November/December 2016
Training Never Ends By Henry Barrera

Across the country, countless players have been putting in work to prepare for the upcoming season. Meanwhile, coaches are eager to see how all the pieces will come together to develop their teams.

A new season is an epoch of sorts. It marks a very distinct time in a program’s history, whether teams are coming off a championship season, rebuilding or starting from scratch. From my point of view as a sports performance coach, it’s time to see if the players I’ve been working with are prepared. I want to know if they have the physical capacities that let them express their basketball skills to help their teams win.

I teach, coach and live from what I call my performance ecosystem. Achieving your best involves the constant management of many variables. This performance ecosystem is the foundation of what I believe drives consistent and elite performance for players and coaches. This integrated system includes mindset, sleep, nutrition, training and readiness. When a player becomes aware of how each of these things not only interact but complement each other, they accelerate their rate of improvement.

I want to share a couple of practical things that you can do to put your team in the best position to succeed from a sports performance standpoint. First, I want to share some thoughts that have challenged me as of late.

At this point in the year, I’ve completed about 40 of the 52 books I’ve challenged myself to read. As the year goes on it gets tougher, but it’s well worth the effort. I thought it would be fitting to offer key themes that keep coming up that, believe it or not, correlate with everything I will share from a performance standpoint.

For players, think about habits. This idea of habits and adding another layer of confidence every day in how you live your life and prepare for competition has been and will be a big theme throughout the season until excellence becomes second nature. In the age of digital domination there are plenty of distractions, and the players who excel have an uncanny ability to block out unnecessary noise. As Bruce Lee once said, “It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”

For coaches, remember to simplify. Leonardo da Vinci said it best: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” The most complex systems are built one layer at a time. The question we ask is what will give us the biggest return on our investment. We find out what works and what doesn’t, and then we refine the process of teaching and learning.

If there is one thing that can blind us to all others, it’s ego. It can stifle learning, distort teaching, inhibit growth, destroy chemistry and cause division. Ego is the real enemy.

Maximizing performance

I want to share three things that will have a big return on investment as you tipoff the season and get going from a performance perspective.

1 Don’t quit performance training. I know how much work we’ve put in during the offseason and preseason. It would be a shame to let that go to waste by not continuing to train.

We change our rep schemes and try to customize training sessions to each player as often as possible. The biggest difference in our training is volume and intensity. We keep the volume low and try to keep our intensity moderate to high. We’re always looking for quality over quantity and the biggest return on investment.

The No. 1 factor in making this happen is logistics. When you play two or three games in a short stretch or get into league play, how do you plan for this? In our situation, we tend to lift right after games or in the window that gives us the best opportunity for recovery.

2 Value sleep. Sleep plays a key role in getting players ready to compete and has a direct, measurable and predictable effect on performance. It’s so important for players to build an optimal environment for growth and adaptation within their bodies.

What most players don’t know is you can’t train your body to tolerate less sleep like you can train other systems in your body to adapt to specific stresses. Sleep can be managed the same way other aspects of your preparation can be managed — with time and effort. The science is out, from improving shooting percentages and faster sprint times to decreasing the chance of injury. Sleep is key to improving overall health and performance.

We highly encourage our players to have some form of a nightly ritual. It all comes back to habits and what gives you the biggest return on your investment.

3 Quality nutrition. This is a tough one for most people, specifically young athletes. More than anything, I want our players to be aware of how food impacts athletic performance, recovery and overall health. My mission is to help players transform their bodies and their games, so I have to look at food through a different lens — it’s a tool. I do not expect perfection, but I do expect awareness of how food impacts the performance ecosystem.

The players I’ve seen excel have an uncanny ability to tune out distractions. They prioritize, plan and ultimately are able to consistently perform at a high level. On a practical level, the best thing I can do for our players is to put the best options in front of them. Aside from educating them and raising awareness, I take advantage of options like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, readymade shakes and other simple foods that I can quickly get into their systems.

The key is progress over perfection. We’re all on a journey. Albeit at different spots, we’re not who we were and not who we’re going to be, but we’re on the way there.

Henry Barrera, CSCS, is the director of performance for men’s basketball at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @hoopdiaries.




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