How Villanova Builds Its Winning Culture on the Court and in the Weightroom

Dominance in NCAA Division I men’s basketball isn’t easy, but Villanova University seems to have it figured out. Put simply, the Wildcats have been the best team in men’s college hoops over the past five seasons.

Staggering numbers back that up. Villanova posted a record of 165-21 over that time period, claimed four Big East Conference regular season titles and, oh yeah, won a pair of national championships.

John Shackleton has been there for all of that success. The Villanova strength coach joined the men’s basketball program in 2012 and has helped create a winning culture in the weight room.

I want to deliver a program for each guy that's dynamic. It's never set in place.

“Every day I go to work, I’m thinking about my vision and my purpose with the team,” said Shackleton. “I want to deliver a program for each guy that’s dynamic. It’s never set in place. It’s individualized. The whole purpose is to improve their performance and be dynamic. Whatever we do has to be dynamic through the year. It has to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.”


Training the Wildcat Way

John Shackleton Villanova BasketballShackleton isn’t committed to a rigid structure or an overcomplicated training program. Instead, he tailors his instruction to the individual player.

For example, this season he employed high-volume training for a few players that needed to add muscle. For a couple of other Wildcats who Shackleton called “freak athletes”, he concentrated more on functional training to help them move better on the court.

“I don’t like to prescribe to one way of training,” he explains. “I’ll do high-intensity training with some guys if they need it. I’ll do Olympic lifting with some guys. I need to find the right stimulus for each guy based on what they need.”


No Rest in the Regular Season

The regimen at elite-level college basketball programs isn’t for the timid. The Wildcats are in the weight room most of the year. Shackleton trains them hard for eight weeks in the summer. The athletes get a break for a couple of weeks in August before returning in September. From then, the training doesn’t end until May.

Things don’t get much easier in the middle of the regular season.

“In the regular season the total volume drops,” explained Shackleton. “But it’s probably more intense and shorter. We may go for 30 minutes, but I’m really hitting them with power and strength moves to stimulate their nervous system. In the morning we have a 30-minute workout that involves some explosive movements, maybe some strength movements. It’s really to wake up their nervous system so that when they come back for practice in the afternoon it carries over.”


Building the Villanova Culture

From the opening tip of a game, Villanova prides itself on being ready. Anyone who’s seen the Wildcats play recently knows that they bring 40 minutes of unrelenting effort and toughness whenever they hit the hardwood.

Shackleton brings that same ethos to training. The minute his athletes walk into the weight room they are expected to have their shoes tied and be ready to go.

We constantly have them ready to go. We’re not just going through the motions. That sets the tone. It’s the same way on the court.

“I have to hold them accountable to our program’s core values, not just mine or the training program’s,” added Shackleton. “Everything we do has to be hard. If, before a session, the guys are tired and laying down at all, then we go out for a run and I wake them up. We constantly have them ready to go. We’re not just going through the motions. That sets the tone. It’s the same way on the court. As soon as they come to practice and step on the court they have to be ready to go.”

There’s no compromising in the Villanova weight room. And it’s that dedication to excellence that has fueled a historic run by the Wildcats and built a basketball program to be reckoned with.

“When they come in as freshmen they find out (how hard it is),” said Shackleton. “Every freshman struggles because they haven’t done it. By the summer they’re pushing through reps with great technique. When freshmen come in they don’t have the will. They have to learn it. They have to have the will to push through. You can’t mentally bow out. That’s what they learn when they come to Villanova. It happens on the court and in training. They get pushed on both sides.”

Photos courtesy of Villanova University and iStock.

Villanova Basketball Weight Room