THE INDIAN EXPERIENCE
You joined the Indian team around the same time as former India Head Coaches Pete Gaudet and Kenny Natt. The current Head Coach is Scott Flemming. Does working through different head coaches affect your job in any way?
Yes. Your effectiveness is absolutely going to be affected by what the head coach wants, how much they are open and what’s their philosophy. From that perspective, Coach Scott Flemming is phenomenal. We’ve had conversations about what we want to do and how we want to get there which I think is a really good thing for Indian basketball.
You’ve worked in the UK and US before you came to India. Didn’t it feel like you were moving backwards considering that in the UK and US you were probably part of more sophisticated programs?
Yes, absolutely. But the excitement for me was trying to bring those things from the west and make India better. I’ve travelled and lived overseas in Asia before, though I hadn’t been to India. So there are certain things that will always surprise you. But the big picture is that I knew India never had S&C before I got here, so this was a chance to build something up the right way.
At any point of time did you feel frustrated by the lack of progress made by players or the administration?
(with a twinkle in his eye) You control what you can control.
That is such a diplomatic response! Do you plan to stay here for the long haul? As you can see, it is going to take a lot of time to raise the physical standard of Indian players…
It’s a long term project. With all real change, it takes time. We are building the foundation now. We’ve had the senior men in a couple of times (for training sessions) and we’ve seen good starts with strength gains for all of them. Now we just have to keep going. It took a while to get our weight room set up the way we needed it. We now have a phenomenal weight room, probably the best sports performance weight room in India, without a doubt.
As the national S&C Coach, you work with the Indian teams at all levels: senior, junior, male and female. Which of your players have had the biggest gains?
I don’t want to name specific players. Probably just by watching (the 3 on 3 nationals that was under way in the backdrop at the time of this interview) you can get an idea of who are the best every time. The ones that never stop. The ones that have that motor which is always running. Usually they are the same guys who in the weight room are like that. Like I said before, weight lifting is painful. But if players can start to see that they are not getting pushed around any more, not getting the ball slapped out of their hands in traffic, as they start to understand and believe that their efforts are paying for them, then even if they never like it, which most people will never do, they’ll still be committed to it if they want to be good basketball players.
WORKING OUT IS NEVER FUN
Is it true that doing work in the weight room is never fun? The truly great players, at some point of time, don’t they start enjoying it as they begin to realise how much it elevates their game?
(with a knowing grin and bending his head slightly forward as if revealing a lesser known secret) A lot of players say that but few actually mean it. They say they like working out but perhaps what they are doing is working out at an intensity that isn’t at the level that will really help them improve. If you look at the history of S&C 40, 50 or 60 years ago, in almost every sport they said don’t lift weights as it will make you slow and less athletic. American football and track and field are some of the first sports to declare “you know what? Actually if you do it right it’s going to make you faster, more athletic.” There’s been a progression from these two sports and slowly others have caught on.
Basketball, I’m sad to say hasn’t been at the forefront of this change. Lots of basketball teams have strength coaches or talk about S&C but they are not really getting their players stronger. They are doing stuff they think is fancier, but which is not really increasing strength.
In other words, they (S&C coaches in general) are perhaps focusing on muscles that ‘look good’ such as the chest, biceps and calves. To take a cue from your booklet, it’s more important to focus on the hips, abs, lower back and shoulders. Are these the muscle groups most commonly neglected?
The core of our workouts is stuff like full body weights, squats, deadlifts etc., the so called ‘big multi joint exercises’ that are about producing force into the ground. The most important muscles for a basketball player are in the lower body: glutes, hamstrings and quads. Those are what are really going to make the most difference.
REMOVING ‘CORE’ MISCONCEPTIONS
That’s interesting to hear, that a basketball player should focus on the lower body. Based on our research, which is very internet based, we read that if we have limited time, we should focus on developing the ‘core muscles’…
What do you mean by ‘core’? There are lots of internet gurus who are making money off of people, confusing them on purpose by talking about ‘core muscles’. I use the phrase sometimes, but I don’t like it. There’s no good scientific definition of ‘core’. Is it just the abs? Do the abs include the pelvic region? When I talk about big lifts, I’m talking about squats and deadlifts where you are getting a lower body workout. You are also getting a ‘core’ workout, if you want to call it that, because you have to brace through it.
To be stronger you have to do what is called ‘progressive overload’. You have to keep making it harder. It’s the same thing with doing pushups. You can do 10 pushups, then 11, 15 and 20. But if all you do is putting the same amount of force into the ground over and over again, that’s not making it stronger. It’s simply making you put in the same amount of force for longer.