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Coaches Need Performance Optimization Too (Not Just Players)


Josh Wright holds a position with the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers that represents a new line of thinking in the world of professional sports. Wright’s official title is “assistant to the head coach,” but his primary job function is much more specific. While the team has a standard training staff on hand to see to the health and well being of its players, it also employs Wright to manage the fitness of its coaches, specifically head coach Luke Walton.

Via Bill Oram of the Orange County Register, Walton said the following about his efforts to stay in shape:

“Even though you know it and you’re aware of it, with the schedule we have, it’s hard to do the stuff we need to do. And as much as you’re just standing and traveling and (sleeping on) hotel beds, it catches up to you quickly. … I have so many other decisions to make, he [Wright] just tells me to do it and I can just do it.”

With the help of Wright, Walton’s training regimen includes swimming, water aerobics, yoga, weightlifting and beach volleyball, among other things. Despite the round-the-clock demands of being an NBA head coach, Walton makes an effort take part in at least one physical activity per day.

Oram writes “Although most coaches have access to the same science, equipment and training staffs as players, they are typically left to their own devices when it comes to taking care of themselves. … The 29 coaches who don’t have the luxury of a team employee monitoring their physical activity and diet are their own watchdogs – with varying degrees of success. Personal accountability can be tough in a profession that often demands 90-hour work weeks and offers not even the illusion of job security.”

Giving players days off to rest has become regular practice in the NBA. Coaches, however, are never afforded that luxury. Obviously the physical tolls of playing a game are much greater than coaching one, but guiding a team from the sidelines is still a strenuous task. Coaches must also face the same travel demands that their players do, as well as constantly prepare their squads for each new opponent.

Oram goes into further detail:

“Coaches throughout the league tackle their fitness in different ways. Most teams continue to expand their training staffs, but the Lakers are believed to be unique in having a trainer dedicated to the coaching staff.

‘That’s a very smart, aggressive, proactive way to help a guy that’s in a very important position,’ said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who is also the president of the NBA Coaches Association. ‘These guys are all warriors of the game. A lot of them played it at a very intense level and there are residual outcomes from a long playing career.’”

At 36 years old, Walton is actually the youngest head coach in the league. His body is likely much more capable of handling the rigors of the NBA season than the majority of his elder colleagues.

Oram quotes Kevin McHale, longtime Boston Celtics star and former head coach of the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves:

“All those things you’re trying to do get put on the back burner to just getting your team ready to play and dealing with whatever crisis. And believe me, when you’re coaching, there’s a daily crisis. … Most coaches aren’t kids anymore. You’re an old man and you’re on the same schedule as these 25-year-old kids. It never bothered me when I was 28. It bothers you when you’re 58.”

As with athletes, coaches can clearly benefit from being properly rested and recovered. Better fitness may also go a long way towards helping them handle the day-to-day grind of their profession. Don’t be surprised if other pro teams soon follow in the Lakers’ footsteps and take measures to optimize the physical performance of their coaches.