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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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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Motivation For Sports Training

Any idea how many hours of training it takes for an athlete to perfect their sports skills?  The Soviets believed in the 10 year/ 10,000 hour rule.  They felt that it took an athlete 10,000 hours of practice spread out over 10 years to achieve their maximum potential.  That works out to about 20 hours per week for 10 years.  That doesn’t take into account school, work, family, friends, travel, vacations, and all of the other stuff that seems to fill up our time.

Clock Picture

What motivates you through all the hours of practice?

So, where does an athlete get the motivation to endure all these hours of practice and keep going?

  • Parents?
  • Coaches?
  • Teammates?
While all three of these can give some external motivation, the fact remains that the athlete had better be able to provide their own source of internal motivation. If they can’t, they won’t be able to achieve much.  If the athlete doesn’t want it bad enough, no coach, parent, or teammate can get them to put out 100% effort every day.  We all have days when we feel sluggish or unmotivated.  That’s where external motivation can help.  We all reach points of frustration in our development.  Again, that’s were external motivation from others can help.  However, if the athlete can’t motivate themselves to go all out, to put in extra practice time, to get plenty of rest, to eat right, and to do all of the other things that are necessary to excel,then they will NEVER achieve their fullest potential.
If you work with young athletes, it’s never a bad idea to find some time for teaching about life.  It doesn’t matter if the kid grows up to be an athlete, a salesman, a DJ, a teacher, or anything else, they need to learn the importance of giving 100 % effort so that they can excel in their chosen field.  That’s one lesson that is more important than sports.
Mark 
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3 Reasons to Use a Tennis Ball During Drills

Tennis Ball

What can a tennis ball do for your training?

Sports performance people are always looking for new ideas to use when training athletes.  I thought that I would share something that has had good results with my athletes.  One of the things that I like to use during agility and ladder drills is a tennis ball.  Now, I don’t use it all of the time and I don’t use it with beginning athletes. Otherwise, I try to find ways to incorporate it into the drills frequently.  I have them catch it during the drill, catch it as they finish a drill, catch it and toss it back to me, or anything else that I can come up with.  So why do I use it?

Reasons To Use A Tennis Ball

  1. It forces the athlete to keep their head up.  I understand an athlete keeping their head down while doing ladder drills for the first few times.  However, as one coach used to tell kids “The ground has been there for millions of years.  It’s not gonna move.”  Once the athlete has a feel for the movement, they need to keep their head up.  If you play sports with your head down you’re in deep trouble.  This is when I will toss them a tennis ball during the drill.  It forces them to keep their head up (or get bopped in the nose).
  2. It makes drills more complex.  You should always have a way to progress a drill.  It should start out simple and then progress to something that is more complex.  When you add something to a basic ladder or agility drill, it makes it more complex.  In sports, athletes have to adapt and react to what is happening on the court or field. They must make combine simple actions into more complex ones.  By making an athlete catch or throw a tennis ball while doing a drill, you have taken a simple action (footwork to complete the drill) and made it more complex.
  3. Helps teach transitions.  Almost any sport is full of transitions from one action or speed to another action or speed.  Think of a soccer player running up the field who must then trap a ball that is passed to him.  He has to transition from pure running to the action of trapping the ball.  By incorporating a tennis ball at the end of a drill, an athlete is forced to change from one action (the drill) to another (catching the ball).  The goal is to make this transition as smooth and quick as possible. I like to have an athlete catch the ball at the end of a drill and then sprint a few steps.  This forces them to transition from the drill to the catch and then again to the sprint.

Now, I’m sure someone is wondering why I use a tennis ball and not some other type of ball.  I do admit that for true sport specificity, a tennis ball may not be the best thing.  If you are training a football player, you should use a football.  However, I do have my reasons for using tennis balls:

  • Tennis balls are fairly harmless so if the athlete doesn’t catch it, there isn’t any danger.
  • Tennis balls are cheap.
  • Tennis balls are easy to keep with you.
One additional bonus is that working a ball into a drill tends to make it more interesting and challenging for your athletes.  Sometimes a simple addition like that to a drill will liven things up and break the monotony.  Give it a try!!!
Don’t forget to visit our main Sports Upgrade site.
Mark
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Go Speed Racer

Speedy
Is speed important?

The old saying is “Strength thrills, speed kills.  If he’s even, he’s leavin’ “. How true is that saying?  Is speed the most important skill for an athlete? It probably depends on the sport, but for most athletes, speed plays a huge role in how competitive they are.  Isn’t speed largely genetic?  Can you really make someone faster with training?  Yes!!!

Every year, potential draftees for the NFL, NBA, and other sports leagues spend lots of money to work with sports performance experts prior to the draft.  Their goal is to improve their strength, speed, and other measurable factors so that they can get drafted higher.  While some of these athletes have track backgrounds that have helped them out, many of them have gotten by on genetic speed ability alone.  Once they focus on speed training for 4-6 weeks, it isn’t uncommon for some of them to shave .2 of a second off of their 40 yard times.  Keep in mind that these are some of the best amateur athletes in the world.  They have been training hard for years and they are still able to make major improvements in their speed when they receive focused training on their form.

How does this apply to other athletes?  Try this for starters – the next time you go watch a youth sporting event, pay attention to how many times a kid gets beaten by two steps or less.  In soccer, how many times does a kid get beaten to a free ball?  In baseball, how many baserunners get thrown out by a step or two?  In football, how many times does a player need an extra step or two to get by (or catch) another player?  From watching all of the sporting events that I have in my life, I can say that it happens A LOT!! One or two steps often makes all of the difference.

So, is speed the most important skill for an athlete to have?  It is more important in some sports than others, but in most sports the fastest athletes have a distinct advantage.  When you compete don’t you want to have that extra step or two?  I’d bet that you do.  Keep this in mind when you train.

Mark

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5 Reasons Genetic Testing Of Athletes Is Wrong

Track athlete

"Don't worry son, it's your parent's fault that you can't run track. They gave you bad genes. That's why you failed the genetic test."

Genetic Testing of Athletes

It’s hard to believe, but one day this could be the reality.  Little Johnny (or Susie) could be told that they can no longer play a sport because ‘they don’t have the right genes for it.”  In case you haven’t heard about it, there are now companies out there who will provide genetic testing of kids for athletic purposes.  The companies claim that they are trying to help the parents so that their kids can be steered to sports that they are the most suited for.  I’ve got some problems with this whole concept.

5 Reasons Genetic Testing of Athletes Is Wrong

  1. Specialization – Don’t we have enough of an issue with kids specializing in one sport too early?  Isn’t this going to make things that much worse?  In case you aren’t aware of my views of focusing on only one sport, you can read my thoughts here.  There are a lot more athletic and medical personnel who share my viewpoint due to burnout issues and physical wear and tear on the bodies of young athletes.  The testing companies say that it will save you money because you won’t put your child in something that they won’t  be that good at.  Of course they’re going to say that – they are selling their product.
  2. Goes Against What Sports Teach – You remember all of the things that sports teach a kid – hard work, dedication, perseverance, teamwork, not giving up, etc.  Guess what?  Genetic testing robs your kid of the chance to learn many of those basic things.  If they are put into something that will always come easier to them than some other sports, then how will they learn to do something when it is difficult for them?  Additionally, if you already know that you have the necessary tools, what’s the motivation to work hard to develop them further?As for teamwork, one of the issues with teams is that every person is not exactly the same.  You have to learn to work together and realize your strengths and weaknesses.  That might be hard to do in a sport where all of the athletes have the same gifts.
  3. Injury Information – One of the factors behind genetic testing is that it could possibly identify players who are at risk for certain injuries.  Maybe there is some benefit to this in certain cases.  However, most of the parents who most want the testing done on their kids are focused on one thing only – a college scholarship!!  Guess what parents?  As soon as your future college coach finds out that you are at greater risk for certain injuries, oops, there goes the scholarship down the drain.  Years ago I was involved in a discussion about female ACL tears and femoral notch width as a factor.  The discussion eventually turned to the a question of what would happen if college coaches ever wanted to know this information about potential signees.  Ethics dilemma?  You bet!
  4. Telling Kids Something Else They Can’t Do – It seems like in our modern society, we’ve become the ultimate people organizers.  We want to label everyone!  The world has turned into a place that has provided an excuse for everyone and whatever they do.  Do we really need to put more labels on kids?  Why can’t we just let them be kids?  Why do we have to tell them that they won’t be good at something else?  For many kids sports is a temporary escape from “life”.  Maybe we should keep it that way.
  5. Do We Need A Test? – I understand that the test gives exact details about what a kid is capable of.  Do we really need a test for this?  If you want to know if a kid is fast, have him race other kids.  If you want to know if he’s a good jumper, test his vertical jump.  As a young kid, training won’t have had much of an effect yet.  Just compare your kid to other kids and see how they perform.  If they are naturally fast, or strong, or whatever else, then you probably know enough.

Let The Athletes Be

Obviously somebody thinks that this is a good idea (probably the people making money off of the tests).  I’m all for using technology to help coaches and athletes.  I just think that genetic testing goes too far.  I like the excitement of seeing someone develop and use their God given ability, regardless of what that is.

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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