How WNBA Players Stay Fit & Motivated Amid Uncertainty

“I was extremely exhausted going into that game. I tried to shoot around that morning, but I was feeling light-headed so I went to the hospital for an IV.”

This was Connecticut Sun forward Theresa Plaisance, who played in China during the WNBA off-season.

She could barely breathe in the week leading up to her December game. It turned out to be one of the best games of her career—Plaisance had 51 points and 31 rebounds—but she can barely remember it.

“The whole game was a blur, I could barely breathe.”

Plaisance never officially got tested for Coronavirus—this was before its spread was being commonly reported and tested in China—but has come to believe  that’s exactly what she played with it.

Now as the NBA considers opening its practice facilities in May and the WNBA looks forward to a full season, Plaisance’s experience should be a warning sign to both: the return to action cannot be rushed. 

Nonetheless, the intention to re-open gyms likely comes from a good place because, while the most well-paid players have elite training areas and personal basketball courts, not everyone has those resources available.

LeBron James has plenty of space to exercise with battle ropes; Mike Conley showed off a beautiful court at his home during the NBA HORSE Challenge. But players that live in big cities are in greater danger of catching Coronavirus if they just leave their apartment. And those with lower salaries don’t have access to their own facilities.

The haves and have-nots could widen the gap between the best in the league and those who are still in the building stage of their career.

In the WNBA, the chasm between the most well-paid players and the least has not been as vast, historically. Hopefully, this will mean everybody is on a reasonably level playing field when the league eventually starts.

But the calendar blew past its original start date when camp was due to start last week—and there is little sign of it coming anytime soon.

“You can’t be in game shape until unless you’re playing in games and playing pick-up or playing in practice,” said Lexie Brown of the Minnesota Lynx.

“I think everyone is going to come back and it’s going to take some time for everybody to get their wind in that respect.

But it’s up to us as pro athletes to keep some type of physical fitness level. And it has to be elite.”

The problem is that ‘elite’ is not really available right now. The best people can do is make the most of the space in their backyards, maybe a local park during quiet periods, or if it comes to it, their living room—just like a huge number of us around the world. This is working from home: professional athlete style.

Instagram has been helping. Isolated players are working out together while in different places, and fans can join in. Karlie Samuelson of the Dallas Wings was an early adopter of this, as she showed during an IG Live session:

“The ball handling thing I was doing with my trainer,” Samuelson said. “He’s been doing it every day. I hopped on because it’s such a great idea. A lot of trainers out there are doing it, and it’s free so kids can just hop on. I decided to share what he was doing because people are just at home—it’s nice if you can help anyone in any way possible.”

Living back with her parents and younger sister, fellow Wings player Katie-Lou, Samuelson is making the most of the space. They occasionally train together in the park, the garage or the back garden, but a lack of equipment has forced them to go as far as lifting each other to meet their fitness needs. 

For Plaisance, she is back in good health after those extreme coronavirus symptoms in December, but peak fitness is harder to reach.

“Since the quarantine started, it’s been hard to train,” she said.

“I have a small home gym and a Peloton bike, so that’s been my training regime. Sometimes I run outside in the grass. It’s impossible to train how I typically would for a WNBA season.”

Few players earn enough to rely on their WNBA salary, so they play overseas for the majority of the year. However, it means many of them are coming off the back of nearly a full season and are in relatively good game shape. 

For the non-WNBA players, the likely end of their season is not a good thing.

Joey Leedham played last season in Turkey alongside Arike Ogunbowale with OGM Orman Spor, but she’s been left frustrated at a lost year in Euroleague.

“This is a very frustrating and disappointing season—everything is just unfinished and it doesn’t feel good to leave a club on these kind of terms.”

The average person might find it difficult to stay motivated for months without knowing if and when their job is going to need them anytime soon, but that’s what separates elite athletes.

“If I have to rely on someone else to motivate me then I am doing something wrong,” Leedham said.

“I definitely have those days where the motivation is extremely hard to find, but those are the ones where you have to push through and end up having a great workout.”

If Turkey’s league had continued, Leedham’s season would have come to a close by now, but WNBA players then return to the USA and compete all year round. Brown wants to be back with the Lynx, but after playing in Israel during recent months, she is making the most of her time off while back home in Atlanta. 

“At this point, it would be our break time, so I’m not itching to be back on the court right now, Brown said. “But it would be nice to have something to look forward to in the next two weeks. We just have to stay patient and keep following the rules of social distancing.

“Most athletes have been doing this because it’s impacting us directly. We can’t work from home, and even if we get a timeline for our season, a lot of people don’t have access to gyms and have to do workouts at home.”

While the extended break might be appreciated by some, everyone who spoke to TBW wanted basketball back more than anything. Plaisance said it best:

“Most of us barely have enough time in between seasons to go home before reporting for the WNBA.

It’s nice to be able to be home, but I think we all want to be around our teammates—we’re all missing the game.”