Houston Rockets Coach Cruz on How Movement Benefits Your Mindset

Kelly Krause is a Texas-based writer, content and brand curator, and community builder. She’s the former conference programming manager for SXSW and currently a contributor to Forbes and Camille Styles. Willie Cruz is the Athletic Performance Coach for the Houston Rockets.

When the NBA announced the suspension of its 2020 season due to COVID-19, Houston Rockets Athletic Performance Coach Willie Cruz knew he’d have to get creative to ensure his players stay active and physically prepared to return to the court. He’s turned his apartment into a workout facility and is using technology to keep the team on top of its training schedule. 

Kelly Krause met Cruz while she was in Houston hosting a lululemon community event, and they talked over dinner about their life goals. She and Cruz became fast friends, and she turns to him when she needs a boost of confidence or inspiration.

Krause caught up with Cruz to learn how movement has been paramount to elevating his mood, activating empathy, and staying connected to his players, his community, and his greater purpose.

Kelly Krause: We’re officially on week seven of shelter in place. How are you doing?

Willie Cruz: Thankfully, I’m healthy, and so is my immediate family. I think that’s all you can really ask for right now. 

The NBA shutdown came very unexpectedly. We were en route to Los Angeles to play the Lakers in an empty stadium—without fans—when we learned the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz game had been postponed because a player tested positive for COVID. Our flight turned around and came back to Houston. 

KK: So, you and the team have been forced to change the way you work pretty drastically?

WC: We started with individual workouts, but then the NBA shut down all training facilities. Me and our Director of Performance are responsible for ensuring our players are staying active and physically prepared to return to the court, and technology has allowed us to be creative in our approach to serve them. Our goal has been to accommodate each player based on their specific needs. 

There are a lot of good things happening, and I think we have to bring  attention to that. That’s not to say we shouldn’t acknowledge the trials people are facing, but to say we choose to stand together and expect good things to come out of this.

KK: How are you training your players? Are they adapting well? 

WC: We’ve approached this situation like a typical off-season. The guys are owning their process, and doing what they can to stay in shape. 

Some have access to off-season trainers and home gyms, and others just have the equipment we’ve shipped out to them. At first, some just used what they had around the house. One player used bricks for his workout. He’s from Houston, and as he would say, it was time to get “Country Strong.”

Each player has been assigned a strength, conditioning, and movement program on our online workout platform, and our private educational social platform helps us all stay connected. We don’t know when we’ll be back on the court, so the most important thing is to keep an open dialogue and ensure they come back ready to go.

KK: I’ve really appreciated the content you’ve been sharing online, encouraging us to utilize what we have at home to help keep our bodies moving. With everything going on, how have you kept that a priority?

WC: I think it’s important for everybody to find what’s fun for them so they can get into a routine. I do mobility movements in the morning, and take lots of walks. Walks are more meditative, where I focus on breathing, take in nature, and time for myself. 

KK: I know how much the power of movement can elevate my mood. What’s it doing for you right now? 

WC: I’ve seen the transformation it can have on people’s attitude and self perception. The habit of moving every day strengthens my resilience and helps give me a positive outlook during this time.

KK: There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding this crisis, and all of our emotions are valid. One of my favorite things about you is your ability to connect with your community. How do you do that? 

WC: What I’ve learned is that we must accept the reality, break the challenge of this pandemic, embrace those emotions, and know it’s okay to have them. Staying connected helps. 

This moment is a dark cloud that has created a lot of difficulty for a lot of people. But when storms come, they pass. There are a lot of good things happening, and I think we have to bring  attention to that. That’s not to say we shouldn’t acknowledge the trials people are facing, but to say we choose to stand together and expect good things to come out of this.

KK: Is there anything you’re doing now that you hope to continue after this is all over? 

WC: I want to look back on this time and see changes that led to growth. For example, I’ve stopped getting on my phone first thing in the morning. Breaking the habit was difficult, but I found purpose in it, and it’s led me to stop wasting valuable time aimlessly searching social media. 

Instead, I start my days with a devotional and a prayer, journaling, and a call with my family. I like to call these “empowering mornings.” I’ve done these things in the past, but I’ve never been consistently committed to it. I’m spending the most important time of my day with my faith and my family, and that equips me to face challenges that arise throughout the day.

KK: What’s bringing me joy is focusing on the simple things. The small changes I can make, and the fact I don’t need to consume as much. I have everything I need right now, all the way down to using detergent bottles instead of hand weights for my workout.

WC: We should all have our own scoreboard to celebrate small wins, like being okay with not going to the gym. Appreciate what we do have and make the best of it. This situation helps me appreciate life more.

KK: What’s been the most beautiful thing that’s come out of this for you?

WC: The other day, as I was running around Memorial Park, a car drove by. You could tell the parents had told their two young kids to wave and smile at the runners. It was a profound moment because it embodied the interconnectedness that we’re all feeling, and those smiles made me feel good. 

KK: I think that moment is a definite reflection of the things you value, your choice to see the silver lining, and something we should all choose to see, now more than ever.

Photo of Willie Cruz courtesy of the Houston Rockets

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