Stephens has eight years' experience with strength and conditioning at Texas Tech; his work supports not just the Lady Raiders, but the baseball, softball, and soccer programs – and, of course, the football team. His duties include educating student-athletes about nutrition, strength and flexibility training, and overseeing the distribution of nutritional supplements. Stephens is a 1998 graduate of Tech, and was a three-sport letterman at Sweetwater High School.
The Lady Raiders' training regimen varies according to the needs of the players, their positions, their individual physiques, and, in some cases, the state of their injuries. Parts of the program, including the stretches before every practice and every game, and some of the specific work in the weight room, also are designed to help prevent injury, Stephens said. Other considerations include rehabilitation, body strength and mass, overall conditioning, and nutrition.
"My year starts when the season's done, so, in the middle of April, we start preparing for the next year," he explained. "That all goes with the off-season program, and my main emphasis in the off-season isn't necessarily conditioning. My main goals in that time are getting ‘em stronger, (increasing) their strength and then their power.
"Lateral speed and agility, the foot quickness," he said, "We do year around. We'll get that done in the post-season, and then as that carries over into the summer we'll start getting more sport or position-specific needs with certain individuals, for example if somebody needs increase their power more, increase their vertical jump, or we need to increase their first step."
"In the summer we have pretty much the same goals as our main goals in the off-season, but at the end of the summer we start," Stephens said, "conditioning the body a little more for the pre-season. I don't stress a whole lot of conditioning in the summer, because that's what we use whole the pre-season for.
"Keep in mind we're in a six and a half month season. If you start conditioning in the early summer, you're looking at nine months solid," he said. "You'd peak in November, (when) we're in non-conference, playing exhibition games. I want to peak when we're in Big 12, so that's why we design all the conditioning, all the strength, so when we hit Big 12 play we can finally say all right, our work is done, let's see how far it takes us." "
One of the places that work takes Stephens, and by extension the team, is into a regimen of ongoing fitness training year-round. Even in the backbreaking intensity of Big 12 play, the team concentrates on improving agility and flexibility.
"We warm up and stretch every single day before practice, and flexibility is also enhanced through full range of motion exercises in the weight room," Stephens said. "Any time you limit your range of motion you lose flexibility over time, so (we use) full range of motion there. We work on agility and foot quickness every single day before practice, the first fifteen minutes."
"Every single day we do it, and that keeps their speed up and gets them mentally ready," he said. "It's another way to warm up. The coaching staff, and myself, have made a commitment to do that. We even do it on game days, in pre-game warm-up."
Looking ahead: In Part II, Coach Stephens talks about the challenges of an off-season conditioning program.