Training Staff Adjusts to Condensed Schedule
Posted: Dec. 7, 2011
If an 82-game season takes a toll on every NBA player, a condensed 66-game season takes two.
A normal NBA schedule is physically daunting for any athlete, but packing so many games into such a short period of time is not a challenge for the fainthearted. Lucky for the Suns, their renowned training staff has been planning ahead.
Suns head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson, who was voted NBA Trainer of the Year in 2009, is intimately acquainted with the shortened season. Nelson still recalls the days of the condensed 1998-99 campaign, when as a Suns assistant trainer, he was dealing with many of the same issues he’ll be facing again this season.
During a typical NBA season, players wear down after three games in a week and playing on back-to-back nights. With a 66-game season, players will be forced to consistently play four games in a week, including stretches that feature back-to-back-to-back games.
“I think everyone is going to be leery (of the schedule),” Suns point guard Steve Nash said. “It’s going to be brutal. Four games a week is tough for anybody.”
Grant Hill, whose fifth year in the NBA was the shortened 1998-99 season, also remembers the effect of condensing so many games into a reduced amount of time.
“The season is going to be an adjustment for everybody,” Hill said. “It just depends on how teams manage it and deal with it. I don’t know what the actual solution is or the best approach to dealing with it, but it’s going to be a challenge for everyone.”
Nelson and his staff have taken a proactive approach to confronting the increased physical strain on the players. The first modification has been increasing the workload for his staff much earlier in the season than usual.
Currently, Nelson and his staff are performing daily assessments on the players, whereas he would normally spread those assessments out over the week during a typical 82-game season.
“My staff and I outlined things that we needed to do and thought would be beneficial as far as preventing injuries as much as we can,” Nelson said. “We’re getting them ready in a much more accelerated fashion. The important thing from our side, the medical side of things, is just making sure that the guys are moving well, moving safely, and doing everything we can to keep them on the court.”
Nelson stated that most of the players arrived for camp in good shape, although he noted that they still needed to transform into “basketball shape.”
“You can run a marathon but you can’t get out on a court, jump and bump people,” Nelson said. “Being in shape to play basketball is different. There are things that they did, but it’s not the same as getting up and down the court on a consistent basis four to five times a week.”
Despite the fact that Nash has only missed 17 games in the last four seasons – all while combating a degenerative back issue - Suns fans are most concerned about how the condensed season will affect his soon-to-be 38-year-old body. However, Nelson isn’t worried about Nash and the other veterans.
“It depends on how they take care of themselves,” he said. “Steve and our veterans are extremely knowledgeable about their bodies, not only from the physical aspect, but from the nutritional and mental aspects too. I think that they’ve done everything that they’ve needed to do to prepare themselves knowing that the lockout could be done at any point.”
Although Nelson is optimistic, he’s still well-aware of the dangers the schedule presents for the players.
“There’s some concern,” he said. “It’s get up and go, whereas normally we have guys coming in 8-10 weeks prior to training camp to get ready. Now we’re talking about two weeks.”
Not only has Nelson and Co. increased the amount of manual therapy and the corrective exercises performed, but they’ve also intensely managed the balance between conditioning and resting the players. Nelson would like to find the fitness zone where the players reach their goals in a timely manner, but without overworking them.
“We really pride ourselves on the prevention aspect of training,” the Suns head athletic trainer said. “So we’re prepared for the way we’re going to assess guys on a daily basis, how we’re going to do that in a reduced amount of time and so it doesn’t become a time-consuming thing.”
During the 1998-99 season, Nelson recalls that the players were rusty at the outset before rounding into form a few weeks into the season. Although the former NBA Trainer of the Year may anticipate some sloppy play at the start of this season, due to the familiarity that the players have with each other, they might just end up being ahead of the curve.
“Luckily our team is pretty much the same as last year, so they have that chemistry,” Nelson said. “When you don’t lose that component, you just need to get out on the court and get your wind. So hopefully with us, it won’t take that long.”
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