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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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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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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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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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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