The Right Way

I have been very fortunate to have some great influences in my life.  I have had numerous family members, friends, and others help me out and show me the way.  I was also blessed to have several incredible coaches when I was younger.  They not only taught me the sport, but they taught me about  life.

There are two coaches that I will probably always remember.  One was a youth soccer coach and one was a high school football coach/ strength coach.

The soccer coach taught me two important lessons:

  • Work hard – As young kids, we probably ran more sprints than other teams that we played against.  While hard work isn’t always fun, it is necessary to get you better.  We learned to accept that and we had good teams as a result.
  • Nothing is given – I had my first sports injury experience while playing soccer.  I hurt my knee and the doctor had me sit out for two weeks.  I had been a starting forward before the injury.  My first game back I was told that I was going to be a starting midfielder.  I said “Coach, I’ve never played midfield.  I play forward.”  His reply, “You’ve been out hurt and you lost your spot.  You have to earn it back.”  That may have been the hardest I ever played in my life.  By the second half, I had my spot back at forward.  Lesson learned.

From the football coach, I learned too many things to count:

  • Hard Work – As a player, I learned even more about the importance of hard work and never slacking off.  I also realized how many people don’t like hard work.
  • Structure – I was also very fortunate to be part of a well-structured strength training program.  There was an intelligent plan and we followed it.  It took me awhile to realize how rare this is in high school programs, even today.
  • Program Implementation – Later in life, I got to work with my former coach for 8+ years.  He taught me an incredible amount about designing and implementing programs as well as many of the finer details of strength training.  He did a great job teaching and explaining why certain exercises should be done a certain way.  He also made sure that the whole program was sound and done correctly.
  • Working Around Injuries- One of the greatest things that I learned was how to work around an injury when training an athlete.  I really learned to look for alternative exercises instead of just having an injured athlete sit out.
  • Faith – I also have to give him credit for teaching me about many things other than coaching.  Tops on the list has to be all that I learned from him about my faith.

After thinking through all of the things that I learned from these coaches, what is the most important life lesson that I learned?  It has to be to do things the right way.  In life and in coaching, it is important to do things with integrity, to work hard, to not slack off, and to do your best.  Every day we can find examples in the news and in our own lives of people not doing things the right way.  It’s easy to avoid adding your name to that list – just do things the right way.

Mark

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They Can’t Run

One of the problems that I see when watching youth sports is that many of the athletes have poor fundamentals.  The major thing that many of them lack is the ability to run effectively and efficiently.  Obviously Strength and Conditioning Coaches notice things like this.  What gets me is, why doesn’t anyone else notice it?  Don’t the sport coaches see it?  What about the parents that sit at every practice and game?  It may take an expert to fix the problems, but it doesn’t take one to recognize that there is a problem.  When I watch young athletes run, I see arms flying in all directions, bodies out of control, etc.  Nobody notices this?  Even if the coach can’t fix it, he should realize that there is a problem and refer the kid to someone who can.  Or he can ignore it and let the kid continue to use poor movement patterns.  This leads to inferior performance and injury issues. So why doesn’t someone do something?  I guess it would make too much sense.

Mark

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Teen Athletes: Extra Recovery Needed?

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Is your teen athlete getting enough recovery time?

One two separate occasions recently, I have had some sort of discussion about recovery for teen athletes.  Once was with a coach and once was in response to a comment on my blog.  Both of these got me thinking about the demands that we tend to place on teenage athletes.  I don’t think that we always account for all of these when we plan out our training programs. As coaches, we often think that the athletes are only practicing or exercising when we see them.  However, that isn’t always the case.  So what does the “average” teenager do in a normal day?

  • School
  • Homework
  • Chores at home/job
  • Social time
  • Eating, showering, and other necessary things

So what about their sporting activities?

  • Practice for sport #1
  • Practice for sport # 2 (if applicable)
  • Travel time necessary for away games/practices
  • Strength training/conditioning
  • Miscellaneous sports activities – pick up basketball, PE classes, etc

While not all of these apply to every teen, this isn’t that uncommon for some teens.  I have talked to many teens who are involved in multiple sports for a large portion of the year.  They try to squeeze in as many practices, games, and strength & conditioning sessions as they can in the course of a year.  So where does that lead?  It leads to athletes who are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.  It leads to athletes who aren’t happy, who suffer academically, and who end up a physical mess due to never getting enough breaks and recovery time.

So what should we do as a coach to help?

  • Get to know your athletes – Do they play other sports?  When?  How often do they practice/play?
  • Try to coordinate – I’ve seen too many times that a coach tries to keep their athletes going year round and never give them a break.  Try to work things out with the athlete and their other sport(s).  Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work out too often.  Usually it’s because the ADULT EGOS get in the way.
  • Give athletes ample recovery time – Plan it into your season and your training.
  • Educate your athletes – I realize that athletes (and parents) won’t always listen to you.  Regardless, you should still make every effort to educate them about recovery and overtraining.
  • Don’t be afraid to make an athlete take a break – The best thing for them may be to send them home for a few days and make them take a break.  Of course, you can’t control what they do during this time off, but hopefully they actually rest.

We can’t control everything that our athletes do, especially when they are away from us.  Also realize that we haven’t even touched on nutrition, sleep, the growth state that teens are in and how they affect recovery.  As a coach, we know that all of these things work together and drastically affect how our athletes recover and perform.  However, coaches need to focus on what they can control.  Make sure that you know all of the demands placed on your athletes, plan appropriately, and attempt to educate them.  Even though many things are out of our control, hopefully taking these steps will help.

Mark

 

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The Evolution of a Strength & Conditioning Program

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Is it time to scrap the old program for one that is better?

Looking Backwards

As the high school football and volleyball seasons wind down in many places, I thought that this would be a good time to address program design.  After a season, most strength coaches look back and see if there is anything that they should do differently the following season.  This evaluation process often forces coaches to look at the physical preparation of their athletes and their off-season programs.  Many times a team will have a series of injuries to it’s players and often many of these will be similar injuries.  Some seasons a team is hit with a rash of ankle injuries, sometimes it’s shoulder injuries, and other seasons it’s another body part.  Regardless, it forces the staff to evaluate their program and decide if changes need to be made to help prevent more injuries.  This is a great example of how strength programs should always be evolving.  There is no perfect program.  If there was, everyone would use it.

Evaluation Leads To Evolution

What things should you look at in your program?  While every sport & situation is different, you should evaluate your program for each of the following:

  • Injury prevention exercises
  • Muscular strength exercises
  • Power exercises
  • Speed work
  • Agility work
  • Sport specific conditioning
  • Flexibility/mobility exercises
  • Adequate recovery

In your particular sport or situation, not all of these may apply.  However, in most sports you should address each of these items to ensure that your program is complete.  So sit down and take an honest look at your program for the last few months and the last year.  How does it address each of these areas?  Do you spend too much time/effort in some areas and not enough in others?  If so, make adjustments for the next year.  It will make your program better and your athletes better.

Mark

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Injuries Happen

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Marcus Lattimore, Running Back for The University of South Carolina

If you keep up with sports, there’s no doubt that you heard about the injury to Marcus Lattimore this past weekend.  While I’m not a South Carolina fan, I loved watching him run the ball.  Even though he was coming off of ACL surgery last season, he was still a  great back with an incredible future in front of him.  While I’ve never met him, a lot of people have great things to say about him as a person.  I’m one of many people who is hoping a praying for a full recovery for him.

Now comes the really unfortunate part of things.  I’m sure that Lattimore lifted, ran, conditioned, rehabbed, and did everything else that he should have done to be 100% healthy and to prevent any type of injury.  I’m sure that his ATC’s, PT’s, and S&C Coaches did everything they could to prepare him for the physical demands of playing football in the SEC.  The unfortunate thing is that no matter how good of a job we all do to prepare the athlete, not every injury is avoidable in sports.  One of the major purposes of a quality strength and conditioning program is to help prevent injuries.  Unfortunately, we can’t prevent all of them.  Lattimore is a prime example of this.  He has suffered two knee injuries in the last two seasons. Both were contact injuries and I’m not sure that either could have been termed as “preventable”.

I had a discussion with one strength coach recently about this very topic.  He was frustrated because several of his athletes had recently had season ending injuries.  He knew that the kids worked hard in the off-season and he hated to see them have significant injuries.  I pointed out to him that no matter how good the program, sometimes injuries just happen.  Unfortunately, they are a part of sports.  I know that this didn’t really cheer him up, but I felt that it was accurate.

Of course, his feelings on the issue are a great example of how Coaches, Athletic Trainers, etc feel about their athletes.  We all want the very best for every athlete that we work with.  We want them to excel on the field, in the classroom, and in life.  We also want them to stay healthy.  When they don’t, we all take a look at the situation and wonder if there was more that we could have done or if there is more that we can do to get them well quicker.  That’s the nature of a good coach and a good person.  It’s also what fuels the fire for some strength coaches to never stop searching for a better way.  Because yes, injuries do happen in sports.  However, that doesn’t mean that we should just accept that fact and stop trying to eliminate all of the injuries that we can.

Mark

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Explosive Athletic Training Without Olympic Lifts – Part 1

Explosiveness

You often hear coaches, parents, and the media talk about how “explosive” an athlete is.  While some folks are born with natural explosiveness, most athletes need to spend time developing this valuable skill.  Strength coaches all agree that development of explosiveness (AKA – power), is important for athletes in almost all sports.

Developing Power

So how do you develop power?  One common method is to use the Olympic Weightlifting movements, the clean and jerk and the snatch.  While each of these lifts is an excellent way to develop power, they are very technical lifts that require a large amount of instruction.  In certain situations they are ideal to use, but not all.  If you have athletes that or inexperienced lifters or if safety is an issue, then you may have to find other alternatives to develop power in your athletes.

So what can you do if Olympic lifts aren’t ideal to use?  There are several options.  This post will look at the various types of jumps that can be used.  Part 2 will explore various medicine ball exercises.

  • Broad Jumps
  • Squat Jumps
  • Box Jumps
  • Bounds
  • Tuck Jumps

These jumps are listed in order from simple to most complex.  Anytime that you introduce one of the exercises, make sure to properly teach it and be a stickler about technique, especially on the landings.

Sets & Reps

Since the development of power generally involves all out effort on each rep, it is best to keep reps low for each set.  I like using sets of 5.  If you are only using one of these exercises for power development, you should use 3-5 sets.  If you are using several types of jumps in a session, Try not to go over 10 total sets.  This will allow your athletes to have plenty of energy left for the remainder of the training session.

Mark

 

 

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All Of The Above

Links of Chain Pic

Which athletic skill is most important?  Speed, agility, balance, coordination, strength, power, flexibility?  It seems like a simple question, but there really isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all answer.  Why, you ask?  Because it all depends on the sport.  Actually, even within the same sport it can depend on the particular position of the player.  If I’m looking at football lineman, I probably place more value on strength and power.  What about football skill position players?  Maybe speed, agility, and some power.  A gymnast needs flexibility, balance, and coordination.  But even if we try to pick just a few key areas to focus on, doesn’t that often leave us missing a few.  Would it help a football lineman to have some flexibility (think about hip mobility and the ability to get low)?  While a lineman is never going to run a 4.4 sec forty yard dash, doesn’t it still help him to be faster than other similar players?  What about the gymnast.  If we limit our development to flexibility, coordination, and balance, aren’t we missing the strength necessary to perform certain movements?  Is it possible that all of these skills are linked together and contribute to athletic success in many different sports?

You see, each sport has different demands and necessities for it’s athletes.  Even within a sport, there can be different demands based on the position a player plays.  Even with the different demands, there is often a lot of crossover.  Just like in the examples above, many athletes do need some development in many or all of the athletic skill areas.  While a basketball player won’t ever have to run 40 yards, speed is still beneficial to have on the court.  While a volleyball player doesn’t have the same agility needs as a soccer player, it still makes them better if they develop the skill.

So, what is the most important skill?   ALL OF THEM!!!  You have to design training based on the individual athlete and the demands of the sport, but in almost all cases you should never eliminate any element of overall skill development.  You should base your drills and emphasis on the athlete’s sport and the it’s requirements.  However, remember that we are trying to develop better athletes.  Therefore, we should work to develop the total athlete and all of their skills.

 

Mark

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Football Might Have It Right

Football Has It Right Pic

Is football doing it better than any other sport?

Football might have it right.  What do they have right?  The sports development model.  The sport of football is probably doing it better than any other sport simply because they only have one defined season.  The American football season starts in August/September and plays out over the next several months.  There aren’t opportunities to play organized tackle football year round.  While college and some states do have “spring football”, that isn’t quite the same thing.  Spring football is generally about three weeks of organized practices.  It isn’t the same as playing a true spring season.  It’s not like soccer, softball, baseball, wrestling, volleyball, and lacrosse players that play travel ball and participate in tournaments during the 8 months that their school team isn’t in season.

So how does this help football player development?

  • It cuts down on overuse injuries – what do you think causes all of the arm and shoulder problems in baseball?  Year-round throwing maybe?
  • It forces coaches to work on other things during the off-season – lifting, speed, agility, etc.  According to most sport development models, there should be a defined “off-season” where these skills become the focus.
  • It makes the football season more special for everyone – when you play year round on multiple teams, how much does each win or loss matter?  The legendary John Wooden didn’t want his players playing in the off-season partially for this reason.

It’s too bad the so many other sports have taken other approaches to sports development.  I’m not sure that playing year-round is good for the athletes and is the best way to develop them long-term.  Unfortunately, there are a few youth football leagues that are starting to have a true spring season in addition to playing in the fall. Hopefully this concept doesn’t become the norm in football.

Mark

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Video Analysis & Coaching

Do you use technology in your coaching?  How often?  To what extent?   One of my favorite uses of technology is to use video analysis.  I think that it really helps me to see what the athlete is doing in a new light.  It also enables you to give feedback to the athlete in a different format.  As we all know, their are three types of learners:  verbal, visual, and kinesthetic.  The use of video definitely helps those visual learners to see what they are doing right and wrong.   I really believe that video helps a large number of athletes and is a tool that needs to be used even more.  That being said, I also think that just like any good thing, it is possible to go overboard.  Do you have to video every single rep or drill?  No.  Integrate video into the program at regular intervals.  Use it initially to get a baseline idea of how the athlete does on a particular skill.  Use this info to help teach the athlete and then give them a chance to improve the skill for several session or weeks.  Then get some new footage and let the athlete see the comparison.  This should be often enough to gain the benefits of video without turning every day into a video day.

I know that Dartfish just released some info which stated that over 400 medals were won in the London Olympics by users of their software.  I’m sure that many other athletes used some form of video analysis to perfect their performances.  If video can help that many Olympic winners, it can help athletes at other levels too.  Make sure to find ways to integrate it into your coaching.

Mark

For more info on video analysis, check out the Sports Upgrade Video Analysis Page

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