You see the TCU athletes on the field and the courts, but what you don’t see is the work that goes on that enables them to perform at their optimum level.That’s where training, strength and conditioning come into the picture. That is also when Melissa Schau and Joe Walker earn their checks.
Walker is the strength and conditioning coach for the TCU men’s basketball and women’s soccer teams. Walker said that although his job title starts with the word strength, that isn’t the only thing he focuses on during workouts.
“In the off-season, the big keys are flexibility, strength, power and durability,” Walker said. “The main responsibility is to get the athlete as explosive as possible. Strength isn’t anything if you can’t apply it fast. That’s for any sport.”
Walker attempts to have his players gain that necessary combination of strength and speed by mixing the two in the program. Walker said that if the athletes are doing squats, then they are coming up as fast as possible, no matter what the weight is.
Walker said the workout plan his female athletes follow isn’t much different from the guys’ plan.
“Conditioning is the only difference,” Walker said. “We focus on coordination, footwork and speed. You can’t really develop too much speed for basketball because you’re always changing speeds.”
Strength in Numbers
The athletes follow the workout plan that Walker has already laid out for them each morning.
Walker said the emphasis during the workouts is focused on the team as a whole.
“We take an individual and set their goals,” Walker said. “We then try to match it as a team. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, so we focus on group work. We realize that anything you do is going to benefit everybody.”
Walker said his one-on-one work with his athletes is very limited.
“We do most of our work with the team,” Walker said. “We like vocal leaders and encouragement. We don’t do too much one-on-one unless the kid has an exam or something.”
That is where Walker’s and Schau’s program styles differ. Schau is the trainer for the women’s basketball team.
Schau said her training room opens an hour before practice and the door doesn’t close until at least an hour after the coaches have already gone home.
Schau’s official job description is the prevention, care of and rehabilitation of athletic injuries, although she said her work with the team goes far beyond that.
“The girls really do trust me,” Schau said. “They come to me with a lot of questions about girl issues. It’s usually things they might not want to tell their coaches. There is a difference in the kind of cramp they get, whether it’s a girl cramp or athletics.”
Schau said head coach Jeff Mittie trusts her and puts the decision in her hands as to whether a player practices with the team or not.
“I may not tell him the real reason, because a lot of stuff is between me and my girls,” Schau said. “I just go up and say, ‘She’s not feeling so well.'”
Playing through pain
Schau recalled when sophomore forward Lorie Butler-Rayford ran into a moving screen and took a forearm to the back of the neck. Schau remembers Butler going face down on the court and saying she could not feel her right side.
“We had to run onto the court, spine-board her, and take her to the hospital in an ambulance,” Schau said. “It was pretty intense.”
Schau did a lot of individual work with sophomore guard Adrianne Ross and freshman forward Marissa Rivera when they both went down with ACL injuries two seasons ago. Schau said Ross and Rivera were exact opposites in their attitudes when it came to dealing with them after the injury.
“Adrianne, all she wanted was to get back on the court,” Schau said. “She would say, ‘Oh, I can run. I can cut. Come on, coach.’ Rivera didn’t even want to jog straight ahead, so cutting wasn’t even an option. We had to try and coax and push her.”
Schau said the work put in with both girls was different, but that it was all a part of knowing your athlete.
“Two girls, exact same scenario – with one we had to reign in and you have one that you have to put the confidence back in their head that they can do it,” Schau said.
Up close and personal
Neil P. Dougherty, junior guard for the men’s basketball team, said his trainer got to know him pretty well this year when he went down with injuries to the shoulder and the ankle.
Dougherty’s trainers got to that personal level by taping his ankles, bringing him water when tired or treating a minor injury like a poke to the eye. Schau does these same things with her girls, but gets to know them in an even more personal manner.
“Me and my girls are really close,” Schau said. “I’m their coach but I’m definitely their friend, too. There are plenty of times when I’m borrowing shoes from Jenna (Lohse) or a top from someone else.”
If Schau wants to borrow any more pairs of shoes from Jenna, she may have to get them sent to her in the mail. Schau, a graduate assistant for the last two years, will be moving on when this year is over. She doesn’t know what she will do yet, but said that no matter where she ends up, she will be missing her girls.