The McMaster women’s basketball team’s game plan has always been simple: run. From the moment the warm-ups come off to the last seconds of the fourth quarter, a momentum is kept that revolves around speed and agility. For the players to run fast and play long minutes, it is training that helps to set the tone.
In his first year working at McMaster, Ben Bahrami, head Strength and Conditioning coach of the McMaster women’s and men’s basketball teams does what he can to assure the players remain active while competing on the hardwood. Though adjusting to a new school meant forming fresh relationships with players and coaches, the program has been allowing Bahrami to continuously grow.
“The athletes are very motivated and involved. It’s a good thing that we are busy and I love it,” said Bahrami.
Having a six-day program in the off-season and workouts two to three times a week during the season, Bahrami and staff give nutritional advice and train the basketball teams in recovery. In the event of an injury, alternate programs are created for athletes that will still allow them to take part in team lifts. No program is ever set in stone and exercises are made to fit the individual’s needs in order to maximize fitness.
From what the athletes eat, to the pre-game warm-up and post-game cool-downs, the Strength and Conditioning Program is holistic and helps strengthen all aspects of a student-athlete’s life. Three lead coaches will work alongside interns from the McMaster Kinesiology program. Those groups are responsible for working with different McMaster varsity teams to accelerate the growth of players and keep them healthy.
Under the leadership of coordinator Steve Lidstone, Mac’s Strength and Conditioning program is solidifying its spot as one of the best university programs in the country.
“Strength and conditioning is huge for injury prevention, for performance and for team culture. With sports like basketball, their seasons are very long and the athletes’ bodies would break down if this program didn’t exist,” said Bahrami.
Twice a week, players fill out a fatigue survey sent directly to their inbox that is completed as soon as they wake up. Players answer questions on a scale that asks about stress levels, sleep quality and mental wellbeing. Along with direct face-time with coaches and trainers during post-game stretches and talks, McMaster has many ways to cater to the players on the team.
Several tests are done throughout the year assessing factors like body composition and strength and focus is placed on recovery from the high-intensity portion of training.
“The numbers go up because our athletes are amazing. They are going to get stronger.”
With a shot at playoffs nearing, modifications in the program will be introduced to the players with a greater emphasis put on the individual’s strengths. Programs are flexible and always keep in mind the players’ health.
Having multiple resources available for McMaster athletes, the willpower of the staff and the consistency of different programs within the athletic department suggest that the Strength and Conditioning program will only get better. “We are able to bring people in and work together. We are succeeding in the culture that Steve [Lidstone] and the coaches have created,” said Bahrami.
Ongoing communication between head varsity coaches and their Strength and Conditioning coaches is important in guaranteeing success and good health on and off the court.
Head coach of the women’s basketball team, Theresa Burns says, “strength and conditioning is a part of everything we do.”
Paying attention to the weaknesses of the team and finding solutions in practices while pushing physical boundaries during team lifts has only helped sharpen the Women’s Basketball team’s quick style of play. In games where players play big minutes, preparing the body is crucial.
Rookie Hilary Hanaka and third-year guard Danielle Boiago know all about big minutes. Hanaka is ranked third, while Boiago is ranked fifth in the OUA for minutes played per game. Averaging 33.9 and 33.7 minutes a game respectively, a fundamental fitness plan helps in keeping these players running up and down the court without a sign of short breath or fatigue.
“You can’t play a fast game with players that don’t have that kind of foot speed or fitness. I think we are a little quicker in all of our positions now, our fitness level is very good,” said Burns.
The cohesive and seamless link between varsity teams and programs such as Strength and Conditioning foster development in a player’s skill set.
“He [Bahrami] has to take a lot credit for the team’s success this year because your athletes can’t do what they do on the court without that base of fitness,” said Burns.
Juggling a full-time student course load and the demands that come with being a student-athlete can be difficult but the support available to players like Hanaka have made the transition from high school basketball to the university level a lot easier to handle. Working a schedule around academics, a program is made with team members in mind.
“We are able to bring our full potential on the court,” said Hanaka.
“The games are a lot more demanding and very fast paced,” she said, comparing it to her high school experience. “With conditioning, it’s one notch up.”
As fans, it is easy to only see one aspect of the game. While watching a double header at Burridge, it could be hard to understand the amount of work that goes on off the court for our players to yield the results that are witnessed. A team’s success is the result of all of the little puzzle pieces being brought together.
It is through the presence of programs like Strength and Conditioning at McMaster that coaches can continue to test the abilities of our athletes and what they are capable of. Because of the combination of experienced staff, great facilities and the care given to McMaster student-athletes, this program is unmatched in most universities in the country.
“Our athletes are so well supported. Being a McMaster athlete is pretty special and a big part of the special feeling is knowing how well supported you are,” said Burns. “There is nothing standing in your way. Nothing.”