Interview with Josh Bonhotal - Purdue University - Part 2

In the first part of our interview, we discussed mainly the importance of speed work or endurance training for basketball players. In the second part, you will find a lot of insights about player-coach relationship, in-season strength training or team culture. The interview is pretty long, so let's get straight to it.

How long is the warm-up prior to a vigorous sprinting session?

A typical warm-up for us may last as long as 30-45 minutes.  This includes all of our technical mechanics, plyometrics, medicine ball throws, starts, build-ups and any other prep work relevant to what we have planned that day.  It is important the warmup be thorough and fully comprehensive as we are ultimately asking our athletes to exert themselves maximally, so we must be careful to minimize the risk of any soft-tissue injury occurring. 

How often do you train with the players in off-season and then during the season itself? Do you still lift weights with your players during the season?

In the offseason we typically train 4-5 days per week. Early offseason we will usually lift 3 days per week as our emphasis is more towards developing general fitness qualities, work capacity, technical mechanics and basic strength qualities.  As we move forward in the offseason, we will progress towards lifting 4 days per week once we begin to more specifically target strength and power work. Here our tempo volumes come down with sprint distances and intensities beginnning to increase. 

Inseason is very much tailored to each individual guy and could be anywhere between 2-6 lifts in a week depending upon the player. This is the time where we really start to get surgical with our approach. In general, our low-minute and developmental players will train with greater frequency and intensity, at times mimicking what our offseason looks like. For our starters and higher-minute guys, we do our best to identify and manage loads by utilizing technology such as STATSports Viper GPS and Firstbeat heartrate software along with wellness questionnaires and regular fatigue screens. All of this data is great, but in my mind nothing tops the information gained from simply having a conversation with the player. Still, having data allows us to ask better questions and can often inform or drive the conversation.

More than anything, inseason I rely on the partnership I have formed with each player to make the best possible training decision on any given day.  It is absolutely critical to involve them in the process and this is why our training is always preceded by two questions.  „How do you feel?“ and „what do you feel like doing today?“  From there we will work together to determine the plan for the day and moving forward.  You will be amazed how effective this approach can be once you truly start to educate and empower your athletes.  In the grind of a 6-month season full of ups, downs, and everything in between, I have found no better way to stay locked onto the constantly moving target that is training and recovery.  It is this approach which has allowed us to consistently improve our athletes strength and power in-season by identifying the days where we can touch some heavy loads or explosive-type work and when we need to emphasize recovery strategies.

Do you try to improve abilities such as power or vertical jump also during the season?

Absolutely!  Half of our year is spent inseason, therefore if we are not making some level of improvement during this time we are like a dog chasing its own tail, constantly finding ourselves back where we started.  Developing players in particular still have large windows for adaptation allowing for significant improvements to be made during the season.  In fact, every season we have had players achieve new personal bests in their vertical jump often times late in the season.

I believe we are able to have this success by using the strategies mentioned above to best identify when to train power and when to recover. Interestingly, I have found in many cases power training (when manipulated appropriately) can help facilitate the recovery process.  While I am certain there are physiological factors at play, I truly believe much of the benefits to be psychological.  There is just something rejuvenating about moving things fast.  Without the benefit of direct science but rather my general observations, I have noticed players who arrive to train feeling sluggish and with low energy often leave in an elevated mood state and report feeling „fresh“ following some higher velocity, power type work.

In general there are a few basic things you will want to keep in mind when incorporating power or jump training during the season.  While it is okay for intensity to be high, it is important volume be kept low and thus relatively non-fatiguing.  With regards to jumping, it is often the belief of many basketball players should not jump in season since they do so much of it on the court.  Still, I believe we must look at the type of jumps they are performing and the specific stress it presents.  It has been my experience doing different types of jumps which produce different stressors actually complements and enhances what we do in practice and games.  This is why we are not necessarily doing much by way of traditional approach and countermovement jumps.  On the other hand, things like loaded jumps, assisted jumps, release jumps, seated jumps are fair game!

If you see that the player has crappy technique during exercise in the gym, do you try to correct all the mistakes as fast as possible, or let him fail and then improve step by step?

Most often if a player has poor technique this means I have either progressed them too quickly, prescribed an exercise that is inappropriate for them or they are attempting to perform the exercise with too much weight. I believe if you follow a proper series of exercise progressions (tailored to the individual) all the while providing specific and concise cues, technique should not be much of an issue.  Thus, if technique is an issue, I view that as a failure on my part as a coach. 

In the case of more technique intensive movements such as Olympic lifts, proper progression is paramount along with the disclaimer some athletes may possess limitations preventing them from getting to the point of these lifts ever being relevant and appropriate to their development.  With developing athletes who are just beginning to learn the movements, there will no doubt be several mistakes occurring at once.  In this case, it is important first and foremost the load selected is appropriate.  It must be a technical/teaching load in which it is heavy enough to force them to execute the movement properly but not so heavy as to alter their technique. 

Assuming the load is appropriate, mistakes must be prioritized into a hierarchy and cues kept to a minimum.  Select the one mistake to address which will have the biggest immediate impact on the overall lift.  With Olympic movements this is most typically starting position and initiation of the lift.  If their starting position is off, everything else will likely be off.  Thus, it doesn’t yet make sense to address their catch since their start is the current limiting factor and simply correcting this will often eliminate many of the other mistakes you see.  This strategy can be effectively applied to most any exercise included in an athlete’s program from lifting to speed and movement.

What is your relationship with the players? Do you try to educate them and listen to them or just want them to follow the rules and strictly adhere to the program?

A culture in which athletes simply follow the rules and strictly adhere to the program without any involvement is one of obedience.This is not a culture I want to promote with our athletes.  While this may be an effective approach in the short term, I believe it can be incredibly detrimental as it relates to the long-term development of our athletes.  In order to truly maximize each athletes‘ potential, it is absolutely critical to form a relationship with them. If I cannot have a conversation with one of my athletes and get to know him as a person, why should I ever expect him to trust and believe that what I am asking him to do will help him.

Rather than a dictatorship, I seek to form a partnership with each one of my athletes.  I do my best to educate them on what we are doing and how it will help them. I encourage them to ask questions. I want them to challenge me. I do not have all the answers and I am willing to admit when I am wrong. This does not mean they run the program or that they are the ultimate decision makers, it simply means they are given a voice. I think when you are able to show this level of humility to your athletes is when you truly have them hooked and can achieve ultimate buy-in. 

At the end of the day, we will never maximize their performance potential using fear tactics. They must be invested and believe in what they are doing in order to fully grow.

In the podcast with Mike Robertson you said, that you are trying to give the responsibility to your players. How do you do that, and what are the results of this action?

What I have worked to instill is a player-led culture. One in which accountability, discipline, standards and expectations are both defined and carried out by our players themselves. I do my best to provide guidance, but I want them to feel empowered to make it their own. Language is especially important.  Players must be able to attach personal meaning to any mantras or key words/phrases we are using to define and reinforce our culture. When there is personal meaning attached, simply hearing the phrase or mantra can be enough to serve as a trigger forming a habit loop leading to the positive behaviors we are attempting to promote.  Without personal meaning, it just becomes words that sound good but ultimately ring hollow. 

I expect my athletes to own the details of how we train thereby allowing me and my assistant to focus on higher level planning and coaching.  They are responsible for setting the standard in terms of energy, approach, focus, and organization.  It is then up to them to hold each other accountable if the standards they have set are not being met. Of course I will chime in at times if I feel they are slipping or are setting their standards too low.  Still, as I often remind them, they are responsible for their own success. 

I strive to accomplish this through facilitating open lines of communication where everyone feels as though they have a voice and the truth is shared freely. Truth is incredibly powerful. For us to be successful, we must live it, tell it and be able to take it.  Establishing this type of culture is certainly not without its growing pains.  It requires great restraint at times as a coach, being able to step back and let the players resolve conflicts internally.

Additionally, there will no doubt be sessions in the short term that suffer and take a turn for the worse. This is part of the process. To truly empower them, they must be able to take initiative recognizing when standards are not being met and figure out how to deal with those situations amongst themselves. My role is that of an advisor.  In cases where they fail to police themselves, I will have discussion with the senior members of our team and provide them with strategies they can use to handle that situation in the future.

As you can probably imagine, this is without question an ongoing process. The more we grow together, the more I am able to step back and hand over control to our players. To this point I am incredibly pleased with the way our players have responded to this approach and am excited to see it play out on the court this season.

Could you at the end of our interview recommend some of your most favorite books to our readers?

Legacy by James Kerr – In my opinion this is an absolute must read on leadership and culture.  This is a book I have asked our players to read and one that serves as the reference for the player-led culture we strive to create.

Mindset by Carol Dweck – Best book I have read on growth- versus fixed-mindsets and how simply creating self-awareness can lead to change.  This book has really helped me as a coach to better understand the power of language in order to ensure I am using statements that promote growth-mindsets amongst my athletes.

Grit by Angela Duckworth – Another must read filled with valuable lessons to help discover your passion/purpose and the endurance to continuously improve yourself and those around you.

The Rise of Superman by Stephen Kotler – This book was absolutely fascinating to me.  The author looks into how extreme sport athletes tap into flow state to do the unthinkable from riding waves the size of an apartment building to BASE jumping off the Sears tower to space jumping out of a balloon 24 miles above earth. If flow is considered optimal performance, what these athletes do is ultimate performance where it is literally flow or die.

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