BOULDER – U.S. service men and women are ready for anything/everything at any given moment, and some of America’s most honored veterans were on campus the weekend of Sept. 27-28 teaching the Colorado men’s basketball team those lessons and many more valuable life skills.
At the request of coach Tad Boyle, The Program – a company run by former military personnel, designed to develop leadership and teambuilding – made its second visit to Boulder in as many years.
“I thought it was really beneficial for last year’s team,” Boyle said in explaining why he brought The Program back. “This time of year, as we prepare for a long season and a tough season ahead of us – especially given our schedule – you want to do something that creates a little bit of toughness, both mentally and physically, to get your team ready for what’s ahead.”
The Program requires participants to be in top physical condition, yet the mental aspect might be the most difficult part of the experience. Boyle has fashioned a schedule that is expected to be one of the toughest in the nation, and in order for his fourth CU team to experience the success of his previous three teams, serious toughness is needed – hence the return of The Program.
Throughout last season, Boyle said he and his coaches referred to lessons learned from The Program and he doesn’t expect that to change this year. When players begin experiencing mental and physical fatigue, said Boyle, “they start thinking about themselves. The whole idea around The Program is you worry about the guy to your right and the guy to your left and being more concerned about your teammates and what they’re going through than just about yourself and that’s what being a part of a team is all about.”
Friday Night Lights is typically associated with football, but at CU it has become associated with The Program. The camp, like last year, began on Friday night when the team met The Program coaches, Sam Cila and Adam Rutherford, at the Coors Events Center and then took to the turf at the football practice fields from 6-9 p.m.
Cila is a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant who served combat tours in Iraq from 2004-05 and has been a lead instructor of The Program since 2008. Rutherford is a former U.S. Marine Corps special ops man and a new instructor to The Program.
Cila and Rutherford, said Boyle, “bring so much experience. What these guys have gone through in terms of their training . . . they are literally battle tested in situations that are a heck of a lot more important than basketball, or football, or whatever sport you’re talking about. These guys have fought for our country and have put their lives at risk for our country.
“So, I have great respect for them, not only for doing that but now being able to share the things that they’ve learned through their training and how it can apply to our guys and team building and building better leaders. I learned a lot from them. I can’t quantify it in one paragraph or one sentence, but we’re taking notes, our whole staff is observing and writing things down. The nice thing about ‘The Program’ is we’ll have a relationship with them and we have had a relationship for a year and this thing will continue as long as were able to."
THERE WAS NEVER A MOMENT of mercy for the players as they had to run to the practice fields before the real work began. Boyle joined his team for the light jog in the rain, but after that the Buffaloes only had each other to lean on.
Bad weather is to be expected when The Program comes to town, at least that’s what the Buffs believe. Last year, the team went through Log Pull/Judgment Day amidst conditions of sleet and snow where the team first learned the basics of The Program and what good leaders and teammates do. This year was Combat Mindset/Judgment Day and the weather was back, featuring only heavy rain.
Attention to detail, command presence, and accountability were the main objectives this year. The team first completed sprint work until Cila and Rutherford believed every member was giving full effort.
Next came “perfect 16’s,” and all returning players were familiar with the drill from last year’s Judgment Day. Players – 16 total – lined up in four perfect lines forming a perfect square, running through sets of push-ups, flutter kicks, jumping-jacks, etc. in perfect unison.
A player led the drill and was required to give orders – you guessed it – perfectly clear. This meant, the leader calling out the name of the exercise, “push-ups!” then the team responding in unison, “push-ups!” Leader: “ready!” Team: “ready!” And finally from the leader: “attack!” The team then began the drill, and if it failed to remain in unison or follow through on any demand, the drill had to be repeated.
This was not something accomplished on the first try, and so the nightmare began. After nearly an hour, Cila and Rutherford decided they had witnessed perfection, and they moved on to the next drill.
The focus remained the same: one team, acting as one unit. But now, there was a more tangible goal at hand. The group needed to get a set of objects including sand bags, medicine balls, heavy rope, and each other from one end of the field and back, encompassing a total of 300 yards and done as fast as possible.
Once again, The Program coaches were not satisfied with effort exhibited in the first set, which took almost 30 minutes. The team did it again, and again, and again. By the end of the night the team was able to cut its time down to an impressive 12 minutes.
“Their first lap was slow,” explained Rutherford. “They were trying to work things out, but by the time they did their second, third, and fourth lap they got it down to a science and started to hold each other more accountable.”
Finally, the Buffs had to complete yet another challenge, this one requiring full mental capacity. The challenge is specifically designed to be completed at the end of the night when players are fatigued and easily prone to mental errors – similar to the end of game when a mental mistake might cost the team a victory, or even worse, a championship.
“Basketball players don’t make mental mistakes early on in the game,” Cila explained. “They make mental mistakes when it’s late in the game and they’re tired. That’s what we’re trying to teach, how to stay focused when you have nothing left and your body is physically exhausted.”
The goal of the drill was to move a stack of weights from ‘Cone A’ to ‘Cone C’, with a ‘Cone B’ in between, while only moving one weight at a time, without being able to place a heavier weight on top of a lighter weight. The weights needed to be stacked by ‘Cone C’ the same way they were originally stacked by ‘Cone A’, with heaviest weights on the bottom and lighter weights on top. Such a puzzle is difficult to figure out, and when exhaustion sets in it’s nearly impossible to complete.
Thanks to the heady work of junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie, the team eventually found a solution to the puzzle and was allowed to run home.
Dinwiddie credited his leadership past that particular hurdle to “consistency of effort and clarity of communication. I generally express my thoughts fairly clearly, the problem I have is consistency of effort; sometimes it fluctuates a little bit. (The Program’s coaches) were just telling me that you can’t be a leader if (my teammates) see me at 80 percent one day and then 100 the next, and then 80 and you coast at times. The biggest thing I learned from the Navy SEALS was to just be accountable and be consistent.
“Any time you put a team through adversity, they come out stronger as a unit and better as a group so this was definitely hard . . . it was a tough seven hours in a 12-15 hour period. There wasn’t much rest and it was very difficult.”
ON SATURDAY AT 5 A.M., the House of Pain awaited the Buffs. They were placed in a ring with the soldiers to fight one-on-one. There was also a surprise waiting for them as Eric Kapitulik, founder of The Program, made a special visit to see what kind of warriors the Buffs basketball team has on its roster.
Kapitulik, a former infantry and special ops officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, founded The Program around the idea of creating a warrior mentality within every man, or woman, who goes through the camp. The company logo, an outline of a Spartan Shield (pictured on right), originated from this idea.
“If a Spartan warrior lost his shield in battle, that was punishable by death because that shield didn’t protect him, it protected the warrior to his left and to his right,” Cila said. “Nothing more represents who we are as an organization, as a team, and who we are as individuals than the Spartan shield and that’s why it’s our company logo.”
The warrior mentality is put to the test within the House of Pain. As the leader is riding a stationary bike, which he must maintain at a rate of 65 RPMs, his teammates are each at separate stations where a workout such as jumping rope, or holding a plank is completed. Only the leader has the authority to switch a person from one station to another.
One of the stations was the gauntlet type scenario where a player would battle either Kapitulik or Cila. Elbow jabs and blows with the knee were the norm in the ring and anything else fell along the line of acceptable (including taking the instructor to the ground, as sophomore forward Xavier Johnson did at one point).
Although both persons were in protective gear, this was not the place one wanted to be. As Cila told the team afterwards, even he was nervous at times, and after serving multiple tours in Iraq that doesn’t happen often.
“The House of Pain was pretty hard,” Johnson said. “I was leading it in the beginning and I struggled really hard with it because there was a lot to control as far as what everyone was doing and seeing who was struggling and then moving them all around. Going against the instructors and someone was hitting you and you had to hit them back, that was difficult too because you had to keep moving.”
It was the player’s duty to give the best fight possible, because the instructor fighting was looking to give penalties to the team if any players weren’t completing the other drills to The Program standard. In order to pass the drill, the team needed to last eight minutes and commit fewer than 15 penalties.
The leader carries the responsibility of not only working physically hard himself, but he must be accountable for all his teammates. It also is his priority to ensure the mission is accomplished.
The Buffs went through eight grueling rounds (64 minutes), two of which were completed successfully with less than 15 ‘dings.’ Junior guard Askia Booker and sophomore big man Josh Scott were the leaders of those rounds, with Dinwiddie and Johnson also leading rounds.
“You have a bunch of things rushing through your head at the same time,” Scott said. “You have music, and you have the Navy SEALS in your face telling you that your losing control, but you just have to tune everything out and it’s crazy.”
THE CLASSROOM IS WHERE The Program would ultimately conclude with a “How To Win Championships 101” type lecture. Cila and Kapitulik were able to drive home the core values of The Program one last time, and fortunately for the players no pain was needed in this segment.
The message was simple: talent may win games, but great leadership and teamwork wins championships.
Kapitulik explained it like this: “The men of Colorado basketball are an extremely talented group of individuals and an extremely talented team. That talent is going to help them win games. They’re going to beat other individuals, they’re going to beat other teams because they just have more talent than them.
“But the teams that stand in the way of them and a championship, well those teams have as much talent, so how do we beat those teams? We beat those teams by making a commitment as an individual and as a team to be that much better. What we do is teach guys what it takes to get that much better.”
Scott was impressed by the attention to detail that was stressed throughout every session. “Last time we did this I noticed how important every little detail is and how you had to have everyone working as hard as possible to accomplish the details and accomplish the task,” he said. “I’d probably say effort along with details were two of the most important things our team took away from this.”
The Program’s goal is to help create the leadership dynamic that all championship teams have, yet it also serves as a way to identify which team members will embrace that role.
Booker was determined as that player for Colorado, and given the Douglas A. Zembiec T-shirt representing someone that has the power to influence others and be the difference maker, the player that creates and sustains the energy for the game.
“Over the two days, Askia most represented our ethos and our three core principles,” said Cila. “He most represented that warrior spirit, his leadership, his care factor for the team, his ability to think outside the box and to drive his team and keep the energy level up.”
Booker knows that the T-shirt is one to be worn with pride as Zembiec rests an American hero after being killed in action in 2007 in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“It means a whole lot,” Booker said. “It’s basically a value that you can take with you and you can look back at it and know how hard you worked and how much it’s going to pay off. I just tried to attack with 100 percent effort, and I think they realized that I’m a leader of the team.”
Now, it’s up to Booker and the Buffs to attack the 2013-14 season with that same warrior mindset.