As the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game is broken down and dissected, don’t overlook the importance of Rick Pitino’s focus on conditioning. As the box score shows that Peyton Siva stuffed his stat line by repeatedly penetrating the paint and that undersized Chane Behanan dominated the glass with 7 offensive rebounds, the Cardinals’ impressive level of condition made it happen. We like to hear that the Cards were inspired by the Kevin Ware injury, or that Pitino’s resume and charmed week led to this, or that for right now, the state of Kentucky looks to have a firm grasp on the trophy, but let’s take a closer look at the down and dirty fact that the Cardinals follow a firmly held Pitino-belief – the better conditioned team usually comes out on top!
BASKETBALL – If nothing else, we’ll be in the best condition!
How many basketball players have heard that one? Most probably don’t want to hear this, but there’s no shortcut to being in great shape and it’s foolishness for any coach to overlook conditioning. While it’s important to consider the way Pitino relates to his players, to look at how teams attack his pressure defense, or to analyze how his guards use the high ballscreen to attack the paint, the Cards seemed to have a second gear in the second half against Michigan. Kelli Anderson from Si.com identified it after Louisville’s win over Witchita State by quoting the Shockers’ associate head coach Chris Jans who observed “We don’t see that very often. To attack and press the way they do and still to have all that energy at the end of the game is remarkable.”
So how do they do it? Going straight to the source, Louisville Strength and Conditioning Department reveals how the Louisville athletic program addresses conditioning for all of their teams. Ray Gonong, who is responsible for men’s basketball, keeps it pretty simple – RUN! Run in the off-season. Run in the pre-season. Run in practice, as a part of drills and as a form of punishment. Most of us as coaches know that, but it’s interesting that so many coaches are always looking for new, innovative ways to accomplish that and that so many players look for ways to avoid doing the dirty work. They know they need to, but so many avoid it at all costs. It’s also been a part of Pitino’s philosophy since he started as a head coach at Boston University.
But Pitino doesn’t just focus on physical training. A quick check on his personal website, rickpitino.com led me to Pitino’s first area of focus for this year’s team as “Nutrition – A major key to conditioning. Very underrated in training to be physically fit. It’s our fuel that makes our engine roar. More emphasis this year on what we put into our bodies.” It’s safe to assume that there’s also a focus on proper sleep and rest habit as well. For me, this serves as a good reminder to focus on the conditioning aspects of basketball and I’ll share more throughout the off-season.
LIFE – What’s conditioning got to do with it?
I’m going to exercise more, eat better, and get some sleep. Once again, it’s easy to say, but tough to do. We all need, and hopefully, welcome the reminder. Add me to the list. I’m at my best in all areas of my life when I focus on my conditioning and so are you. My college students and my kids roll their eyes at me when I talk about it, but we all have to make the time for assessing fitness. It’s an ongoing discussion as we consider productivity. Students who take time to exercise – whether they’re athletes or not, who stick to a regular pattern of adequate sleep, and who are conscious of their eating habits generally perform better than those who do not. If nothing else, they usually recognize that they have a better chance of maximizing their potential. Livestrong.com has good reminders about exercise for college students, and the rest of us! It obviously works for Louisville, so why not the rest of us? At the risk of being a nag, do a little self-check here!
FAITH – Conditioning for Christians
It would be an easy connection here to write about keeping your body healthy as a sign of worship, since your body is a temple, or to consider Paul’s discussion about runners (1 Cor. 9:24-26 ), but let’s focus on the discipline that so many of us overlook and need to be reminded about. When it comes to peak spiritual conditioning, there’s absolutely no replacement for studying God’s Word. Just as the Cardinals focus on being in better condition than their opponents, we need to focus on taking the time to be strengthened through study. Most of us know we need to do it. We’ve experienced the power and the wisdom that comes from it, yet it’s so easy to overlook. Paul told his student Timothy:
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8)
How do we get godliness? Spending time searching God’s word, listening for His voice, talking with fellow Christians, and by sharing with others in the faith and with those who are searching are conditioning exercises that bring us closer to God. And for my young friends in college (or my own kids who will be heading to college!), take a look at How to Stay Christian in College for some great ideas!