When you have a young team like ours — we start four freshmen and a sophomore who didn’t play last year — your job is different as a coach for several reasons:
- Instead of beginning the year with players to build around, now you’ve got to start by quickly evaluating what each player needs, their skill set and how you have to deal with them as an individual. Every one of these players needs me in different ways.
- You have to convince them how hard they have to work consistently. That means play to play, day to day, week to week – not when they feel like it.
- I must get through to the team that my job as a head coach is to care about each one of them and love them. Their job is to care about each other and love each other.
All three of these things go hand in hand, but it’s hard to do when you are starting over with a brand new team with brand new players. That’s what we have faced this year.
Because we have very few returning veterans that our new guys can imitate or mimic, we haven’t gotten the level of work – conditioning, toughness, effort and exertion – that we need and we expect. That is not an excuse for our record. I’m proud of how far we’ve come and excited about where we will finish, but I’m just stating facts. We don’t have guys who have been in the system that can show them how hard they have to work. I have had to convince our guys that they aren’t working hard enough because they’ve been under the impression that they are. Each individual thinks they are working hard.
To help me do this, each player is now practicing and playing in games with a device that measures their exertion rate, sport zones, caloric expenditure and heart rate.
The device gives us the ability to monitor and check how much effort players are giving in real time. Because we are able to read their heart rates, now we know who is maxing out in practice and who is hiding, who thinks they’re going hard and who isn’t, who is able to push themselves through pain, and who has mental toughness to be special.
Everybody perceives his exertion level differently. Some feel they are working extremely hard and they’re not, and others perceive that they’re not working very hard when they really are. My hope is to get everybody in that second category. I want them to realize what their exertion level is in games compared to what it is in practice, and this device helps us do that.
I always say the film doesn’t lie, that you can have every excuse you want but the truth will show up on film. Guess what? The monitoring system doesn’t lie either.
For the last few weeks, Rock Oliver has been sitting in front of the computer for every practice and workout so he can monitor our players’ heart rates and exertion levels in real time. At any point in practice I can look over to him and ask him what the rates are and he can give me the percentages. He can tell me if they’re going at 80 percent or 90 percent or whatever it is. If I think the rates are too low – if we are in the 70s or 80s – we get on the baseline and we run to get them back in the 90s.
To give you some perspective, our players’ heart rates work at about a 90-percent level in an actual game. If they are only in that 80-percent level in practice, which was happening to a few of our players, they are so far behind when the game requires them to give 90-95 percent exertion that it looks like they can’t play.
Like I always tell you, results don’t happen overnight. We’ve been doing this for three weeks now and have seen improvement, but it’s going to take time. I will give a couple examples of how it’s already working though.
We put Kyle Wiltjer through an individual workout the other day and he stayed in the max zone for 13 minutes of the 25-minute workout. Just so you know, that’s ridiculously good. But what that showed us is Kyle has the mental ability to be tough; he just chooses not to mix it up sometimes.
We have some others that did the same workout as Kyle and got into the max zone for a minute and 35 seconds. That showed us they don’t have any mental toughness. This isn’t to embarrass them; it just shows us how far they have to go and forces us to figure out how we get them in that max zone longer for game conditions.
Another example: Since we started using the devices, Willie Cauley-Stein will look over during practice and ask what his rate is. If it’s at an 80-percent level, he’ll go harder to get his rate up. After practice, three or four guys walk over every time and ask how they did. That’s exactly what we hope the players will get out of this. It’s a great individual tool for each of them. If we are about players first, we have to help them become the best versions of themselves.
There are a couple of other things we get out of using this device.
One, it allows us to measure their caloric expenditure. Through this device, we now know our guys burn between 5,500 and 6,000 calories a day that they must replenish. (P.S., we don’t have average-size kids. A 225-pound kid will burn calories faster than a 150-pound kid.) I’m seeing numbers that are proving that you have to feed these kids more. If we’re the ones burning up these calories, then we should be responsible for feeding them and replacing those calories.
That’s why I’ve been so upset over some of the meal stuff. If they miss a meal, they can’t replenish it. These kids aren’t machines. They’re not robots. This is someone’s child we’re talking about. As a mentor, I couldn’t feel good about myself if they are using 5,000 calories a day and we’re not replenishing it.
These devices also help me know when to back off as a coach. The old way of me judging my team was really scientific. If I was tired, I figured they were tired, so I backed up. You laugh, but that’s the way I did it because we had no other way of doing it. We didn’t have many injuries, so it worked, but I appreciate this device because it validates what I’ve done over my career. As you all know, I’m always concerned about someone’s health and injury, and this device shows that if we’re going four or five days in the max zone, I know it’s time for me to back up.
All of this may sound extreme, but we’re at an extreme program. We are in a nontraditional program trying to do nontraditional things that have never been done before in the college game – getting young players to be everything they can be. We had better than a 3.0 grade-point average as a team with eight players that had a B average or better that played one of the top-25 schedules in the country (which was stupid) with by far the youngest team in the country.
I come back to this: Our players have no one to imitate and no one to mimic, so I have a job here, which is to help these players become the best versions of themselves and to get them to understand how badly they need each other to reach individual goals.
This is not guaranteed to turn our season around. We have seen a difference so far, but all of our worries aren’t suddenly over because each individual player is different, each player looks at their exertion level differently, and lastly, they have to understand that they need each other. That’s the part where you can’t hook a guy up to a monitor and measure. That’s an area that we have to continue to work on daily.
I hope this gives you an idea that this is more than just challenging players. This is about the health and their well being.