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
Share

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

Share

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

Share

Hot Stuff

Here’s a video post about heat illness.  Since several high school athletes have died already this year due to the heat, I thought that it would be a good time to address it.  The video discusses prevention, signs & symptoms, and treatment.

Let me know what you think.

Mark

 

 

Share

Active Rest – Part 2

Hopefully you read part 1 of the series on active rest.  Today, in part 2,  I thought that we would discuss some of the science behind the idea of active rest.

The concept of active rest originally came from the system called periodization that was developed by Russian sports scientists.  The system was primarily used with weightlifters.  It was used with great success during the Soviet Bloc years and led to many Olympic medals.  The basic idea was that a training plan was laid out for an athlete that adjusted the volume and intensity of their workouts over time.  By going through these different training phases it was believed that the athletes would get better results and be on track to peak in time for competitions.  The phase after a competition was called the “transition” phase.  In the American terminology this began to be called the “active rest” phase. 

Now to the real details about the science behind it.  I know, if you really hate lots of scientific stats and info you just want to get to the conclusion.  Guess what?  As much as people including myself believe in the concept of active rest, there isn’t a lot of scientific proof that shows how effective or ineffective that it is.  There have been some studies done testing the results of active rest right after a workout.  While these have shown a improvement in the amount of lactate in the blood after exercise, the studies were only looking at the immediate effects.  Two studies have been done that look at possible longer term effects – one on rugby players and one on soccer players.  The results of both studies found that active rest didn’t really help the athletes to recover any better than complete rest.  The rugby study noted that the players who participated in active rest did feel better psychologically than their teammates who rested completely.  

Since there isn’t a lot of evidence to prove the benefits of active rest, should you still include it in your program?  I think that you should for three reasons:

  • Active rest will help to circulate blood through the body.  This helps to clear waste and deliver more oxygen to the cells, which is always good.
  • Active rest will help you to feel better psycholgically
  • Active rest will allow your body to heal up many of the little sprains, strains, aches, and pains that we all pick up while training hard

So, there are some definite benefits to active rest.  I encourage you to give it a try.  Just pick a 1-2 week period and try some lighter workouts.  Your goal should be to do about 50-70% of your normal workout.  That percentage should apply not only to the amount (volume) that you do, but also to the intensity.  When planning your training, try to do exercises and activities that you don’t normally do.  It’s a good opportunity to change things up.  It’s also a good chance to spend a little time rehabbing an injury or focusing on a “weakness” (e.g., flexibility, core strength, etc).  Let me know how it works for you.

Mark

 

 

Share

Don’t Forget The Arms….

Jessee Owens during the 1936 Olympics

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the feet.  Today, I thought that I would address the arms.
 
I spent part of last week volunteering to help some 9-12 year olds in a camp.  My job was to teach them flag football.  During the week, I had a few opportunities to watch the kids and see how they performed the various drills (when they weren’t pouring water on each other and whatever else they could think of).  It amazed me how many of the kids didn’t use their arms correctly while running.  Arms were flying sideways, going in circles, and pretty much doing everything except being used to run like an “athlete”.  Now, I understand that the kids were young and had never been taught how to run.  It just made me think about a few how important the arms are.  
 
How important are your arms in sprinting?  The action of your arms is connected to the action of your legs.   Don’t believe it?  Try this simple drill.  Stand up and jog in place allowing both your arms and legs to move.  Now pump your arms faster and faster.  What happens to your legs?  They move faster!!!!  See, I told you they worked together.  This is a drill that I like to use when I start discussing arm mechanics with athletes.  No matter if they are 8 years old or 28, they can quickly figure out the importance of using your arms.
 
If you take a look at the above picture of Jesse Owens and two other runners, you can see arms a legs working together.  Each of the athletes is at a slightly different point in their stride but they are all using similar mechanics.  When the left knee drives upward, the right arm moves with it and vice versa.  In young, untrained runners this one of the most glaring problems.  Just like the kids in camp last week, their arms move through multiple planes instead of simply moving anterior-posterier.  This incorrect movement makes the body work harder and makes it slower going from point A to point B. 
 
Does this only apply when running in a straight line like a track athlete?  Not at all.  Look at the rugby picture and check out the arms. 
Rugby Pic

These guys know how to use their arms to run

These players are in the process of changing directions and they are still using their arms to help out.  The arms can help you to accelerate when you run and change directions.  One of the first things that I try to evaluate and correct in an athlete is the use of their arms.  Then I keep on them through running drills, conditioning, agility drills – pretty much any time that correct arm usage is important.   It really helps them to run better in all directions and to be a better overall athlete. 
 

Mark

Share

Does It Matter?

Pic of Gears
Do you have any missing gears?

That’s the question.  Does it matter?  Does it really matter?  About now you’re asking, “does what matter?”  (That, and why is there a picture of machine gears on a sports performance blog).   I have answers for both of these.  

The question “does it matter” refers to the various parts of training an athlete.  Things like flexibility, power, strength, rest & recovery, planning, nutrition, outside of training activities (use of tobacco, drugs, and alcohol), stress, quality of training, etc.  I could probably list a lot more but I think that you’ve got the idea.  So, do they matter?  Do all of them matter?  Are some more important than others?  They all matter!!!  Each one represents a major part in the process of developing an athlete.  If you mess with one part, you mess with the whole athlete.  Want an example?  It’s a well know fact that stress caused by a job, school, a personal situation or anything else can affect you physically.  In fact, too much stress can put you in the hospital. Stress, which is usually non-physical in nature, can affect you physically.  See how things are all tied together. Your body works together as one.  If one part is not functioning up to par, other parts try to help out. That is one of the amazing things about our body.  Of course, if a part or system has to pick up the slack from some other system, then it can’t do it’s own job 100%.   That decreases your ability to function fully.  If you are an athlete, that’s not what you want.  You want every part to be working together at 100%.  That makes you able to  train and perform better and will lead to better results. 

The best way that I’ve ever heard this explained was by Mark Verstegen.  He used the example of a bunch of gears or cogs working together.  Each of the gears represented some of the things that I mentioned previously.  (See, I told you that there was a reason for the pic of the gears). The basic idea was that each of these gears helps to keep the entire machine (your body) working smoothly.

I’ve had athletes finish a workout and then go light up a cigarette. First, it’s unhealthy in general (and disgusting, but that’s my opinion).  Second, he was an athlete!!!  Why would you go train hard and then go do something to sabatoge yourself immediately afterwards????  I know that we can’t control everything that our athletes do.  I get that.  However, we have to educate them as to why all of these things are important. I don’t think I’ve met too many athletes who just wanted to “make the team”.  Most of them have a competive desire to excel, to be the best.  Hopefully we as coaches can make them understand the importance of taking care of all of the “gears” in the system.

 

Share

Why we need experts

I’ve got to confess that I was planning this post last night.  At that time, I wasn’t aware of a recent Webmd article about sports training for female teens.  Fortunately, I saw a link for it on Twitter this AM.  The article is a great lead in to my post.  If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so.

I think that the article does a great job of touching on several points.  First and foremost, it addresses several things that females need to be doing to prepare and it explains why.  Anyone who works with athletes should be aware of the fact that female ACL injuries occur more often than they do to males.  They should also know how to train an athlete to try to prevent their occurance.  The article also emphasizes having a well designed plan to follow when training.  The article closes by discussing the imporantance of proper nutrition.  This is a subject that cannot be overemphasized when dealing with athletes at any level. 

By now you’re probably wondering what my original post was going to be about and how this article played into it. My original idea was to write about the training of athletes needing to be led by someone who is qualified to do it.  Too many times I’ve seen a sport coach decide to design a strength/speed/agility program for their athletes.  There are some sport coaches who can accomplish this and design a safe and effective program.  Unfortunately, there are a large percentage who cannot do this.  Just because someone coaches a sport does not mean that they have a full understanding of :

  • program design
  • safety
  • preventative (“prehab”) exercises
  • exercise technique
  • speed/agility mechanics
  • corrective exercises/drills

I have worked with some great coaches in my career (and a few not so great, but we won’t go into that….).  There is no doubt that some of those coaches understood their sport inside and out.  My favorite sport to watch is football.  I’ve watched it, played it, and worked around it.  While I might know some about it, I have worked with coaches who knew 100+ times more than I do.  They were the “experts” in their sports.  I could have never coached their sport as well as they did.  On the other side of that, I tried to make it so that they couldn’t do my job as well as I did. 

When you consider the training and development of your son/daughter or your athletes, please keep all of this in mind.  There are qualified people who can run a strength/speed/agility program.  Of course, there are also some who claim that they can.  Believe it or not, designing and running a fitness program is much different than training athletes to maximize their potential.  Find someone who has experience dealing with athletes, someone who has a degree in exercise science or a related field, and someone who has credentials from a credible organization.  Not only will these people understand how to train an athlete to get better, they will understand the biomechanical and physiological aspects of the sport so that they can design and implement a top notch program. 

P.S.  If you want to see what one training program for females looks like, check out the video of the Auburn Softball Team below.

Share