The first telling sign is that they come in pairs: young, athletic-looking pairs. The next sign is that they’re not doing regular weightlifting; they’re working on plyometrics, throwing each other a medicine ball, running up hills with weight vests. A closer glance may reveal a school insignia on a pair of shorts or two. Yes, college basketball players are home and in the thick of their off-season conditioning.
The way it works is this: college athletes are on a year-long mesocycle of strength and conditioning-building. Basketball players work on increasing their endurance in the summer time, at the farthest point away from the season. In the fall, running drills become shorter until athetes are doing speed work, just before the start of the season. From November through March, conditioning is just maintenance, and stops in the school weight room are after practice, and are kept brief.
It is in the summer where champions are made. All the teeth-gritting and complaining about mileage that is going on now will translate to much less shorts-grabbing-at-the-end-of-a-game in February.
Sometimes athletes bring in the book that their strength and conditioning coach gave them before they left school for summer break. They’ll glance at it, and then get busy, then go back to it again for further direction. I ran into one of my former ballers at the gym a couple weeks ago, home from the east coast. She wanted to know what a hang snatch was, so I showed her, and then had her practice it until she got it exactly right.
A few days before that I talked to a couple ballers at the other gym. They were doing box jumps and I asked if they ever did split-squat jumps – my favorite plyometric exercise.
“Oh yeah – that was the day before yesterday,” the one boy said with a smile.
I gave them props for knowing their program.
This morning I went with some fellow teacher friends to the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook for a workout. On our way down the first time I saw two young men, and one had a weight vest on. As we got about 10 feet from them they both said “go” and began to run up the steep hill (it’s 400 feet to the top). I told my friends, “that’s some college stuff right there.”
We were going back up again and I opted to run up the hill while my homies walked. I got done and was waiting for them when I found the two young men, who had also just reached the summit. They’re from the University of Arizona team, and described to me their workout; it was a lot. We ended up talking about our backgrounds. Coincidentally, we all came from pretty non-athletic families and were “the crazy ones” of our tribes. That lead to some minor speculation about what makes an athlete – natural-born skills, or hard work and mental toughness? That’s another column……………
The young men started to go back down so they could do their 8,567th repetition, and they shook my hand and said goodbye. But I know if I go back next week, they’ll probably still be running up the hill.
It is said that your true character is revealed by what you do when no one is watching. So I’d like to give a shout out to the disciplined athletes who are doing their strength and conditioning workouts this summer, and doing them well. You put a smile on my face every time I see you. And you will be smiling at your own self come next winter.