Thursday, June 13, 2013
In my experience, including the fact that I also often have limited influence as many sport parents, coaches, and athletes that would not listen to me if I chose to have this discussion, there are practical realities we have to address:
- With sport coaches as a whole often we are just injecting more crazy into the equation. As it is often hard to find qualified experts and coaches in any field, let alone finding them in one specific area, it is very hard to find such organizations and individuals at the youth level. Often you are just swapping out the crazy, specialization driven focus of one sport for another and that is just not right. "Well, Jane, your shoulder seems to be doing better since you took that break from volleyball but the excessive running you are performing during conditioning for your soccer season means your knees are now shot."
- Competition focused periods (most sport seasons) followed by another competition focused period is not a good plan. We find that many youth athletes are physically unprepared for the demands expected of them. This is just in consideration of the sport as it is played at their level and not in consideration of actual physical preparation where we would want to see improvements in posture, movement, and conditioning for the sport.
Within the volleyball world where I do a majority of my work I can count the number of coaches, in our area, that I would trust with my kids on one hand. If I also take into consideration the management of the entire long-term athlete development process that number is reduced to zero. This is not a knock on those coaches except to say that it takes more than one sport, and one coach, to develop a good, healthy athlete. Why can't we instead focus on developing physical education and long-term athlete development plans to vary the variables in development of the single-sport athlete instead of an often unrealistic plan of depending on another competitively focused sport to do so? We arbitrarily create these distinctions where we believe there is some magical formula used in another sport that helps to develop a great athlete when there is nothing magical there is simply sufficient variation in the tactics and physical work performed (energetics, mechanics, and coordination).
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
My brother is a Special Agent for the US Government and my best friend works in the same capacity for another Government Agency. I help people jump higher and run faster. I say this to people often as a joke but the reality is if this is what I believed my job was I would not be a coach. One of the first kids that I ever coached is now in Medical School. I started with her when she was in 8th grade and worked with her all the way through college. A lot of the best kids I have coached were not mentioned in the profiles that I have used to promote my coaching business. This was a mistake. If I didn’t believe that I was making a difference in their lives and that that difference would be felt in so much more than their training and physical performance than I would not be a coach.
There are people in our business who think they are better than others because of where they work and who they work with. This is wrong but it does nothing to change the responsibility you must have for what you are doing right now with the job you have. I saw one Sports Performance Director, from a major Division I program, basically laugh off another Strength and Conditioning Coach because he hadn’t heard of the school that coach was from. I have seen both of these individuals coach and I will tell you that the Strength Coach from the No Name University is making a greater difference than the Director who chose to “big time” him. It is not the opportunity itself but what we do with the opportunity that matters. I fully admire the people who are taking advantage of their opportunities. This is not to say that the Sports Performance Director I mentioned is doing no good. But perhaps at some point in a surely long and illustrious career this person lost sight of the difference they were fully capable of making.
The frustrations most feel when reading from “Internet Strength Coaches” and personal trainers is, for the most part, very much unnecessary. There will always be inaccurate and misguided information. In this day and age this is more common than ever. The fact is that while many will be misled, and end up misinformed, from this information this is as critical of a step as any for a professional: the ability to sift through the nonsense. Further I will tell you that while most of this writing will make many think and consider the material it often does very little to change or influence practice, especially amongst the well informed in the field. Using one such example, from someone who has been very important to my career, with Coach Boyle and the difference he is capable of making. Coach Boyle has the ability to perform a seminar, write an article or blog post, or even have a conversation with someone and he can inspire change in coaching practice around the world (often at a very high level). The same cannot be said for the greatest of Internet Charlatans. They write an article or blog post, it is well spoken of and shared amongst their fans, and then it is often forgotten in search of the next big thing. The experts in our field stopped looking for these fantastical solutions long ago.
This level of influence does not just fall into our laps the second we decide we are capable of providing it. Like all things of any value it takes time and trust to earn the privilege. So every time someone asks, “Well the football team should really change how they train according to my advice but they won’t listen to me. What do I do?” I know that they have not gained the amount of influence they need to have in order to inspire change on such a large scale. Nothing to be mad about there is just more work to be done. Try making a difference with one football player or coach who will listen and go from there. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
First and foremost no matter what our intentions are it is from our actual behavior that our influence will be felt. In the documentary “Finding Joe”, about famed mythologist Joseph Campbell, Deepak Chopra shares the thinking that if we use our minds to help others we will change their minds, if we use our hearts we will change their hearts, but if we use our lives to change others we will change lives. One of my favorite poems, that I learned of from John Wooden, shares this same sentiment:
"No written word, no spoken plea
Can teach our youth what they should be,
Nor all the books on all the shelves.
It's what the teachers are themselves."
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
One of the more recent programming concepts, which in itself has been practiced outside of the scientific literature and research for many years, is the concept of flexible non-linear periodization. This essentially means the program will include more variation in intensity and volume over a training cycle and within each training week. As part of this progamming some sport scientists and coaches advocate doing a pre-assessment of power and speed and then modifying the training session as necessary based on the athlete's level of performance in that test.
"Time is not the click of the clock. It is the everlasting now." - Anonymous
The primary issue I would like to address here is that in most coaching situations you do not get that day, time, and opportunity back! If an athlete performs poorly on the power and speed pre-assessment in my experience they are far more likely to continue doing so for weeks on end. While modifying the workout is certainly necessary what is not necessary is eliminating the training focus from the session. In this way we are looking at the execution of each training session evaluated for its specific performance, relative to our peak performance, and based on how the athlete approached the session (e.g. feeling tired/flat, sore, unenthusiastic). If the athlete is only capable of 90% of their maximum but we can execute that 90% with great consistency through the session, given the appropriate steps are taken to improve their readiness, then we can still make progress (even if that progress will not be reflected on a 1RM Chart).
So the better strategy is to modify the session and still do our best to continue to teach, have the athlete continue to learn, and address the necessary quality (speed, skill, strength, stamina, and suppleness in their infinite amount of variation). In this way peak performance instead becomes evaluated over the long-term and specific to periods where we have the expectation that peak performance should be achieved. Being proactive in this way is a far better strategy than being poorly reactive to the realities of day to day training variation and readiness.
"Don't move until you see it." - Bruce Pandolfini (Master Chess Coach in the film 'Searching for Bobby Fischer')
As I have gained more experience in dealing with a high degree of variation in the athlete's readiness to train I have learned that pre-assessment is important but far more important is what measures we may take in the warm-up to improve their readiness to its daily maximal state. For this reason our general and specific warm-up protocols have become far more detailed than I initially believed they needed to be. You often see rigidity in the warm-up protocol and coaches are simply waiting to get to "the real work" and daydream right through this period. This negatively affects the athlete's concentration on the execution of the warm-up and this period offers significant learning opportunities for the athlete if the coach can help the athlete focus better.
For our training program the warm-up period is coached intently and we attempt to take advantage of the crossover effects of both the general and specific exercises and drills that aid learning and development. The transition from general to specific is improved in its fluidity if this can be executed efficiently. If we do not see the things we want to see happening, including what happens on the pre-assessments used, we will not move forward with the training session until we can make the necessary correction. Until we see it. In this way we are attempting to ignite a fire every day and see just how brightly it may burn.
There are parts of every training session that I consider to be more necessary for each athlete and these become a definite priority for the day (referred to in the programming as the stable-linear components) and there are other parts of the program that I do not have a problem varying more from day to day (referred to as the rotational and/or variable components). In this way we have the requisite stability and mobility necessary to strike harmony in the program and avoid treating each athlete like some sort of robot (who will automatically perform or not perform based on tests that in 99% of coaching situations always challenge abilities that still require significant coaching in order to master).
Approach each session with the idea that physical or mental limitations are going to limit this session's productivity and you will find plenty of reasons to stay where you are as an athlete and never make progress. Instead approach every training session with the idea that you have to make the best of now and you will find that training becomes far more productive.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
First things first, specific to the images displayed I do not see significant alterations in the external rotation of the athletes pictured (just so that is said). I do see more of a laying back of the torso specific to foot positioning. This position is poor for hitting as we lose significant links to the kinetic chain. Essentially our anchor occurs in the low back instead of linking to the hip and ankle. I also do not see the opening of the pelvis we want to see in the athlete pictured on the bottom. This eliminates the same linking of the kinetic chain specific to the rotational power needed for the same activity. The top athlete is using this rotation, granted in the arched back position, and I would bet has greater range in her attacking ability (meaning where she is able to close and place the ball effectively). From a skill development standpoint the athlete on the bottom could very well be capable of doing this effectively and just be pictured in the incorrect posture for this single instance but experience tells me this is not the case (even when taking a "straight line" striking angle good hitters will take advantage of the rotational power needed as a way to gain valuable ROM).
Good Example of Powerful Jumping/Hitting Position with the Requisite Shoulder Mobility
Beyond that, and more specific to the content of my friend Sam's post, I have to say that the primary way that we communicate effective use of the shoulder is through effective use of the rest of the body. So what Sam communicated is important but for what I believe the majority of my role encompasses is presented in a fairly limited scope (essentially becoming a programming consideration and not necessarily a coaching cue). Within my practice the work is in the coaching and in getting the shoulder work done.
Developmentally speaking volleyball players are more limited in the volume of their overhead striking as there are many obstacles to doing this effectively at the youth level. So volleyball teams and athletes essentially have to earn the ability to attack aggressively and this tends to match up well with what they are prepared for as an athlete. I believe a major roadblock in this process is coaches doing private lessons or hitting clinics where they are teaching overhead actions the rest of the body is ill prepared for. So I don't go on a rant about this that takes this post further off-topic the easiest way to initiate some of the physical actions we want to impact overhead work is through the dynamic warm-up and in brief jumping and reaching progressions that teach athletes to complete vertical extension and close aggressively to a great landing position.
Many of the progressions I outlined in the 'Vertical Jump Methodology' post can serve as effective ways to vary the skill and effort. The need for variation is there because simple exercises only guarantee improvement in said exercise and the primary physical capacity it develops. There are skill development considerations that need to be adaptable to a constantly changing environment (in the video posted below what was she supposed to do?) and to me, it makes no sense to develop great vertical power, rotation, or upper body power and then attempt to apply it to the skill. It is more than just a high contact point, it must be integrated, and it must be practiced.
Stability and Mobility Adaptations in Overhead Athletes
Overhead athletes require a delicate balance of both shoulder stability and shoulder mobility relative to their sport. Certain structural and functional consequences arise, and are magnified, depending on how hard the athletes throw, strike, or swim. Functionally, for example, it’s advantageous for swimmers to have hyper shoulder mobility given the correlation with greater stroke length and swimming speed as it is for a baseball pitchers to exhibit greater external rotation allowing for a greater “cocking phase” and subsequent ball velocity to home plate. Volleyball, handball, and tennis athletes also benefit from increased “lay back” of the humerus during the cocking phase. Interestingly, this increased external rotation at the glenohumeral joint is accompanied by a loss of internal rotation. The total motion of the shoulder (ER + IR), or “arc”, tends to shift backwards on the throwing/striking shoulder. This is due to the external rotators of the shoulder having to eccentrically decelerate the high velocity of throwing/striking and stiffening up as a result, hence moving the arc of total motion posteriorly. At the scapular thoracic joint, overhead athletes tend to have increase scapular protraction, decreased upward rotation, and increase anterior tilt.
More external rotation of the striking arm = more range of motion to accelerate through = greater striking force
Structurally, it’s common to find these same athletes with posterior capsule stiffening which many will agree has a cause and effect relationship with the concurrently acquired anterior hyperlaxity in throwing/striking shoulders. The anterior aspect (hyperlaxity) represents the end result of gradual stretching of passive shoulder restraints whereas the posterior aspect describes the stiffening of passive restraints. If the athlete has been engaging in high velocity humeral IR movements since their youth, it’s likely they’ll also present with varying degrees of humeral retroversion. This is due to the fact early in life, about 12-16 years old, our humeral growth plates are still not solidified and violent throwing/striking during these developmental years can cause the plate to twist backward because of the large amounts of deceleration and close in an altered state resulting in us having naturally more external shoulder rotation for the rest of our lives.
At the end of the day the higher the velocity with which the athletes throw or strike, the more likely they are to present with inefficiencies/dysfunctions or pathology. This tells us a lot about what to expect when dealing with high level overhead athletes who’ve been throwing, striking, or swimming for a long time.
Read more from Sam at his website SamLeahey.com.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
On average I believe that the Olympic lifts, and their nearly unlimited amount of variation, fit nicely into the progression of the program as a whole and I have seen no evidence that injuries or overuse are more common to programs with them in practice (assuming the same basis of rational thinking within the strength and conditioning program; there are idiots everywhere fully capable of injuring athletes with programming that is otherwise considered safe). There are a couple of issues that come with the lifts, and overhead work as a whole, and this can be primarily summarized to athlete's having progressed far enough in programming to make the introduction of the Olympic lifts at best tedious with less return on investment, and at worst allowing athletes to become injured because their training background has not progressed in a way to allow the lifts to be performed correctly. Coaches with a razor-sharp focus on implementing them can do so effectively because they are so uncompromising in their demands on how they are performed. If coaches are unwilling or unable to coach the lifts on that level then they should explore alternative methods.
Beyond that when it comes to programming or restricting overhead work, especially of the explosive variety, it depends greatly on the performance needs of the athlete. It is very common for me to limit overhead work through the competitive season and even overall in a program. Especially if an athlete has advanced far enough for me to be less concerned about their explosiveness and more concerned with the likely ill effects of having pushed their bodies hard for so long (assuming they have not had a system in place to manage their mobility and structural balance; my experience suggests that this is in fact the norm). Obviously with that increased wear and tear it is also more likely that they are having mobility limitations that should affect our programming decisions (perhaps even permanently). With that said I do believe in taking advantage of every available opportunity for growth since we have such limitations in place already so I believe you can program the Olympic lifts effectively in-season but you have to manage that process from day to day and be prepared to take a step back when necessary.
Further we all have to consider the unique needs of the athletes we are working with. My experience with volleyball tells me that there are still significant opportunities for the development of general skill, strength, speed, stamina, and suppleness that significantly aids the specific process needs, yet the time we have to effectively train all of those bio-motor abilities is still limited. So we have to program in a complementary fashion that allows us to accumulate a significant amount of repetition while not overdoing the athlete's resources. With volleyball being considered a "touch" sport, where athletes are wanting to practice and touch the ball constantly through the year and their schedules have grown to reflect that, we have to use the most effective tools at our disposal to maximize training time and my belief is the Olympic lifts fit that role perfectly.
In closing a good rule to follow when considering an effective training methodology is do not start anything you cannot finish. If the athletes only have the time to become competent with an unloaded barbell it is unlikely that they have benefit from the power that can be developed with the lifts. If that is true then it may have proven worthwhile to have invested time in less technical work that offers more immediate benefit (barbell squat jumps,complex training, med ball throws, plyometric variations, etc). At one point I had removed the Olympic lifts entirely from my EVP program for at least 90% of my athletes for this same reason. As I have worked harder to create progression and opportunities for growth I have managed to program them effectively and use them consistently in all of our training programs.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
This is starting out as a thought that I have hoped would help to communicate my criticism of some within the industry without coming off as a "hater":
I have written previously, relying heavily on what I have learned from Dan Pfaff, on the integrity of a system and/or training method. If they are integral then they can be expanded or compressed to accurately reflect the preparatory and/or competitive needs of the athlete.
As far as time management goes hopefully many have already heard the story of "the Big Rocks" (to my knowledge popularized primarily by Stephen Covey; linked and shared below at the bottom of this post). Well here's the rub for me on the application of this story: the jar itself contains its big rocks and items of less importance (sand, gravel, water, etc) but two things jump out at me:
1-The jar itself cannot be filled without an appropriate balance of all of the requisite elements.
2-Every item within the jar has its own big rocks within its unique structure.
Filling the Jar
Big rocks alone leave space in the jar and no matter how hard you try you cannot fill in the gaps with large rocks alone. Many of us suffer from proximity bias where we hold a specific belief or training method too closely to our core and that bias reduces the effectiveness of our coaching and programming because it does not allow us to see the big picture.
As an admitted speed/power junkie I suffer from this bias as much as anyone but our discipline as educators must trump that thinking. The disciplined way to do this is to plan the work and then work that plan. Given the option most coaches would prefer to spend more time teaching power cleans and sprints than hip mobility and correct breathing. However we have to be convinced that good training requires that focus and work and if we are convinced we have to find an appropriate time to fill in the gaps.
With enough competitive coaching experience we draw more of an appreciation for this as our athletes not only perform at a high percentage of their capacity but also maintain that performance more effectively when we find harmony in the training program. An easy way to think of this harmony, to me, is to consider the items in the jar as directly associated with a specific bio-motor ability:
Water = Skill, Suppleness (Mobility) - As bio-motor abilities go skill and suppleness should be present and, as Bruce Lee would put it, "flow" through all other bio-motor abilities as necessary.
The Big Rocks of Water
The easiest way to communicate that each item in the jar contains its own big rocks is to look at the structure of water: h2o. Without the appropriate amount of hydrogen and oxygen we no longer have water. Essentially if we know what our water's big rock should look like but we cannot break down its structure to see its own balance of rock, gravel, sand, and water, then we cannot effectively use that rock in our structure.
In communication with my colleague Carson Boddicker, after Carson wrote a fantastic blog on the trigger mechanism of the ankle/foot in the stretch-shortening cycle, I asked Carson, "what do you do with your athletes when that doesn't happen?" If we know that the big rock of that mechanism is an appropriate level of stiffness and optimal functioning of the ankle, and by extension the sub-talar joint, and we do not see this occurring with our athletes in training then what do you do as a coach?
From an experience standpoint we should all be very well aware that we cannot simply tell the athlete to make that happen as if they have any focus at all they are already trying (in volleyball I tell players often it's as if coaches and parents sometimes think they are trying to make errors on the court). We have to understand that good programming will allow for training to continue through that session, and the program, whether it is in a group or individual training with a focus on improving the function of that mechanism as well as training content that gives that focus direction: appropriate mobility work and low- to high- intensity progressions of unilateral and bilaterally focused jumping, hopping, skipping, and running in multiple planes (We can break the mobility work down further by distinguishing between the isolated, integrated, and functional movement needs of the athlete as communicated by Charlie Weingroff in his "Training = Rehab, Rehab =Training" DVD product. This will often necessitate communication with a qualified PT and/or soft-tissue therapist).
When it comes to successful coaching and athlete development I often see the necessary focus for excellence in performance drift as we are sometimes overconfident in our current working knowledge and only true experts can see exactly what is missing. I have seen Olympic lifting technique that is leaving hundreds of watts on the bar and jump performance far beneath the athlete's potential being repeated over and over only conditioning a sub-maximal capacity. Poor Olympic lifting and jump performance is especially significant if we consider the volume of these repetitions being performed sub-maximally. The most common way to spot this shortcoming is to see that there is no integrity to loading changes being made in the athlete's lifting performance (they are stuck at 70-kilos for the season or haven't seen a vertical jump improvement since W. was in office). Similar shortcomings (missing sand, gravel, and water especially) can be found in all aspects of programming, depending on the coach's background, and I can assure you that there is not an UNIMPORTANT part of your program so be comprehensive.
These inadequacies in system and technique are often what will keep our athletes off the medal podium so I assure you overlooking these things should be unacceptable. I can tell you that if there is not excellence in the training and physical preparation then it does not happen in their performance.
Das Big Rocks
"A while back we read about an expert on the subject of time management. One day, this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I'm sure those students will never forget. After we share it with you, we hope you'll never forget it either.
As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over achievers, he said, "Okay, time for a quiz." Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. He produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.
When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is the jar full?" Everyone in the class said, "Yes." Then he asked, "Really?" He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.
Then he smiled and asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?" By this time, the class was on to him. "Probably not," one of them answered. "Good!" he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in, and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar full?"
"No!" the class shouted. Once again he said, "Good!" Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"
One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!" "No!" the speaker replied. "That is not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."
What are the 'Big Rocks' in your life? A project that YOU want to accomplish? Time with your loved ones? Your faith, your education, your finances? A cause? Teaching or mentoring others? Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you'll never get them in at all. So, take time to reflect on this short story. Ask yourself this question: What are the 'big rocks' in my life? Family or business? And remember to put those in your jar first."