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Chicago Bulls Case Study

Chip Schaefer, Director of Sports Performance with the Chicago Bulls

Chip Schaefer
Director of Sports Performance

Schaefer works with the Bulls organization today as their Director of Sports Performance, where he oversees the team’s athletic training, strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, and sports psychology.

Interview with Chip Schaefer

How do You Prepare Your Athletes to Complete an Entire Lengthy NBA Season?

“It’s kind of changed over the years. The nature of athletic training years ago was very, what I would call, ‘modality centric’ where you’d hook up a guy to a stim-unit and move on to the next guy. It was almost like being a cook with watching four pots on a stove simmering and you can take care of all four. With the nature now, it’s more hands-on while requiring more manual therapy. You literally need more bodies to do it. Other things like the advance of electronic health records require much more administrative responsibility. The staffs have grown more organically with the increased demand. The other change has been that summers have become more formal in nature, and with higher expectations.

Once upon a time, when the NBA season ended, everyone put a ‘Gone Fishing’ sign on their door and that was it until training camp started next year. Other guys had other jobs or went back to school, but now we have guys in the weight room a week after the season ends training. Sometimes summer leagues have become very extensive and demanding, and sometimes, as a healthcare professional in this industry, the goal would always be to improve health care outcomes and decrease injuries. I’m not sure we’ve been accomplishing that, so I’m constantly trying to assess how to do that.

The schedule was 82 games decades ago and it’s still 82 games, but the league is trying to minimize back-to-back games or situations like four games in five nights in four different cities or five games in seven nights. Somehow, guys got through it.

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I’m not sure we’re doing the best job we can with this sort of me helping people meet the expectations and the demand for the sport. It’s hard for a reason. A marathon is 26.2 miles, and it’s tough but it’s supposed to be tough. That’s how I look at the NBA. It’s hard to play 82 games and then play another 20 games in the playoffs, but that’s what makes it so rewarding when you’re sitting there spraying champagne in June. That’s why you see that elation on people’s faces because the journey is so difficult” 

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What Type of Data are You Collecting During the Season with the CoachMePlus Program?

“There are a number of things. Obviously, we look at all sorts of biometric stuff that we’re tracking like weights, body fat percentages, and workloads. The big thing for me personally, I look extensively at the in-game data on players that we get from every arena’s in-house camera system (Sports View) that tracks payer movement, and there are dozens of metrics that are derived from that. Varying speeds, the volume of effort, distance running, amount of time in different speed zones, and things of that nature; there are a number of accelerations and decelerations through the different varying zones that are derived based on the max speed that a player trains. It’s all very complex algorithms built into their data.

The data is available in a massive Excel file. You have to buy a scroll to that and derive these numbers, and I’d be at it all day long. But I upload that data into CoachMePlus and I give them the data and metrics that I consider most valuable. In a couple of minutes, I’ve got these beautiful bar graphs easily displayed for me to be able to dissect the data on my own. Then based on my considerable experience in the industry, I’ll be able to share that data and I condense it even more into a summary that goes out to the coaches and management the day after every game, and then to advise on how to make a day’s challenge you that day whether it’s a practice or a game.

CoachMePlus display of athletes sports science dataOn a game day, I spend over an hour on CoachMePlus analyzing the data that they so beautifully display for me. From that, I’m able to write a brief summary on the five or six players that had pretty considerable workloads in the games before, along with my recommendations for how the team should be managed on game night. Fortunately, I have a wonderful relationship with our coaching staff, and that will hopefully guild them with their decision making in the game.”

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What do You Focus on During the Offseason?

“There should be two focuses on the offseason. One should be basketball skill development, but that’s for the coaching staff to determine how to address those issues. The other things is that I like to give the coaching staff and management an opportunity after the season ends to run through the roster from A to Z and do a needs assessment from the physical end of things. So-and-so needs to get leaner, so-and-so needs to get faster, and so-and-so needs to improve their lateral quickness, whatever it is coaches may think. There may be some medical issues that need to be addressed from the rehabilitation standpoint or the corrective exercise standpoint. 

We consider the coaching staff and management to have very valuable input beyond ours, so we’ll know how to drive our offseason programming to their recommendations.
Chicago Bulls Players in Training Facility

To me, the offseason is for improving skill development and improving yourself physically, whether that means addressing some biomechanical anomalies that may be contributing to some soft tissue or joint injuries, and just improving performance. Running faster, jumping higher, moving quicker. Then improving your body composition, improving nutritional habits and improving rest recovery habits are all ways to become a better professional basketball player in the offseason. Those things can be addressed optimally at that time too, but you’re not dealing with all the stress of travel and everything. That’s the time to improve yourself physically.”

What are Some Methods that High Schools with a Smaller Staff Can Use to Elevate Their Sports Performance Management?

“That’s a great question. I was recently talking to a friend that works in the industry who has some peripheral affiliations with the NBA and their youth and development program. We talked about some of the great things that can be addressed with earlier intervention that can be used at the high school team years. There are a couple of things that can be done.

I think that we see a lot of movement abnormalities in young people that, with earlier intervention, can be addressed more effectively. A lot of those things can be derived from different movement screens, and there’s no shortage of those out there.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine has some movements as simple as an overhead squat or a single leg squat. There’s a FMS (Functional Movement Screen), a Y Balance Test; these are some things that if you watch an athlete or any person perform some simple functional movement patterns, you can see some mechanical movement restrictions or impairments or difference when compared bilaterally.

Those are some things, even at the high school age, that are just very simple exercises. That would also include some soft tissue mobilization, teaching kids the value of using a foam roller or using some basic rudimentary exercise that you can address things up and down that you can change. Addressing things at the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip Complex, which is where a lot of issues start, all the way down to through the foot and ankle and up through the shoulder and cervical spine. All of these things can be improved upon.

Beyond that, even learning some of the most basic, proper weightlifting techniques at an early age can help kids get the ground running. If you start your freshman year in college and already know how to perform a nice good barbell back squat, a clean, a deadlift or some of these exercises with proper form, you hit the ground running and already start gaining ground.

CoachMePlus display of athletes sports science data

I think learning how to move properly and learning how to strength train with proper technique and form at an early age can help. Those things don’t require a whole lot of technology or expense; you just need a bit of effort to learn some of these things. A lot of these things are available online. Little online certifications that are very simple that even a high school basketball coach or a high school athletic trainer could learn how to do, and I think there could be a heck of a lot of benefits out of it.”

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What is the Most Important Information You Share with Your Athletes?

“Given the demands of travel and the league nights, it’s rest and recovery. We have in the business kind of what we call a ‘dose response’ relationship of exercise, much like a dose response to medicine. If you take cough syrup and it says to take one tablespoon every four hours, and if you want to give the same cough medicine to your eight-year-old it might say one teaspoon every six hours. You’re getting a different dose, and that’s because it’s going to have a different response. An improper dose cannot only be ineffective, but also harmful.

More isn’t always better, and you have to understand that there’s a negative response to an excessive dose of exercise. That’s probably the biggest thing is the response relationship with exercising, rest and recovery, and the importance of rest and recovery in that relationship.”

Does Having a Centralized Data Platform Like CoachMePlus Help You Communicate with the Coaching Staff?

“It’s really important for them to be able to understand the data that we’re collecting.

It’s one thing if I say that in last night’s game, Lauri Markkanen had a 1,545 mechanical workload, and it was his third straight game that he exceeded 1,500 and now he’s starting to complain about left knee pain. If I’m just throwing out numbers, it’s sort of abstract. If we’re sitting in a room and I’m projecting the images from my laptop to the big screen and I’m showing these spikes they can visually see, they get it. But if I’m just saying a number that’s floating in the air, it’s much harder for them to get it.

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I don’t think it can be understated how important the visual representation of these things beyond the numerical representation is. We’re in the second year of our relationship with CoachMePlus, and we couldn’t be more pleased with how it’s gone.”

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