Friday, July 25, 2008

Conditioning tests set the tone

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton put his guys through a pretty intense conditioning test earlier this week to kick-off training camp.

Of course, conditioning tests aren't new. Pat Riley's test was legendary. If a player didn't meet the body-fat standard set by the training staff, he wasn't even allowed in the gym.

When I was with Doc Rivers in Orlando we had a tough one. I remember he called it "a rite of passage." It really set the tone and was a hint at what the team's identity would be.

And we did a pretty rigorous one when I was with Golden State. We also had a relatively tough one in SAC where the guys had to do four sets of 10 baseline-touches with a couple of minutes between each set. Looking back, I don't think it was tough enough.

The big question with the conditioning test is always the veteran players. With the Warriors, we sent a letter to each of the guys early in off-season outlining the conditioning test they'd be required to do on the opening day of camp. This gave them an idea of what was expected -- kind of a test review. It also set expectations.

If a player didn't pass, he had to run it again after each practice until he did pass. For some guys who didn't work out much during the off-season, it could take 3-4 times to pass it. Danny Fortson went almost a month before he passed it, but he ran it every day and gave a good effort.

As Payton did with the Saints, the time you were required to finish in varied depending on your position. Guards had less time to finish than forwards, who had less time than centers.

From a coaching perspective, the conditioning test is a good early indicator of what kind of season you may be in for and what kind of team you have. It tells you something about the goals guys set in the off-season, their level of commitment, and their focus.

It's evident that a player who shows up to camp in top physical condition has been thinking about basketball. He's making a statement.

On the flip side, a guy who comes in 20 pounds overweight, hasn't been lifting or running -- he's not committed. He's not taking his craft seriously. For a coach and his teammates who are taking it seriously, that's disappointing.