Preseason Workouts: The Grit Behind the Glory

TSR was on hand to watch the women's basketball team go through a day of offseason workouts.

On a Friday afternoon in September, the only sounds to be heard in the immense 17,950-seat Comcast Center are the echoes of 14 pairs of sneakers pounding the floor and 14 voices shouting words of encouragement. These are the 14 players of the Maryland women’s basketball team, participating in preseason strength and conditioning workouts.

During these workouts, there are no screaming fans, no television reporters, and no opposing teams - none of the obvious motivators for success. Instead, the players must draw strength and motivation from within, an arguably more challenging task. They must directly confront and triumph over weakness on a daily basis. They must be able to complete seemingly endless sets of sprints, pull sleds of weights across the floor, and play full-speed scrimmages at the end of an already-tiring workout.

However, they are not completely alone in this endeavor. Leading these workouts is Kyle Tarp, Strength and Conditioning Coach. Tarp, who got his bachelor’s degree in exercise biology from the University of California, Davis and his master’s degree in Sports Science and Nutrition from the University of Texas, explains that during the preseason, strength and conditioning workouts are at their most intense. “We’re lifting about three times a week, we’re on the court for team workouts, we’re on the court twice a week for conditioning, and we’re playing pick-up three times a week; we’re leaving no stones unturned,” said Tarp. In addition to a high frequency of workouts, Tarp has been steadily increasing the workouts’ intensity over the course of the three months that the team has been in preseason training. “My goal is to present a training environment that is going to make them successful,” Tarp declared. “And that means presenting challenges and situations that they might not think they can overcome, but teaching them to trust their bodies and work through those things.”

Although most people would probably think of conditioning as just “getting in shape” or running, Tarp’s workouts are far more specified, each with a specific goal and relation to the sport of basketball. He explains that each player has been observed and assessed in a “comprehensive functional analysis - how their body moves and how it operates in specific transformational zones in the game.” He then comes up with “a homework-able program to address their individualized needs.” From there, every training exercise is geared towards “acquiring a combination of movement patterns” that will be directly applicable to the types of movements they will be executing in games. Tarp’s preseason workouts are meant to “enhance those patterns, whether it’s through emphasis of load, speed, or direction.” “We’re trying to teach the muscles of the body, the joints, the connective tissues, to work together, to work as an effective system,” explained Tarp. “If what we’re doing doesn’t transfer directly to the court, or as I like to say ‘bleed onto the court,’ then I’m wasting my time.”

In keeping with the tenacious nature of the preseason, Tarp is also working on the difficult task of rehabbing injuries on the team. “Unfortunately, some of our players have had catastrophic injuries. We have five players that have had ACL reconstructions or some type of surgery,” said Tarp. For these players, Tarp adopts special workouts that will allow them to continue to perform their specified movements. For example, Tarp has been conducting some of his workouts in the pool, in order to take the weight off the injuries and still be able to reinforce lateral and defensive movements.

Beyond rehabilitation, Tarp also emphasizes prevention. He stresses: “It’s our goal to get to the root of the problem. ‘Yes, the knee was injured,’ but was it due to foot dysfunction, hip dysfunction, or a lack of relative body strength?” Once these questions are answered, Tarp does his best to ensure an injury will not reoccur.

And so far, it seems that all of this hard work is paying off. Tarp has been “very impressed” with his Terps so far, and “couldn’t be more proud of what they’ve done up to this point.” “I have pretty high standards and I expect a lot out of them - and I won’t apologize for that - but all in all, they have done unbelievably well,” remarked Tarp.

However, Tarp is not yet satisfied. Given that last year the Terps’ only postseason appearance was in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, as they did not qualify for the NCAA playoffs with a record of 21-13, Tarp thinks that this year’s Terps “should play with a chip on their shoulder.” “Last year we didn’t protect the Maryland legacy, and we need to earn in back,” stated Tarp. “We have to prove to our fans, to the students, to the rest of the country that Maryland should be in the conversation when you’re talking about the elite programs in the country.” Accordingly, that type of resiliency and determination is exactly what Tarp is emphasizing in his preseason workouts.

More than anything, Tarp fully acknowledges that teaching the team to stick together is the most important, unifying theme of the preseason. Without chemistry and cohesion, the other elements of training will not be able to be fully utilized. “I push them really hard, but it’s because I want them to rely on each other, I want them to have to pull from each other for energy,” explained Tarp. And the preseason is certainly the perfect environment to build team chemistry and trust, because Tarp recognizes that, like the preseason, the Terps won’t always have a crowd full of fans cheering for them, and will often have people cheering against them. “When you get in a foxhole, like at Duke, you’re going to have to find a way to work together, to lean on each other, and to do what you’ve been preparing to do,” reflected Tarp.

And it would appear that Tarp’s message has been received. Players during Friday’s practice ran alongside their teammates who were struggling with sprints, shouting encouragement and never giving up on each other. The struggling players were inundated with support from their unwaveringly loyal teammates, and true to the preseason mentality of perseverance, they succeeded.

Although Kyle Tarp knows there are many challenges ahead, his determined, no-excuses preseason philosophy is palpable throughout Comcast Center, as those 14 pairs of sneakers continue to sprint down the floor, and those 14 voices continue to enthusiastically cheer each other on.

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