill is well-learned, the subconscious generally leads to make after make.

A bad game is a bad game. A poor performance may illustrate the need for additional learning; for instance, a player may need different practice to adapt the chest pass to game situations, especially in the half court. Therefore, the poor performance illustrates a limitation in the player’s learning, and a coach can use a different type of practice, a more random, varied practice, to enhance the player’s transfer of learning to the game, or the adaptability of his skill.

However, in other instances, a bad game is a bad game. If I am usually a 90% free throw shooter, and I make 5/10 in a game, the worst thing that I can do is change my free throw shooting because of the one poor performance. Performance is temporary. If I have learned the skill well, my skill is stable and that one game is not going to alter my performance moving forward. Instead, as long as my mind does not interfere (affect my confidence and attention), I would expect to shoot 90% in the next game.

Learning is relatively permanent and requires practice (of course, learning can be negative, as one can acquire a skill at a below-optimal level). Observation of skill execution must differentiate between a poor performance (temporary), an unlearned skill (and therefore inconsistent in its execution) and a skill learned with less than optimal technique. Practice should be aimed at establishing the correct technique and making the skill more consistent, more stabile, and adaptable.


Topics: Basketball Related, Brian McCormick

Defensive Communication - Bridging The Gap Between The Weight Room And The Court

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Dec 19, 2010 10:19:00 PM

Notes collected by Art Horne

Early - Loud -Continuous Talk

We all want our teams to talk on defense, but do we really get them to understand how important it is and what it does for us and to the opponent?  Defensive communication is so important because it:

•     Intimidates: especially when the opponent knows that you know everything they're running because your players are calling out the plays and coverages as soon as they hear the call!
•     Gives your defense a head start: alerting a teammate of the action before it happens is critical to successful defense.
•     Gives the man on the ball more confidence: if he knows he has help and protection behind him he'll be much more confident and aggressive.
•     Wakes up a disengaged defender: talking to a player who's not paying attention on defense can alert him to get back and re-engaged.
•    Catches a mistake before it happens: so many times we have alerted a player to an offensive action before it caught him and that kept us from dealing with a mistake
•    Energizes your teammates: talking teams always seem to play with more energy – it’s a fact of basketball!

Topics: Basketball Related, Art Horne

Dirk Nowitski's Summer Training by Brian McCormick

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Dec 19, 2010 6:31:00 PM

Click HERE to view this article.

Check out Brian as he speaks at the BSMPG Basketball Specific Training Symposium this coming June 3/4 in Boston.

Topics: Basketball Related, Brian McCormick