Preparation: A Coaches' Take
The adage that teams are made during the season and players are made during the off-season holds true.
For this blog post we interviewed Right Way Senior Advisor, Coach Ian Mackinnon, to get his take on cultivating success, preparation before and during a season and ultimately how to best lead as a coach. He provides some unique insight on how he frames his season and how to prepare your team for success starting in the off-season. Since we are currently in the off-season this is timely advice for coaches of all ages and we’re confident you will benefit from Coach Mackinnon’s experience and wisdom. Ian is the coach of the Ashbury College Senior Boys Varsity Basketball Team, an assistant coach with Ottawa Gee Gees Varsity Women’s Basketball Team and has coached in various capacities in the Ottawa area over the last 30 years. More background on Coach Mackinnon can be found here. Please comment or contact us if you would like anything from this blog clarified or elobrated upon.
Thank you Coach Mackinnon for taking the time to answer these important questions for our coaches.
How does it feel to have achieved your goal of winning an OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) gold medal?
There was obviously a sense of accomplishment, immediately followed by a void, sprinkled with the unknown and “a what next” sensation. Chasing a championship involves a combination of, good fortune, maximum preparation, perseverance and a team with talent and chemistry. This championship could be attributed to more than just the players that participated this year. It was really 4 years in the making, climbing the proverbial mountain; OFSSAA ‘A’ bronze in 2015, ‘AA’ silver in 2016 and ‘AA’ gold in 2017. Many of the players that helped the team achieve in previous years were no longer around but their legacy went a long way towards the competitive culture. The fact that the team had arguably 3 of the top positional players in the province made it tough to accept anything less than gold this year as well. I felt that the players were aware of this but did not let it add any additional pressure. Winning felt great, but it was short lived and was quickly replaced with new goal setting and preparation for the program.
Preparation obviously played a major part in the success of your team this past season. As a coach, what do you do in the off-season and in the weeks leading up to the season to prepare?
The adage that teams are made during the season and players are made during the off-season holds true. The culture at a school like Ashbury College is for student / athletes to be well-rounded in all areas. To get players to buy into a year-round approach to basketball is difficult. I was fortunate to find a group that for the most part wanted to play year-round. It started with our high-level players who were competing internationally and at the highest levels in Canada. Skills sessions throughout the summer and fall for the rest were beneficial along with playing in a local community summer league helped as well.
Does your preparation change based on the expectations you have for the season?
For me preparation does not change based on expectations. The expectations may be different but over-achieving is always a focus. I feel that it is important to focus on the process and not get too caught up in the results. The goal should always be to play your best but find ways to compete when you are not at your best. It is hard not to measure success based on wins and losses but growing as a team and over-achieving can be fulfilling even when the losses out-number the wins. My goals are always to make sure the opposition does not have an advantage based on preparation, if they are better than my team based on talent then so be it.
How do you chunk or frame your season in terms of practice planning and focus? In other words, what things do you focus on in August/September/October versus January/February/March?
Large emphasis on skill development and fundamentals in the fall. Team play and specific team prep becomes an emphasis in season. With high school team’s there are additional variables including Christmas break, exams, 4 day weekends prior to play-offs, ebbs and flows of academics. Pre-season is about getting players in basketball shape as many of the players spend the fall playing football or soccer. I feel that we are often behind with regards to skill development and team concepts relative to schools that have players playing year-round. In order to counter that, the bar is set high for our players to learn in a condensed fashion. I am fortunate to have intelligent players who are expected to pick up on concepts with limited repetitions.
If you could give 3 pieces of advice to a coach heading into the season what would they be?
1. Establish relationships, players need to know that you care.
2. Get your players to believe; in themselves, in each other, in what you are teaching and the goals that you have set.
3. If you think you are doing enough, do more.
Lastly, when you are picking your team what are some things you are looking for to fill out your roster?
Within the Ashbury College context there is not a huge amount of decision-making that goes into this process. I don’t think I have actually had to cut a player in the 17 years I have been here. If I have more than 12 players trying-out once the expectations are spelled out and the time commitment is established, personnel get sorted out. I am then left with the type of players I need. Calibre wise, this can vary from year to year but I know I have players that I can work with and push. In other high school context’s this would vary. How the student is within the school community plays a part in the process. Your role players need to be able to thrive off of something other than playing time. Balance between graduates and underclassmen is important. Ideally you have competition at all positions and players that can push each other. Rosters are often limited and finding 10 – 12 high-calibre players in a high school setting is difficult.
The role of a 'role' player
...though their playing time may be limited, their contributions go far beyond these parameters.
In a previous Right Way blog post the topic of body language as it relates to playing time and trust was discussed. This relationship has further reaching implications when it comes to team chemistry and overall success. I can remember early in my high school basketball career my coach at the time emphasizing to our team that we would only be as strong as our weakest link. Throughout my playing and coaching career, I have gained a greater understanding of how critical each member of a team is to its success, regardless of specific abilities. I would like to examine the role of role players and make an important distinction between role players and depth players.
The term role player refers to an individual player’s ability to fill a specific need on a team. Role players range from starters to those that play a supporting role off the bench. A player that shoots the three effectively might earn a role as a starter in order to stretch defenses even if other areas of their game may be lacking. Additional roles can include players that are great on the ball defenders, rebounders, ball screeners, etc. Often their specialized skills are used for situational play and when match ups dictate it. Playing time may be limited but their skill set is invaluable.
I think it is important to give special consideration to what coaches often refer to as depth players and how they are critical to the cohesion of a team, the glue guys. These are the players that have the potential to make practices more competitive and push those ahead of them on the depth chart each and every day. Within any team dynamic there is undoubtedly a pecking order that exists both from the coaches’ and players’ perspectives.
In the majority of team try-outs there are typically a handful of players whose ability or athleticism vaults them to the top of a team’s list. After this, coaches need to fill their roster with players that have potential and or character that aligns with the coach’s philosophy. It is difficult to measure a player’s willingness to sacrifice individual gain for the betterment of a team. However, over the course of a try-out, character traits often become apparent and factor heavily into a player’s selection.
As a team progresses over the course of a season, or a number of seasons, players’ roles become more defined and the depth chart is established. It is critical for a coach to communicate these roles to the players on the team. Getting individuals to understand and accept their roles is essential but challenging. Red Auerbach once said that “it's not what you tell your players that counts, it's what they hear." I have found that individual meetings early in the process and with relative frequency can lead to players embracing their roles. Players clarifying roles for each other is another key to team unity. Finally, it is important for coaches to acknowledge players’ contributions publicly and behind closed doors with the team.
As mentioned above the depth players not only recognize their role on the court but understand how the support of their teammates from the bench can have a huge effect on team chemistry. These players recognize that even though their playing time may be limited, their contributions go far beyond these parameters. Acting as a scout team, making team drills more competitive, stepping on the floor for a player in foul trouble or filling a void for an injured player are all part of this player’s domain.
Connor McSweeney a four year varsity high school basketball player and consummate team contributor reflects on his experience, “Over the years, I have been a part of teams where I would be lucky to see the floor for two minutes. No matter the situation, playing basketball has allowed me to develop attributes such as communication, leadership, and teamwork which really are not only essential on the court, but are also transferrable to the classroom and a work environment. One of the other major lessons basketball has taught me is that teamwork is not limited to the five players on the court; it also extends to the last man on the bench. Every game, those on the court rely on the bench for cheering and support while the game is being played.”
As players compete at successively higher levels, their ability to contribute to a team often depends on their understanding of what a depth player needs to bring to a team. The high school star that plays at the next level and is no longer the “go-to” option on a team, sees his playing time diminish and needs to carve out a new niche for himself. Can he now become the player that makes those around him better and puts his team needs ahead of his own? It can be argued that ultimately a team's success depends on a coach’s ability to get his players to understand and accept their roles.
Selflessness and a common purpose are what make teams great but are elusive for many. Upon reflecting on South Carolina’s Cinderella run at this year’s NCAA men’s tournament, Frank Martin intimated, “There’s only one ball, and only one player can shoot at a time. So naturally, this is a sport where egos can overtake teamwork if you’re not careful. But in that moment in particular, I could see there was none of that on this team. There was only love.” The importance of player “buy-in” and acceptance of one’s role is the key to team unity and ultimately reaching your full potential.
The role of a role player is not always easy to define or communicate. As a coach looking to create a winning culture, it is essential to recognize and utilize depth players for team success.
Fueling your body the right way
Nutrition should be treated just as seriously as any other part of your training
Head coach of the perennial powerhouse UConn Huskies women’s basketball program, Geno Auriemma must have read the most recent Right Way Basketball blog post and decided to add a few words of his own about body language and how to be a supportive teammate. This powerful clip can be found here. Now that we have discussed the psychological side of the game we will now examine one of the most important (yet often overlooked) biological factors to maximizing your training and being successful on the court - Nutrition.
Basketball is a physically demanding sport full of constant sprinting, stopping, accelerating and jumping, with only short periods of rest, truly requiring both strength and endurance. To keep up with the daily grind and rigours of practice, school, workouts and games, a balanced nutritional plan is the foundation to maximizing performance. This post is intended to provide a basic nutritional guide to help fuel your game and take it to the next level.
You wouldn’t hop in the car for a long road trip without a full tank of gas, so why lace ‘em up and hit the court without a full tank? While physical training and practice are critical to your development, it all starts with a foundation of nutrition to get the full payout from the physical work and sessions you put in on the court and in the gym. What you eat on a daily basis helps determine how much energy you have for intense, rigorous workouts, practices and games. Nutrition should be treated just as seriously as any other part of your training.
Daily Nutrition and Tips
If you want to run faster, jump higher and make good decisions, you need to feed your body healthy, nutrient rich foods. Weekly requirements for a basketball player include an assortment of carbohydrate heavy foods to provide energy and protein to build and repair muscles. Most carbs should come from healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and milk to maximize vitamin and mineral intake. Lean red meats, skinless chicken, nuts, eggs and beans will deliver high protein. Vegetarian? No problem. You can get the protein you need from quinoa, beans, tofu and nuts. In addition to all of the food we want to put into our bodies, try to greatly reduce your intake of refined sugars (candy, soft drinks, energy drinks, cookies, etc.) and saturated fat (butter, fried foods, poultry skin, fatty beef and pork, etc.).
General Nutrition Rules:
1. Never skip a meal. As an athlete, you need steady calories for energy, recovery, muscle building and performance. Remember when you wake up, your stores are 30-40% depleted. Skipping breakfast only further depletes your energy stores and may mean it’s too late to replenish what your body needs before your next practice or game
2. Plan your meals according to your training output. Easy training days should be lighter in calories. Higher physical output requires higher caloric intake
3. Eat food that helps reduce inflammation and speed up recovery. Some of these super foods include berries, nuts, seeds, spices, fruits, vegetables, tea, mushrooms, cherries, dark chocolate, ginger, oatmeal, greens (spinach, kale, arugula), Greek yogurt, flaxseed, fish, olive oil, avocado, sweet potatoes, pineapple, onions, garlic. Try to eat several of these daily!
4. Limit junk calories to less than 10% of daily total calories. This includes ice cream, candy, soft drinks, chips, fast food and deep fried food, etc.
When you're training hard through the daily grind of a long season, it is important to start each day with a healthy high carb breakfast that includes whole grains (bagels, bread, oatmeal), fruits (bananas, berries, oranges, grapefruit) and protein (eggs, cottage cheese, peanut butter). Each player develops their own pre-game routine to prepare mentally and physically. This routine, whether built out of superstition or from personal requirements should also include an individualized nutrition plan. The food eaten the night before and day of a game is always different from player to player but it is important that you eat something before you workout and play.
1. The meal eaten the night before the game is the most critical for maximizing energy stores but never skip meals, especially the day of a game!
2. Plan to eat a full meal 2-4 hours before tip off. This allows your body adequate time to digest. The closer it gets to game time, the smaller the meal so you aren’t playing on a full stomach
3. Drink sufficient amounts of water. Your urine should be a pale yellow colour before tip off. Avoid large quantities of caffeine and salty foods that will dehydrate your body
4. Pre-game meal should include good carbohydrate choices for energy but also has adequate protein to help ward off hunger
5. Restrain from eating fatty, spicy foods and refined sugars before you play. Instead, choose easy to digest foods that sit well with you personally
For all those tournament weekends spent in gyms playing multiple games, it can be difficult to regulate food intake. Preparation can be critical to maintaining energy levels from game to game. Pack sandwiches (Ex. Peanut butter and honey/jam or deli meat), nuts and trail mix, berries (Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries), oranges, bananas, grapes. Eat lightly between games and don’t forget, the closer to game time, the smaller the meal or snack. By following these maintenance tips you will gain a strength and stamina advantage over your opponent to push you right through to the final buzzer. Replenish fluids as well with plenty of water and a sports drinks to hydrate. It can be a good idea to add water to dilute your sports beverage making it easier to digest, adequately deliver those electrolytes where they are needed and minimize the amount of unnecessary sugars. Managing hydration will avoid cramping and help to evade potential injuries due to exhaustion.
Post-Game/Workout - Recovery
What you consume after workout sessions and games can be as important as what you eat before. To promote muscle healing and recovery, eat a snack that contains carbs and protein as soon as possible after stepping off the court. This can be as simple as chocolate milk, a recovery drink or a few handfuls of trail mix with almonds, cashews, or peanuts. A more substantial meal should be consumed within 1 hour that meets the same high carb and protein supply. The longer you wait to eat, the longer your body will take to recover and your gains will be diminished. Follow this plan to achieve the full benefits from the work you just put in and recover faster from difficult sessions so you are ready to perform again the next day.
1. Consume carbohydrate rich foods and beverages as soon as possible after you play to replenish your muscle’s energy stores
2. Consume a protein rich meal to repair and build muscle
3. Replace fluids that have been lost
4. Replace any potassium, sodium, electrolytes that have been lost during competition or training with fruits, vegetables and salty foods
Your body is made up of 50-65% water and requires proper hydration to perform. Water helps to regulate body temperature, lubricates joints and delivers oxygen to working muscles. Your physical and mental performance on the court can drastically decrease, especially late in a game, if you are not hydrated. To keep muscles working at optimal levels and avoid fatigue, it is extremely important to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after physical activity. By keeping hydration levels balanced you will increase your performance, reduce injuries, avoid muscle cramping and speed recovery. Your body loses water through sweat and the rate of loss increases in proportion to your physical output so drink up in relation to your sweat rate. To better understand how much sweat you lose, weigh yourself before and after a game or practice. Aim to keep losses below 2% of your body weight by consuming water throughout your game or practice and be sure to replace all of the fluids lost with water or sports drink of your choice.
1. Monitor your urine color; it should be a pale yellow colour when you are properly hydrated. Darker urine colour means you are dehydrated
2. Drink water throughout the day before a workout, practice or game
3. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink up. You want to be hydrated before starting physical activity
4. Water should be the number one fluid but sports drinks during and after activity are great to replenish glucose levels in your blood, plus minerals and electrolytes, (sodium, potassium, magnesium)
5. Keep sweat losses under 2% of your body weight and always replace lost fluids
Right Way Takeaways
We all want to be the best player we can be and a great nutrition, hydration and recovery plan are essential to achieving success. This helps propel our training and achieve optimal gains. When it’s late in the 4th quarter and the game is on the line, did you do enough to fuel your game?