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Sunday, March 29, 2009

What's To Come

This blog will be kind of an amalgam of numerous thoughts as well as a quick update on what’s to come in the next several weeks. Similar to any practice or game plan, things constantly change and you have to be flexible to be successful and I want to keep you as up to date as possible.

Before I move on I want to highly recommend the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inside Basketball” by Pat Williams. It is an easy, enjoyable read for any basketball player, coach or fan. The stories are both inspirational and touching. And if I haven’t mentioned, one of my goals for 2009 is to read 52 books; a book a week average. This includes audiobooks from iTunes which have become a staple when I travel. So far I am on pace and have read (or listened to) 20 books!

Hopefully everyone is enjoying March Madness so far. This is always my favorite time of year as a fan. At the time of this writing, two of the four Final Four teams have punched their ticket; Villanova and Connecticut. I have been fortunate enough to get to know the Villanova program really well as Coach Wright and his phenomenal staff has been frequently seen recruiting at Montrose for the last several years. Two of our seniors, Mouph Yarou and Isaiah Armwood have committed to play for the Wildcats next year. And while I have had the opportunity to work with three of their players in high school (Dante Cunningham, Scottie Reynolds, and Dwayne Anderson), I wanted to share a quick thought on why their trip the Final Four is particularly special to me. I have known and worked with Dwayne “Duece Duece” Anderson (his nickname comes from the fact he wears #22) since he was a senior at St. John’s High School in Washington, DC. Duece was an All Met player and one of the best in the very competitive WCAC conference. Despite a decorated high school resume, his first few years at Villanova were very tough for him as he saw extremely limited playing time. His lack of defense and a consistent jump shot prevented him from earning more minutes. This went on for three years. Yet Duece stuck with it. He worked brutally hard every off season and exercised great communication with the Nova coaching staff on not only his desire to earn playing time, but exactly what he needed to do to earn it. He basically worked as hard as he could to fix the areas he (and the Nova staff) found weak in his yearly evaluation. In other words, he didn’t make excuses or point the finger and he didn’t feel entitled to more playing time… he rolled up his sleeves each and every off season and put in serious work. He was focused and determined. This should give you a glimpse as to what a solid person he is. And here, four years later as a senior, Dwayne “Duece Duece” Anderson is a starter, a captain, and a major contributor (had 17 points and 4 rebounds in the Elite 8 against Pitt) on a team going to the Final Four! And the best part is he truly deserves his success. I could not be more proud of him.

I also want to make one quick note about a quote from the legendary Coach K of Duke (to whom I have always been a fan). After their loss to Villanova in the Sweet Sixteen, when talking about his players and how he felt about the loss, he said “I am disappointed for them, not disappointed in them.” A classy line from a classy coach.

I am leaving this morning for Miami to work the prestigious McDonalds All American game. This is my 4th year working the event and it is always both an honor and a pleasure to be a part. I have worked with most of the players before at either the Nike Skills Academies and several of them accompanied me on a trip to Brazil with a Nike USA U-19 team. As for my role, I am in charge of warming up and stretching out both the male and female players before each practice and the game on Wednesday night (which is live on ESPN at 8pm EST). I also serve as a resource to the players and coaches so they understand exactly what they will need to do to compete at as high of a level as possible. I will post a blog on Friday April 3rd with my behind the scenes insight and thoughts to this event.

Upon my return, Montrose will be playing in the first ever RISE / ESPN National Invitational Tournament. This amazing event marks the nation’s top high school post season and a dramatic first step in a playoff to determine a true national champion. This inaugural event boasts four teams in the top 10 in the country; including the nations’ two top teams – Oak Hill Academy and Findlay Prep (ranked #1 and #2 respectively). Montrose drew the 3rd seed and will have to beat both Findlay and Oak Hill to win the championship! Considering our only two losses this season were to Oak Hill, the chance to play them a third time… in the NHSI Championship…. Live on ESPN… would be the opportunity of a life time! For more information on the event, teams, brackets, dates/times, and ticket info please visit www.nhsihoops.com. Win or lose, I will post a blog on Monday April 6th with my behind the scenes commentary on this historic tournament.

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why We Don't Sell Everything

A couple of weeks ago a company that makes a shooting rebounding device e-mailed us to sell their product. The normal retail was $999 and they were taking $300 off the price. Sounds like a good deal right? The product looked impressive, fit up around the basket, had netting to rebound the shot. Looked like you could get in a lot of shots in a short amount of time. We are all for that right?

So we took a look at their website, very nice. We watched the video demo of the product and started to notice the shooter was only shooting free throws. Hum...why would that be? Because this rebounder only can kick the ball back straight. You couldn't shoot from the sides nor wing with this thing. Free throws or straight on 3s. Now you should practice your free throws but do you need to spend $999 or even $699 to get the ball back to you from the free throw line? Not us. If we need anything we'll get a $10 plastic kick back at Wal-Mart to get the ball back to us.

There were various other sites taking advantage of this sale and promoting the device but we passed for the reasons above. We take that approach to everything we sell. Whether it's cheap and worthless or expensive and worthless we won't sell it. We only sell products we believe in and you won't find junk on our site.

Remember the best thing you can have to improve your game is a strong work ethic.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Perfect Jump Shot - How to Shoot a Basketball

The Perfect Jump Shot is an instructional shooting DVD for any player at any level. Advanced Basketball Trainer Jason Otter breaks down the mechanics of shooting from the ground up. With easy to follow instruction, exciting presentation, and the best teaching anywhere, the Perfect Jump Shot is a DVD we are very excited to release. Look for it March 31.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Triple Threat Attack DVD Preview

Triple Threat Attack will be released approximately March 31. Jason Otter has done a great job of breaking down triple threat. This DVD is for advanced as well as beginners. He breaks down 10 moves out of triple threat, how to shoot out of triple threat, squaring up, jump stops, and more.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Planning Your Off Season; Part II

Well March Madness is officially here! Like most of you I was glued to the TV all weekend watching some remarkable conference tournament games as well as the annual NCAA Selection Show. As usual, this year’s tournament will be outstanding. It is particularly satisfying for me to watch these games as I am fortunate enough to have worked with dozens of the players who will be trying to lead their teams to a national championship; including several DC natives like Tywon Lawson (UNC), Nolan Smith (Duke), Greivis Vasquez and Adrian Bowie (Maryland), Uche Echefu (Florida St.), and Scottie Reynolds, Dwayne Anderson, & Dante Cunningham (Villanova) to name a few.

This blog post is the second installment of a two part series. Last week’s blog post covered the importance of rest and recovery, the evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses, and examining your spring & summer schedule. I highly recommend you re-read it that post now.

This blog post will discuss my thoughts on AAU, off season testing, and what most players should be focusing on in the initial part of the off season. I will also shed some light on common mistakes players make.

Before we even begin discussing the off season, let’s define it. I prefer to divide the calendar year into 3 distinct phases:

Off season: beginning the day after your last game and ending 8 weeks before your first practice.

Pre-season: beginning 8 weeks before your first practice and ending the day before your first game.

In-season: beginning the day of your first game and ending the day of your last game.

As a high school age player (or coach), you need to decide whether or not you will be playing AAU when plotting out your spring and summer program. The opportunity to play in numerous organized, competitive games in the spring and summer is one of the biggest differences between the off season of a high school player and of a college/pro player, but is one that needs to be taken into account.

I have a variety of thoughts on AAU as a whole. On one hand, the right AAU program can provide a platform for kids to play a lot of organized basketball against elite competition, travel to different parts of the country, and get plenty of publicity. This can be very beneficial for players who haven’t been playing basketball very long, who play in a high school program where they don’t get to play very much, or play in a high school program that doesn’t draw a ton of exposure from college coaches. And who are we kidding, it’s fun! On the other hand, if you neglect to put quality time into your own individual player development and fundamentals, AAU can reinforce bad habits (poor shooting form, weak off hand, etc.), can cause numerous overuse injuries from playing too much, and can take valuable time away from your off season training. Like most things, moderation and balance are essential. If you decide to play AAU, just make sure you still prioritize the importance of addressing the areas you need to from your self evaluation.

Many of the questions I receive from players, coaches, and even parents revolve around strength and conditioning testing. In general, testing is fine as long as it meets two criteria; it is safe and it is viewed as a way to monitor progress (not a tool to predict success on the court). No test done in the weight room can predict success on the court. Don’t forget Kevin Durant couldn’t bench press 185 lbs at the 2007 NBA Combine and he was the 2nd player taken in the draft and the NBA’s Rookie of the Year!

If you are going to test, your testing should be comprehensive and attempt to measure three key areas: strength/power, quickness/agility, and basketball specific conditioning, as each of those areas play a role in basketball. Just testing for one of those is too narrow. And remember, testing is only valuable if there are follow up tests. I recommend you test in the beginning of your off season training, towards the middle point of the off season, at the end of the off season (beginning of pre-season), and lastly at the end of pre-season. Four tests over 7 or 8 months are more than enough. Spend more time and focus on training, not on testing!

Here are some thoughts and suggestions on testing:

Strength/Power: I don’t use 1 rep maxes for two reasons – high risk of injury and lifting for a 1 rep max is very intricate skill that is rarely practiced (why test in something that is rarely practiced?). I recommend testing one upper body push (bench press or push-up), one upper body pull (pull-ups or lat pulldown), and one lower body push (leg press or squat). I recommend picking a weight that can be performed for 8-10 reps and then do as many as possible in good form. If a player can bench press 135 lbs for 9 reps on day one, and a few months later can do 155 lbs for 10 reps, then they have gotten stronger! As far as testing power, measuring vertical jump is pretty much the standard (highest point they can touch with their dominant hand with a one step take-off minus their standing reach).

Quickness/Agility: There are several tests you can use. The NBA uses the lane agility where you basically sprint, slide, and backpedal around the lane and back for time. SPARQ has several quality testing protocols as well. Whatever tests you select for quickness and agility, they should be very short in duration (if they exceed 15-20 seconds, you are then testing more for conditioning than agility) and involve change of direction and possibly different movement patterns (slides, sprints, back pedals, etc.).

Conditioning: Testing for basketball conditioning will tell you how good of basketball shape you are in. There are several great tests you can use. I recommend performing a set of 17’s. Players run from sideline to sideline as fast possible 17 times. A well conditioned player can do this in under a minute.

For 99% of players, their main focus in the initial part (first 4-6 weeks) of the off season should be to get stronger. There is no such thing as being too strong! When players ask me why strength is so important, I say, “What do you want to be; the bug or the windshield? “ Quickness, agility and getting in great basketball shape are certainly important, but for the first part of the off season I recommend players focus on increasing the overall strength in their legs/hips, core, and upper body, address strength imbalances, and develop proper movement patterns/footwork.

There are numerous weekly training schedules you can utilize. You need to decide how many days a week you can train and how long you have to train each session. Just make sure you balance all of the components of your individual player development (don’t forget skill work!) and prioritize working on the weaknesses you established from your self evaluation. If you need help putting together a specific weekly schedule, please email me directly at Alan@StrongerTeam.com.

Here is an overview of 8 common mistakes players make with their off season training:

Players who get caught up in the latest fads. While there are a ton of valuable tools you can use to get stronger and more powerful, you don’t need any goofy shoes or gizmos and gadgets to get better. You need to intensely and progressively work the muscles of your entire body through every plane of movement and angle of motion. This can be done with a combination of “old school” exercises (bench press, pull-ups, deadlifts, etc.) as well as some “new wave” concepts (med balls, bands, TRX trainer, etc.). However, if you spend your entire workout standing on one foot on a BOSU ball; you are missing the boat!

Players who pay little attention to proper footwork and technique. Your footwork is critical in shooting as well as in your agility training. Proper landing, planting and cutting is important for injury prevention as well as maximum athletic efficiency on the court. Don’t reinforce bad habits when you are training.

Players who follow a strength & conditioning program because it comes from a famous player, coach or team. Following their program does not guarantee your success. Just because you are following last year’s NCAA championship team’s program doesn’t mean you will automatically get results. It’s not what you do; it’s how you do it! Effort, consistency and progression are the key to success for any training program.

Players who follow a program not specific to their needs. Strength and conditioning for basketball players is a means to an end, not an end itself. You are not a bodybuilder, football player, marathon runner, Powerlifter or Olympic lifter; so don’t train like one! Certainly there are valuable exercises and concepts from each of those sports, but you need to follow a program specific to you as a basketball player. Are the weights you are lifting appropriate? Are you working the right movement patterns (defensive slides, jumping, back pedaling, etc.)? Are you working within appropriate work/rest ratios?

Players who constantly over train. This is a very common mistake, especially with plyometrics. Basketball is already very plyometric in nature, no need to over do it, especially if you are playing AAU. If you played in 5 games over the weekend, you don’t need to do box jumps on Monday. Not getting enough rest in between workouts is another problem. You don’t need to lift every day of the week to make progress.

Players who have poor nutritional habits. This is a very common theme for a lot of players; from high school to the NBA. I will make this simple - eat like a bird, look like a bird. Eat like crap, play like crap. Email me if you want some general nutritional guidelines.

Players who just lift weights and don’t work on their skills enough. No matter how fit or strong you are if you can’t shoot, pass, or handle the ball you will never be a good player! Ball handling and shooting are only improved through task specific repetition. Thousands and thousands of repetitions at game speed!

With all of that said, your workouts don’t have to be long. Short, intense workouts will get the job done. And don’t allow yourself to have a bad workout because you “feel tired” or just “don’t feel like working out.” If you only work hard on the days you feel like it, nothing will ever get done! Commit yourself to excellence every workout. One day at a time. Over the entire off season your progress will be amazing.

Just a reminder, my next blog post will be Monday March 30th where I will report in from sunny Miami as I offer insight from the 2009 McDonald’s All American Game!

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

Monday, March 9, 2009

Planning Your Off Season; Part I

In many areas across the country the high school and college basketball season is either already over or coming to an end and is wrapping up with conference and state championships and playoffs. For those still playing, good luck! For those that have finished, I hope your season was a success. This blog post is part one of a two part series that will give direction and insight for your off-season basketball specific strength & conditioning program. This information is a must read for any basketball player or coach.

This blog post will cover the importance of rest and recovery, the evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses, and examining your spring & summer schedule.

Next week I will discuss off season testing, my thoughts on the priority of AAU, and what most players should be focusing on in the initial part of the off season. I will lay out an actual weekly training plan as well as shed some light on proper footwork, over training and common training myths.

Before we even discuss an off-season strength & conditioning program, we should review why it is important for basketball players of all ages and levels to strength train and condition on a year round basis. You should always know the “why” before you commit to anything! The textbook answer is pretty standard and is something I have been preaching for the last ten years:

By making the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joint structures stronger, you will lessen the occurrence and severity of on court injuries. If and when injuries do occur, you will recover quicker. Added strength also improves performance by increasing the body’s ability to produce force. The more force you can produce, the higher you can jump, the stronger you can block out, and the quicker you can cut and change direction. In addition to added strength, a truly basketball specific and comprehensive training program will also address: proper movement and jumping/landing technique, footwork, reaction, agility, hand/eye coordination, stamina, power and explosiveness, and flexibility.

And while the above should be reason enough to work out, there is another reason players of all ages and levels need to strength train and condition; confidence. Players who get bigger, faster, and stronger are more confident players on the court and more confident people in life. Training hard gives you a mental and a physical edge.

Last year I had the pleasure of speaking with Duke Basketball Alum and assistant basketball coach Nate James. While at Duke, Nate was always one of the strongest, best conditioned players on the court. Here is what he had to say about training:

“The weight room gives you more swagger. You use the weights to get an edge and a tougher mentality so when it is time to play, you will be that much more confident. You take that weight room attitude and work ethic onto the court.”

I agree completely. Confidence is king on the hardwood.

And please understand this; strength and power are cultivated over time through hard work and progression. There are no shortcuts. With the recent outing of A-Rod using steroids, I feel compelled to add my thoughts. First and foremost, steroids of any kind are illegal and should not be taken under any circumstances, no exceptions. Please read that sentence again. If you are caught using steroids your basketball playing career will be over.

Steroids carry numerous side effects and are extremely dangerous to your body. Plus they will do very little to help you improve as a basketball player anyway, which should be your ultimate goal, so to even consider using them is foolish. You can add all of the lean muscle you need through proper strength training and nutrition. Hell, even 99% of all of the supplements out there are totally unnecessary.

And never put anything in your body you don’t what it is. Don’t drink any shake or take any pill without knowing exactly what is in it. Ignorance is not a legitimate excuse. If someone at your school or gym says, “take this, it will get you jacked,” end the conversation there. OK, end of sermon.

Now, let’s take a look at your off-season program:

The first thing you need is rest. Almost without exception, I recommend players take two full weeks off after their last game. You need to rest your mind and your body. You need to spend quality time with family and friends and get away from the game. You need to make sure your academics are on point. You need to get some extra sleep and eat some good food. You need to watch a ton of March Madness. You don’t have to be in the gym to improve; you can learn a lot from watching elite level players. And don’t just watch the obvious, watch for things like moving without the ball and help defense. Also make note of how big and strong elite level players are. Today’s game is played above the rim!

Trust me, as a veteran elite level strength and conditioning coach, this rest is one of the best things you can do, I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t believe in it so strongly. During this couple week hiatus, make sure you address any nagging injuries you may have endured during the season. If something on your body still hurts, and Advil and ice don’t seem to fix it, I recommend you make an appointment to see an appropriate specialist (doctor, physical therapist, etc.).

After a couple of weeks of rest, the next thing you need to do is evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as a player, both basketball wise and athletically. I can’t stress enough how important this step is, yet it is rarely done.

Before you can truly improve, you have to establish what things you do well and what things need improvement. This can only be done through an honest, comprehensive evaluation. I recommend you evaluate yourself and have your coach evaluate you. Make a chart on a piece of paper and rate yourself on the following:

Basketball skills: ball handling, shooting form, shooting performance, passing, rebounding, defense
Basketball intangibles: basketball IQ, leadership, court awareness, being a good teammate
Physical traits: strength, quickness, power/explosiveness, bodyweight, stamina, overall work ethic

You can rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10. Remember, this is for your eyes only. You get nothing out of giving yourself some bogus high scores. And this evaluation is what you believe; it isn’t what your parents tell you, your girlfriend tells you, or what some scouting service wrote about you. Once you are done, you should ask your coach to fill out the exact same evaluation on your behalf using the same criteria and scale. Every coach I have ever met will do so honestly and enthusiastically.

How do the results compare? For the most part, any score you and your coach agree on is probably pretty accurate. If both you and your coach believe your ball handling is an “8”, then it probably is. But what if you think it is an “8” and he thinks it is a “3”? Is it possible you think an aspect if your game is better than it actually is? Regardless, you should average out both scores and have a final rating for each of the categories. Then you should put them in descending order, meaning your highest scores (strengths) are at the top and your bottom scores (weaknesses) are at the bottom. This will help you prioritize what you need to work on. Keep in mind I said prioritize. That doesn’t mean you ignore the aspects at the top of the list, as you surely can still improve in those areas too. Heck, your top trait may still only be a “7.”

NOTE: This evaluation exercise can also be done by coaches who want to evaluate themselves and their staff. After all, how can a coach expect his players to constantly grow and develop if they don’t? A coach can evaluate himself and then have his assistants and/or players evaluate him as well. Possible areas of interest are practice plans, game strategies, scouting reports, pre-game routine, motivational techniques, teaching concepts, relationships with players, having fun, etc. How do you rate? How do your assistants and players rate you?

Once you have honestly and accurately rated yourself you can begin to plot out your training plan. At first glance, what needs more improvement and requires more focus, your fundamentals and skills or your body and athletic ability? Are you a great shooter but have slow feet? Or are you a sick athlete but can’t make a left hand lay-up? As a strength & conditioning coach, my expertise is on your body and athletic ability; proper movement and jumping/landing technique, footwork, reaction, agility, hand/eye coordination, stamina, power and explosiveness, and flexibility.

Improving these physical traits is what I will focus on next week! Before then, please take a look ahead and begin to plot out your spring & summer schedule. Take a look at anything that will necessitate your time during the week so you can schedule your basketball and your strength & conditioning workouts accordingly. Are you playing a spring sport? Do you need to meet with a tutor? Will you be playing AAU? Do you know when your practices are? Up coming tournaments? What camps will you go to this summer? Will your family be taking a vacation? The more you know in advance, the better you can plan.

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Oak Hill Game Recap

March 7, 2009

Our game with Oak Hill last night was not the instant classic I had anticipated and hoped for. Granted, it was still two of the top programs in the nation going head to head, with high level players making an array of nice plays and monstrous dunks, as a whole, I am extremely disappointed my Montrose Mustangs did not rise to the occasion and did not make the most of the opportunity. Oak Hill won by six.

First and foremost, I want to thank the tremendous support we received from the community; the game was standing room only and we had a ton of folks rooting us on. There were tons of college coaches and basketball media present and the Georgetown Prep facility was stunning; a perfect place to hold a game of that caliber. As always, ESPN did a phenomenal job.

I also want to congratulate Coach Steve Smith and Keith “Tiny” Gallon, who played an extraordinary game. I got to spend a week in Brazil this past summer with Tiny, he was one of the players chosen to represent the Nike USA Select Team I worked with. Tiny is a fantastic person and obviously a very gifted basketball player with a bright future.

As I mentioned in the letter I wrote to our guys on Wednesday, last night was all about opportunity. It was the opportunity to play a top ranked opponent. The opportunity to avenge our double OT loss in December. The Opportunity to play on national TV. The opportunity to prove we are one of the top teams in the nation. The opportunity, for certain individuals, to prove they can play at the highest of levels. And at the end of the day, we didn’t take advantage and we let each these golden opportunities slip away. Bottom line, Oak Hill got it done and we didn’t. No excuses.

And just to be clear, I can handle losing if we play up to our potential. But we didn’t. We didn’t deserve to win, we didn’t earn it. When we lost to them in December it was a different story. We played very well that game and we did deserve to win. I really thought we were the better team in December. I didn’t feel that way last night.

We didn’t necessarily play bad, but didn’t play as well as we were capable of playing. Even more disappointing, we played most of the game with a severe lack of passion and emotion. I thought we played hard and gave good effort, but we were played as if we didn’t care, as if nothing was at stake. We looked as if we were just going through the motions. And to me, that is the biggest disappointment. I hate indifference. I am a person who thrives on passion and on caring, in every facet of my life. Even after the game, our guys showed no emotion or passion. No anger. No tears. Nothing. Just a quiet sea of dumbfounded faces.

We have a tremendous group of young men in our program who are not only great basketball players, but great people as well. And I care about them unconditionally. But I was very disappointed in them last night. I didn’t sleep very well, so I got up super early this morning and watched a tape of the game, twice. I took a few pages of notes and hit the rewind button a hundred times. And while the taped version didn’t make it seem as bad as I thought it was live; my initial reactions were actually pretty accurate: As a team we played hard, but not particularly well, and we played with very little passion and we didn’t value the ball. We made countless mistakes you just can’t make in big games. Here is a quick recap:

1st Half
We started the game by settling for short jump shots instead of taking the ball hard to the cup (started the game 5-19 from the field). We made a handful of lazy, telegraphed passes that they quickly converted to lay-ups or dunks. We didn’t step in, on three occasions, and take a charge. We let them leak out and make full court passes off of defensive rebounds for easy lay-ups. Twice we fouled them and let them score an old fashioned 3 point play. Oak Hill finished around the basket, we didn’t. While it certainly wasn’t all bad, we did make several nice plays here and there, but overall, we played a very, very poor half by our standards. Despite all of that, we were only down 7 at the half! That is what coach stressed at half time. He said, “Look guys, you can’t play any worse than you just played… and you are only down 7 points to the #2 in the nation! You are three possessions away. Let’s play like we are capable of playing and do this!”

2nd Half
We started the 2nd half strong, scored two straight hoops including a thunderous dunk, but we could never quite get over the hump. Every time we closed the gap, they scored. We made several runs, but never got the defensive stops when we needed them. Part of that was good offense, but a good part of that was poor defense. And defense is all heart and all toughness, two things we lacked in spurts last night. While we played a better second half, we still made a handful of errant passes and costly turnovers, and again, you can’t do that in big games and expect to win. Yet with 1:53 left we were only down 5 points. We still had a chance if we could have just mustered up some emotion and got a few stops. But we didn’t. And then we got hit with two technical fouls in the last two minutes of the game, which certainly didn’t help. And that is very atypical of the Montrose program. We take pride in carrying ourselves with the utmost professionalism and getting technical fouls are unacceptable. The first was a double tech, when one of our players and one of the Oak Hill players got in a shoving match. Again, if we could have kept our cool and they got the tech, that could have potentially been 5 points for us (2 FT’s and a 3 pointer) and the game would have been tied! The 2nd tech, a minute later, was a very poor call. I watched the replay several times and it was absolutely a bad call. There was some incidental contact after a held ball and the Oak Hill player just flopped. I assume the refs, who overall called an outstanding game and did an excellent job, only caught the flop out of the corner of their eye and assumed it was something more. Assumed our player bumped him or something. They hit one free throw and then scored on the ensuing possession. That 3 points sealed the deal, we were dead in the water. But that is neither here nor there, as that call didn’t really affect the outcome of the game; they had all of the momentum at that point anyway and we weren’t playing well enough to make the comeback.

When you play at the highest of levels, there are no moral victories. You have to take advantage of big time opportunities. You have to play hard. You have to play with emotion. You have to execute. You have to play well. If you don’t, you lose. End of story. We learned that last night.

I sent the team a text message this morning that said; “Our loss last night should hurt. You should be disappointed. You should be upset. That’s OK. That means it means something to you. You have to learn from what happened, but it behind you, and move forward. How you respond to adversity and disappointment will show your true character. Try to enjoy your weekend. Let’s get back to work next week.”

It will be very interesting to see how our kids respond, especially knowing this is going to be a very tough month. Last night was our last regular season game, and assuming we get an invite to the ESPN / Nike High School National Invitational on April 3-5th, we won’t play another game until then. That means three weeks of practice. It’s like November, the most grueling month of the year, all over again.

However, there is a very bright light at the end of the tunnel… as that ESPN tournament is another tremendous opportunity for our program. It will be another opportunity to play against the best in the nation (4 of the top 10 teams in the nation will be playing, including Oak Hill). It will be another opportunity to play on national TV. And it could potentially give us an opportunity to play Oak Hill for a third time this season!

Will we take advantage and rise to the occasion this time?

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

March/April Alan Stein Blog Preview

Here is a quick overview of the blogs I plan to post in March and April:

March 7th: Recap, thoughts and insight from our game with Oak Hill

March 9th: Planning your off-season, Part I (this two part series will include my thoughts and recommendations that every coach and player needs to know regarding their off season strength & conditioning program)

March 16th: Planning your off-season, Part II

March 23rd: NO BLOG (I will be in Jamaica on my honeymoon!)

March 30th: Behind the scenes preview of the 2009 McDonalds’ All-American Game in Miami.

April 6th: Recap, thoughts, and insight from the ESPN National High School Invitational Tournament (which tentatively will include 4 of the top 10 teams in the nation: Montrose, Oak Hill, Findley Prep, and St. Benedict’s).

April 13th: Topic TBA

April 20th: Recap, thoughts, and insights from the Jordan Brand All American Classic in NY.

April 27th: Topic TBA

I certainly appreciate those of you who read (and share) my blog’s regularly. Please let me know if ever have a specific topic you would like to see covered… or have specific questions you need answered. Here are a few topics I plan to cover this spring: keys to self motivation, effective networking & recruiting, professional development for coaches, and ways to be more influential with your teammates and players.

Letter To My Team

March 5, 2009

Below is a letter I wrote to my team. I gave a copy to each player last night at the end of a quick upper body lift after practice. Tomorrow night we will see first hand if our guys take these words to heart and capitalize on a golden opportunity. Win or lose, I will recap the game in Monday’s blog post.

March 4, 2009

Please read this tonight before you go to bed, tomorrow morning when you first wake up, tomorrow night when you go to bed, and Friday morning when you first wake up. I’m serious; do it.

While I am sure on a superficial level you are somewhat aware of how “big” our game against Oak Hill is on Friday, I want to point out a few important things that you may or may not have thought about.

First of all, win or lose, you will remember this game for the rest of your life. I’m not joking. You will remember every detail, good or bad, until you are old and gray (or old and bald). Wouldn’t it be so much better to reminisce over a win?!

This game is all about opportunity. And golden opportunities don’t come around very often. Some people go their entire lifetime without a real life changing opportunity to take advantage of. And you have one Friday night. Don’t take it for granted and don’t take it lightly. I don’t tell you this to make you nervous or scared, but to get you excited because you very much deserve this opportunity and you are more than prepared for it. Within this golden opportunity, there are several things to think about:

1) You have an opportunity to play (and beat) the 2nd ranked team in the nation, a team that is 36-0.
2) You have an opportunity to have the best record in Montrose history (21-1).
3) You have an opportunity to play close to home, in front of thousands of fans, family, friends, media, and basketball lovers.
4) You have an opportunity to play on national TV. As far as basketball games, ESPN2 is watched just as much as ESPN. People all over the world will get to see you and to see Montrose.
5) You have an opportunity to avenge a loss. In my 6 years at Montrose we have never had the chance to play a team that we had lost to that year. It still makes me sick to my stomach we lost to Oak Hill in Hawaii, and you are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to erase that feeling.
6) You have an opportunity to prove all of the doubters wrong. People don’t think you are an All-American? Prove them wrong. People don’t think you are good enough to play in college? Show them you are. People doubt whether you are a top rated player in your class? Show them you are. People don’t think we are the best team in the nation? Show them we are.
7) You have an opportunity so stay in the hunt for a national championship. In other words, making the most of this opportunity will lead to even bigger opportunity in early April!

The Montrose basketball family, and each of you, is very, very important to me. This program has played a major role in my life for the past 6 years and I am so thankful to be a part of it.

I have never asked you guys for very much, but I am going to ask you for this:

I want you to promise me, promise Coach Vetter, promise Coach Devlin, Prete, Jenifer, Graves, promise your teammates, and most importantly promise yourself… that on Friday night you will give every ounce of heart, soul, effort, blood, sweat, and tears you have in fulfilling your role on this team and doing everything humanly possible to help us win. If you get the opportunity to play, make the most of it. Take charges, dive for loose balls, box out, make the extra pass, execute our offense, and leave it all on the floor. If you don’t get the opportunity to actually play, when the game is over your voice better be hoarse from screaming and your hands raw from clapping.

The feeling in the locker room after our dramatic win over Oak Hill 3 years ago was one of the most amazing feelings I have ever experienced and was, without a doubt, one of the top moments of my life. And I didn’t even play! I want each of you to experience that same feeling Friday night because you deserve it.

Each time you are done reading this, I want you to sit in complete silence and visualize a few things:

Visualize a time in your life when you played the best you have ever played. You may have been younger or it may have been this season. Visualize, every detail, of a time when every pass you made was on point, you had the ball on a string, and every shot you took was money. You were in the zone.
Visualize yourself on Friday night doing something spectacular. As if you were watching yourself in a movie, imagine yourself making a Sportscenter Top 10 play… maybe a sick dunk, a no look pass, or breaking someone’s ankles. Picture how the crowd responds and how your teammates react. Picture how good you feel after you make that play.
Visualize how you will feel after we win. Picture how it will feel when the crowd rushes the court to celebrate. Imagine how great it will be to be in our locker room afterwards.

If each of you will take the time to picture these things in high definition, then I know for a fact you have the physical tools to make them come true.

I can’t wait. I will be there beside you with Gummi Bears in hand.

I love you guys (no homo),

Coach Stein

Instant Classic

March 2, 2009

Even though I will be there in person, sitting in coat and tie on the Montrose bench as I have for the past 6 years, I have already set my DVR for 7:00pm on ESPN2 for this Friday. I suggest you do the same. Why? You don’t want to miss the most anticipated high school basketball game of the year; Oak Hill Academy vs. Montrose Christian. This game has the potential to be an instant classic.

Let me set the stage. Oak Hill, led by Oklahoma bound All American Keith “Tiny” Gallon and Virginia Tech bound All American Lamont “Mo Mo” Jones is currently 36-0 and ranked nationally in USA Today (#3), ESPN (#2), and Prep Nation (#2). Montrose, led by two Villanova bound studs, Isaiah Armwood and All American Mouph Yarou is currently 20-1 and ranked #1 in the Washington Post and ranked nationally in USA Today (#6), ESPN (#9), and Prep Nation (#4). And Montrose’s only loss was to Oak Hill in double OT in the championship game of the Iolani Classic in Hawaii right before Christmas! Both Oak Hill and Montrose are in the hunt for a 2009 National Championship; so this game has unbelievable significance.

This game could be an instant classic because of what happened 3 years ago. People are still talking about the epic battle that took place in DC on March 4, 2006. I have been around elite level basketball the past 10 years and that game was, hands down, the most electric experience I have ever been a part of. I still get goose bumps every time I think about it.

Before a sell-out crowd of 4,000 at Coolidge High School in Washington DC, Montrose rallied from being down 16 in the 4th quarter to hit a game winning put back as time expired to beat Oak Hill by 2 points, 74-72. At the time, Oak Hill was on a 56 game winning streak and was 40-0; ranked #1 in the nation by every publication. In addition to the buzzer beater finish, the reason that game will go down in history as one of the most memorable ever, was because of the high caliber players who played. Oak Hill’s starting five was one of the most remarkable high school teams of all time, featuring Tywon Lawson (UNC), Nolan Smith (Duke), Landon Milbourne (Maryland), Jeff Allen (Virginia Tech), and Michael Beasley (Miami Heat). Montrose had some talent too, led by Greivis Vasquez (Maryland), Adrian Bowie (Maryland), and last year’s NBA Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder). Are those line-ups ridiculous or what? And that was a high school game!

The reason Montrose was able to do the impossible and rally from what appeared to be an insurmountable lead against the best team in that nation was because of communication, toughness, and competitiveness. These traits are stressed at Montrose all year long, in our summer and pre-season workouts, in our individual skill sessions, and in our practices. Not only was the gym slam packed and was standing room only, there was a DJ spinning records at every dead ball. It was so loud our players couldn’t hear Coach Vetter from the sideline. But they still found a way to communicate effectively with each other. Hand signals, eye contact, and extra tight huddles before every free throw kept our guys on the same page at all times. And our players were tough. A turning point in the game happened in the 4th quarter when our Japanese born point guard, Taishi Ito (5’ 9”, 155lbs) stepped in and took a charge from Michael Beasley (6’ 7”, 230 lbs). Beasley had a full head of steam running on a fast break, like a freight train, and Taishi sacrificed his body to help the team. And in my humble opinion, and this is nothing against the Oak Hill players… as Tywon, Nolan, Jeff and Mike are all long time clients of mine in the off season, but Montrose competed harder down the stretch and flat out wanted it more. After a jawing match between Tywon and Greivis during a dead ball (in which the referees had to separate them), Tywon took the inbounds pass, broke Greivis down with a sick crossover, and went straight down the lane for a one handed tomahawk dunk… only to be (literally) tackled out of mid air by a freshman, Terrell Vinson. It was an NBA playoff type foul and was the epitome of how hard our kids competed. Every possession mattered and we were not going to give up a dunk.

Another reason the legend of that game will live forever is because of the rich history each program and coach has as a whole. Oak Hill and Montrose are two of the most dominant programs in high school basketball with two of the most decorated coaches in history; Steve Smith of Oak Hill and Stu Vetter of Montrose Christian. Both coaches hover around the 800 win mark, both have sent well over 100 players to play Division-1 basketball, both have numerous players in the NBA (Oak Hill – Carmelo Anthony, Josh Smith, and Rajon Rondo and Montrose – Linas Kleiza and Kevin Durant). Oak Hill has won 6 national titles in the past 15 years and Coach Vetter led programs have won 2. Both coaches have been named the National High School Basketball Coach of the Year on several occasions. Both programs are sponsored by Jordan Brand and have been Nike Elite programs since the concept was incepted. This game will be a true clash of the titans.

This game will be a war from start to finish as Montrose is focused on avenging the double OT loss in Hawaii and Oak Hill tries to prove that game was no fluke and they are the nation’s best team. The battle of the big men, Tiny vs. Mouph will be intense, as both are not only strong and powerful but have tremendous footwork and finesse around the basket. And heralded freshman Justin Anderson (ranked the #1 freshman in the nation by most scouting services) will be one of many assigned to stop Mo Mo; who erupted for 40 points (mostly from long range) last time these two teams squared off.

To paraphrase Chocolate Thunder, there will be game delayin’, backboards swayin’, bodies flyin’ and babies cryin’…

Don’t miss it. Friday March 6, 2009 at Georgetown Prep on ESPN2.

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

Glue Guy

February 23, 2009

Glue is an adhesive, and according to Webster’s Dictionary, the physics definition of adhesive is “a force that exists in the area of contact between unlike bodies and that acts to unite them.” OK, that is a little too scientific for me. Let’s just say that glue holds stuff together!

Who is the glue on your team? Who holds your team together? Who keeps the team focused when times are tough? Who does all of the little things to make your team successful; takes charges, dives for loose balls, hits crucial free throws, is a pest on defense, and sets solid screens? Who doesn’t worry about how many points he scores or how much he plays but rather if the team wins and if he did everything within his role contribute? Every team needs a player like this, a player who will make all of the sacrifices necessary to be the glue that holds the team together. Glue players are paramount during the playoffs.

I read an interesting article in the New York Times last week that parallels this thought. The article was called “The No Stats All Star” and it focused on Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets. While they didn’t use the same terminology per say, it is obvious that Shane Battier is the glue of that team. Despite the fact that he doesn’t put up huge stats, actually his box score stats are mediocre at best, he is an invaluable member of that team and plays a major role in their success. Bottom line; Shane is a proven winner. He has won at every level. Although he was a decorated high school and college player, he never put up big numbers; his points and rebounding averages were nothing to write home about. Yet he won three state titles in high school, tied the record for most wins in college (131) as well as won a college National Championship while at Duke. Although he is yet to win an NBA title, the Grizzlies improved from 23-59 his rookie year to 50-32 in his third season. The year before he arrived in Houston the Rockets were 34-48 and his third year there went 55-27; including an impressive stretch of 22 wins in row. Coincidence? No way.

So how does he do it? He isn’t flashy, he is rarely on the Sports Center highlights, and the only big number in the stat column is minutes played. So how does he have such a strong impact? How does he win so much?

It’s because he is a glue guy. Shane is the epitome of a team player. He is an impressive teammate in every sense of the word and he takes pride in doing the little things to help his team win. He is the guy every coach wants to have on his team and every player wants to play with. And trust me; there is tremendous value in being a glue guy. Shane makes $6 million a year.

At Montrose we place great value on winning. In the pre-season, our guys play pick-up games for an hour or two after study hall, weights, and individual skill development. You know the only stat we keep track of? WINS. Every player gets awarded 1 point when their team wins. So regardless of who is on the court, 5 guys will get 1 point after each victory. Teams change every day… but we keep the same point system throughout the entire pre-season (10-12 weeks). At the end of pre-season we tally it up and see who won the most games. And true to form, our glue guys always end up at the top of that list! And they end up playing more during the season. Remember, it is not always the 5 best players who play; it is the 5 players who play the best together! So you may not be the most talented guy on your team, but if you can prove you are the glue, day in and day out, you will play. And you will play even more during playoffs!

If you want your team to make a serious run at a conference or league or state championship; I suggest you either say a sincere thank you to your team’s glue guy; or you become one yourself.

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

Finishing Strong

February 16, 2009

What does finishing strong mean in the game of basketball? To me, finishing strong applies to three separate aspects of the game; finishing a lay-up or dunk, finishing the last two minutes of a game, and finishing the last two weeks of the season. Finishing, in all three cases, has more to do with mental toughness than anything else, a subject I have covered at length in recent blog posts.

How many times, especially at the high school and college level, do you see a player make a remarkable move to get to the hoop and then miss the lay-up? Maybe they just casually throw it up there or they use the wrong hand or they don’t use the glass when they should or they contort their body to avoid having it blocked and just throw up a prayer. Regardless, they don’t finish the play. Not finishing is on the top of every coach’s pet peeve list. The best players in the game, at every level, finish plays! That is one of the things that make them great. One of the absolute best ways to get your team energized is with a strong finish and an old fashioned 3 point play. At Montrose we stress finishing all of the time. We chart missed lay-ups in practice and players have to run sprints for each miss at the end of the practice. We even, and I am not joking, record missed lay-ups during our pre-game warm-ups! Our motto is simple; every lay-up is important and you have to take pride in finishing plays. We have several finishing drills we use (sometimes utilize a heavy trainer ball or coaches use padded shields to provide contact) to condition our players to make plays around the basket. We teach them to “go get contact” around the rim; not avoid it. Missing shots is a part of basketball; but if you don’t finish around the basket because of one of the reasons mentioned above – you are coming out of the game.

What about finishing the game? Do you or your team finish the game with the same intensity, energy, and enthusiasm as you do in the beginning? More times than not, if the game is close, both teams probably finish the game with tremendous effort because the outcome is on the line. But what if it isn’t? What if it is a 15 point game with two minutes left? If you are up 15, are you strong with the ball (expecting to get fouled) and making crisp passes? Do you shoot those free throws with the same focus as if the game was on the line? Do you still play defense? Do you try to bump that score up to 20 or are you OK with letting it dwindle to 10? And if you are down 15 with two minutes to go, do you give up and throw in the towel? Do you start to jack up ill advised shots? Do you try to get a few trash buckets to keep your own average up? Or do you play with pride and continue to execute your coach’s game plan? Do you try to shrink the lead as much as possible or are you OK with being kicked while you are down? If you are a player who doesn’t normally play very much and you are in at the end of the game, either up 15 or down 15, do you make the most of your opportunity? Do you try to use that time to earn more minutes in the future? Or is it a joke to you? Are just out there grab-assing? This is my 6th year at Montrose and we are fortunate enough to usually find ourselves on the “up 15” side of the coin more times than not. But this season we have not done an adequate job putting the nail in the coffin and finishing games with authority. Granted we are winning (18-1; ranked 7th in the nation in USA Today), but we are not making the statements we could be making because we haven’t been playing out the last few minutes the way we should. Errant passes and turnovers, missed free throws, and lack of defensive intensity have allowed several teams to make the final score look closer than it really was. Several times we could have turned up the volume and won by 20 or 25, instead we allowed them to skim it to 10 to 12. A sports nutritionist I know recommended we try a quick energy boost during half-time to ensure there was no physiological let-down in the 2nd half. So we started giving our players a tiny handful of gummy bears at the half (along with water) in hopes of helping us finish games with a little more gusto.

And given it is mid February, the home stretch for the regular season in both high school and college, it is so important you finish the season strong. With a similar mindset to finishing a lay-up or finishing a game, it takes both mental and physical toughness to play with the same fire in February as you did in November. As I mentioned in my last blog, motivation at this time of year can be hard; for coaches and players. You are constantly tired and your body is banged up. You have to persevere and find new ways to motivate yourself and your team. For most teams and players, a transition to playoffs, where you win or go home, can be the spark to ignite that flame. Come playoff time, everybody is 0-0, so it is a fresh start for everyone. Most of the high schools in the DC area are finishing up their regular seasons this week and moving towards conference and league playoffs. This is an opportune time for players and coaches to evaluate things. How has your team played the last couple of weeks? Are you fading off or ending the season with an exclamation point? What goals, for yourself and for your team, did you set before the season? How have you done? Do you still do the little things you did in the beginning of the year? Do you come in early to get in extra shots? Do you stay after practice as well? How are you practicing? Coach Kevin Eastman, the brilliant assistant coach for the World Champion Boston Celtics as well as Nike’s Lead Skills Academy Instructor mentioned a great philosophy (which I think he got from Jay Bilas from ESPN; another exceptional skills instructor) – “don’t try to get through the practice; get from the practice.” This mantra is especially true at the end of the season. Most players (and many coaches), just want to make it through the practice and can’t wait for it to be over. Why not use that practice as a way to get better? If you have to be there anyway, why not get as much benefit as possible from it?

To help you and your team finish the season strong, and to get you in the right frame of mind, you need to take a few minutes every night before you go to bed and every morning when you first wake up and visualize. Visualize your pre-season workouts from early fall. Visualize how hard you worked and how excited you were for the season to start. Visualize the goals you set back then. Now is the time to see them through and make them a reality!

The good news is the light as at the end of the tunnel. You are almost there. You need to stay focused and push through. Please understand I am not suggesting or implying that basketball is a drag or you don’t love playing the game; I just know that the season becomes tougher as the weeks past and staying highly motivated and finishing the season strong can be difficult at times.

I will end with this. I hate losing. I am an extremely competitive person. But I acknowledge losing is a part of life and certainly a part of basketball. Think about it, every single game played, from junior high to the NBA, somebody loses. And for the most part, with the exception of the team that wins it all, every team’s season ends on a loss. Look at the NCAA; only two teams out of almost 400 end their season on a win (NCAA and NIT champion). The NBA is no different. And for the most part, high school ends with only a handful of state champions as well as a few private school league or conference champions. That means, I know it is a tough pill to swallow, 99% of all teams end their season with an “L.”

Hopefully you are one of the rare few that end with a win. Hopefully all of your hard work pays off and you win it all. If not, if you do end on a loss, make sure you do so graciously, and make sure you do so leaving every ounce of heart, soul, love, sweat and tears on the court. Don’t go down without giving it 100%. If you don’t, it won’t be the actual loss that sticks with you. It’s knowing you lost because you didn’t give it your best. It will be losing because you didn’t finish strong. Don’t let that happen to you! You don’t want to carry that feeling around the entire off season.

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

Having Fun

February 8, 2009

This time of year is always the most grueling for high school and college players and coaches, as most nights are a dog fight in conference play and most teams are battling tooth and nail for a playoff spot or an improved national ranking. Players are in a constant state of fatigue and exhaustion, since most have been going non-stop since late August. Nagging injuries, minor sickness, and the daily grind begin to add up. While the end of the tunnel is near, it becomes harder and harder for both coaches and players to stay motivated for every practice, every team meeting, every film session, and even for every game. Players bicker with each other, like brothers and sisters do, as they feel like they spend 24/7 with their teammates and even the most minor things get on people’s nerves. This time of year is known as the “hump.” Average players, teams, and coaches will crumble and fall back down the hill, while the exceptional ones will continue to climb over the hump and chase the lofty goals they set during the pre-season.

And no team or program is impervious to this. At Montrose, we experienced this the past two weeks and it was getting progressively worse by the day. Despite the fact we were continuing to win, we had not played very well our previous two games, and our players seemed to have lost their intensity, motivation, and work ethic. Our guys just looked like they were going through motions with everything they did. Even worse, they looked like they had lost the love. This spoke volumes, because our kids love to play basketball.

This past Wednesday our guys were off from a formal practice but needed to get a lift in. When I arrived I noticed our guys looked overwhelming tired, no one smiling, and everyone kind of just laid around the weight room ready to start. They looked like zombies. There wasn’t an ounce of energy or enthusiasm. This was rare, because we have a tremendous group of kids in our program, kids who are normally highly motivated, and kids who always give me 100%. So I sat them all down and had a little impromptu team meeting. I asked them what the deal was. “What’s the problem guys? You all look dead. You look like you don’t’ care. How can you not care any more, we are having a great season?!” After beating around the bush for a few minutes, they finally came clean. The general consensus, from our heralded freshman to our senior captains was loud and clear: we aren’t having any fun!

Despite the fact we play in front of huge crowds, we currently hold the Washington DC area’s #1 ranking in the Washington Post, we have remained in the top ten nationally in the USA Today and ESPN, we only have one minor blemish on our record (a double OT loss to Oak Hill in the championship in Hawaii), and we are still very much alive in the hunt for a national championship… our guys were down, mentally and physically drained, and not having any fun. You could see it on their faces and in their body language… they were telling the truth.

While I had pretty much drawn the same conclusion in my mind ahead of time, I sincerely appreciated their honesty. So I garnered some feedback from them and then brainstormed some ways we could make things fun again. I called Coach Vetter that night and we had a wonderful conversation. Now, Coach Vetter has been coaching longer than I have been breathing, and he is one of the winningest and most decorated high school coaches in history. I have worked for him for 6 years, and in all honesty, I wasn’t expecting him to make any changes to the current routine or weekly schedule. I was actually expecting him to recite the famous line from Hoosiers when Gene Hackman said “My practices are not designed for your enjoyment.” Boy was I wrong! He got the message loud and clear and responded brilliantly.

On Thursday when the guys drudgingly showed up to practice, to everyone’s pleasant surprise, we played indoor whiffle ball instead! Coach got out the automatic pitching machine, set the court up like a baseball field, and we played a full 9 innings of fast pitch whiffle ball. The kids were shocked, but better yet, had an absolute blast! They were laughing, smiling, and finally enjoying themselves again. Despite having some very high level athletes on our team, watching kids who have never played baseball swing a bat and throw a ball was hysterical. Do you know how big the strike zone was for our Nigerian sophomore, who is 7’1”, 310 lbs.? The assistant coaches played too which made it even more fun, as the kids tried extra hard to get us out (I went 3 for 3 with 2 RBI’s… but who’s counting?). That was just what our guys needed. Afterwards I took them in the weight room for a quick upper body lift, which they did with effort and enthusiasm, and then I talked with them afterwards. I told them that fun things like this would continue to occasionally happen, if and only if, they took care of business at all future practices and games. They smiled and nodded.

They responded very well and had one of the best practices of the year on Friday. Then instead of a dreaded Saturday morning practice, Coach Vetter again stepped up to the plate (pun intended) and arranged for the entire team to go to the Georgetown vs. Cincinnati game instead! Our guys were ecstatic and very appreciative.

I am confident this little boost of fun will help get our players (and coaches) over the hump and will help our guys get the love back. We will see Tuesday night when we play again. My gut feeling is we are going get back to playing as well as we were in the beginning of the year. I feel bad for our next opponent.

Now, I am not suggesting you turn the end of your season into a tea party, work still needs to be done and players and teams still need to strive to get better every day. But… if you are sensing your players are miserable, have lost motivation, and aren’t having any fun… you can find ways to make things more enjoyable for everyone in the program and it will result in improved performance on the court. Need some ideas? Instead of a normal practice, why not take your team bowling? How fun (and funny) would that be?! Instead of a film session, why not buy a few pizzas and watch Hoosiers or Blue Chips? What about ending practice an hour early and having a H-O-R-S-E competition or a game of Knock-out?

If you are a player and you recognize you and your teammates aren’t having any fun, you have a few options too. You can schedule a time to sit down with your coach, one on one and in private, and express the sentiments and suggestions mentioned in this blog… highlighting the fact you believe this will drastically help your team’s morale and thus performance on the court. You can also take it upon yourself to organize some fun stuff with your teammates; maybe a team dinner at Chipotle to watch a Laker’s game or a Wii competition at someone’s house?

People, at every age and in any walk of life, are always more successful doing things they enjoy and have fun doing. One of the reasons I have been able to attain a certain level of success in the strength & conditioning industry is because I have put a lot of time, effort, and thought into making my workouts as fun as possible. Granted, they are still brutally hard and intense and progressive, but I try to make them fun as well because I know if they are fun the players will give a better effort. And if they give a better effort they will get better results. Period.

The same is true for getting over the hump and finishing the season strong!

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

Mental Training

February 2, 2009

With the homestretch of the high school and college basketball seasons upon us, and with teams fighting hard for playoff spots and in the quest of a state championship, conference title, or NCAA birth, I wanted to address a very under rated aspect of performance and success; an aspect critical to finishing your season on a strong note.

Mental training is one of the most under rated aspects of becoming the best player you can be. And this holds true for any endeavor, but especially sports. There is a huge umbrella of skills and traits that fall under mental training; the ability to focus and concentrate at the task at hand (like shooting a free throw), not getting flustered in pressure situations (your team is down 7 points with 1:32 on the clock), visualizing success when preparing for a game (picturing yourself playing well or making a great play), and being mentally tough enough to withstand extreme adversity (you lose your team’s best player to injury or you lose several games in a row).

The most accomplished athletes ever, the Michael Jordan’s, Tiger Wood’s, and Lance Armstrong’s of the world know this to be true; in order to reach the highest level of competency and success, your mental skills become as important (if not more so) as your physical skills. A lot of players have the physical skills, but only the preeminent ones have the mental skills as well. Your brain controls everything you do, every thought and every movement, so obviously how you think and what you think will drastically affect how you perform. So training your brain is just as significant as training your body.

There are four things that determine if a basketball player will be successful; physical ability, physical training, desire, and mental training. No need to preach about the magnitude of the first three, everyone knows how integral these are and therefore most quality players spend hours upon hours for years working on them. But how many players spend any time on the mental side?

Don’t think the mental part is a big deal? Then how come everyone thought running a 4 minute mile was impossible. For decades experts and top athletes all agreed; it couldn’t be done. Then in 1954 Roger Bannister ran a 3:59.4. He beat it by only .6 of a second. In the two years to follow, over 50 other runners broke the 4 minute mark! It was all mental!

I read two excellent books that did a remarkable job on the topic of mental training. A good portion of this blog post consists of concepts and excerpts from them both:

Mind Gym by Gary Mack
No Limits by Michael Phelps

NOTE: I recently found out Mr. Mack passed away a year after his book was released, which I was so saddened to hear because his contributions to the field of mental training were unparalleld. May he rest in peace. Also, I am aware of Michael Phelps’ most recent blunder, which is a shame as it certainly tarnishes the public opinion of his judgment. I do respect the fact he owned up to his mistake, admitted he was wrong, sincerely apologized, and promised to not let it happen again. Taking ownership for his mistake is not so common among athletes and famous people. Nevertheless, it doesn’t change the fact he is the most decorated Olympian ever and certainly knows quite a bit about visualization and mental toughness. I wish him nothing but the best as he prepares for the 2012 Olympics.

Concentration
A big portion of success is in basketball is learning how to focus on the task at hand and not let negative thoughts intrude. For most players, when shooting by themselves, hitting a free throw is a fairly simple task, especially if it is practiced for thousands and thousands of repetitions. My personal best, in practice, is hitting 112 straight. If hitting a free throw is such an easy task, then why is it so much harder to hit one when the game is tied, there are only 2 seconds on the clock, and the crowd is screaming? It is harder because the player becomes self conscious, coach conscious, fan conscious and outcome conscious as opposed to being task conscious. They allow negative thoughts to impede the simple task of hitting the free throw. Your mind can only concentrate on thing at a time. Most players make the mistake of trying to suppress what they don’t want to happen (“don’t miss, don’t miss, don’t miss…”) instead of focusing on what they do want to happen (“no problem, nothing but net…”). It is also important to not get caught up in things you can’t control, like a referee’s bad call. You can’t control he just called a blocking foul when everyone knows it was clearly a charge. You can’t waste the time or the energy or the negative thoughts on it; you have to move on. You have to focus and concentrate on what you can control.

Visualization
Visualization is powerful. In Mind Gym, Gary Mack references a study that was done with college basketball players to measure free throw accuracy and improvement. Players were divided in to 3 separate groups. The first group shot free throws for an hour, the second group sat in a dark room and visualized shooting free throws for an hour, and the last group shot free throws for 30 minutes and visualized for 30 minutes. The last group, the group that practiced as well as visualized made the most improvement. Being able to visualize being successful and doing great things is so potent. I use a few simple imagery drills before big games with the Montrose team. After we are warmed-up, stretched out and physically ready to play… I gather them for 2 minutes before Coach comes in to give his pre-game speech and prayer. For the first minute I have each of them close their eyes and visualize a time when they played incredible basketball; a time when every pass they made was crisp, every shot they took was money, and they handled the ball like it was on a string. I tell them to relive that moment in their mind; it might have been when they were 12 years old at camp or it might have been during a summer league game last year. I want them to use all of their senses to relive a time when they were “in the zone.” Most of them don’t even realize they are sitting there smiling. For the next minute I have them visualize themselves doing something great in the game that night. I have them imagine they are having an out of body experience and are up in the stands watching themselves play. I have them picture themselves doing something phenomenal; maybe hit a clutch 3 at the end of the half or maybe they come up with a crucial steal to seal the game or throw down a ridiculous alley-oop. I have them picture what the crowd sounds like when they make that particular play and how their teammates respond. I have them think about how they will feel in the locker room after a huge win. I have them picture themselves so clearly they can feel it. This little exercise gets them in a positive and confident state of mind and ready to play.

Michael Phelps recognizes that visualization is one of the keys to his success. He says he visualizes every race the night before and pictures exactly how he wants it to go. He visualizes the start, each stroke, the walls, the turns, the finish, and the strategy of the race. He pictures it in vivid detail; all the way down to how the water looks as he glides through it. He does this to basically “program the race in his head.” More times than not, the race ends up happening exactly as he pictured it. He also takes the time to visualize what he will do if things don’t go as planned; like if his goggles fill with water or his swim cap comes off. He visualizes himself having the perseverance to still swim a perfect race. Phelps truly exemplifies “we become what we think about most.” He has pictured himself being an Olympic champion since he was a child.

Mental Toughness
Mental toughness and competitive toughness are acquired skills; not inherited traits. Every basketball player out there can become more mentally tough. A good part of being mentally tough is, as Gary Mack puts it, to “be comfortable being uncomfortable.” You have to learn to embrace obstacles, difficulties, mistakes, and adversity. You can’t expect anything to be easy. Failure is not only a part of life, but a major part of sports. If you never fail, you aren’t pushing hard enough or challenging yourself. “The depths of your struggle will determine the height of your success.”

Gary Mack states there are 7 characteristics to mental toughness, all of which can be improved with instruction and practice: competitive, confident, control, committed, composure, courage, and consistency. How do you grade yourself in each of these categories? What are some ways you can improve your mental weaknesses?

It takes mental toughness to give 100% all of the time. There is an old saying, “if you only work hard on the days you feel like it, nothing will ever get done.” Part of Michael Phelps success is attributed to the fact he performs the best he can no matter how he is feeling. He puts 100% effort in to every workout whether he feels like it or not. Tired? No excuse. Got a cold? No excuse? From age 11 to 16 Michael Phelps trained every single day, with the exception of only 3 days (missed one day for a snow storm and two days when he got his wisdom teeth pulled). He trained on Christmas, on New Year’s, on his birthday and on the 4th of July. And he was a kid! You think he felt like training every one of those days? Of course not! But he did it because he is mentally tough. And look how it paid off.

If you want to be the best player you can be and your team to be the best team they can be; make sure you don’t take mental training for granted.

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

Next Level

January 26, 2009

This blog piggy backs on my post from last week about “evaluations” and having you and your coach evaluate whether or not you can play at the next level. From junior high to high school, high school to college, and then college to the pros, real players want to climb the proverbial ladder and prove they have what it takes to excel at the highest level possible. Players all over the world work on their strength, quickness, agility, hops, and overall conditioning level as well as hone their ball handling and shooting with hopes of playing at a prestigious high school or attaining a coveted college scholarship or professional contract. And the competition to play at each of those levels is fierce and gets exponentially more difficult the higher you go.

As a former player as well as a professional basketball specific strength & conditioning coach, I have been around the game, at every level, for most of my life. I have had hundreds of lengthy conversations with the best high school, college, and professional coaches, scouts, and evaluators in the nation. While we usually discuss a variety of topics, the conversation, in some shape or form, usually comes back to what it takes for a player to elevate to the next level. Can he play D-I? Is he a mid major player? Can he handle the ACC? Where will he go in this year’s NBA draft? Can he play in the league? Overseas?

When talking about a specific player, after we offer our thoughts on the formal checklist described in last week’s blog, they all say the same thing: to get to the next level, you have to do the little things. If you are a gifted athlete with some serious bounce, it is certainly possible you can have a stellar high school career without developing your off hand or working on your mid range game. You simply overpower your opponents and take the ball to the cup with authority and have no problem averaging 25 a game. I have seen several All-American caliber players have glaring weaknesses like these in their game. But those weaknesses hold them back at the next level. Even if you are lucky enough to earn a scholarship to play at Duke or Georgetown, do you think Coach K or JT III is going to play you if you can’t go left? Or hit an open 17 footer? Hell no. And if you somehow manage to go through college without improving these deficiencies, you can forget about playing pro and making the big bucks. This reiterates the importance of evaluating your weaknesses and improving them!

And when I talk about doing the little things, I don’t mean just skills and physical attributes. Competent coaches, scouts, and evaluators look at much more when deciding if you can play at the next level. I had the pleasure of going to a big time college game a year ago with a good friend of mine who is an NBA scout for the Chicago Bulls. This gentleman has coached basketball at every level (high school – NBA) and has a brilliant basketball mind. He is integral in helping the Bulls decide which players they should draft. The homework he does on a potential draftee, like last year’s #1 pick Derrick Rose, is astounding. We met for this Big East conference game because he had a several players he needed to watch and evaluate as possible draft picks. We got to the arena two hours before tip-off. Why? So he could watch how the players he was scouting prepared for the game. He wanted to see if they were focused, what they did in order to get ready to play, and if they stretched and warmed up properly. During the game he watched for their overall attitude, their body language, and how they interacted with their coach and teammates. And he was watching college All-Americans! This goes to show that someone is always watching.

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure to drive to Charlotte to watch my alma mater (Elon University) play at Davidson and the nation’s leading scorer, Stephen Curry. I have known Stephen for several years and have had the honor and pleasure of working with him at the Nike Summer Skills Academies. He represents everything that is right with college basketball. While I enjoyed watching the game as a whole, I put most of my focus on Curry and watched him no matter where he was on the court… with the ball, without the ball and even when he was on the bench! You know what I saw? When he had the ball he was always a threat. He was a threat to score and a threat to pass. He kept his head up and saw the entire court, he has great court vision. He played under control, never frantic, even when he was double and triple teamed. He didn’t try to be flashy; he was very efficient with everything he did. He wasn’t at all worried about looking “cool.” When he didn’t have the ball, he was still a serious threat. He set perfectly placed screens to get his teammates open and he moved without the ball as well as any college player in recent memory. His cuts were sharp and his footwork was flawless. Most of Curry’s shots were made before he got the ball, because his footwork and shot preparation were incredible. He set his feet and his hands before he got the ball. He ended up with 39, but could have easily had 50 if he wasn’t such an unselfish player. But my favorite part of Steph’s game is the fact he is a remarkable teammate and a distinguished leader. While he certainly plays with intensity and passion, he doesn’t let emotion negatively affect his game. Whether he hits a pro-range 3 pointer or makes a bad pass, his face doesn’t change. He never gets rattled. Steph doesn’t come out of the game very often, but when he does he is just as supportive as his teammates are for him. He is “into the game” even from the sideline. Stephen Curry will be able to play at the next level because of the focus and effort he puts on even the smallest details.

With Montrose Christian being such a renowned program, we are fortunate enough to have major college coaches coming through to recruit all of the time. When they ask me about a player, do you think they ask me what he bench presses or how high is vertical is? Never. They ask if he works hard, if he is on time, if he pushes his teammates to get better, and if he listens to directions. That’s the stuff they really want to know. They want to know about the little things.

I recently read an article in Basketball Times about Coach Bob McKillop of Davidson, who is without question, one of the top coaches in college basketball. He reiterated my sentiments 100%:

“When I am recruiting a young man to play at Davidson, I look at what he does when he comes out of the game. Does he walk to the bench or run? Does he mope or high five his teammates? When he is in the game, does he want to take big shots? Does he dive on the floor for loose balls? How is his body language when being coached? Is he an eye roller? Is he a shoulder shrugger?”

Long story short, if you want to get to the next level, whether that is college or the NBA, you need to do the little things. Doing the little things add up to a big deal! And remember, someone is always watching.

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

Evaluations

January 21, 2009

Sorry for the delay in posting, I try to post on the Monday of each week. But things have been super busy the last few days; I traveled to and from Dayton, Ohio as Montrose played in the Flyin’ To The Hoop Classic, I celebrated a birthday (can’t believe I am 33) and watched our 44th President get inaugurated.

It is now the third week of January. How many of you have continued to stick with the New Year’s resolutions you so confidently set for yourself less than month ago? If you are being honest with yourself, you probably haven’t. Whether your goal was to lose weight, quit smoking, or spend more time with your family, statistics show most folks begin to fade and fall off course after three weeks.

I am always fascinated by the initial enthusiasm and optimism people have towards New Year’s resolutions. What is so magical about them? What is it about the promise of a New Year that makes folks believe they will actually break their bad habits and improve themselves?

I rarely make New Year’s resolutions. And it’s not because I don’t have areas in my life I need to improve, I most certainly do. It’s because I make “New Year’s” resolutions all of the time! I make them daily, weekly, and monthly. If I have something in my life I need to fix or improve, I try to address it immediately. I don’t wait around for January 1st. And the reason I can make these self improvement goals, or resolutions, as often as I do is because I am constantly evaluating my performance, my career, my relationships, and my life. While I can take time to bask briefly in a job well done and give myself a pat on the back when appropriate, I strive daily to never get content, complacent, or satisfied with where I am in life. I constantly set and update both short and long term goals and am focused on evaluating my performance in achieving them. But it is an ongoing process. One of the major keys to real happiness is growth. People, regardless of age or vocation, are usually happiest when they are growing, learning, and improving. I know I am. But that is tough to do without constant self evaluation.

It has been my experience that a lot of basketball players (and coaches for that matter) don’t put much emphasis on their individual development during the season. Most players feel the best time to work on their game is in the off season. That’s what the off season is for, right? Why? Who made that rule? Your goal as a player should be to get better every day, 365 days a year. Why should it matter if you are in-season or out of season? The name of the game is continuous development. Don’t you want to be a better player in March than you were in November? I recognize and admit during the season your primary focus should be on your team, your team’s goals, and being a good teammate… but why can’t you improve individually at the same time? They aren’t separate entities.

What is the first step to improving as a player? It is indentifying your weaknesses. Before you can truly improve, you have to establish what needs improvement. This can only be done through evaluation. You need to evaluate yourself and you need to have your coach evaluate you, because for the most part, those are the only two evaluations that really matter. If you are lucky you will have a coach who cares enough to be honest with you and tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Many young players today try to avoid the truth, so they encircle themselves with yes men and with entourages who constantly tell them how impressive they are. That is why so many talented players have major flaws in their game, because either no one is honest enough to tell them what they need to improve on or they are too hard headed to listen. I have seen numerous All American caliber players who have a very weak off hand, poor shooting form, and have no clue how to play help defense. These weaknesses, if never addressed, get exploited when they go to the next level. Young people are often so ego driven they try to avoid hearing about, referring too, or acknowledging their weaknesses. Why? You should want to know your weaknesses. How else will you get better? I have heard Tiger Woods spends hours and hours with this personal golf coach watching film on himself… hoping and praying he finds a weakness in his swing, because it means he can still get better and still has room to grow.

One of the most integral parts of self evaluating is to take ownership. But this is also one of the hardest parts. It is human nature to point the finger, make excuses, and find a scapegoat for any weakness. And taking ownership is especially difficult in times of adversity. As either a coach or player, after a loss, do you ask yourself what you could have done better? What about after a sub-par season? Specifically what didn’t go well? Why not? What could you have done differently? I know those are not easy questions to ask yourself, especially when you are down in the dumps. But it needs to be done. How many times have you heard the “floor was too slippery” or the “rims were too hard” or “the refs were horrible?” Bottom line; they are just excuses. Once you get those out of your system, you need to evaluate your actual performance and get to the root of what went well and what didn’t.

If you really want to be a player, you should try this. Make a chart on a piece of paper and rate yourself on the following characteristics: ball handling, shooting form, shooting performance, rebounding, defense, basketball IQ, leadership, being a teammate, work ethic, athletic ability (strength, quickness, and explosiveness), and physical stature (height, weight, reach, and wingspan). NOTE: with the exception of weight, there is nothing you can do to increase your height, reach, or wingspan. These traits are 100% uncontrollable and were pre-determined at birth. And while you should never focus on things you can’t control, these traits do factor into being a strength or weakness on the court. That’s just reality. Even though a physical trait should not dictate your overall ability (“don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do”), it can dictate how and what you focus on. If you are a 5’5” high school senior, it is understandable if rebounding and post defense are weaknesses. That just means, generally speaking, your ball handling, shooting, and passing need to be extremely impressive so they overshadow your height deficiencies.

You can rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 or on an A, B, C, D, F scale. Now, this isn’t going on the internet or in the newspaper. This is truly a self evaluation, not for anyone else’s eyes, so don’t try to fool yourself. You get nothing out of giving yourself some bogus high scores. And this evaluation is what you believe; it isn’t what your parents tell you, your girlfriend tells you, or what some scouting service wrote about you. Once you are done, you should schedule a time with your coach and ask him to fill out the exact same evaluation on your behalf using the same criteria and scale. If they care about you and your progress they will do so honestly and enthusiastically.

How do the results compare? For the most part, any score you and your coach agree on is probably pretty accurate. If both you and your coach believe your ball handling is an “8”, then it probably is. But what if you think it is an “8” and he thinks it is a “3”? Is it possible you think an aspect if your game is better than it actually is? Regardless, you should average out both scores and have a final rating for each of the categories. Then you should put them in descending order, meaning your highest scores (strengths) are at the top and your bottom scores (weaknesses) are at the bottom. This will help you prioritize what you need to work on. Keep in mind I said prioritize. That doesn’t mean you ignore the aspects at the top of the list, as you surely can still improve in those areas too. Heck, your top trait may still only be a “7.” An evaluation like this will also help you determine your ability to play at the next level. If you are a high school player this will determine whether you can play in college and at what level. If you are a college player this will determine whether you can play professionally, and if so, in the NBA or overseas.

This evaluation exercise can also be done by coaches who want to evaluate themselves and their staff. After all, how can a coach expect his players to constantly grow and develop if he doesn’t? A coach can evaluate himself and then have his assistants and/or players evaluate him as well. Possible areas of interest are practice plans, game strategies, scouting reports, pre-game routine, motivational techniques, teaching concepts, relationships with players, having fun, etc. How do you rate? How do your assistants and players rate you?

If, as a coach, you adopt this evaluation concept with your players, you should implement a 15 minute segment into practice called “individual development.” You can do this once a week throughout the season. Put 15 minutes on the clock at either the beginning or end of practice and let the kids work on whatever they feel they need to work on (preferably something towards the bottom of their own list). Coaches can offer suggestions for drills (“hey coach, what is a good ball handling drill for me to do?) and rebound or pass. I guarantee this will be a very popular and productive segment of your practices.

Although I am constantly evaluating myself, I acknowledge I need to do a better job of asking others to evaluate me and solicit more formal feedback on my individual training sessions, my team training sessions, my clinics, motivational talks, and my writing. I usually ask for feedback, but usually only get some surface comments. I try to evaluate every session (whether it is a team workout or a presentation at a clinic) as soon as I am finished so everything is still fresh in my mind. I scribble notes on what worked well, what didn’t, and what ways I can improve. I constantly update and revise my “to do” list and my short and long term goals. I aim to do this on a daily basis. I find the more in touch I am with my goals, the higher my rate of accomplishing them. Many years ago I read a powerful quote, and it embodies my entire philosophy on individual development and daily evaluations; “Every night before you go to bed ask yourself this question: I just traded 24 hours of my life for what I got today. Am I happy with the trade?” If you almost always answer “yes”, then you are on the right track!

If you have any questions or comments about this blog, or my services in general, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will do my best to respond as promptly as possible.

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com