How to Maximise Tournament Performance

Maximising tournament performance is vital for success and enjoyment at all levels of sport. The key is having a scientific, but also practical strategy that helps you maximise your potential without going overboard.

The good news is I've already done this for you. All you need to do is follow the plan.  

Creating a world class tournament plan

When I was appointed as the Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Australian Sapphires in early 2006 under head coach Gary Fox, I had two goals:  

  1. Maximise the athletic development of our players over the 6 month lead up to the 2007 World championships in Russia.
  2. Devise the best warmup and recovery protocols on the planet, so that our athletes could stay bulletproof all tournament and perform at their peak in the finals.

I spent a lot of time in those 16 months working out how to fulfil goal 2, while we worked on goal 1.  

Although we "only" got the Silver medal in that tournament, we were undefeated except against the USA and definitely punched above our weight on the world stage. Due to their outstanding attention to detail our girls were the best prepared and recovered team at the 2007 Worlds.

In today's post I'm going to share all the secrets to world class preparation and recovery, so that you can apply them at any level of basketball.

Before we get into the details of the program it's important to understand the dynamics of tournament performance and what typically goes right and wrong.

What typically goes right.

  1. Team managers do everything so players just have to play. They are the awesome unsung heroes of sport.
  2. Coaches watch, learn, dissect and teach.
  3. Physios work their hands to the bone keeping everyone mobile and healthy.
  4. Teams gel and develop together on court, learning how to get the best out of each other.  

What typically goes wrong

  1. Players don't refuel their petrol properly so the glycogen tanks are low before the finals even start.
  2. Players fail to mobilise stiffening joints and release trigger points in their tightening muscles.
  3. Post game static stretching is at best lip service, so bodies tighten up just a little game by game.
  4. Teams don't adequately activate their critical muscles during warmup so that the wrong muscles often take over and tighten up.

The net result of these two contrasting trends is that most teams' collective basketball IQ (Intellectual Quotient) increases as they progress through the rounds, whilst their collective basketball AQ (Athletic Quotient) quietly decreases. Players arrive at the business end of the tournament mentally tougher and smarter, but physically drained and sore.

However it doesn't have to be this way. You can improve in both areas and arrive at finals strong, smart, fit and ready to dominate.

All you have to do is follow the plan outlined below IN FULL.

High performance protocols for tournaments

1. post-game recovery nutrition

Post-game nutrition is a whole article to itself, but the key things you need to understand are:

  • Glycogen is the petrol in your muscles that fuels anaerobic sport (i.e. basketball)
  • It takes up to 48 hours to fully replenish the glycogen stocks in your liver and muscles.
  • Due to a really helpful hormone called glycogen synthetase which floods your bloodstream after exercise you absorb triple the nutrients in the 30-60 minutes post game.  

This means that in a tournament scenario many teams are starting games with tanks that are less than half full. This often shows up late in the fourth quarter when they "run out of legs" and suffer from poor decision making both of which are often just symptoms.


*Cash in on this re-fueling window by consuming one gram of simple carbohydrates (sugar) per kilogram of body weight as soon as you can post game. *

For example: A 70 kilogram athlete should drink one 600ml "Gatorshake", and then 10 grams worth of simple carbs like 4 lolly snakes. This will give them a total of 70 grams of simple carbs and get them on the road to peak performance at their next game.  

Then, make sure to have a great post game meal to get some real food and slow release carbohydrates into you.

The reality of tournaments is that often the post game meal at 11:00am is also your pregame meal for 1:30pm, so my advice is follow the guidelines below on the perfect pre-game meal and you will do well.

2. pre-game meals

I have written about the perfect pre-game meal before. The rules are the same, the only difference might be that you have to vary the meals a little, as not everyone can eat the same meal 6 times over a long weekend!

3. Foam roll before and after every game

I just can't emphasise enough what a big deal rolling is for enhancing muscular recovery and restoration of tissue quality in a tournament situations. Here's more on the importance of foam rolling.

3. Gently stretch before and after every game

No one really likes stretching, it's boring and it hurts. However gentle static stretching pre and post game is still one of the most helpful things an athlete can do. Despite this, stretching is still the forgotten step child of sport because of some bad application of sports science that told a whole generation of my colleagues not to have their athletes stretch pre game when the message should have been don't stretch vigorously pre game. It's a huge slip up that has lead to a lot of unnecessary injuries across a wide range of sport. Make sure you do it gently and consistently.

_WARNING: You need to make sure you have become accustomed to the rolling and stretching at least a week before using them in a tournament setting. Otherwise you are in for some seriously soreness if you are a rolling rookie! _

Static stretching. Boring but good.

Static stretching. Boring but good.

4. Pre-game glute activation

After you have rolled and stretched you should always do a little activation warmup for your glutes prior to engaging in your dynamic team warm up. Read all about why it's vital to activate your glutes and watch the video.

Optional extras:

5. Compression garments

Compression garments are helpful for athletic performance in so many ways. They enhance proprioception (the body's awareness of joint positions), circulation (via venous bloodflow back to the heart), they keep muscles warm, and can even provide support to muscles reducing next day DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). I have always been a big fan of compression garments, especially the long tights for training, lifting and recovery.

Luckily we are sponsored by 2XU at Basketball Victoria and they just happen to make the best compression garments you can buy. They are really well constructed and significantly more compressive than many of the competitors. I have spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on compression garments over the years, and I can say from my experience they are definitely the best (please note I paid full price on all my 2XU gear to avoid any conflict of interest when I came to testing and reviewing their garments. No freebies here!)

6. Post-game ice baths.

Post-game ice baths are a really interesting area. Although the anti-inflammatory benefits are not as profound as once thought, the ice baths reset our nervous system from sympathetic (i.e. adrenalised) to parasympathetic (relaxed) which better allows us to sleep and literally conserve that nervous system energy for the next game. We used ice baths (or more correctly ice wheely bins and ice kiddy pools) when I was with the Dandenong Rangers and we used them with the Sapphires.

Despite their tremendous benefits I do believe cold water therapy comes at a price in some settings, and that is to what I call the "athletic diligence budget". Coaches should be careful if prescribing ice baths, because overspending the budget on this optional extra might just cost you the athletes full application on rolling or stretching.

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