Is it time to scrap the old program for one that is better?
As the high school football and volleyball seasons wind down in many places, I thought that this would be a good time to address program design. After a season, most strength coaches look back and see if there is anything that they should do differently the following season. This evaluation process often forces coaches to look at the physical preparation of their athletes and their off-season programs. Many times a team will have a series of injuries to it’s players and often many of these will be similar injuries. Some seasons a team is hit with a rash of ankle injuries, sometimes it’s shoulder injuries, and other seasons it’s another body part. Regardless, it forces the staff to evaluate their program and decide if changes need to be made to help prevent more injuries. This is a great example of how strength programs should always be evolving. There is no perfect program. If there was, everyone would use it.
Evaluation Leads To Evolution
What things should you look at in your program? While every sport & situation is different, you should evaluate your program for each of the following:
Injury prevention exercises
Muscular strength exercises
Sport specific conditioning
In your particular sport or situation, not all of these may apply. However, in most sports you should address each of these items to ensure that your program is complete. So sit down and take an honest look at your program for the last few months and the last year. How does it address each of these areas? Do you spend too much time/effort in some areas and not enough in others? If so, make adjustments for the next year. It will make your program better and your athletes better.
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.
While writing my last blog post on landing mechanics and ACL injuries, I came across a study by Parsons & Alexander that was recently published. The study attempts to discover if the use of one video coaching session can help to make positive changes in the landing mechanics of volleyball players. I encourage you to read more about this study on modifying landing mechanics.
Here is a quick summary of the volleyball study:
The researchers took video clips of volleyball players completing a spike jump/landing. They used Dartfish software to give the girls immediate feedback and also to analyze the results in further detail. They measured numerous angles related to landing position at ankle, knee, hip, and torso. The researchers found numerous improvements resulted short term from their video & verbal feedback. While there were some decreases in the results during the 4 weeks prior to retesting, several of the variables maintained a significantly positive improvement. Basically, the one feedback session did help the volleyball players to make and maintain positive improvements.
So, what are the take home points?
Video can play a huge role in helping your athletes to make improvements. Remember that some people are visual learners. Using video can help them to truly understand what you are saying to them in your verbal coaching.
The athletes were able to maintain some of their improvements over 4 weeks. What if there was to be more of an emphasis on the changes in landing mechanics? What if they took 15 minutes a week to focus on them? What if they received visual feedback multiple times with constant verbal coaching everyday? I’m sure that the results would be more significant. As they say, “practice makes perfect”. What would this do the the number of torn ACL’s in volleyball? I’m sure it would decrease it dramatically.
No question that it will go fast. But how does it stop without crashing?
I have previously written about the role of a proper landing in the prevention of ACL injuries. I thought that I would expand on that somewhat. We often think about landing playing a role in basketball and volleyball injuries. I’ve also had it happen to athletes playing football, soccer, and lacrosse. If we take time to carefully evaluate our athletes, many of them in all sports display poor landing mechanics. This can put the knee into an awkward position and can cause extra stresses to be placed on the ACL. Since an ACL reconstruction generally keeps an athlete out of action 6 months, anything that we can do to help prevent these injuries can be huge for our athletes.
So, what can be done to help? We often get into a hurry to get kids running and jumping too fast. In my mind, when car gurus design a newer, faster car, they make sure to spend plenty of time designing and testing the braking system before they take the car on any test runs. It should be the same with athletes. We need to test and train the braking systems before we go crazy with the jumping and running. The simplest way to help your athletes is to teach them how to land properly. Now this isn’t just a 5 minute drill that you do once and never repeat. You have to emphasize landing every time that you do a jumping drill. We all want to see how high or how far the kid jumps. However, it’s probably more important to watch how they land. Yes, you should try to watch and coach everything. Just make sure that you are putting emphasis on the landings.
Want to see the effect that proper landings can have? Myers and Hawkins published a study in 2010 that looked at changes in tibial shear forces when they worked on landing mechanics. They found a 56% decrease in forces when the emphasized proper mechanics. The athletes that they worked with also increased their vertical jump about 2.5 cm. The only negative was the fact that the athletes tended to revert to their old habits once they got tired (see this article on knee landings which discusses the study further).
I think that a 56% decrease in forces could make a huge difference in ACL rupture prevention for athletes. Because of this, make sure to emphasize it during your training.
So how should the athletes land?
Should land on their toes
Keep their knees flexed
Keep their head/shoulders up
A good way to check on their landings is to listen. The athlete should “land softly”. If you hear a loud landing, it’s a good sign they they landed on their heels and probably had their knees straight. This type of landing puts too much force through their ankles, knees, and hips.
As for how to limit the return of bad habits once your athletes get tired, I have two suggestions:
Repetition, repetition, repetition
Make sure to do some of the landing training when the athletes are tired. We all get sloppy when we are tired. Putting them into this stage for some of the training will give you a chance to show them what happens and then correct it.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
This is probably one of the most interesting articles I’ve read in a long time. I’ve heard Matt speak a couple of times at clinics and was fortunate enough to get to observe him conduct a training session at UF. I think that he does a great job and this article explains why. Matt puts emphasis on three things in the program:
Developing sport specific athleticism
Injury prevention training
Addressing individual weaknesses
Obviously most of us try to design our programs in a way that the same 3 items are addressed. I do admit that a volleyball team has less bodies to train than some other sports so some things are easier to plan for and incorporate. Regardless, it is a good read and worth your time. I encourage you to check it out.