Coach Becker has done an unbelievable job in 7 years at Vermont. He’s 166-77(.683) overall and a ridiculous 93-19 (.830) in the America East Conference. He’s been to the post-season in all 7 seasons including 2 NCAA Tournaments, and over the last two years he went through a stretch where he won 36 of 37 league games.
I asked him with such high expectations every year how he tries to make sure his team is playing their best basketball late in the season. He explained it with 4 key points of emphasis.
- Keep them physically and mentally fresh all year – He doesn’t just start thinking about shortening practice or giving his team extra days off later in the year. He thinks about it from day one. He gives his team a lot of freedom early in the year and listens to them about how they are feeling, so that later in the year even as they shorten practice, he can tighten the screws as needed. He spoke about understanding the importance of keeping his own voice fresh by not constantly pointing his guys all year.
- Scheduling – Becker talked about making his team uncomfortable early in the year with the schedule. He likes to play difficult road games and put his team in challenging situations – going on 2-3 game road trips, with tough travel. He feels like when his teams get into the rhythm of the conference schedule – 8 at home, 8 on the road – it seems less daunting. They are also prepared for winning tough games on the road late in the year when it matters.
- Making adjustments and tweaks – He talked about how he has grown as a coach, and listens to his players more than he did when he first took over. He gives them input on game plans early in the year, allowing them to make suggestions how to play certain teams and players. He feels that by giving them some ownership of it and by making adjustments, he keeps his team more invested and that game preparation never becomes mundane.
- Start with defense – Becker says that his practices in the beginning of the year are 75% defense. Inevitably his assistants come to him in December when the offense is struggling and tell him they have to work on offense more. But he feels like the foundation of their defense is really important to their success, and by working on offense more as the year goes on he keeps his kids more mentally engaged. No one comes to practice looking to do defensive slides and take charges, so he feels like the practices are fresher as the year goes on because they like working on the offense.
Becker had some other really good insights into their culture at Vermont and the approach they take to having high expectations every year. Be on the lookout for the podcast in the near future.