Simple Workouts

Weightroom Pic

What do you do if you don't have all of this to work with?

All Of That Equipment

Sometimes we can become overwhelmed when we have a variety of equipment to use during training.  We discover exercises that we “must” include often.  We also have lots of others that we like but can only fit in occasionally.  Then we seem to have the “like them but never seem to work them into the plan” exercises.  Of course, we all have some exercises that we choose not to use for one reason or another.  I’ve been in situations before where we had so much equipment that we could never work all of it into a training program in a month’s time.  Was that a problem?  Not at all.  First, that’s much better than not having enough.  Secondly, I have a hard time believing that a solid training program would have found a way to use all of the equipment.  But the question is, what equipment do you really need?  Maybe not as much as you think.

Keeping It Simple

For example, today  I used a jumprope, a physioball, some steps, and a few medicine balls for all of my own workout.  I was able to include explosive exercises, plyometrics, leg work, and core exercises.  Throw in a few cones for speed and agility work and you could have easily created an effective workout for most athletes.  So I ask again?  How much do you need to be effective?

I have always liked the idea of including a variety of different drills and exercises in my programs.  Notice I said “the idea”. The use of variety in training programs is a delicate balancing act and it’s not always the best idea to add in new things. Obviously anything new has to be geared to your athletes’ needs and level of experience.  I also try to keep in mind that it’s better to master a few drills than to learn many and master none.  Even so, sometimes I will take a day and “change things up” somehow.  I may change the order of things in the workout or I may add in some slight variations of old exercises.  One of my favorite things is to go old school with the equipment that I use. I like to use jumpropes, med balls, and various bodyweight exercises. I also tend to keep the exercises and drills simple. This isn’t a day that you want to be teaching a lot of of new things. However, simple drills and simple equipment does not equal an easy workout. The workload and what the athlete gets out of the workout is up to the coach. These “simple” workouts can challenge athletes in new ways and break up the drudgery of the normal workouts.  It can do the same thing for coaches.

Sometimes it’s possible to focus on using everything that we have at our disposal and get away from the basics.  Don’t be afraid to simplify things sometimes.  It will be good for your athletes.

Mark

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Coaching = Teaching

How long should you work with an athlete on a new skill?  A few minutes?  A couple of sessions?  A month?  What if they are really struggling to pick up the skill?  Do some athletes just “never get it”?

Correcting Mistakes Pic

To be a good coach, you must be a good teacher.

While it does seem that some athletes seem to pick up a new skill faster than others, there are a few things to keep in mind during the learning process.

  • Learning Styles – There are 3 different learning styles:  auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Make sure to utilize all three styles in teaching.  This will give you a much better chance at getting through to the athlete.
  • Repetition – The key to learning and perfecting a new skill is repetition.  According to motor learning scientists, it takes 300-500 reps to learn a new skill.  That will allow the body to form a “motor program” to help it complete the skill the same way almost every time.  What about changing a bad habit?  That can take 3000-5000 reps to change that faulty motor program.  That explains why it is sometimes easier to teach an inexperienced athlete a skill.
  • Coaching Is Teaching – Want to see a great teacher?  Find a great coach.  They are able to find ways to get through to their students so that they learn.  They break things down into parts, use cue words to guide, give correction when needed, and give praise when needed.  They are determined to find a way for the athlete to learn the skill.
  • All Athletes Are Different – Sometimes one athlete picks up a skill very quickly yet may it take another athlete a lot longer.  The question is, how long do you keep trying?  Do you ever just give up?   Former NFL coach Chuck Knox used to believe that all athletes could learn if their coach was a good enough teacher.  Great coaches get creative and try to find a way that will work to teach the athlete.

We all spend time trying to find the next “super exercise” or to create the perfect program.  While it is important to constantly evaluate these things, if you want to be a great coach, work on your teaching.  They best way to get better is to watch other coaches.  See if you can pick up a few tips on how they teach a skill or drill.  It will make you better.

Mark

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The Sport Specialization Solution

Softball Catcher Pic

How many games has she played this year?

I found this article about sports specialization for softball players.  If you know me at all, you know that I’m not a fan of kids specializing in one sport.  Two points from the article did encourage kids not to specialize:

  1. College coaches want multi-sport athletes because they are more well rounded
  2. “…multi-sport athletes do tend to be more well-rounded and often out-perform those who focus only on a single sport. Often the skills from one sport translate into an advantage in another, such as explosiveness in basketball or agility in soccer.”
These two statements probably don’t come as a surprise to most strength and conditioning professionals.  Unfortunately there are numerous other things in the same article that try to discourage multi-sport athletes.  I won’t get into all of the details, but I do have one question.  If playing multiple sports helps a person to develop into a more complete athlete and makes them more desirable to college coaches, why are so many athletes still playing a single sport year-round??? To add to this, many of the athletes who specialize become physical trainwrecks before they ever make it to college. Lets also not forget to mention those that mentally burn out. So if it’s not benefitting the kids, who is this helping? There are only 3 parts to this equation – the athlete, the parent, and the coach. We’ve already decided that specialization isn’t helping the athlete. That only leaves the adults. When did sports stop being about the athletes themselves?
So, what’s the solution?  It’s very simple.  Stop trying to convince parents and kids that playing one sport year round is the only way to go.  Not only is there another way, playing multiple sports is the best way to develop athletes.   Maybe if athletes weren’t being “encouraged” (forced) to focus on one sport, it would solve a lot of issues.

Mark

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Slacktastic

Slacktastic.  Huh?  That isn’t a word.  It should be.  Want a definition?   Here it is: an athlete with fantastic potential who tends to be a slacker during strength & conditioning sessions.  Now that you know what it means, I’m sure that you can think of an example.  We’ve all dealt with this athlete before.  You know the kid, the one with great potential, the one who halfway does his warmup, who you always have to wait on to start a drill because he or she is taking their sweet time, the one who always complains and has an excuse.  Yeah, that kid.  Usually these kids have been gifted with decent athletic skills.  That’s why they tend to be slackers, because they’ve always been able to get by on their natural ability.  When these athletes are training individually or in a small group, it becomes harder for them to be a slacker.  Even though they may still try to get out of things, hopefully this can be cured through good coaching.  What about in a large group setting?  That is when the slacktastic athlete really comes out.  When the weightroom has more bodies in it, these athletes tend to find ways to take their time, skip exercises, etc.  In an ideal situation, there will be multiple coaches in the room to help with supervision.  Unfortunately, especially in high schools nowadays, there is rarely enough supervision to coach effectively and to eliminate problems.  That’s when it becomes very important for coaches to “have eyes in the back of their heads”.  That’s also when a coach has to make sure that what they see from a kid is really what they are getting from the kid.  I’ve heard stories of kids putting on a great show when they know that the coach is watching.  If they aren’t being watched, their slacktastic qualities shine through.  Part of being a great coach is truly getting to know your athletes.  This is part of that.  Discovering that a kid isn’t putting out 100% also gives a coach (or parent) a chance to teach some life lessons.  This is a valuable part of athletics that should never be overlooked.  Of course, possibly the greatest reason to hold these athletes accountable is because it can affect your team.  Other kids are great at picking up on these sorts of problems.  Many times the hard working kids will know who doesn’t go all out.  This then leads to negative feelings, especially if the kids that don’t work hard all of the time still get lots of playing time.  These issues tend to stay small as long as things are going well.  However, as soon as the team faces adversity these problems tend to snowball.  The best way to prevent these sorts of issues?  Hold all of your athletes accountable every day.  Make sure that the “superstars” realize that you know if they aren’t giving 100%.  You can also try to create competitive situations where the “slacktastic” athetes will be held accountable by their teammates.  While it can be a challange to deal with those who don’t go all out every day, dealing with and solving this issue is part of good coaching.

Mark

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3 Keys During The Football Off-season

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For the football fans in the U.S., our glut of football excitement is about to run out. The NCAA football season ended when Alabama beat LSU.  The NFL playoffs are in full swing and soon the Super Bowl will be played and over.  So as to not forget our neighbors to the north, the CFL offseason is well underway.  Of course, just because the season is over doesn’t mean that things are any less hectic for the coaches, players, and support personnel.  No matter what level you are at, this is the period to get better.  Coaches are looking for better players through scouting and recruiting.  Even high school coaches scour the hallways looking to encourage a “diamond in the rough” to play next year.  As for players, they are all (or should be) working to get better.  This is the time of year to improve strength, power, and athletic skills so that they can be a better player.  This can be just in preparation for next season, or it can be to get ready for various combines and tryouts.  It is a very busy time of year for all involved.

If you are a player, right now you should be on a solid program to develop you strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, balance, and coordination.  If you aren’t, you are going to miss out.  You will miss out on the chance to excel on the field and possibly miss out on a scholarship or pro contract.  Years ago most players didn’t train during the off-season.  Nowadays, if you don’t train during the off-season, you probably won’t see the field during the season.  If you ask the guys from Alabama, LSU, or any other major college football program, this is when they start to get ready for next year.  It doesn’t start in August, it starts now.  They lift weights, run agility drills, and do anything else that is necessary to get better.  So what should you (or your players) be doing during January?

3 Keys During The Off-season

  1. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate – Every player should be evaluated at this time of year.  It is true that it helps to re-test them in their 40, vertical jump, clean, etc.  In addition, it is a good time to eval individual players for lingering injury issues, strength and flexibility imbalances, etc.  Whether you use a formal system like the Functional Movement Screen or do something different, you need to try to pinpoint any problems that each individual may need to work on.  If you don’t do it while you have time to, you won’t do it at all.  If these problems don’t get fixed, they will limit the development of the player.
  2. A solid program – Every player should be placed on a solid strength and conditioning program.  It should be well thought out and should include phases that will develop hypertrophy, strength, and power in the weightroom.  It should also include plenty of flexibility, speed, and agility work.  Just lining up to run sprints isn’t really speed work.  I mean form and technique work.  It takes a lot of reps to make a change permanent.  Get started now.
  3. Team bonding / competition work – This is also the time to begin to include some team bonding activities.  They don’t have to be every day, but there is a long time from now until August.  Start to include them now to help your team develop the chemistry that the need to succeed.  As for competition, that can be worked into drills and other off-season activities.  Some kids don’t have the competitive fire that they should.  This can be developed but again, it should start now.
Keep these keys in mind while you plan your program.
Mark
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Youth Training & Athletic Development

baby with ball pic

Is this too young to specialize?

There was a good article published recently about developing young athletes.  It focuses on sports specialization in young athletes.  Besides the normal reasons I have used to put down the practice of early specialization, it cites another major one.  It points out that according to much of the work on Long Term Athletic Development, if a child specializes at too early of an age, they will fail to develop basic athletic skills.  The lack of these skills will then limit their overall athletic potential.  I believe that this is 100 % correct.  I recently watched a high school sporting event.  While I was at the event, I spent time analyzing the basic athletic skills of some of the athletes (running form, agility, etc).  While some of the players were certainly gifted, it was obvious that many of them had never been coached on basic running form and footwork.  Many of the athletes on the field were getting by purely on natural ability.  I saw some of the fastest players on the field display poor form.  If they had been trained to run well previously, they would have been much faster.  Not only would they have made their team better, they would have been better individually.  Obviously that should appeal to those who are chasing college scholarships.

So, while early sport specialization can increase the chance of injury for your child, it can also actually limit their overall athletic development.  Ironically, isn’t that the opposite of what certain people keep saying?  It seems that many coaches continue to convince parents and kids that playing one sport year round is the way to go.  My advice when you hear statements like this – don’t believe it!!!  Give your child a chance to try other sports, train to develop their overall athletic skills, and last but not least, to be a kid.

Mark

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USTA Tennis Conference 2011

Tennis Player Pic

I spent this past weekend at the USTA Tennis Performance & Injury Prevention Conference.  I always enjoy going to events like this and learning new things.  I also think that listening to the perspectives of others helps to make your mind work.  It forces you to rethink the way that you have always done things.  Hopefully this makes me a better coach.

The presenters did an excellent job of giving info that was useful for all that were in attendance.  This says a lot because the audience was made up of individuals with all types of backgrounds – MD’s, Athletic Trainers, Physical Therapists, Tennis Coaches, and Strength & Conditioning Coaches from a multitude of settings.  Presentations covered the biomechanics of the tennis strokes, strength and conditioning, warm ups, and there were many sessions on injuries specific to tennis.  While each speaker had their own experiences and point of view to share, many of the presenters ended up “on the same page” with some of their advice.  There also didn’t seem to be any big egos present among the presenters or attendees.  To top it all off, the USTA did a great job of making everything was run smoothly.

I learned a lot about that not only will help me when I train tennis players, but some of the info will help me to train other athletes also.  Look for some of tidbits that I learned in my future blog posts and newsletters.

Mark

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Football Fanatic Craziness

Football Warmpu

How good of a job does your S & C Coach do?

If you know me, it’s no secret that I love college football.  It’s much more exciting to me than watching the NFL.  As we get near the end of the season, it’s always interesting to hear the fans perceptions of their favorite teams coaching staff.  If a program isn’t heading in the right direction, it doesn’t take long for the fans to start calling for coaches to be fired.  Of course, if a team seems to fall apart late in games or gets lots of injuries, the fans always blame the strength and conditioning staff.  I have to say though, that the best comment that I have heard about this recently was that this is the staff member that fans are least able and qualified to evaluate.  I’ve got to agree with this.  Here are a few reasons why:

  • Fans have no idea what is involved in the day to day running of a strength program.  I could never begin to give an accurate assessment of the job that an insurance salesman does, why should he be any better at evaluating what a S & C professional does?
  • They also have no idea what level the players were at when they began the program.  We have all seen fantastic athletes who excel in high school purely on athletic ability.  Once they get to college, they aren’t the only big fish in the pond.  If they’ve never had to work hard in the weight room, they may be behind when they get to college.  It may take them some time to catch up.
  • Many factors go into the success of a team during a season.  Yes, conditioning level is important.  However, if a team has very few quality backups, it leads to the starters staying on the field even longer.  It doesn’t matter how many sprints that you run during practice, football is an intense game, especially for the big bodies on the O-line and D-line.  Eventually, everything will catch up with them and they will get tired.
  • Injuries happen.  I’ve worked with teams that did the same work in the offseason that previous teams had done.  Once the season starts, for some unexplained reason, they seem to have a rash of one type of injuries.  I’ve seen seasons where teams were hit by a string of shoulder injuries to players, or ankle injuries, or knee injuries.  These injuries took a toll and made it more difficult for the team to succeed.  Yet those players worked hard in the weight room in the off-season, not only to get stronger but to help prevent such injuries.  Sometimes that’s just the way that things happen.  I’ve also seen players get injuries that limit what a player can do in practice, yet they are able to heal up enough for the game each week.  Many times fans don’t know all of the details off what goes on behind the scenes.   Therefore, they don’t realize how this can affect a players play and development.
I realize that fans love evaluate everything about their team, especially if the season isn’t going well.  It’s part of what makes things interesting. However, when it comes to the S & C staff, fans might want to consider a few things before calling for peoples jobs.  Just something to think about.
Mark
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Coaching is Teaching

Want to see somebody have an epic fail?  Here’s the simplest way that I know:  show an athlete how to do something (a drill, an exercise, etc) and then tell them to go do it.  Oh yeah, and after you tell them to go do it, take zero time to actually COACH them on the drill.  You know what happens?  They fail!!!!  Wanna guess why?  Because you didn’t coach them!!  I know, this never happens in the real world, right?.  Wrong.  It does, every day.

Coaching Pic

Coaching isn't showing, it's teaching.

Here are three reasons that it shouldn’t happen:

  1. No matter how great the drill/ exercise is, if the athlete doesn’t get coached in the correct way to do it, they will never perfect it (and learn what they should from it).
  2. Every time that the athlete does the drill they are creating a muscle memory pattern.  If the athlete does the drill incorrectly, they are cementing that poor technique into their memory.  It is much easier to teach a new pattern than to change an ingrained one.
  3. Safety is probably the biggest reason.  If you don’t coach them, not only will they use bad technique, they may get away with unsafe technique.  The last thing that you want is for an athlete to get hurt because you didn’t coach him/her.
Remember, coaching is teaching.  To be a good coach, you have to take an active role.
Mark
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The Athletic Position For Sports

The Athletic Position

No matter what sport the athlete plays I’ve always been a big believer in teaching them the role of the athletic position (or stance) while training them.  It plays a huge role for athletes in sports such as volleyball, football, baseball, tennis, and basketball.  While I think that many coaches try to get their athletes into this position, I’m not sure that they try to explain the importance of this stance to them.

Beach Volleyball Pic

What is an athletic position?

An athletic stance is one in which your feet are about shoulder width apart, your weight is centered on the balls of your feet, your knees and hips are flexed, your torso is leaning slightly forward, and your head and shoulders are up.

Why Is It Important?

While for many athletes, being in an athletic stance my come somewhat naturally, that may not be the case for all of them.  Athletes need to be comfortable in this stance and they need to be able to get into (and out of) this stance quickly.  Why?  Because this stance is involved in many sports.  This stance is the one that athlete get into before jumping vertically, it is a defensive position in basketball, it is part of a power clean, and the list goes on and on.  If you look at the beach volleyball picture above, the 2 players that are on the ground are in variations of an athletic stance.  It’s true that neither one is a perfect example, but we are also looking at an isolated picture.  Think about the position that the two other players were in just one second earlier. Right before they jumped, they both would have been in an athletic stance so that they could maximize their vertical jump.  Athletes may only stay in an athletic stance for a brief time, but they must be comfortable getting into and out of that stance. If not, it will impact their speed of play and efficiency.

Make sure 

Make sure to include teaching of the athletic stance in your training.  It plays a vital role in many sports and your athletes need to be comfortable in the stance.  They also need to understand why this stance is important, not only for their specific sport or position, but also the role that it plays in jumping and other skills.  With today’s athletes asking “why” more and more, this may help them to understand the importance of this position better.

Mark

 

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