Building The Agility Toolbox

Tools Pic

Are you giving your athletes the right tools to succeed?

Many times when I talk about agility training to my athletes, I explain to them that I am trying to give them a set of “tools” to help them to compete better. I like using the analogy of tools because I feel that it works well for what we are trying to accomplish.  As I tell the athletes, most of us have a toolbox at home.  It usually has a hammer, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, etc.  If I need to hammer a nail, I go and get the hammer.  If I need to loosen a bolt, I grab a wench.  In some situations I don’t need the hammer, and in some situations I don’t need a wrench.  I pick the most appropriate tool for the task and use it. It doesn’t matter what sport an athlete plays – football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, or anything else, many of the agility movements are hard to predict and practice for.  My job is to give athletes the tools (skills) and teach them how to use them.  I explain to them that once they are in a competition, I want their body to be able to react by instantly making the most efficient movement possible at that moment.

How do I accomplish this?

  • Evaluate the athlete and the skills that are needed for their sport
  • Teach them the basic skill(s) that they need to learn
  • Have them learn simple drills using the skills
  • Once they have begun to improve, make the drills more complex

It’s really just basic coaching/teaching.   I do try to show my athlete what I want them to learn out of each drill and help them to understand why the skill is important in their sport.  When they have gotten better at a particular skill or drill, I will make the drill more complex.  I do this by either adding a reaction component or incorporating another skill at some point in the drill.  Either of these will make things more difficult for the athlete and will further begin to cement that skill into their “toolbox”.  As the drills get more complex, it also takes them closer to the point of being sports specific.  I know, the only thing that is truly sports specific is playing the sport itself.  We still need to strive to get drills as close to what may happen in a sport as possible.  This definitely includes making the athlete react to something as part of a drill.  (I’ll write more about this in a later post).

When you plan out agility training, make sure that you are stocking your athletes toolbox with tools that they can use.

Mark

 

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Looking For Ideas From Old Stuff

As a coach, I’m always looking for ideas and trying to get better.  One thing that I’ve found useful is to go back and look at old handouts and notes from conferences that I have attended programs I have been given, etc.  It seems like you never get to see every presentation that you want to (or need to) at conferences.  Even if I do get to see a good one, I’m always trying to glance at the handouts, look at the slides, listen to the speaker, and somehow take notes.  That’s why I look to look back at this info at some point later in time.  I usually look at some of it in the days right after attending a conference but some of it waits until later.  That’s the info that I like to pull out when I have a question that I want to answer.  I might want to look for drill ideas, compare programs, or try to get better in an area that I want to improve in.  That’s when I go to the presentation handouts.  I know that some folks probably just toss most off this stuff out after a few years, but I view it as a valuable resource.  I very much believe that you can’t just copy someones program or way of doing something and make it work just as well for yourself.  However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get some good bits of info from other people and add them to the knowledge that you already have.  This is part of becoming a better coach.  So, don’t just throw out those old notes – use them to get better!!!

Mark

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5 Reasons Program Theft Won’t Work

I love to watch other strength and conditioning coaches in action.  I’m always looking to learn and better myself.  I’ve picked up new drills, better coaching cues, and many other ideas from these sessions.  It always puts your mind to work and makes you evaluate what you do and how you do it, which is never bad.  I feel that things like this make you a better coach in the long run.  Fortunately, most coaches are pretty good about sharing info with other coaches (although I did meet one recently who was VERY unwilling to discuss anything.  I guess they discovered the “holy grail” of coaching and don’t want us to know it). 

Did you steal your program?

Where did you get your program?

Of course, this can be taken to an extreme.  I’ve had sport coaches try to use a workout that they found somewhere else for their teams.  It may have come from a college coach, from a magazine, online, or anywhere else.  I don’t care how much ESPN you watch, how many issues of Mens Health or Muscle and Fitness that you read, or who you got it from don’t try to steal a program from somewhere.  This never works!!! 

 Here are 5 reasons why it doesn’t:

  1. It wasn’t designed for your kid(s) –  The program was probably designed for higher level athletes.  Most times these athletes are better prepared to participate in a physically demanding program.  They also have years of practice to develop the techniques required to execute the program correctly. 
  2. It’s not based on your kids needs – How can it be?  The person who designed the program has probably never met your kid.  How do they know what his/her needs are?  When you design a program you must account for the strengths and weaknesses of individual athetes.  Then you design the program around this information.  While this is difficult to accomplish in a group/team setting, it can still be done.  However, it can’t be done by a coach that doesn’t know your kid(s).
  3. It doesn’t have your personal touch –  Much like when it comes to X’s and O’s in sports, I can’t run your system and you can’t run mine.  We all have our own way of doing things.  Can I pick up a program designed by someone else and run kids through it?  Yes.  Am I going to be as effective of a coach?  No.  I have my way of doing things and I have a system that all of these things fit into.  The same can be said for other coaches.  We can all follow a plan but without fully understanding everything, it won’t work as well. 
  4. You don’t know the “Big Pic” – Maybe the stength coach at “We lost too many games last year U” was told to “bulk up the players”.  Maybe that played a role in his program design.  Maybe he realized that his players are plenty strong but need to be more flexible.  Once again, the program wasn’t designed for your kids. 
  5. It’s better to start from scratch than try to adapt a program – Sometimes when you try to adapt something you try to make as few changes as possible.  Unfortunately, this hesitation to make changes means that you aren’t willing to make the program fit your kids.  You are trying to make your kids fit into the program.  Again, not a good thing.

We all borrow ideas and incorporate them into our programs.  There’s no problem with that.  The problem is when it turns to using someone elses program entirely.  Remember, if you are a coach, this is what you are trained to do.  Don’t worry about having a perfect program.  There is no “perfect” program.  We’re all learning as we go and trying to make our program as close to perfect as we can for our athletes and our situation. The bottom line is this:  it’s much better to use a program that was designed specifically for the athletes who are using it rather than one that you “got from someone”.

Mark

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Don’t Forget The Arms….

Jessee Owens during the 1936 Olympics

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the feet.  Today, I thought that I would address the arms.
 
I spent part of last week volunteering to help some 9-12 year olds in a camp.  My job was to teach them flag football.  During the week, I had a few opportunities to watch the kids and see how they performed the various drills (when they weren’t pouring water on each other and whatever else they could think of).  It amazed me how many of the kids didn’t use their arms correctly while running.  Arms were flying sideways, going in circles, and pretty much doing everything except being used to run like an “athlete”.  Now, I understand that the kids were young and had never been taught how to run.  It just made me think about a few how important the arms are.  
 
How important are your arms in sprinting?  The action of your arms is connected to the action of your legs.   Don’t believe it?  Try this simple drill.  Stand up and jog in place allowing both your arms and legs to move.  Now pump your arms faster and faster.  What happens to your legs?  They move faster!!!!  See, I told you they worked together.  This is a drill that I like to use when I start discussing arm mechanics with athletes.  No matter if they are 8 years old or 28, they can quickly figure out the importance of using your arms.
 
If you take a look at the above picture of Jesse Owens and two other runners, you can see arms a legs working together.  Each of the athletes is at a slightly different point in their stride but they are all using similar mechanics.  When the left knee drives upward, the right arm moves with it and vice versa.  In young, untrained runners this one of the most glaring problems.  Just like the kids in camp last week, their arms move through multiple planes instead of simply moving anterior-posterier.  This incorrect movement makes the body work harder and makes it slower going from point A to point B. 
 
Does this only apply when running in a straight line like a track athlete?  Not at all.  Look at the rugby picture and check out the arms. 
Rugby Pic

These guys know how to use their arms to run

These players are in the process of changing directions and they are still using their arms to help out.  The arms can help you to accelerate when you run and change directions.  One of the first things that I try to evaluate and correct in an athlete is the use of their arms.  Then I keep on them through running drills, conditioning, agility drills – pretty much any time that correct arm usage is important.   It really helps them to run better in all directions and to be a better overall athlete. 
 

Mark

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Does It Matter?

Pic of Gears
Do you have any missing gears?

That’s the question.  Does it matter?  Does it really matter?  About now you’re asking, “does what matter?”  (That, and why is there a picture of machine gears on a sports performance blog).   I have answers for both of these.  

The question “does it matter” refers to the various parts of training an athlete.  Things like flexibility, power, strength, rest & recovery, planning, nutrition, outside of training activities (use of tobacco, drugs, and alcohol), stress, quality of training, etc.  I could probably list a lot more but I think that you’ve got the idea.  So, do they matter?  Do all of them matter?  Are some more important than others?  They all matter!!!  Each one represents a major part in the process of developing an athlete.  If you mess with one part, you mess with the whole athlete.  Want an example?  It’s a well know fact that stress caused by a job, school, a personal situation or anything else can affect you physically.  In fact, too much stress can put you in the hospital. Stress, which is usually non-physical in nature, can affect you physically.  See how things are all tied together. Your body works together as one.  If one part is not functioning up to par, other parts try to help out. That is one of the amazing things about our body.  Of course, if a part or system has to pick up the slack from some other system, then it can’t do it’s own job 100%.   That decreases your ability to function fully.  If you are an athlete, that’s not what you want.  You want every part to be working together at 100%.  That makes you able to  train and perform better and will lead to better results. 

The best way that I’ve ever heard this explained was by Mark Verstegen.  He used the example of a bunch of gears or cogs working together.  Each of the gears represented some of the things that I mentioned previously.  (See, I told you that there was a reason for the pic of the gears). The basic idea was that each of these gears helps to keep the entire machine (your body) working smoothly.

I’ve had athletes finish a workout and then go light up a cigarette. First, it’s unhealthy in general (and disgusting, but that’s my opinion).  Second, he was an athlete!!!  Why would you go train hard and then go do something to sabatoge yourself immediately afterwards????  I know that we can’t control everything that our athletes do.  I get that.  However, we have to educate them as to why all of these things are important. I don’t think I’ve met too many athletes who just wanted to “make the team”.  Most of them have a competive desire to excel, to be the best.  Hopefully we as coaches can make them understand the importance of taking care of all of the “gears” in the system.

 

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Why we need experts

I’ve got to confess that I was planning this post last night.  At that time, I wasn’t aware of a recent Webmd article about sports training for female teens.  Fortunately, I saw a link for it on Twitter this AM.  The article is a great lead in to my post.  If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so.

I think that the article does a great job of touching on several points.  First and foremost, it addresses several things that females need to be doing to prepare and it explains why.  Anyone who works with athletes should be aware of the fact that female ACL injuries occur more often than they do to males.  They should also know how to train an athlete to try to prevent their occurance.  The article also emphasizes having a well designed plan to follow when training.  The article closes by discussing the imporantance of proper nutrition.  This is a subject that cannot be overemphasized when dealing with athletes at any level. 

By now you’re probably wondering what my original post was going to be about and how this article played into it. My original idea was to write about the training of athletes needing to be led by someone who is qualified to do it.  Too many times I’ve seen a sport coach decide to design a strength/speed/agility program for their athletes.  There are some sport coaches who can accomplish this and design a safe and effective program.  Unfortunately, there are a large percentage who cannot do this.  Just because someone coaches a sport does not mean that they have a full understanding of :

  • program design
  • safety
  • preventative (“prehab”) exercises
  • exercise technique
  • speed/agility mechanics
  • corrective exercises/drills

I have worked with some great coaches in my career (and a few not so great, but we won’t go into that….).  There is no doubt that some of those coaches understood their sport inside and out.  My favorite sport to watch is football.  I’ve watched it, played it, and worked around it.  While I might know some about it, I have worked with coaches who knew 100+ times more than I do.  They were the “experts” in their sports.  I could have never coached their sport as well as they did.  On the other side of that, I tried to make it so that they couldn’t do my job as well as I did. 

When you consider the training and development of your son/daughter or your athletes, please keep all of this in mind.  There are qualified people who can run a strength/speed/agility program.  Of course, there are also some who claim that they can.  Believe it or not, designing and running a fitness program is much different than training athletes to maximize their potential.  Find someone who has experience dealing with athletes, someone who has a degree in exercise science or a related field, and someone who has credentials from a credible organization.  Not only will these people understand how to train an athlete to get better, they will understand the biomechanical and physiological aspects of the sport so that they can design and implement a top notch program. 

P.S.  If you want to see what one training program for females looks like, check out the video of the Auburn Softball Team below.

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Top Notch Training

In the May/June issue of  Training and Conditioning, Matt Delancey explains how he designs the program for the Florida Gator Women’s volleyball team. 

This is probably one of the most interesting articles I’ve read in a long time.  I’ve heard Matt speak a couple of times at clinics and was fortunate enough to get to observe him conduct a training session at UF.  I think that he does a great job and this article explains why.  Matt puts emphasis on three things in the program:

  1. Developing sport specific athleticism
  2. Injury prevention training
  3. Addressing individual weaknesses

Obviously most of us try to design our programs in a way that the same 3 items are addressed.  I do admit that a volleyball team has less bodies to train than some other sports so some things are easier to plan for and incorporate.   Regardless, it is a good read and worth your time.  I encourage you to check it out.

 

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Using Common Sense

In the June issue of Pediatric Clinics of North America, there is an article on “Resistance Training for Adolescents“.  The authors make two points that I feel are imporant:   

  1. Supervision and teaching should be emphasized
  2. Consideration must be given to the fitness level, experience, and any medical problems that the teen may have

  Continue reading

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