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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Coach In Motion

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When you’re coaching, do you stand still?  Do you sit?  Do you always view things from the same angle?  Why???  First off, you are coaching.  Coaching = Teaching.  For teaching math you might be able to stay fairly stationary.  For teaching a sport, you need to be on your feet.  It lets you do a better job.  Plus, it sets a better example for your athletes.

There are three major reasons that it helps to be on your feet.

  1. It keeps the energy level higher and the focus better for you and the athlete.
  2. It makes it easier to demonstrate and make corrections.
  3. It makes it easier to see.

While all of these are important, the last one may be the biggest reason to move around.  Some coaches have a favorite place to stand when they watch an athlete do a particular skill.  Some like to stand directly in front, some to the side, etc.  They feel that this gives them the best position to see the skill and correct mistakes.  Personally, I try to move around some and view the athlete from different angles  This gives me a more complete view of what is going on.  It lets me see things in different ways and sometimes leads to a better understanding of how the athlete is executing that particular skill or drill.

Are you stationary when you coach?  Have you fallen into the rut of watching from the same place every time?  Shake things up and move around some.  It will give you a better view of the whole picture.

Here’s another post of mine on coaching.

Mark

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Post Season Recovery For Athletes – Why?

Rugby Tackle Pic

Do you think they might need some recovery time after a season of plays like this?

I’m a huge believer in athletes getting a chance to rest and recover after a season is over.  I’ve seen too many times when kids go directly from one season into another season or into hard off-season training.  Most often this happens when the kid goes from a school sports season right into a club season.  Many times people don’t see the reason for kids to take a break.  The reasoning is that the kid is young, they can handle it.  Many times they don’t handle it as well as we think that they do.  Giving them a break between seasons can help in numerous ways.  Why to the kids need a break:

  • Physically banged up – after a season, an athlete is physically banged up.  They have aches, pains, and injuries that they have played through.  Before they move into their next season (or heavy training), a short break can help them to heal up these aches and pains.  They won’t be able to perform or train at 100% if they don’t get well.
  • Mentally/emotionally tired – a sports season is also tiring in non-physical ways.  Several months of being on the go with practices, games, travel, homework, and everything else can wear on an athlete mentally and emotionally.  We often forget all of the stresses that happen during a season.  If you have a bad game or practice, it can be hard to just forget about it and move right into doing homework or whatever else you have to do.  Just like with adults, “bad days” can go home with kids and affect other areas of their life.  Add in the constant emotion of games (and the occasional “team drama” that occurs) and it can wear athletes out (and coaches and parents too).
  • To enjoy life some – I remember talking to one athlete who played her sport year round. She loved her sport and wanted to get a college scholarship.  To accomplish her goal, she played on her high school team as well as several travel teams.  She had to ride 1 1/2 hours each way to travel practice twice a week and then play on weekends. Part way through the school year she was exhausted, had numerous aches and pains, and wasn’t having much fun.  Look, even pro athletes take a break after the season to spend time with family and friends, travel, and relax.  If they can do it, why should we expect younger kids and teens to go year round without a break? Let the kids have a little fun sometimes.

Now that we know why athletes need to recover, the next questions are things such as how long?  What should they do during this recovery period?  What shouldn’t they do?  This will all be answered in my next post.

See you then.

Mark

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Don’t Skip The In-Season Training Program

Sometimes sports coaches amaze me.  Over and over again, I see them emphasize the off-season training program.  They push the kids to lift, run, and lift some more.  While most of these programs are “voluntary”, participation is always highly encouraged.  So what about once the season starts?  That’s a different story.  Guess what the first thing to get cut out is?  Yep, the strength program.  During the season, the priority is to spend time practicing and prepping for games.  However, why does the strength program always seem to get cut out?  Take a look at the average sports practice.  How much time is wasted due to poor planning & coaching?  A lot.  Yet instead of making practices more efficient so that a coach can fit in the in-season strength program, they just eliminate it.  So what does this do for the kids?  Nothing positive.  The two major things skipping the in-season program does are both huge negatives:

  1. Decrease in strength – During the season, an athlete is going to get worn down, banged up, and possibly lose some strength.  If they don’t lift during the season, they will definitely lose strength.  So what do you do?  Keep them lifting.  While the kid may lose some strength during the season, the stronger they stay late into the season, the better that they can play late in the season.
  2. The injury factor – It’s widely accepted that lifting weights helps to decrease the chance of injury.  Guess what?  It may also help to decrease the time missed if a player does get an injury.  Research on high school football players compared time missed by players who received similar injuries.  It was found that those who were participating in an in-season strength program missed 1/3 of the time of other players with similar injuries.  Not all injuries can be prevented, but most coaches, players, and parents should be willing to take steps to limit the time lost from injury.

I think that these two factors are good enough reasons to make the in-season program a priority.  Why don’t sport coaches feel the same?  I guess that S & C coaches just have to keep looking for opportunities to educate sports coaches.  Maybe one day things will change.

Check back next week for more on how to design a good in-season program.

 

Mark

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Gentle Reminders From Coed Softball

Bats ;ic

A few months ago, my wife convinced me to join a coed softball team with her.  I’m not really a softball person, but she knew several members of a team and they needed a few players.  I figured out that I could fit it into my work schedule so I agreed to play.  I thought that it would be good since I haven’t played anything competitive in awhile.  Little did I know how much softball would help me.

I can honestly say that I’ve had fun playing.  I’ve also enjoyed the competition and the personal challenges.  Being a little older I tended to get more bumps, bruises, and dings in my body than I seem to remember from my younger days.  Some things haven’t changed much though:  I still get frustrated when I make mistakes and excited to make good plays and win games.  So what has all of this done for me?  It’s made me really examine each bump and bruise, each mistake, every high and low.  You know what?  It helped remind me what it’s like for my athletes when the same things happen to them.  It made me remember why athletes don’t want to “sit out” when something hurts.  It reminded me of the emotions that play such a large role in sports.  While I know that coed rec league softball isn’t exactly the Olympics, it still helped remind me what it’s like to have a little “inner fire” inside.

While I hadn’t really forgotten any of these things, it was still good to experience them again.  When we deal with athletes we can’t afford to forget what it was like to be one.  If we do forget, we won’t ever be able to truly connect with them and understand them.

Mark

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Why Junction Boys Syndrome Still Exists

The May issue of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research has an excellent article called “The Junction Boys Syndrome”.  The syndrome title is based on the book and movie called “The Junction Boys”.  These both tell the story of the year that “Bear” Bryant took over as head coach at Texas A&M.  He took his players off-campus for a brutal pre-season camp.  Numerous players were injured and/or quit the team during the camp.

The article by Scott Anderson discusses the fact that modern football “training regimens are too often built on tradition versus based on science and place players at-risk”.  He then gives us information and facts about the 21 nontraumatic deaths in NCAA FBS football since 2000.  Sixteen of these deaths occurred during strength and conditioning activities.

Is Anderson right?  Yes,  Are many of these deaths caused by the “tradition” of intense work making tougher and better football players?  Unfortunately, yes.  Why is this?  There are numerous resources available to help people design safe and effective training programs.  There are also qualified Strength & Conditioning coaches to design and implement the programs.  We even have Certified Athletic Trainers who can help monitor athletes for signs of medical problems during workouts and then care for them if necessary.  So why do we still have deaths?  I think that there are three main reasons:

  1. Influence of the Football Coaches – The S & C world is full of stories of sport coaches dictating how they want the strength and conditioning program run.  While some of this has to do with trust and respect, if the S & C Coach is qualified and competent, let them do their job.  If they aren’t qualified and competent, then hire someone who is.
  2. The “I’ll Make You Puke Mentality” – While I understand the get tough mentality, I think that if a S & C Coach uses puking as the goal for the workouts that he designs, it’s sad.  With all of the research and knowledge at our disposal, there should be a better goal that they can come up with.  Vern Gambetta has discussed his thoughts on work and makes a good point “…puking at the end of a workout is not the measure of a good training.”
  3. Tradition – It is true that in some instances, football training is still in the dark ages.  Top this with the fact that there are still numerous veteran coaches who believe in doing things traditionally, and it leads to problems.  New research is published all of the time to help show what works and what doesn’t.  S & C Coaches should constantly be trying to learn and use this knowledge to make their programs better.  As for the football coaches, see #1 above.

Should we still have nontraumatic deaths during football training?  No.  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.  Scott Anderson ends his article by saying that it is time for these deaths to stop.  I don’t see how anyone could disagree.

Mark

P.S. If you want to know how we believe that training should be, click here to find out Sports Upgrade

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Plan Management

Planning Pic

Sometimes you've got to go to plan "b"

A Kink In The Plan

Have you ever been several weeks into a team’s off-season training program a new kid suddenly shows up?  Sometimes its a kid that has moved into the area, but a lot of times it’s a kid who is coming from another sports season.  He or she has been playing sport B while his teammates in sport A have been putting in time and effort in their strength and conditioning program.  We all like working with multi-sport athletes, but it does create some interesting challenges for us as coaches.

Things To Consider

There are several things to keep in mind while trying to get these “newbies” up to speed with the rest of the group.

  • Recovery – If these athletes are coming in from another sports season, they are probably already tired, worn down, and “dinged up”.  Oftentimes these kids are rushed into the off-season program for another sport.  As a coach, I’d rather give a kid a few days off before they get started on their training program with me.  An athlete who is worn down can’t give 100% and is more likely to get hurt.  Giving them even just a week off between seasons can be beneficial.
  • Differences in training levels – Even if these athletes are “in shape” for the sport that they just finished, they won’t be in shape for the sport that they are going to.  Each sport has different physical and physiological demands.  These athletes usually can’t be expected to start off at the same level as the athletes who are currently in the off-season program.
  • Adjust the plan – When we create an off-season plan, we put all of our knowledge and know-how into it.  And now we have to change it because of one kid?  Yes.  To build on the previous point, an athlete that is coming into your program will need to be eased in ,unless he is coming from a sport that has a solid in-season program.  He won’t be able to complete the same sets, reps, and intensities as the other athletes.  Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  He or she will catch up to the other athletes soon enough.
  • Focus – While it is sometimes difficult to do, try to find a way to focus on these kids.  If they haven’t been lifting regularly or doing the same program, there should be an emphasis placed on technique.  That way once they catch up to the other athletes, their technique will be good.  This is especially important in lifts such as the squat, clean, and snatch.  You should also get plenty of feedback from these kids on how they feel.

What To Do?

When you have a large group of athletes, it becomes difficult to integrate a new kid into the mix.  However, for the good of the athlete, you must pay attention to these “newbies”.  All too often they show up and just get tossed into the mix with the other athletes.  While it may take some creativity to integrate them properly and at the right pace, it will benefit them in the long run.

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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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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