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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Smart Shopping

Nutrition Label Pic

Are you a smart shopper?

Do you take your time when you shop for food?  Do you look at food labels?  You should.  As we all know, proper nutrition is a key part of the sports performance training plan.  Yes, we all know if we go to buy a frozen pizza that it’s probably going to be bad for us.  But what about all of the other things we buy?  Do you pay attention to those?  Some of those might not be as good for you as you think.  I know, when we go to the grocery store we’re usually in a hurry.  We don’t want to spend any longer than we have to in there, especially if the place is packed with other people. That isn’t my favorite time to be there either.  Unfortunately, to be a smart shopper, you need to find a way to spend some time there.

Why is it worth your time?  Because you want to be the best.  You can never be sure what might be holding you back (or pushing your competition further ahead).  Nutrition can very well be the difference maker.

If you are going to improve your nutrition, it starts with some basic steps:

  • Knowing what you are taking into your body right now
  • Knowing what your nutritional needs really are
  • Deciding what adjustments that you need to make
  • Making wise nutritional choices so that you can make the adjustments

Since I’m not a trained nutritionist, I’ll limit the advice that I try to give in that area.  The one thing that I can say is that you should look at food labels carefully.  There are so many items that are available for us to eat.  However, so many of them are flat out bad for us.  As a general rule, you should know why you are eating everything that you put in your mouth (no, “Because I’m hungry” isn’t a good answer).  You should never buy something if you don’t check the nutritional info first.  Take a little time and look at the info on calories, fat, etc.  Compare this info to that on similar products.  You might find some surprises.  As you can imagine, not all products are created equal.

Nutrition plays a huge role in our athletic success.  While looking at the labels closely may not be the most fun thing to do, it can lead to some enlightening discoveries.  You might find out that you weren’t doing as well in the nutrition department as you thought.  Because of this, the extra time that you spend on your trip to the grocery store may pay huge dividends.

Mark

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Did the jumprope really need to be improved????

I was looking in a catalog recently and came across an item called the airope.  What is it?  Basically, it’s a jumprope without the rope.  It is two handles that each have a short length of rope attached to them. For a better idea, please see the picture below.

airope pic

Want to take the athleticism out of jumping rope?

I guess the idea is to make it easier to do jump rope activities with people who may struggle to get the hang of it.  The price – $35.  Of course, for $5 I can buy a regular jump rope and do numerous activities with clients.  What if they have problems getting used to using the rope?  Wouldn’t it be easier to start them with the “non-rope” version?  NO!!!  Easier isn’t the point.  Jumping rope is and always has been a great training tool.  It helps to develop balance, coordination, and let’s not forget the plyometric benefits of the jumping itself.  Why take away any of the benefits?  If you have a client who can’t jump rope, loan them one and have them practice at home.

As for drills that I have clients do using the rope, here is a partial list:

  • Two foot jumps in place
  • One foot jumps in place
  • Two foot lateral jumps
  • Variations of form running while using a jumprope (high knees, etc)
  • One/Two foot jumps while moving

Obviously it is important to start off with the easiest jumps and progress to more difficult ones.  I feel that jumping rope is one activity that should be incorporated into your training plans regularly.  I try to find a place for it at least once a week.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, I use the $5 – $10 ropes.  They work just fine and they keep the athleticism in the activity.

Mark

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More Volleyball Tournament Tidbits

Here are a few more observations that I made recently at a volleyball tournament.

  • Warm-ups – For this, I’m referring to the non-sport skill part of the warm up.  While there was a lot of variation in the warm ups that teams did, many of them were using some type of dynamic warm up rather than entirely static stretching.  The problem was that it was obvious that the athletes didn’t understand the importance of using good technique during the drills.  They tended to go through them quickly without any effort on technique.  That probably reflects the coaching that went into each warm up drill.  Like many sport coaches,  not enough emphasis is put on coaching the warm up.  I was impressed to see one team making a lot of use of a massage stick prior to their warm up.
  • Landings – I wrote earlier about one case of poor landing mechanics.    While that was the one that stood out the most, there were examples on almost all of the teams of players consistently landing with their legs locked out.  The reason why this probably doesn’t get corrected is that many of these teams do not regularly work with ATC’s or CSCS’s.  For most of these athletes, if their volleyball coach doesn’t identify the problem and make corrections, it won’t get fixed.  As we all know, this isn’t the sport coaches area of expertise.  Plus, their focus is generally on sports skills, not sport performance.  I will admit that I did see a couple of teams work in some injury prevention drills for their ankles so some of the coaches are doing something to prevent injuries.
  • Jumping – A lot of the kids do need some work on their jumping skills.  Not only could some technique work help, it is obvious that many of these girls need to work to develop basic strength.

On a very positive note, I did meet one young coach who “gets it”.  She realizes that not all of the girls are there because they aspire to play volleyball at the college level.  She does understand that many of the girls could benefit from developing their basic athletic skills.  The coach also realizes that sometimes there are better ways to do things.  I think that she will make her players better – the right way.  We need more progressive coaches like her.

Mark

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Predicting A Torn ACL?

I spent this past weekend at a volleyball tournament.  Most of the players were 12 – 14 years old.  With so much volleyball to watch, I tried to use it as a chance to gain a better perspective of the sport.  I was trying to look at it from both an ATC viewpoint and a strength and conditioning one.  I made several observations, some of which I’ll post later this week.

Today I thought that I would discuss the one that stood out the most.  One team had a player that I feel is a recipe for a future ACL injury.  First off, I hope that I’m 100% wrong.  Now for the facts.  The girl was already wearing a knee sleeve on one knee, and probably not by coincidence, she had a bad habit of landing only on that same leg after a jump.  She was also somewhat overweight.  Now, please don’t read too much into the fact that I said that she’s overweight.  I don’t believe that fact itself guarantees a torn ACL.  I do however believe that it could contribute if other factors are present.  My major concerns revolved around her landing mechanics.  While I don’t know the girl or her medical history, I would guess that poor mechanics have led to previous knee problems.  My question is this:  has anyone else realized this?  Have her coaches noticed during the endless hours of practice and games?  What about her doctor, assuming she saw one about her knee?  The next question is when will they work on her landing mechanics?  We all know that poor landing mechanics lead to bad things, especially for female athletes.  Unfortunately, the first time this gets addressed may be in rehab after an ACL repair.  The sad thing is that a good jumping / landing program might be able to lessen the chance of a serious knee injury ever occurring to this girl.

Mark

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More Isn’t Always Better – Monitoring For Overtraining

If you deal with high level athletes, overtraining is always a concern.  Of course, even with younger athletes it can become an issue especially if the parents are pushing the kid.  While there is a certain level of work that has to be put in for an athlete to maximize their potential, more isn’t always better when it comes to training.  Overtraining can cause decreases in performance and leave athletes with an increased chance of injury.  Obviously this is the opposite of what we are trying to do.  Overtraining occurs over of a period of time when the athlete is not able to adequately recover from training.  It doesn’t happen just because you have one hard workout.

So how can you monitor your athletes for overtraining?  Here are a few ways:

  • Pay attention during the warm-up – If your athlete just doesn’t have that “bounce in their step” that they normally do, it could be a sign of overtraining.  Watch the drills that the athlete performs and see if it’s just a day that the athlete is taking a little longer to get up to speed or it is a sign of a real issue.  Of course, this tip goes right along with the next one.
  • Talk to your athlete – Want to know how your athlete feels?  Ask them.  Of course, sometimes it helps to know your athlete well.  We’ve all worked with athletes that always feel great and with ones that always have something wrong.  Make sure to talk to your athlete especially before the workout and during the warm up.  This a great time to find out valuable info about eating and sleeping habits and many other factors that can affect their training and recovery.  Ask some questions and if your get some strange responses then make sure to ask more questions.
  • Check their vertical jump – Some coaches advocate using the vertical jump test to evaluate overtraining.  The idea is simple:  an athlete that is overtrained won’t jump as high as they normally do.  This is quick and easy way to check an athlete.
  • Use a questionnaire – Some coaches use a simple questionnaire to get info from the athlete.  The questions are similar to ones that you would ask verbally (ex – “how did you sleep last night?”) but are given in paper form.  While slightly more formal, this can be an effective way to get answers.  It can also enable you to ask some different questions that you might not normally ask during the warm-up (about moods, depression, menstrual changes, etc).  Because of this, it might be a good idea to find or create a questionnaire that can be used occasionally just to get a more complete view of your athletes recovery.

While there are other more expensive ways to monitor for overtraining, such as blood testing, for most of us these are not feasible or necessary.  If you use the above methods you will be able to do an effective job of monitoring your athletes.  This should enable them to continue to improve without any issues.

Mark

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Simple Games for Developing Young Athletes

Kid With Basketball Pic

My wife and I were helping at church this weekend and the kids were playing “red light, green light“.  As I watched the kids play, I realized how much value simple games like this have.  The game makes you start, accelerate, then stop when presented with a stimulus.  Kind of reminds me of sports.  Think about how much time we spend trying to teach athletes these very skills.  As I watched the kids, I tried to watch their footwork as they played.  Did they have perfect footwork?  No.  But you know what?  It wasn’t that bad either.  No one was complaining, nobody was forcing anyone to play, and nobody blew out an ACL.  The kids just had fun.

I remember several years ago when a veteran PE teacher told me that it was terrible that they had taken dodgeball out of the PE curriculum.  He explained that dodgeball teaches kids to throw and helps them to develop agility, coordination, and balance.  Now, I understand that dodgeball has gotten a bad rap because somebody ends up getting picked on in the game.  I get that in the kinder, gentler society that we are a part of, games like this have been pushed aside.  Unfortunately, I believe that the development of athletic skills is a positive that we shouldn’t overlook.

For some reason in the U.S., we are in such a hurry to find the next phenom that we aren’t letting kids play these simple games and develop their basic skills.  We are too much of a hurry to get a kid to specialize on the field or the court so that they can get offered a college scholarship.  There needs to be a major shift in our thinking in this country.  A lot of folks are probably doing more to mess their kids up than they are to help them.  Young kids should spend more time playing “red light, green light”, “tag”, “dodgeball”, and numerous other simple games.  In the end, it would create better athletes who weren’t physical and mental wrecks by the time they are 18 years old.

Mark

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