Interview with Alan Stein

Alan Stein Interview Picture 1Alan, thanks for taking the time to be with us here today. Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your current position?

My pleasure. It’s always an honor to share my journey!

I am a father, husband, coach and business owner / entrepreneur (in that order). I am currently the head strength & conditioning coach for the basketball program at DeMatha Catholic High School and the owner of Stronger Team.

I am thankful to do what I do for a living because I get to combine my passion of basketball and performance training with my love for having a positive impact on young people. I am literally livin’ the dream!

I love it, and I love the order of your priorities – very similar to my own.

Have you always been into basketball? And if so, when did you realize you wanted to make a career out of it?

Alan Stein Interview PIcture 2While I played a variety of sports as a youngster, basketball was always my favorite and certainly my first true passion.  I was a fairly accomplished high school player and was fortunate enough to play on scholarship at Elon College (now Elon University).

I originally felt that being a teacher and basketball coach was my calling – until I was exposed to strength & conditioning and performance training – and the light bulb immediately went off. From that point forward, I knew this was the career I wanted.

Very cool. Now you’re currently the strength and conditioning coach at DeMatha Catholic High School. What do you day-to-day duties look like there?

I am unbelievably fortunate to be a part of the prestigious DeMatha Basketball Family, and I work with the team on a year-round basis.

In the spring, I conduct 3 to 4 after school off-season workouts per week.

In the summer, due to my heavy travel schedule, I am not physically present very much but I give our players a detailed program to follow and ask them to check in with me via text or social media.

In the fall, I conduct 2 to 3 after school pre-season workouts per week.  During the actual playing season, I attend every game and conduct 1 to 2 in-season strength workouts before practice each week.  I make a strong effort to be completely accessible to our players, coaches and parents throughout the year.

That’s awesome, and I love the fact that you put a priority on strength training during the season! That point is lost on so many coaches.

Let’s talking about training a bit. What are some of your philosophies or “big rocks” when it comes to training basketball players?

Basketball players are not bodybuilders, football players, Olympic lifters or track athletes – so they shouldn’t train as such.  Basketball players should train in a manner that reduces the occurrence/severity of injury and helps them function/perform better on the court.

In addition to improving the obvious characteristics of strength, power and quickness – I pay close attention to movement efficiency, reaction, coordination and balance.  I believe strongly that ‘everything starts at the feet’, so we do a ton of barefoot work to increase foot strength and ankle mobility. I also focus heavily on proper landing and deceleration.

Excellent. And along those same lines, you’ve been lucky enough to work with athletes at the high school, college and professional level. What differences in needs do you see between those various ages and skill levels?

Most young players are like a blank slate – they haven’t been exposed to any formal training so everything is new to them.  Older players conversely, have usually had some training, so you are at the mercy of whether they have developed good or bad training habits!

Generally speaking, a players chronological age and their ‘training age’ are not always congruent – so a training program needs to be somewhat individualized for them based on their predispositions, strengths/weaknesses, previous experience, etc. I have worked with high school players that could do just about anything/everything and NBA players who were severely deficient.

The biggest difference in programing is the year round schedule and volume. High school age players no longer have a distinct off-season because most of them choose to play AAU in the spring summer. Since they are playing/practicing with high volume all year round, concessions have to be made on the strength & conditioning side.

But for the most part, the skeleton and template doesn’t change much – a basketball player is a basketball player – and they are all trying to improve the same qualities.  Tweaks are just made based on age and experience.

Damn that’s a solid answer, and I hope if people are just skimming they go back and read that one again!

While combing through your website, I found an article you wrote that asked basketball players to get out of the tape and high tops, and actually strengthen their feet and ankles.

I’m sure in the hardcore basketball community this might have come off as heresy, but I’m with you 100%. What was the response like via your readers?

This is an interesting one.

I admit even I was drinking the ‘Ankle brace Kool-Aid’ many years ago. Like many coaches, I believed a rigid ankle brace or tape job would reduce ankle injuries.  It wasn’t until 5 or so years ago, that it dawned on me that ankle braces and tape were weakening the feet, reducing ankle mobility and wreaking havoc all the way up the kinetic chain (affecting the knees, hips, low back, etc.).

Once I ‘saw the light’ I became a huge advocate of ankle/foot strengthening exercises, no braces/tape and became a proponent of low stop sneakers!

While I still occasionally find detractors, almost everyone I work with or come in contact with agrees with my new position and helps support the movement!

If you’re building an elite basketball player from the ground up, what kind of skills or traits are you looking for? (These could be physical, mental, emotional, or whatever you feel is most important.)

Alan Stein Interview -  PyramidI believe in building a complete player the same way you would build a pyramid, with the primary four levels being Body, Skill, Mind and Heart.

As a strength & conditioning coach, my focus is on the base level (the foundation). If I can help players build a solid foundation, they can perform their skills at much higher level, with more efficiency and for longer before fatigue sets in.

It doesn’t matter how athletic a player is, if they aren’t skilled, they won’t be very good.

It doesn’t matter how athletic or skilled a player is, if they have a low I.Q., they won’t be very good.

It doesn’t matter how athletic, skilled or smart a player is, if they have no heart, they won’t be very good.

So with that said, I am humble enough to recognize my portion (‘Body’) is only a small piece of the overall puzzle.

The only way you can build this pyramid successfully, and so it will last, is brick by brick.  Every rep of every set of every workout is another ‘brick.’  Becoming a great basketball player is a daily process!

I’m literally sitting here nodding my head – I love this approach and thought process!

You’re obviously a big believer in having a great athletic foundation before getting into basketball-specific work. Do you ever encourage kids to play multiple sports before specializing in basketball?

And if so, what would be the ideal time to make the switch and start specializing if they have the talent to play at the next level?

Absolutely! I am a huge advocate of kids playing multiple sports!

It allows them to develop a wide variety of skill sets and movement patterns, offers mental variety and helps reduce the overuse issues commonly seen with athletes that play only the same sport year round.  Team sports like soccer, lacrosse and volleyball as well as individual sports like martial arts, swimming and tennis are tremendous.

Once a player hits high school, I think it is appropriate to at least start thinking about only playing basketball.

I’d also like to talk about the business side of what you do as well. It seems like you’ve got a ton going on – coaching, camps, business, etc. Plus, you have kiddos at home as well! Tell us all the stuff you have going on, along with how you manage to fit it all in?

Alan Stein Interview - FamilyI really enjoy the challenges of running a small business and while I am a coach at heart… I have very strong entrepreneurial tendencies.

I am happily married and have 3 wonderful children (4-year old twin boys named Luke & Jack and a 20 month old daughter named Lyla).

(Note from MR: Alan calls his twin boys “The Born Backcourt.” Genius!)

One of biggest challenges has always been finding that work/home balance. I love my family with all of my heart – but I also love what I do for a living – and making appropriate time for both is something I still occasionally struggle with (although I have gotten so much better in the past year).

I gave up training individual/local players about two years ago (with the exception of my work at DeMatha) and derive my income from a traveling Cutting Edge Clinic series and a basketball-specific business development platform called the Stronger Team Nation (where I help mentor basketball trainers into growing their brand and building their business).

I hold an annual basketball strength & conditioning learning experience call the Huddle (the next one is March 28-30, 2014 at the Nike World Headquarters in Portland, OR) and sell my Stronger Team Training System. I also devote time into co-hosting the Hardwood Hustle Podcast and my Stronger Team YouTube channel.

Aside from being very active on social media and spending a ton of time working on my own professional development, I try not to let my business focuses deviate from these main pillars.

Awesome stuff. One of the big things you talk about on your blog, Twitter and podcast is the concept of hard work and “hustle.”

I’m a big believer in those concepts as well, but can you talk about why this character trait is important?

While working smart and working consistently are crucial, I have always believed that working hard (i.e. ‘hustle’) was the foundation to success.  I believe working hard is a choice (thus, not working hard is also a choice).

I would never claim I work harder than anyone else… but I don’t think anyone works harder than me. I define hard work as ‘intentionally leaving your comfort zone physically, mentally and/or emotionally.’ I try to do that every day of my life.

Awesome. Now I have to ask – the first testimonial on your site is from the one-and-only Kevin Durant. Needless to say, that alone was super impressive.

Tell us a little bit about what it was like to train Kevin, and if you could, just a little bit about him as a person and human being (everything I’ve seen and heard is super-positive).

Alan Stein Interview - KDKevin Durant is one of the most special people I have ever met. The world knows how special he is on the court (as most would agree he is the 2nd best basketball player on the planet behind LeBron), but he is equally impressive off the court.

He is overwhelmingly humble and he has maintained the work ethic of a rookie on a 10-day contract.  I haven’t worked with KD in many, many years… but we still keep in touch and I am proud to call him a friend.

Okay, let’s start to wrap this thing up a bit. If an entry-level coach or intern came to you for advice on being successful in our industry, what would you tell them?

Short answer? Work on your craft every day. Learn from those who do what you want to do and do it well.

Long answer? Read this Career Advice

And last but not least, what is one mistake that you’ve made along the way, and how did you learn from it and grow either as a coach, professional, or human being?

I have made more than enough mistakes on my journey. And while it’s easy to look back and say ‘What was I thinking?’ – I know that all of those mistakes have put me where I am today (truly happy).

My biggest mistake was not being open to other training philosophies and methodologies when I first started. When I was in my early 20’s, I thought I knew everything. Now I am in my late 30’s, I realize I still have so much to learn.

Alan, thanks a ton for being with us here today. Where can my readers find out more about you?

The pleasure is all mine. I have been a huge fan of yours from afar for many years and am beyond honored to share my story. I appreciate everything you have done and continue to do for our profession (salute!).

Anything and everything about me can be found at Stronger Team.  If you enjoyed my journey, please follow me on Twitter, subscribe to my YouTube channel and tune in to my Hardwood Hustle Podcast.

Feel free to email me at [email protected] if I can ever be of service.

Thanks again Alan!

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