Kentucky Basketball: Calipari, Wildcats Using Science To Improve Performance

Calipari knows how hard you're going when even you don't know. - USA TODAY Sports

John Calipari has a post up today describing how the coaching staff at Kentucky is using science, in this case, monitoring individual heart rates, to determine who is giving effort and who isn't.

One thing we all know about John Calipari is that he never stops trying to find new ways to motivate his players and improve their performance. This morning, Calipari has a post up on CoachCal.com that describes a "new to me" method for producing results, which involves actively monitoring heart rates during practice.

Here it is in a nutshell:

For the last few weeks, Rock Oliver has been sitting in front of the computer for every practice and workout so he can monitor our players’ heart rates and exertion levels in real time. At any point in practice I can look over to him and ask him what the rates are and he can give me the percentages. He can tell me if they’re going at 80 percent or 90 percent or whatever it is. If I think the rates are too low – if we are in the 70s or 80s – we get on the baseline and we run to get them back in the 90s.

To give you some perspective, our players’ heart rates work at about a 90-percent level in an actual game. If they are only in that 80-percent level in practice, which was happening to a few of our players, they are so far behind when the game requires them to give 90-95 percent exertion that it looks like they can’t play.

Be sure to read the whole thing, because it is interesting and informative, and looks fairly innovative to me, although for all I know this is happening all over college basketball. Somehow, though, I doubt that.

This reminds me very much of Rocky IV, when the Russians were constantly monitoring Ivan Drago during his training, and what's really cool about this is that players have not been waiting for Calipari or Oliver to speed them up -- they are going over and checking to see where they are, and if they are out of the max zone, they'll go harder until they get into it.

That says a lot about the determination of these young men to get better. It is also a remarkable level of feedback that really produces measurable results that should eventually show up on the court.

Calipari warns that this isn't a panacea, and that it will take time:

This is not guaranteed to turn our season around. We have seen a difference so far, but all of our worries aren’t suddenly over because each individual player is different, each player looks at their exertion level differently, and lastly, they have to understand that they need each other. That’s the part where you can’t hook a guy up to a monitor and measure. That’s an area that we have to continue to work on daily.

This feedback helps both problems, though. By caring about the fact that they aren't fighting through difficulty, they are discovering as much about each other as themselves, which will hopefully lead to more trust. More trust = better basketball.

This is a fascinating use of technology, and a great idea, no mater who uses it or who came up with it. I'm glad that Calipari has embraced it, though, because it will definitely improve this team. What we don't know yet is how much.

So here's a question for you, dear Calipari detractor (and you know you're reading this): Still think Coach Cal's just a recruiter?

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