Javair Gillett knows all about building better athletes.
Prior to becoming the Houston Rockets' Director of Athletic Performance, he was the head strength and conditioning coach for the Detroit Tigers. Gillett has also trained countless youth athletes through his personal training company.
After nearly 20 years of experience in the field, Gillett has come to the conclusion that honesty is the best policy when dealing with athletes. Honesty builds trust, and trust builds buy-in.
"To establish a relationship and build trust, you have to tell the truth," Gillett told STACK. "In some way or another, these athletes are motivated. So they want to be pushed. One of the major issues we run into at this level is with these young guys who've never been pushed. They've only been told what they want to hear or what other people think they should hear, (because people are) in fear of losing or upsetting them. You're doing a disservice to the player if you're not telling them the truth."
How Gillett reveals that truth varies by each player. Some can swallow the cold hard facts however they're delivered. Others require a more tactful approach. Gillett's nimble ability to get the best out of players of all different ilk is why the National Basketball Strength & Conditioning Association named him their Coach of the Year in 2017.
"One of my jobs is to provide the best opportunity for each and every player to succeed and to grow. In order to do that, they have to be told the truth. Am I going to yell at a player in front of everybody? No, not necessarily. Some approaches are like that, but I think if I'm going to call out a player in front of the group, it's going to benefit the whole entire group. That's the approach that I take. For the most part, it's one-on-one, individualized conversations. The goal is to educate and to continue to help this particular athlete grow. My goal as a strength and conditioning coach is to inspire," Gillett says.
The Rockets are heavily invested in sports science, and Gillett and his team have a ton of high-tech tools at their disposal. He's found that data can help him be even more honest with players, as the numbers rarely lie.
"We collect a lot of data here…if this guy has a lower-body weakness, that on the court transfers to poorer play, I can quantify that and say 'Hey, listen. Here's where you are, and if we compare you to people across the league or even within our own organization or the data we've compiled over time, this is where you measure up. We need you here, we need you at this level, and in order to get you there, this is what we're going to do.' That communication and that education empowers them to then take over, it's not just the blind leading the blind," Gillett says. "There's going to be some peaks and valleys, especially over the course of a season. But the goal is for that trend for the growth to be continuing. There's going to be peaks and valleys, but last year at this time compared to this year at this time, there's been growth."
While your average strength coach can't afford most of the exorbitantly expensive tools the Rockets utilize, Gillett believes a small investment in technology can go a long way. He helped create a company called Assess2Perform to help bridge the technology gap for coaches working outside the professional ranks.
"When I'm going out and training youth athletes and high school athletes, I can't bring a force plate around everywhere," Gillett says. "Assess2Perform has two great products that are accelerometers that can help you track power, force and velocity. Very small, very low cost. One is the Bar Sensei, which you can attach to a bar or any kind of weight you're trying to move, and the other is the Ballistic Ball, which is basically a smart medicine ball. So when it comes to functional movements—throws, lower-body push presses, overhead throws, medicine ball side throws against the wall, slam downs, all these movements everyone is doing—it will actually track that power. And that's ultimately what we're looking at,
"(The data) goes straight to your phone; it's just tracking and giving you information. We created it to give a low-cost solution to the same things we're tracking, we're just tracking them using $10,000 pieces of equipment. On the road, when I was with the Detroit Tigers, this is the kind of stuff we'd use in the minor leagues, because we couldn't have a force plate everywhere. I'm able to test large groups of athletes very easily with this type of tool"
Gillet and many of his NBA strength coach colleagues will be speaking on such topics at The 2019 NBSCA Sports Performance Summit. The one-day summit, set to take place May 18 in Chicago, is geared toward anyone looking to learn more about the strength and conditioning side of basketball.
"We would love for high school, college level, those types of basketball professionals who have an interest in this—we want them to be aware this is open to them. It's informal, there's a lot of networking and face-to-face conversation, and anyone who's interested in learning about the strength and conditioning side of basketball or sport in general, this is a good event for them," Gillet says. Registration is now open at TheNBSCA.com.
Photo Credit: Brian Sevald/Getty Images
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