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Friday, July 19, 2019

Coaches’ Corner: Late Summer, Early Fall a Crucial Time for Athletic Conditioning

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Photo Caption: Coach Heather Mason (background, center) guides the University of Tennessee Lady Vols through a different sort of “shopping” experience—pushing weight-laden, wheel-less shopping carts across an indoor football field is just one of her versatile strength and conditioning routines

Photo Credit: Courtesy William Ewart

By Sue Favor

Strength and conditioning has been an important element of a basketball player’s training program for many years. Now, with the rise in skill level and physical play in the girls’ and women’s game, off-court preparation plays an even more critical role in an athlete’s success.

Full Court Press is pleased to introduce a new twice-monthly column, “The Coaches’ Corner,” in which Full Court writer and strength and conditioning coach Sue Favor will canvas strength and conditioning coaches from colleges all over the country, and bring their best tips for success to our readers. Today’s column features longtime University of Tennessee Lady Vols Coach Heather Mason, a Master Strength and Conditioning Coach, certified by the National Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, with 13 years in the strength and conditioning profession.

The framework for collegiate strength and conditioning has been the year-round, periodized plan model. That is, a general cycle geared toward the playing season of the athlete. For both high school and college basketball players, that means August is traditionally a “rest” month.

Many collegiate players have just finished a summer school session, during which time they played for a basketball league. Most high school players spent the month of July traveling with their club ball teams, playing in tournaments.

According to Heather Mason, Assistant Athletic Director and Strength and Conditioning Coach for the University of Tennessee Women’s Athletics Department, an athlete’s workout program for August depends upon how active she’s been during June and July, and the level of competition she has faced.

“It depends on whether or not she’s had injuries, who she’s played,” Coach Mason said. “Depending on those answers, the volume of the workout may need to be changed.”

With strength and conditioning, versatility and adaptability are key. Mason brings not only her academic and professional training and certifications to the task of adapting strength and conditioning programs to the individual athlete, but also her experience as a collegiate athlete, a four-year letter winner and captain of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats Volleyball team.

“There’s no question you have to have a general (strength and conditioning) plan for the year, but even the best-laid plan changes,” Mason said. “It’s best to have an undulating plan.”

The primary goal in a strength and conditioning program is to ensure it’s safe for athlete participation, Mason said. In August, at the very least, ball players should work on core/abdominal strength and stability, and flexibility.

Crunch PhotoPhoto Caption: Core/abdominal strength should be a key area of focus in an August strength and conditioning workout plan, according to Coach Mason.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Coach Heather Mason©

“The work needs to be progressive, successive movement,” Mason said. “You don’t want the body to adapt to the workout totally at any stage.”

Progressive abdominal/core workouts begin with pelvic tilts and similar exercises, then body-weight crunches and leg lifts, then holds and bridging work. The next step after this is stability ball work, followed by work with the medicine ball, according to Mason. Athletes stretch every day.

By mid-to-late August, every athlete is rested up and ready to get back to work in the weight room. Mason said that from August through October at Tennessee, the basketball team works out with her three days per week for 90 minutes. Beginning October 15, that time is cut to 40 minutes while practice time is increased. So late summer and early fall is a crucial time for an athlete’s conditioning for the entire year.

Mason said much of the training she conducts is geared toward building up an athlete’s reserves, but she doesn’t have them run mileage. Instead, basketball players participate in anaerobic-based workouts, such as interval running.

The first week of last April, after the Lady Vols exited the NCAA Tournament after Round 1 for the first time in history, is an example of this type of training. Pictures of the entire team running repeatedly up a steep parking structure ramp circulated around the Internet. Contrary to popular opinion, this wasn’t a matter of simple “punishment.”

“We had some extra time there that we’d never had before, so we thought we’d help them build up their reserves,” Mason explained. “I felt that we got a lot out that training, both physically and mentally.”

Another key in training is injury prevention. Mason said the first step lies with the athlete.

Commitment PhotoPhoto Caption: The success of any strength and conditioning program lies first in the commitment of the individual athlete, says Mason.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Coach Heather Mason©

“If a player doesn’t take care of herself—doesn’t get enough sleep, enough to eat or the right foods—she gets fatigued, and is more likely to become injured,” Mason said.

Tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee occur fairly often in girls’ and women’s basketball. To minimize the risk of this injury, Mason trains athletes in balance and kinesthetic awareness, strength and power, and core work and general stability. She also teaches the biomechanics of good movement.

“Many athletes need to learn jumping and landing mechanics,” Mason said. “They shouldn’t have their knees together when standing, shouldn’t have their head over their toes, and they should use their hips to cushion their landings.”

Basketball season starts in earnest about three months from now, and there is a lot to work on in preparation for that. So for high school and collegiate basketball players, this is the least busy time of the year—the calm before the storm.

“We need rest, but we’re staying active before we really get going again,” Mason said.

Tug of War PhotoPhoto Caption: Tug of War, anyone? Even in a month of rest, it’s important—and fun—to remain active to maintain good competitive strength and conditioning. . Here, the University of Tennessee Lady Vols team is hard at work in another of Coach Mason’s versatile exercises.
Photo Credit: Courtesy William Ewart©

Originally published Tue, August 11, 2009

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.