Monday, July 21, 2008

Giving some thought to training camp

Sitting on the tarmac in Philadelphia on the way home to Northern California from Greece...

We had a few minutes, so I picked up a copy of the Philly paper and came across this article about NFL training camps and the different approaches teams/coaches take.

According to Eagles RB Brian Westbrook:

"I honestly believe just from talking to my friends across the league that [Eagles head coach] Andy Reid runs one of the toughest training camps in the league. I talk to my brother [Byron], and he said [the Washington Redskins] don't hit at all. Every coach is different, and Coach Reid has had a lot of success doing it the way he's done it. But when I look at this team and the vets that we have and the guys in key positions, you wonder how much physical contact do they need? But you can't argue with success."

In the NBA, teams that have continuity with a large number of returning players and the same coaching staff have a genuine advantage. In any sport, it's hard for a staff in put in a new system -- from relatively simple things like new terminology to more complex issues such as a new philosophy -- in such a short period of time.

Then there's the issue of a staff getting the feel for its players (and vice versa). The saying, "You never know a player until you coach him" is absolutely true. Scouting or coaching against a player is one thing; coaching him is something different entirely as you learn things about him that won't see as an outsider.

From a coaching perspective, a big decsion is how much conditioning you'll put the guys through versus how much time you'll spend on the "mental" game (i.e., X's and O's). Finding the right balance depends on the team and the staff.

One key training camp consideration is whether to have the camp at your own facility or go to a neutral site. The NY Knicks, for example, have had their camp in Charleston, S.C., for 20 years or so (though that might be changing under Donnie Walsh).

From my experience, having the camp away from your home base can help with team bonding as the guys are forced to spend time with each other. The downside is, with such a long season, it's just more days away from home, which can lead to mental fatigue as the season wears on.

One year with Golden State we had our first two games of the exhibition season vs the Lakers in Hawaii so we opened camp over there and stayed through the first two games of preseason.

We stayed at the Turtle Bay Resort and practiced at BYU-Hawaii. It was a good way to start the season from a mental standpoint. If you're going to be away from home, it's nice to be in a tropical paradise.

One year when I was with Orlando we had a camp in Jacksonville at the University of North Florida. As I recall, this was a generally unmemorable experience -- not particularly good, though not bad either.

With the Hawks one year we had our camp at UT-Chattanooga. Again, in hindsight, I don't think this was particularly beneficial for us.

Maybe it's a matter of being in a place where the "vibe" or tone is right. In Hawaii, for lots of reasons, from the ideal climate to the natural beauty to the quality of the Turtle Bay staff, it felt right. In Jacksonville and Chattanooga, it was off a little bit. There's something to be said, however, for your environment and the setting.

In other seasons with the Warriors, Hawks, and Magic (as well as the Grizzlies), we stayed home and had camp in our own facilities. Unless you're at Turtle Bay in Hawaii, I think your own facility makes it easier on issues such as:

- Travel for coaches and players and their families;
- Training and weight equipment; and,
- Video and digital equipment for reviewing film.

I think it's worth putting some thought into where you have camp. In the long run, it's one of those often-overlooked variables that can have a significant impact on your season.