Fit to lead

Brijesh Patel changes the scope of strength and conditioning for Quinnipiac Athletics

By on November 2, 2016

TD Bank Sports Center is alive and rocking. Choruses of cheers and claps reverberate through the stands and echo off of the rafters above. However, these stands are empty. There is no game being played here on Lender Court, at least not for another couple of weeks.

dsc_9372Ryan Chichester | The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The raucous noise and boisterous cheers come from floor level, where the Quinnipiac basketball team goes through its energetic warm up routine, led by head strength and conditioning coach Brijesh Patel.

The routine itself is an uplifting sight, even for a spectator. Patel, or “Coach B” as the players call him, demonstrates the various stretches and warmup routines at the middle of the court while the players line up on each sideline. After demonstrating the exercise, Patel nods over to senior guard Danny Harris, who calls out the name of the exercise to the rest of the team. His teammates respond by yelling out the name of the same exercise, perhaps the “warrior,” and once Harris feels he has received a loud and enthusiastic enough response, he kicks off the exercise.

“Attack!” Harris yells, and everyone breaks out in motion. They repeat the stretch or movement that Patel instructed. Each group of players makes their way to their opposite sideline as they repeat their exercises.

Patel paces the center of the court, assisting the players if their form is incorrect, but more importantly to cheer on the team. “Coach B” is constantly clapping his hands and high-fiving each player that passes him by, and the players follow suit. The entire team breaks out in a round of applause after each exercise, exchanging high fives and cheering with each passing routine.

Patel could put on a blue and yellow practice uniform himself, and you would think he was another member of the team. That’s just how he interacts with his players. It is a unique culture that the teams he works with have clearly bought into, mainly because of Patel’s ability to relate to his players.

“That’s one thing that has changed over time. You have to keep these kids entertained,” Patel said. “You have to be the thermostat in the room, not the temperature. Whatever their temperature is, you may have to rise up or rise down.”

Thanks to Patel’s unparalleled enthusiasm and the clear joy in what he does, the temperature at practice is scalding hot. The players’ energy is apparent before the actual practice even begins. It is clear that they believe in Patel’s system as much as Patel does himself. The belief is an encouraging team-first mentality that translates from the workout room to the court.

“We do all that stuff to form a sense of togetherness and unison,” Patel said. “This way, when they go play, they are focused on each other and their teammates instead of just about themselves.”

Focus and togetherness are just part of a bigger recipe that Patel has implemented at Quinnipiac. Many hear “strength and conditioning” and think physicality, but Patel makes it clear that a major part of exercise is mental toughness and resilience in order to gain confidence and build self-belief.

It is a philosophy that was nationally recognized in a Sports Illustrated piece prior to last year’s Frozen Four. Sports Illustrated writer Jeremy Fuchs explained Patel’s weight room regulations, and the absence of headphones during lifting sessions. Patel believes that earbuds build a barrier between teammates and the words of encouragement they could be offering each other.

“If you have headphones in, you get zoned in on your own thing and forget what is happening around you,” Patel said. “We want to be able to talk and clap like you saw on the court because there’s a certain mindset that comes when everything is together. It’s a powerful thing.”

Not that the players mind missing out on their own music of choice. When you have the respect of your players, you earn their trust in the system. Men’s ice hockey defenseman Chase Priskie is no exception.

“I think Brijesh is world class,” Priskie said prior to the season. “He watches you work out, he works with you every day, and works with you one-on-one, so I don’t think you could

get any better training than that.”

The players still have plenty of fun in the weight room without their personal music preferences playing in their ears. There is a bell in the room for anybody to ring after they beat a personal lifting record, and players usually follow up with a round of appluase. It is a way of business that Patel has implemented since his days at the University of Connecticut where he was a graduate assistant strength and conditioning coach after receiving his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and a master’s in sports management. From there, Patel made his way to Massachusetts to work with the College of the Holy Cross.

It was at Holy Cross where Patel got word of the amazing new facilities at Quinnipiac after Holy Cross returned from a hockey game in Hamden against the Bobcats. Patel reached out to basketball assistant coach Eric Eaton about a strength and conditioning coach position, which was vacant at the time. Six months later, Patel became the first strength and conditioning coach at the university and has since helped the program take off into national recognition.

“I was sold on the amazing facilities and the vision of the program,” Patel recalls. “I love it here.”

Patel is living out his dream here in Hamden. He has wanted to be a conditioning coach since his high school days, where he was an overweight freshman struggling to keep up with the physical demands of high school sports. It was there that Patel found his sanctuary in fitness and trying to better himself.

“I committed myself as a freshman to lose weight, and in the process I devoured anything related to fitness and working out,” Patel said. “By my junior year, we had an organized strength and conditioning program, and I thought it was so cool to be able to manipulate the number of sets or reps in an exercise to trigger different responses in your body. I knew I wanted to be involved in athletics in some way. I found out that you can be a strength and conditioning coach and it was game over.”

Perhaps the bigger part of his dream is what makes him so successful and enthusiastic: his hunger to change lives for the better.

“I like to help people,” he said. “Working with 18-to-24-year olds gives you a great opportunity to make an impact in someone’s life and help them become better as a human being. Strength and conditioning is just my avenue to try and help people.”

Patel has helped countless individuals in the Quinnipiac program by being a fan as well as their coach. He says his most rewarding experiences in the weight room are seeing an athlete accomplish something physically that they have never done before, giving Patel the ability to celebrate the accomplishment with them after hearing that weight room bell ring proudly.

“I get excited when our student athletes achieve their goals because that’s going to improve their confidence,” Patel said. “If they do something physically in the weight room that they’ve never done before, I’m going to get excited, and we’re going to celebrate that success. I want them to understand that I’m excited about working with them. If I show up mundane, they would be the same way.”

This brings us back to the basketball court, where players and coaches universally celebrate the completion of each exercise. Sure, it may be a routine that they go through every practice, but each clap or chant brings the team closer together and makes them that much more energized and ready to perform at a higher level. This rare philosophy is best summed up by the most commonly used letter in the alphabet.

“It’s the six E’s,” Patel said. “Effort, enthusiasm, encouragement, energy, engaged and do it every day. If you do all those things, you’re going to be pretty successful.”

All six are are in full effect in each of Patel’s workouts, and for anybody with the privilege to watch Patel in action, he or she may experience a seventh “E:” entertainment.

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