Combine Prep Isn’t Just Physical

Lacrosse Faceoff Pic


Combine Prep Opportunity

I recently trained a high school athlete for a lacrosse combine.  While I haven’t trained lots of lacrosse athletes previously, I was excited by the opportunity.  Besides, most of the training was focused on the combine events and not the sport itself.  We had about 2 weeks to prepare so we mainly focused on fundamental speed and agility skills .  We covered all of the basic things like arm drive, body position, accelerating, decelerating, etc.  Over the two weeks the athlete made numerous improvements in his physical skills and I felt sure that he would make a good showing at the combine.  Since he had never participated in a combine before,we also talked about everything from getting proper rest to how the combine would probably be run.  We he showed up on combine day, I wanted him to be prepared for every possibility that he might face.

The Result

A day after the combine, the athletes father called me to give me the results.  First, the father informed me that the coaches had told the athletes that they weren’t concerned with how fast they ran at the start of a game.  They wanted to see what they could do when they were tired.  Because of this, the combine participants all had to run multiple gassers before they did any combine drills.  While this was something that was certainly different from most combines, the athlete ran the gassers and still had an outstanding day.  He ended up impressing a lot of folks.  When the father told me the story and gave me the results, I was very happy with what the athlete was able to accomplish.

Mental Preparation

Just like all Strength and Conditioning Coaches, I always want my clients to do well in their sports, combines, tryouts, pro days, etc.  However, the father made one comment that made me realize how well prepared his son was for the combine.  He said that when his son showed up to the combine, he was “comfortably confident”.  To me this meant that he was confident in his physical skills, but that he also felt comfortable with everything that he was about to experience.  Those comments, plus the gassers that the kids had to run, made me realize how important it is for athletes to be prepared for all aspects of tryouts, combines, etc.  That should help them to perform better but should also help them to handle anything unusual that happens (like the gassers, rain, etc).  While I normally try to work in some mental preparation when I train athletes for these events, I really emphasized it with this athlete.  Primarily that was because he had never been to a combine before.  However, after his experience, I make sure to cover any details that I can with all of my clients.  This applies even to athletes that have been to multiple combines/tryouts.  While veteran athletes may have lots of good info, they may have picked up some bad “tips” also.  There is no telling what info that have gotten from other athletes, coaches, the internet, etc.  Because of this, sometimes it is necessary to do some “damage control” and make sure that they have good info to follow.  I probably put more emphasis on this part of the preparation than other people do.  The thing is, if I train someone, I want them to do their best.  I’m not just there to go through the coaching motions and take their money.  To me it doesn’t matter if it is a high school kid hoping to perform well at a combine, or a pro athlete prepping for a pro day or tryout.  Yes, if the pro athlete gets signed, it’s a great feather in your cap.  However, to the high school kid, his performance is just as important.

So, what’s the take home message?  Don’t forget to emphasize mental preparation with your athletes.  It can help your athlete to be better prepared.  It can also give them a huge advantage when things don’t go exactly as planned.


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Sports Training Without Expensive Equipment

Piggy bank pic

You don’t need to break the bank for training equipment

Sometimes we get very wrapped up in the newest piece of training equipment.  We see it, hear about how it can help your athletes, and we just wish that we had it to use.  Unfortunately, it usually costs an and arm and a leg to own.  So what do you do?  Do you did deep into the bank account and buy it or just do without?

In reality, you can probably do without it.  While it’s always nice to have the newest and neatest equipment, is it really necessary?  Many excellent coaches started off working with limited resources.  That means that they had to get creative and learn ways to make athletes better without having access to the fanciest equipment.  They started off using basic equipment like cones and ladders and went from there.

When I was in college studying to be an Athletic Trainer (ATC), I was assigned to assist at a local high school.  Since much of Athletic Training involves hands-on learning, this was where I would gain knowledge to supplement my classroom learning.  I was to observe, learn, and eventually practice under the supervision of the Head ATC.  One of my memories from that experience was that we used old bicycle inner tubes for ankle rehab. We didn’t use fancy thera-bands.  We didn’t have the money in our budget.  You know what?  The inner tubes worked just fine.  We didn’t have a lot of other fancy things that local rehab clinics had.  However, we got creative and found ways to get the job done.  Now, are things easier if your training room is stocked with every piece of equipment imaginable?  Yes.  Can you get by without having one of everything?  Yes you can, especially if you don’t have any other choice.

The same goes for sports performance.  I’ve worked at places that had almost every bit of equipment that you can imagine.  How much did we use?  Maybe half of it got used in the course of a month.  In any given year, we might have actually used 95% of it at least once.  Was it nice having all of that equipment?  Yes.  It meant that you always had lots of options for training.  Could we have survived without some of it?  Yes we could have.  And you know what?  Our programs would have still be good and our athletes would have still gotten better.  In all actuality, it might make you a better coach if you don’t have as much equipment.  It makes you research and develop other methods to accomplish things.  Just remember, it’s your skill as a coach that makes the difference, not the tools that you use.


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Heads Up On The Ladder Drills

Agility Ladder Pic

Keep your head up!!


Ladder Time

If you’re like most strength & conditioning coaches, agility ladder drills are part of your program.  Some coaches use them as a warm up while others use them to develop footwork and agility.  While there are numerous drills that can be used, there should be one constant.  What is that, you ask?  The athlete should keep their head up during the drill.  Let me repeat that – the athlete should keep their head up during the drill.  That’s kind of a pet peeve of mine.

Heads Up

How many sports that use agility can you name that are played with your head down?  Football, soccer, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, softball, volleyball, etc all require you to keep your head up if you are going to be a good player.  Because of that, why would we encourage head down behavior in our drills?  Shouldn’t we teach athletes to keep their heads up?  When an athlete is just starting to learn a particular ladder drill, they might need to keep their head down.  However, once the athlete has run through the drill a few times, they need to try to keep their head up.  Will this slow them down?  A little at first, but once they get used to it, the skill will transfer better to their sport.  Isn’t that what we want?  Ultimately we want athletes that are quicker and more agile on the field or court, not just during a drill.

So how do you get athletes to keep their heads up?  Just coach them to do it.  If that is the expectation, your athletes will start to do it.  Of course, you can give them some help by making the skills more complex.  For a few ideas, check out my post on using tennis balls.




Lower The Injury Rate By Strength Training

Weights Pic

Strength training helps to prevent injuries.


What is the most important function of a strength training program?  To get stronger to perform better?  To get faster?  To be able to jump higher?  Guess what?  It’s none of these.  The most important function is to help prevent injuries. I’ve mentioned this many times before in my other posts. Here’s a doctor who is delivering the same message.  It’s a short read but worth your time.  You can share it with others to help teach the importance of strength training for young athletes.  I hope that you enjoy it.




An Ounce of Prevention for Ankle Injuries

Ankles Pic

If you’re an athlete, you need to keep your ankles healthy.

Often I hear athletes mention that they have “weak ankles”.  My guess is that the problem isn’t so much “weak ankles” but an initial ankle sprain injury that was never given a chance to fully heal and be fully rehabbed.  I don’t doubt that some people are born with weaker ankles than others, much like some people are born faster than others or stronger than others.  The thing is, many athletes don’t seem to take the time to strengthen their ankles.  One way to help with this is to work some exercises into your training program.  I like to find ways to incorporate them into the warm up when possible.  This allows you to use them to help get the body ready for the training session while also doing some prehab or rehab work for the athlete. Most of the activities are fairly easy to do.  Here are some ideas:

  • Walks – These include variations of normal walking.  By putting the feet in unusual positions, you are forcing the ankles to adapt and become stronger.  So what types of “walks” are there?
    • Toe walks
    • Heel walks
    • Toes pointed in
    • Toes pointed out
    • Inside edges
    • Outside edges

I usually have the athlete begin with 10 yards of the first four types of walks. Over time I progress them to 20 yards.  I generally substitute the inside/outside edge walks for the toes in/out every other workout.

  •  Line Hops – These basic plyometric hops can help the ankles get used to landing in various positions.  It is another great and easy activity to help strengthen them.  These can be worked in as part of a warm up or as part of the actual training program.  To do them, simply pick a line on the ground and hop over it. The jumps don’t have to be high but should focus on getting back and forth over the line as fast as possible.  The athlete should begin using two feet to hop and then progress to one foot hops.  They can be done for reps or for time.  The hops should be done in multiple directions:
    • Laterally
    • Forward-back
    • Diagonally
  • Moving Hops –  Moving hops are all done over a distance and on one leg.  This makes them more difficult than line hops.  I usually have athletes start at 5 yards per foot and progress to 10 yards.  Here are the variations.  They should be done each direction on each foot.
    • Forward
    • Backwards
    • Right
    • Left
  • Single Leg Balance Drills –  These drills are conducted while standing on one leg while on an Airex balance pad.  Here they are in order of difficulty.  (Note – the drills should be done on flat ground first before progressing to the Airex pad).
    • Standing –  The simplest drill is to stand on one foot and balance.  This should be done for 10 reps of 10 seconds each.
    • Arm drills – One variation is to combine balancing on the pad with arm drills. This creates more body movement which increases the stress on the ankle joint.  I usually have the athletes do 20 reps with their arms but they can also do them for time.
    • Squats – While I’m not sure that I would have an athlete attempt to do a full one-legged squat on a pad, I think that partial squats are fine.  I usually have athletes complete 1-2 sets of 10 reps.

These are just a few ways that I have found to include ankle work in a training program.  In encourage you to try them and to create your own variations. There are certainly many other great ankle exercises including using exercise bands and training in the sand. While I’m also a big advocate of both of these, I prefer to use many of the examples I gave above instead.  Many of them have other benefits besides just helping to strengthen the athletes ankles (ex. – plyometric benefits).  Give them a try.



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Out of Control Athletes

Train Wreck Pic

You can’t prevent a trainwreck after it happens.

Have you ever seen an athlete that plays like they’re out of control?  You know the ones.  They spend lots of time on the ground or floor, when they run their arms flail around, and every time they try to stop and change direction body parts go everywhere.  It’s pretty much a trainwreck waiting to happen.  Is it really any surprise we have so many knee injuries now?  Or ankle injuries?  Or concussions?  What do you expect to happen when an athlete has no control over their body?    And you know what the major problem is? They were never taught how to run, jump, stop, and change direction properly.  To me, that’s a problem. Kids are being set up to fail. I’m not just talking about performing poorly in their sport. I’m talking about injuries.  In this country, we seem to be in too much of a hurry to get young kids playing their sport (and playing game after game after game).  We don’t seem to worry about how they perform basic athletic skills.

So what sort of problems can be caused by a lack of control?  Here are a few:

  • Poor Landings – Poor landing mechanics can lead to numerous lower body issues including ankle and knee problems.  Of course, the most widely known of these is the dreaded ACL tear. 
  • Inability to Decelerate/Stop –  Once an athlete starts to move, they have to be able to stop themselves.  The body is made up of multiple joints and muscles with various forces acting on them.  If an athlete cannot stop all of these forces in an effective manner, then they will find ineffective (and usually unsafe) methods to stop.  That means that the joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments all must take on extra forces that they aren’t always capable of handling safely.
  • Poor Body Positions –  Poor body positions not only lead to poor performance, they also lead to athletes getting hurt.  If an athlete’s body is in a bad position, it won’t stop them from trying to execute the same moves that other athletes use.  Think about an basketball player who is standing too tall in his defensive stance.  When the player that he is defending takes off running, he is naturally going to chase after him.  Of course, by being in a bad position to start with, the athlete cannot move efficiently.  Therefore he’s going to place more stress on his joints and increase his chance of injury.
  • Balance & Coordination Problems-  Let’s not forget about balance and coordination issues that are created by being out of control.  Athletes who lose their balance or make uncoordinated movements have a greater risk of getting hurt.

One of the big concepts in recent years has been screening athletes for physical problems.  As Strenth & Conditioning professionals, we all screen people for basic athletic skills.  We try to eliminate running, jumping, landing, stopping, etc as potential injury situations.  Unfortunately, there are still too many athletes that are “out of control”. If we could get these athletes in control, it might do wonders for decreasing the injury rates among young athletes.


Here are 2 more posts related to prevention of ACL injuries:

How Important Is Landing In Preventing ACL Injuries?

Help For The ACL:  Correction Of Poor Landings In Volleyball




What’s The Goal?

Goal Pic

What’s the goal of the training program?

What’s The Goal?

As we begin 2013, many people are talking about goals.  They want to set new goals to make more money, get fit, etc.  Obviously goal setting is important in life.  Goals also play a role in any good training program.  One of the key things to ask when designing a training program is “what’s the goal?”  Is the goal to get faster?  Stronger?  More power?  Better agility?  All of these?  What is the goal?

Why did I bring this up?  I think that this fundamental question isn’t asked often enough by some people.  There are too many times that programs are based entirely on hard work and not on technique and teaching.  Don’t get me wrong, hard work is important in any program.  However, sometimes it seems like that is the only goal in some programs.  Where is the coaching (teaching)?  What is being learned?

Getting Better

As a Strength & Conditioning professional, I take pride in being a good teacher.  I take pride in being able to identify problems that an athlete needs to correct and helping them to make the necessary changes.  When I have finished working with an athlete, I want them to know that they got better when I worked with them.  That means that I did my job.  (It also leads to repeat business and referrals, which is always good.)  If I’m presented with a new training challenge, that’s great.  It makes me think, it forces me to learn, and it makes me better.  This allows me to make other athletes better.

That is why it’s important to have a goal for a training program.  Ultimately, it makes the athlete better.  Can the athlete still get better if there is no goal or if the only goal is to work hard?  Probably, to an extent.  Will they improve more if there are specific goals for the athlete (ex – improve the first step in the 40 yd dash)?  Yes.  Without a doubt.  Knowing what the goal is and designing a specific program to accomplish it are vital to the success of your training programs.  Make sure to plan based on the goals that you want to accomplish.


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Top 10 Posts of 2012 – Part 2

2012-13 Calendar Pic


Yesterday we started a list of Sports Upgrade’s top 10 most popular posts of 2012.  In case you missed it, you can see # 6 – # 10 here.  Today we give you # 1 – # 5.  Be sure to read any that you may have missed during the year.


5.  Post Season Recovery For Athletes – How? – Want some ideas for what to do with your athletes during the post-season recovery period?  Here are some that you can use.

4. Post Season Recovery For Athletes – Why? – Why do athletes (especially teens) need a chance to recover after their season is over?  Here are 3 reasons.

3.  Gentle Reminders From Coed Softball – What did I learn from playing a season of coed softball?  Find out here.

2.  How Important Is Landing In Preventing ACL Injuries? – What can you do to help your athletes prevent ACL injuries?  Work on their landing skills

And now, for the top post from the Sports Upgrade Blog during 2012…..(insert drumroll here)…..

1.  Concussion Prevention For Football:  Strengthening The Neck – We’ve always believed that it was important to strengthen the neck to help reduce the chance of cervical spine injuries.  It may also help to help prevent concussions.  This post tells you how to effectively train the neck.

There you have it:  our top posts of 2012.  We’ll be bringing you more insight and info in 2013.  Be on the lookout for more blog posts, more newsletters, and more video posts.

Here’s to an awesome 2013 for you!!!





Top 10 Posts of 2012 – Part 1

2012-13 PicSorry that it’s been a while since my last post. I’m finding out that having a new baby in the house tends to make things somewhat hectic.  It also tends to alter any type of normal routines that you have.

Since we’re at the end of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at some previous posts from Sports Upgrade.  In case you missed any of them or want a second look, here are our most popular posts during 2012.  Today we’ll give you # 10 – # 6.  Check back tomorrow for # 5 – # 1.


10.  More Isn’t Always Better – Monitoring For Overtraining – How can you monitor your athletes for overtraining?  Here are a few methods that you can use.

9.  Female Strength Training –  Why is it important to get high school female athletes into the weightroom?  Here is a list of reasons.

8.  Why Junction Boys Syndrome Still Exists – The last thing that any of us want is for one of our athletes to die due to the training program that we have designed and overseen.  But it still happens.  Why?

7.  Good Nutrition is 24/7 – What can be done to help your athletes to eat smarter?  Here are some ideas.

6. Don’t Skip The In-Season ProgramWhat happens to an athlete if he doesn’t lift weights during his/her sports season?  Here are 2 big negatives.

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the top 5.





10 Training Ideas For When You’re On The Road

departure sign pic

On the road? You may have to get creative to keep your training going

Out Of Your Routine

As we get into the holiday season, many of us will be traveling at some point.  We will be taken away from our normal routines and from our normal training environment.  We will also be faced with numerous edible temptations.  While a few days of relaxing and spending time with family are often needed, this all can quickly snowball into a nightmare scenario for an athlete (or fitness enthusiast).  The combo of too much bad food and limited training options to help burn it all off can make it tough to get back in the swing of things after the holidays.  So what can be done to combat this?  First off, don’t eat too many of those cookies that you love so much.  Relax and enjoy the food but don’t go crazy.  So what about the limited training options?  While you may be taken away from your normal routine, you can still find ways to get some work done.

Here Are Some Ideas:

  1. Hotel Fitness Centers – This can be hit or miss.  While some hotels have a great fitness center, others either don’t have one or ought to just scrap what they do have.  If the center has some cardio equipment and has some weightlifting options (machines, dumbbells, etc), you should be in good shape.
  2. Local Gym – While not all hotels have a good fitness center, some do have deals with local gyms.  Even if they don’t, you can probably find somewhere that will let you work out a few times for a small fee.  Don’t be afraid to call around and try to negotiate something with them.
  3. Cross Training – Maybe this is a good time to switch things up some. You may do a great job lifting and doing speed and agility work.  How are you in the pool?  Try something different.  Using different movements and muscles is often a good thing.
  4. Exercise Bands – Oftentimes bands are used to make a traditional exercise harder.  How about using them by themselves?  You may have to get creative, but you can get some work for yourself by using them.  They are a fairly cheap investment, pack into a suitcase easily,  and can be used in a hotel room.  For ideas on how to use them to train, read this article from Stack.
  5. Body Weight Exercises – Ah, the old fashioned push-up.  Combine these with sit-ups, chair dips, body weight squats, lunges, and anything else that you can come up with for a workout.  If you have a workout partner, use them for resistance on some exercises (ex. lateral raises).
  6. Shadow Box – Don’t want to strength train?  Try shadow boxing.  All you need is yourself, a mirror/wall, and a little imagination.  No other equipment needed.  This is another great example of a cross-training activity.
  7. Jumping Rope – Cheap, simple, easy to pack in a suitcase, and a great way to develop your athletic skills.  Many athletes don’t jump rope enough, in my opinion.  Use this as a chance to work it into your training.
  8. Playground Workout – No gym nearby?  Find a playground.  They often have monkey bars that you can use for pull ups and dips.  Add in some other bodyweight exercises and you are all set.  Many areas also have nice fitness trails that include the equipment needed to do these same activities.
  9. The Power Drill – In high school, our coaches used to have us do this drill.  We were to jog in place for 20 minutes.  During this time, we would have numerous passive stretches and bodyweight exercises inserted into the jogging (ex “do 5 squats”, “do 10 sit ups”, etc).  We would always end with some plyos and a 30 second sprint in place.  I’ve used this many times before both for athletes and in my own workouts.  Give it a try.
  10. Go For A Run – Ah, a good, old fashioned run.  It doesn’t get much simpler than this.  All you need is yourself and a sidewalk, park, track, or trail.  You can focus on jogging , intervals, or sprints.  It’s all up to you and what your goals are.

So there you have it, a list of things that you can do when you’re out of your normal training location.  Obviously we all want to spend time with family and friends during the holidays.  Many people also try to plan in some down time so that their bodies can rest and recover.  That is fine.  Unfortunately sometimes we get into situations when we should be training and we don’t.  By using some of the ideas on this list, you can’t say “I did have any way to train”.  You can train.  The question is, how badly do you want to???  If you want to bad enough, you will find a way.

** Many of these ideas can also be used to change up your workouts any time (rain days, active rest days, etc)


Related Posts That You Might Be Interested In:

Active Rest Part 1

Active Rest Part 2