Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Stay Out Of Lane 4

TigerBlog often likes to drift over to the end of the mezzanine of Jadwin, or even into the balcony itself, and watch basketball practice for a little while.

It's been a source of pretty good entertainment through the years. Some of the funniest comments TB has ever heard have been uttered by Princeton basketball coaches, male and female, during practices.

The first coach TB watched run practice was Pete Carril, who could be counted on for something classic on a pretty much daily basis. TB remembers vividly a moment from 20 years ago, when Carril ripped his own shirt down the middle, so that it sat like an unzipped sweatshirt, as he screamed at one player "You should've gone to Yale; you would've been that guy's problem." Or the time he grabbed Jose Ramirez Del-Toro by the collar and dragged him up to Princeton's two starting guards a few days before the 1996 Princeton-Penn playoff game, announcing "I will put him in the game if you guys back down to them."

Then there was Bill Carmody. One day, during a drill, one of the reserve players was beaten for a backdoor layup, which elicited an expletive from the defender. "Hey," Carmody said quickly to the player who had cursed. "The idea of the game is to get the other guy to say that."

Richard Barron, the former women's coach, would be good for a laugh or two with some of his comments, especially the ones about decisions his players made on fastbreaks. These were doubly funny, given Barron's propensity for the behind-the-back pass off the green screens on a 3-on-1 at lunchtime basketball.

Nobody's ever topped Joe Scott for the ability to get his point across by saying something unbelievably funny. One day, dissatisfied with his team's defensive effort, Scott said: "If I could get the other team to guard us like you do, I wouldn't have to think of plays." Stuff like that was a fairly common occurrence.

Practice for a team sport like basketball or football or lacrosse or others basically follows the same script. They all start with warmups, followed by individual drills that build up to group drills to finally full-team drills.

TigerBlog went to look for basketball practice earlier this week, only to find that the court was empty, as practice is being held at different times than normal because there are no classes or exams this week. What he found, though, more than held his attention.

Beyond the basketball courts obviously sits the indoor track. To be honest, it's not a sport TB knows much about or one in which he ever participated. He has gone to watch some meets here, and he worked down the hall from the track coaches for nearly two decades.

He has also seen track practice numerous times, even wandered into the middle of it looking for one of the coaches for one request or another on a handful of occasions. He's known some of the athletes and has admired their commitment to a sport that competes over two or three seasons.

TB has gone to the Heptagonal cross country championships for several years now, and it's a great event that features great competition mixed with great tailgating. He has see indoor and outdoor Heps, including the time when he saw 10-time event champ and Roper Trophy winner John Mack win a 400 meter preliminary by about 350 meters after two of the other four runners ran into each other at the start.

Until earlier this week, though, TB never really stopped to consider track practice, what goes into it, and how it is different from the pure team sports that TB usually sees.

There are probably close to 90 athletes between men's and women's track, and it seems like they spend the entire time about to run into each other. There are sprinters, distance runners, middle distance runners, field event participants, relays, everything. And they all are, for the most part, doing workouts unique to their specialties, all in the middle of dozens of others doing their own unique workouts.

Through it all stand the coaches, armed with stopwatches, making sure the right split times are being met (not exceeded or underachieved). They make adjustments to workouts on the fly, depending on any number of factors. They see all around them.

Peter Farrell is the only head coach of women's track and field Princeton has ever had. He and Fred Samara, the men's head coach, started on the same day more than 30 years ago.

Farrell sets up workout schedules two weeks at a time, and he forwards them to his athletes. He then tweaks them if necessary.

Farrell has on file workouts dating back decades, ones that worked and didn't work. He has the workouts that the great Lynn Jennings ran 30 years ago. His files include notes that say "what were you thinking?" and "don't try this again," as well as more positive reminders of things that went well.

For the most part, practice starts either at 3:45 for most or 4:30 for those whose classes (mostly labs) go to 4:20. They include warmups and then the day's workouts, which involve running certain distances in certain times with certain equal splits.

The way it plays out, traffic is coming not-quite-full speed or full speed, depending on the splits, pretty much non-stop. Mixed with that are the jumpers in the middle, as well as those doing different resistance-type stuff. And a whole group in the back, riding bikes and using weights.

Farrell talks about how former men's coach Larry Ellis, who was also the U.S. Olympic coach, had one lane designated for running in the opposite direction. Why?

"Every guy my age who was a runner who is having a hip replacement is having it on his left hip," Farrell says. "That's the inside hip."

The result is a scene that appears to be chaotic but really is quite choreographed.

"I have to tell the freshmen to stay out of lane 4," Farrel says. "Jogging is for lane 1 or lane 8. Lane 3 and 4? That's like Route 1."


Anonymous said...

Even when you pretend to write about track, you have to start with men's basketball.

Anonymous said...

If Tiger Blog ever has the chance to see an elite-level indoor track meet, he will not be disappointed. Everything is in a smaller location than an outdoor track meet and the shorter track makes for more exciting races (in my opinion).

Track enthusiasts will always point to outdoor track as the purest of the sport (undertandably so), but seeing four or five world-class runners get after it on a 200-meter track for a winner-take-all one-lap race is incredible.

And to my fellow anonymous commenter -- I think your comment was a little out of line. Tiger Blog was merely using the comments from basketball practices as a connection to his experience at track practice. Lighten up a little.

Anonymous said...

my favorite practice quote started with Joe Scott calling one of the players "Cutie Pie"