Extraordinary Effort “In The Zone” Requires Extra-ordinary Commitment In The “Trained-For-Zone”

THINK ABOUT THIS FOR A MOMENT… Your coach says, ‘‘We’re going to do some grand slam training, so I want you to do 1100 sprints for eight to 10 seconds over the next six hours.”

Sounds crazy, doesn’t in? Well, that’s exactly what Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal did in their five hour, 53 minute 2012 Australian Open final. In what many are glorifying as the ‘greatest Grand Slam final in tennis history’, that was the level of focus, intensity and tenacity both men had put out to complete that grueling match.

Australian Open Final For The Ages: Novak Djokovic’s wins a marathon Grand Slam over Rafal Nadal in 2012. (Photo Credit: ESPN)

A Sydney Morning Herald article highlights some research done by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) that breaks down the match showing that champions are no mean sprinters.

  • In terms of energy expenditure… the Djokovic-Nadal final was on a par with the hilly stages of the Tour de France, despite the more ”intermittent” efforts in tennis. ”Tennis is the ultimate [in] intermittency. Rarely does a point last for more than 10 seconds,” he said. ”Estimates [for a grand slam match are that] 10 to 15 per cent of total time is engaged in play, which means in six hours, they’re probably only engaged in actual intensity for about an hour.”
  • By the numbers… Research by the AIS reveals an astonishing truth from the Djokovic-Nadal final: ”Three hundred and sixty points were won. For each one, you can look at about 10 metres of sprinting covered at about 10 seconds of effort – that is probably 3.5 to 4 kilometres of distance [run]. That would have been done with around 1100 sprints. That is between 150 and 200 sprints per hour.”

By itself, it’s awe inspiring to think about the level on intensity, concentration and effort that these two men gave not only to compete during the match itself, but also the preparation before match itself. The repeated, sustained effort and commitment to train when no one is around is what, in my estimation, separates those who just have (unrealized) talent and those who end up delivering results.

From the author:

“The extraordinary aspect was that the intensity and effort was there for five to six hours. They would have been in their trained-for-zone of up to four hours, but then they went into no-man’s land.”

I *love* tennis. And, as a basketball coach, I think there are a lot of similarities between the mental and physical demands of both sports.

Staying with just the physical requirements, basketball parallels tennis. Just like in tennis, basketball players are required to give continuous “intermittent efforts” over the course of a game. Granted, the duration of those outputs are longer than in tennis, but they’re still quite short.

[SB: While with Canada Basketball, we took stats on the duration. And, if my memory serves me correctly, the range was between 20-40 seconds. I’ll dig through my notes to confirm and provide an update. Please do share if someone else has that statistic available.]

My intention here is not to get to science-y. Instead, I just want to spotlight how great coaches and trainers dig deeper into understanding the physical demands of the sport and the need to effectively recover.

Volume & Recovery

Strength and conditioning coaches, Alan Stein and Blair O’Donovan, shared some research they compiled to track how far a high school basketball player runs over the course of a basketball game. The results of their efforts are both fascinating and instructional.

“A high school point guard may run between 5-6 miles per game.”

Don’t believe it? Read what Alan Stein says about how this excessive volume will begin to cause issues if proper steps aren’t taken.

A Snapshot Isn’t a Photo Album

If we’re only looking at a part of the available information, it’s easy to draw incomplete conclusions.

It wouldn’t serve go to out and have our players run 6-miles and think that they’ll be ready to compete.

The research of the AIS when combined with Stein’s test results start to give a more accurate picture of what we as coaches need to be doing to effectively prepare athletes for the demands of the game.

Optimal basketball training involves combining an aerobic base with interval (anaerobic) training that mimics the demands of the game.

Drop those archaic pre-season 2-miles tests. Dig deeper into the physical demands of championship performance.


“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”