We just finished with #BalancingTheHolidays. Each program handles winter break differently, some coaches make philosophical decisions, while others are at the mercy of their actual game schedule. Either way, it is a unique time during the season where coaches have to consider sports-life balance and the re-activation upon return.
In our season, there is not much choice in the matter. High-school basketball in Massachusetts has proven to be a unique logistical experience. The first games are played 5 practices into the season with football players finishing up on Thanksgiving Day. Winter break is often scheduled with games two days before and after Christmas Day. This year, we have games on the 23rd of December followed by our next opponent on the 27th. So, we had a lighter practice on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. The re-activation process really doesn’t even exist beyond the partial mental component of freedom seeing all family and friends on Christmas Day, but then it is back to work the next day.
At the Division II & III levels, we took a week off each season. Coming back from those breaks was different. All coaches are under the impression that the athletes are not going to be at a comparable activity level to when they were on campus. Therefore, returning from break was about two things:
- Re-Acclimate to Compete
- * Conditioning While Reviewing *
The reality of it is the smallest of time-off can chip away at the positive habits or mindset that had been developing during the pre-season and early parts of the playing schedule. It won’t take long to get back into playing shape, athletes have got it figured out how there body’s work to play at a competitive level. And if they hadn’t the coaches quickly identify the ones that aren’t ready anyway. It is the mental conditioning that can be the biggest differential when returning to practice. How long does it take collectively for the team to re-acclimate themselves to the competitive standard necessary to continually grow versus battling the number of days it takes to get back to where the team left-off?
- Executing when fatigued
- Staying in defensive stances for extended possessions
- Sharpness of decision-making
- Offensive flow or rhythm – seeing extra passes, secondary defenders, etc.
- Championship communication – volume and purpose
These are the types of elements that can be challenged following Christmas. At the college level, it can be a little different too because despite returning back to campus and away from family again, where is the rest of the student body? It is my opinion that the best athletes thrive from routine. Idle hands and time can be the most destructive to poor decision-makers. With homework and normal social lives when school is in session, leisure time is at a premium. During the holiday breaks, there is a lot more freedom to go out on the town, or where the crowd goes. This is why you will often see volunteering, team-bonding activities, or alumni events during this part of the year to mitigate the possible risks of bad choices.
At the end of the day, the best teams avoid making disruptive decisions. They demonstrate a level of commitment and maturity understanding the time-off is for recovery and spending valuable minutes with loved ones that they don’t see on a daily basis. Conditioning will likely need to be prioritized regardless of the dedication to the locker-room. But I can guarantee the ones that will make the longest runs during the post-season do not waste a lot of days getting re-activated after the holiday break.
All of this being said, I want to take the time-out to wish each and every coach a safe and low-stress holidays! This time can be kind of crazy for us balancing job-related responsibilities and time-commitments with the undervalued opportunities to share experiences with loved ones. While, basketball is our career, don’t underestimate the impact time spent with those closest to you have in the long run! But, #AfterTimeOff we know it’s right back to work! Let #2020 be the best finish of your career and good luck!