THE PANDEMIC year was a time of many firsts for the PBA, as it played its first-ever bubble conference in the middle of a global health crisis. And as strength and conditioning coach Chappy Callanta pointed out, it was also likely the first time the league experienced a very lengthy, NBA-style offseason.
With games canceled in early March, and the bubble only starting up in Clark in October, PBA players faced an antsy seven months of inactivity.
But for players in the NBA (at least before the pandemic), that’s about par for the course. Unless you go the distance through the playoffs and to the finals, an NBA player would typically have a six- to seven-month offseason window.
“Alam mo naman in the PBA, it's three conferences, and there's only a little bit of rest in between,” Callanta said of the league’s grueling schedule during the "before times."
“That's the difference between the PBA and the NBA. The NBA, they have such a long offseason where they can work on their game, work on their bodies, work on getting better and getting back on their feet. We don't have that here.”
Callanta, together with Luis De Mesa, strength and conditioning coach for the Phoenix Fuel Masters, were guests in a Spin.ph Calamansi audio livecast called “PBA Fit,” hosted by Wayne Tulio. (You can download the app at Google Play or the App Store.)
Coach Chappy is also the personal strength coach of the Gin Kings’ LA Tenorio. And he knew firsthand about how difficult the forced break was for LA, who has been called "Ironman" because of his extraordinary on-court longevity.
“You're talking about a guy who's never missed a game. All those miles that he had, and all of the finals appearances,” said Callanta.
He added: “When the pandemic happened, LA reached out and we were able to set up his home gym, we were able to maximize the time that he had to take care of some lingering injuries that he has been dealing with — maski na hindi halata — throughout the past couple of years.”
For many strength coaches, that uncertain time right before the bubble also became something of an opportunity, at least in terms of fitness.
“When it was pretty clear that we were not going to be back to sports soon, to me, and to a lot of strength coaches, that's kind of like a reset button,” the longtime fitness veteran said. “A lot of injuries, nagging injuries, were dealt with. A lot of issues sa pagkukulang sa strength, any performance metrics, they were dealt with. Because there was time.”
Time, however, was something Luis De Mesa didn’t have, as he only got the Phoenix gig three weeks before the bubble.
But as part of the Clark contingent, he had the benefit of coaching his athletes face to face, as he embarked on the grueling, difficult job of keeping his players fighting fit in the cramped conditions of Quest Hotel.
“We had our own function room, andun lahat ng equipment. We had an airbike, kettlebells, barbells, landmine attachment, the works,” De Mesa explained. It was a room that became quite popular online, as then-Phoenix player Calvin Abueva would often post his workouts inside that room for the numerous fans following his social media accounts.
But even before the bubble, De Mesa realized that the stay-at-home nature of the pandemic really separated his clients into two: the ones who would treat the pandemic as an opportunity to get better, and the ones who would treat the pandemic as an extended break.
“Basic naman yung rule ko pag online,” he said. “The more you ask questions, the more you send videos, the more you get coached. If hindi ka nag-send ng videos, hindi ka nag-send ng something, either alam na alam mo na, or nahihiya, or hindi nagagawa yung workout talaga.”
Callanta elaborated further.
“[The challenge with my clients] was more of their mental space,” he said. “Pag nawala yung stimulus of a basketball court, they shut themselves off. I found that you had to approach athletes based more on their personality, [and] how they address training, how they treat their sport. Lumabas [nung lockdown] yung talagang committed to it.”
Based on his stories, you could certainly count the Tinyente in the “committed” camp.
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