Monday, December 28, 2009

Hierarchy of Success


I want to continue talking about the Hierarchy of Success.

This is the most important piece of all.  It trumps just about everything else.  Yes, the exercise technique and selection make a huge difference.  Selecting or executing poorly can destroy a program or athlete, but they won't make you successful.  It the solid and broad foundation of your true attitude, your beliefs, that set the base to grow coaching success upon.

It's your attitude as a coach.  As a person that has the greatest effect.  What do you stand for and what do you bring to your athlete's everyday?  If you are a positive person, you want the best for your athletes, you are sincere in your efforts, and you strive to be the best, it shows.  You can't hide this or fake it.  Not over the long haul. 

This is the true foundation of your coaching.  All of the other stuff is built upon this.  If the attitude is wrong, the athletes will see through it.  If the attitude is wrong, their motivation will disappear.  When your coaching is only based on the specifics of exercise technique and rep/weight selection you've got it upside down.

This key point is why I believe their are some coaches who have a methodology that may be faulty in some ways, but if their Attitude and Approach are lined up, they will be successful with many athletes and in many settings.  Attitude and approach can make them successful in spite of their actual training methodology.

So as a coach, the question then becomes two-fold. 
  1. What are your core beliefs that construct your attitude?
  2. Are you reflecting those in every coaching session and all you are doing?
When you have those, you have the foundation for success.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hierarchy of Success

Seth Godin's blog today has a lot of carry over into coaching. Here's an excerpt;

The hierarchy of success
I think it looks like this:

We spend all our time on execution. Use this word instead of that one. This web host. That color. This material or that frequency of mailing.

Big news: No one ever succeeded because of execution tactics learned from a Dummies book.

Tactics tell you what to execute. They're important, but dwarfed by strategy. Strategy determines which tactics might work.

But what's the point of a strategy if your goals aren't clear, or contradict?

Which leads the first two, the two we almost never hear about.

He continues the article and discusses how each should drive the other. It's probably important to define two of these that are often used interchangeably; Strategy is WHAT you're going to do, Tactics are HOW you're going to do it.

When you hear a lot of coaches talking about training (or arguing) its often about the last two. The execution of the drill or lift is important to most of us. Countless arguments focus on execution.

The tactics may be doing heavy singles or using lunges over back squats or deadlifts. We can go on and on with the arguments over tactics. There are more presentations and dvds on tactics than we will ever need.

I have to agree with Seth here. In the big picture, no one succeeds because of tactics and execution. You may fail if you don't do those well, but they don't bring success.

I'll say it again. The way you do the plyo drill or lift the weight wont bring success. This sounds like blasphemy coming from a coach who believes in teaching and enforcing proper technique, but I believe it's true.

I can have my athletes execute the best single leg, recovery focused, butt kick bounding out there. They did it because I decided that it was the best tactic to build specific explosiveness for sprinting.

However, if the goal was to play faster on the offensive line, but employed the wrong strategy of building specific explosiveness for sprinting, then I have a problem. I should have been building explosiveness for acceleration or acceleration against resistance.

So you can see how getting the goals and the strategy right are more important than execution and tactics. We do have discussion however about the next one up the hierarchy, approach.

Your approach in coaching terms are the broad strokes. If you see athletes who need to be faster will you use "technique drills" to develop speed or do believe strength is the primary focus. This can influence the goal to be either "we need better sprinting technique" or "we need to be stronger!" Do you believe in developing general athleticism or sport specific skills? The broader questions of approach will dictate how you set goals.

The last one, attitude, I think is more of the overall philosophy you have. Towards performance, towards competition, towards life. It's the driving force behind the rest.

It's also why I think there are some coaches who are relatively successful in spite of their execution, tactics, strategy, goals, and sometimes even approach. Because of an attitude, they can affect their athletes effort and focus. At times, when the window of opportunity is big enough, and the complexity is not too great, the right attitude can trump some mistakes in all the other steps.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I received this email from Rett Larsen of velocity Sports Performance, who got it from Cal Dietz at the Univ. of Minnesota. Had to pas it on since its a great piece. I know Dan Bylsma, Jay's son, who is currently the Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team that won the Stanley Cup last season. Dan had a hockey career in the NHL, and I coached him when he was with the Long Beach ice Dogs and the Los Angeles Kings. He's a great, stand-up guy. This will help you understand why.

So You're Going to Coach My Grandchild?
A message to coaches from Jay M. Bylsma:

I'm so grateful that you've volunteered to be the coach of my grandchild's ice hockey team. I'm getting a bit too old to be out on the ice with these young kids and without you volunteering, it's possible my Bryan wouldn't have an opportunity to play this wonderful game that's meant so much to his father and uncles and myself. My Bryan made it through tryouts. You might have thought that the tryouts were to see whether or not Bryan was good enough to make your team. That wasn't it at all. It was to see if you were good enough to be entrusted with my grandchild. You see, I don't really care if you know much about hockey, or whether you have a winning record. I don't know or care if you've ever coached a kid that made it in the NHL, or Division I college hockey, or even high school. But I know that every one of the kids you coach will have a life to lead after hockey. You will coach far more doctors and lawyers than professional hockey players. So I'm more interested in what kind of a role model you are and your ability to teach Bryan life lessons than whether you can teach him the left wing lock or backwards crossovers.

Let me explain why I don't care if you have a winning record. Think back over all the games you played in organized sports as a kid - any and all the sports. Can you remember any of the scores of any of those games or even if you won or lost? If you're like me you can't remember many - if even one. But I can remember every coach I ever had. Mr. Sterkenberg, Mr. Naerebout, Mr. VanderMey, and others. I can even picture them in my mind. Images of good men who taught me (whether they knew it or not) sportsmanship, integrity, to play by the rules, and to have fun. They made a lasting impression on me, just as you will have a lasting impression on my little Bryan. But apparently winning wasn't important enough for me to remember. Bryan hasn't been enrolled in the youth hockey program to win. He's been enrolled to have fun, to increase his athleticism, and to learn life lessons. What kind of a lasting impression will you have? You are his coach, a position just bit lower than the angels. He will hang on your every word. He will skate into the boards for you. He will never forget you as you've never forgotten your coaches. And he will learn from you, perhaps as much by what you do as what you say. You are the potter and Bryan is the clay.

For example, if you pick your team based on talent and ability you will show
Bryan that talent and ability are the criteria that a person needs to be
successful. If you pick your team based on the associations you have - that is,
your GM's kid gets to play, your brother-in-law's kid is on the power play -
each regardless of ability - you will show Bryan that you get ahead in life by
who you know, accomplishment and achievement don't count for as much as
connections. If you tell the kids, "Every one pays equally, everyone plays
equally" and then only some kids get on the power play and play in the third
period, you influence kids about the meaning of honesty and deception. If you
say disparaging remarks about the other team, the other coach, or the officials,
you demean the game and incidentally yourself and you teach Bryan that it's okay, perhaps even manly - to be disrespectful and pejorative. If you need to put ringers on your team to be competitive in an out-of-town tournament, you are
influencing your players about your standard of honesty and the importance of
winning at the cost of your integrity. If you say a disparaging remark about
education, you may depreciate the value of education - this in a sport where if
you aspire to play at a higher level, good grades may be as - or more important
than - your hockey skill.

Your demeanor, your language, your deportment, your values, your aspirations, your character becomes the role model. You are the potter, Bryan is the clay. You see, I don't even think this is about hockey at all. It's about teaching Bryan life lessons. It's about re-enforcing the lessons he learns at home. Hockey is just the blossom we use to attract the bees. And we attract the bees to teach them to respect the game, to respect their opponents as worthy competitors, to respect the officials and their decisions, to teach them fairness, and how to maintain self-control.

If he's a good player, I hope you won't aggrandize him or over-use him but help him be a team player. If he's a poor player, I hope you won't demean him but give him his fair share of ice time and help him become a better player. I hope you will remember he's just a child and your career as a coach isn't riding on his back. I hope you will remember that a word of encouragement after a mistake is worth more than a pile of praise after a success.

My son Dan and I started the IT PAYS initiative because for all its inherent good, changes in youth sports are very disturbing to us. There are the well publicized instances of cheating, abuse, assaults, and even murder. But these are only the tip of the iceberg. The sport is having ever increasing difficulty attracting and keeping officials because of verbal abuse and assaults by coaches and parents. Skilled players are leaving the game because of violent play by bigger less skilled players who are instructed "take them out" instead of improving their own level of play to compete successfully. A win-at-a-cost mentality demeans less skilled players who may rarely see ice time in the third periods of close games - which ironically impacts their ability to improve. Sadly, some coaches have taken the fun out of the game for the children by exerting too much pressure, being too critical, being demeaning, and being too vocal in an inappropriate way. The consequences of losing sight of the purpose of youth sports - that is as a game of childhood, a wonderful pastime - is that the life lessons that are being taught are less than wholesome and sometimes destructive. Dan and I hope that you will wholeheartedly continue to support goals of IT PAYS - for the good of this great game, for its reputation, and for the positive influence we hope you'll have on the child we entrusted to you.

If you work with young athletes, or athletes of any age for that matter, remember this.<

I'm Back

Been a busy month for us. We added another training facility to our portfolio and have been working to make the transition. Lots of other new projects as well. Will be catching up with lots to talk about over the next few weeks.

Stay Tuned!

Friday, July 24, 2009

How Hard Should Practice Be?

Watched a TED clip the other day of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He is the psychologist most know for the idea of "flow". Flow is that state athletes are always trying to strive to perform in. Where everything is easy and comes seemingly without effort.

It's a 20 minute clip and he talks about his graph somewhere around 16 minutes. I'd recommend watching it all however because it helps give context and the big picture.

Now the sport psychologist I work with (Dr. Michael Gervias) often points out that while it's great to try to reach this state, the fact is that most of the time in practice and competition you won't be in it. So instead of just chasing, learn the mental skills to perform to your best all the time.

I found the talk a good reminder though about how we coach athletes. Anyone who has coached can tell you that if you teach remedial skills to a talented athlete, they can become bored very quickly. Conversely, if you throw an extremely complex skill at someone without the abilities, they will often quit.

The key for a coach is whether you can match the level of difficulty with the level of ability for the athlete? Sounds easy, but it's not always. Especially when you are working with a group or team. You have to challenge them to get better, but how much?

Many coaches try to go for the middle of the road in terms of difficulty. That will get you the most (hopefully). However you are still making it too hard for the lowest skilled and too easy for the best. Maybe that's OK, but I am always trying to go 10 for 10.

Often coaches go to the lowest or highest level of skill. The put all the athletes through that level of drill or skill development. Either way, most of your athletes will not get what they need.

One of the keys is recognizing that the "skills" referred to on this graph could be technical skills, physical capacities, or mental and emotional capacities. In all areas you need to consider the demand versus the ability.

Once you have that perspective, now you can start to match the group. The straight forward area we often think of as coaches is the technical level. To become an effective coach, I have to learn to adjust any technical drill up and down for individuals in the group. That's pretty straight forward, but if you are doing it, you are already better than 80% of the coaches out there.

Next you have to think about how you manipulate not only the technical challenge to match capabilities, but go on to cognitive and emotional challenges. Maybe I work on the same basic technical drill with the group, but for some that may be in that control area, I take it up a notch by making them react, or put them on the spot in front of others, add a second technical element, etc... You get the idea.

It works the other way also. I can take away some anxiety by letting them go on their own pace, or set things up so the other athletes aren't focused on them when they go.

If I want each one of my athletes to get the most from a training session, I have to consider all these elements. Remember that we want to match the challenge to the skill level and there are many ways to do that.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Uphill Battle

Seth Godin's blog provides a great perspective on marketing, customer service and business. All important things whether you are working on the pro, college or private sides of our profession.

His blog focus the other day was "Winning on the Uphills" the lessons learned when things are hard.

I think it's a great metaphor for us as well. As a Chicago Bears fan I always have to think of Walter Payton who was known for his work effort in the off-season, which included notorious hill work. You create the stimulus for growth when it's hard. Mentally, physically, emotionally. Stress is a needed stimulus.

As a coach, I have learned some of my best things when it was hard. A too small weightroom, with 60 high school football players, and just myself. You quickly learn the value of organization, focusing efforts, and the beauty of doing just a few things savagely well. I recommend it for any coach.

It's easy when you have all the right equipment, the talented athletes, a beautiful facility, and unlimited resources. It's challenges you as a coach when you don't.

In some organizations you get to really develop and show your worth when you have to convince the hessitant head coach or star athlete, and get results in the end. In the private sector you really grow when you make it through tough economic times.

When we get through the lessons of the hard times, we are ready to succeed in all the others. Embrace the hill's as a challenge!

Monday, July 13, 2009

NSCA 2009

Just got back from NSCA in Las Vegas. No speaking this time, but will be speaking on multi-directional speed in Orlando next year. It's easy to forget how enjoyable and valuable it is to get to spend time seeing friends and colleagues, that you may not spend time with often.

One of the things I was looking forward to, was actually trying the new Woodway Speedboard. I have worked with the Woodway Force for years both in research and in training. Its a great tool for many aspects of speed training, energy system development, and diagnosis.

Like the Force, the Speedboard was intriguing because it is self propelled. It would offer the opportunity to provide video analysis and feedback easily. It would allow instant changes in speed for in-outs or interval work, and we could switch between users quickly.

For me a key though is how it feels to a sprinting athlete, along with what it does to both the kinetics and kinematics. I haven't got one yet to do video analysis, but the feel was pretty good to me, and I was able to hear what some collegiate level sprinters thought.

It takes just a minute to get used to it, which is always a good sign for natural mechanics. While using a high speed treadmill, you sometimes can notice that need to focus on quicker recovery but not necessarily force production into the ground. On the Force treadmill you become very aware of the need for force production.

One of the things I noticed was that I did have to focus on force into the ground as I accelerated along with feeling the need for quicker recovery. I would say the feel was somewhere in the middle of the those other two modalities. This may make some sense since the curve of the belt means that you will need to increase force into the ground as you hit up higher on the belt where there is a greater angle. The angle of the deck transfers some of the vertical forces into horizontal for you thus increasing the belt speed.

All in all my initial impression is this is a device with a lot of potential. It is going to be great for individual or group interval training without question. For an athlete that needs max velocity training I think it will probably be good as well. Not a replacement for over-ground running, but it could be a very effective supplement. As I learn more and study the kinematics/kinetics, we'll find out more.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Coaching Technique: Do It Well or Don't Do It

There are a lot of different training methods, drills, and exercises. You can use them in different ways and combinations to achieve the same goal. Here’s the key, whatever methods you choose, they need to be done right.

It’s frustrating to watch a coach use exercises that may be appropriate, but can’t coach their athletes to do it right. It does no good if the program looks good written on paper, if the actual training looks like crap.

I have seen a lot o reasons why this happens. They either don’t know what the proper movement should look like, they don’t know how to correct it, or they don’t care.

When it’s a case of not being able to recognize errors compared to a proper technical model, it’s fixable. You should watch the movement done properly. Live when possible, by video when needed. Watch, AGAIN and AGAIN! Then start watching movements and comparing them to the model and noting differences.

I’ve seen some coaches who I’m sure can see the difference between correct and incorrect movements, however they don’t fix it. I think they are concerned about their athletes, and they think doing the movements properly is important.

So why don’t they coach it? I suspect at one time they tried. They tried, but didn’t know enough to give the right cues, or discover the true problem. Instead they ended up frustrated that it didn’t improve and probably so did the athlete. So over time, they stopped trying to correct it. A lot less frustration for all.

This too is fixable. Learn from other coaches who can coach that movement. Learn to analyze, discover different fixes, and develop different cueing methods. It’s called COACHING.

Technique does matter, because if you don’t get it right, it’s ineffective or a waste of time at best, or detrimental and harmful at worst. In the last case the solution is easy. GET OUT OF COACHING. If you don’t care enough to help your athlete’s, then STOP!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Elephant in the Room: Motor Control Theory

Biomechanics has been criticized at times by coaches and others because all too often, biomechanics research is done through a strict lens of observation. It’s describes for us what is happening, but not why. To many a coach and athlete, they want to know about the why so they can do something about it for a better result.

In sports performance training there are often arguments that go along the same lines, “that research only tells me what I already know, not how to get an athlete better.” Arguments over whether teaching technique matter and whether the focus is on kinetics or kinematics go on and on.

Some traditional strength coaches argue that all you need to do to get faster is increase strength & power, while the track coach argues back the focus should be technique. Then among different strength coaches we start seeing the arguments over whether you need heavy Olympic lifts and squats or “corrective” and “functional” exercises.

There’s an elephant in the room that no one seems to acknowledge. MOTOR CONTROL.

Athletics is very heavily dominated by movement skill. That means motor control plain and simple! Whether it’s speed and agility, or precision in throwing, catching or kicking. How we use our physical capacities and manage the dynamic movement challenges in a sport environment, are a question solved by motor control.

So why doesn’t anybody talk about it? It would provide the critical framework for many of these important discussions. It should be a lens through which much of our training methods are filtered.

It’s true that motor control is a much less developed field in many ways than physiology. Biomechanics is also more developed because we have a lot of methods to observe and describe movement. A bigger challenge is that the predominant approach to modern science has been through a reductionist point of view. In this view, we try to understand the whole, by learning about the parts. The complex interactions in human movement in a sporting environment do not always effectively lend themselves to this type of analysis.

I still would place some blame on our education system. Whenever I speak to strength or performance coaches, sports coaches, or trainers, I ask the group who has had even a single class in motor control. We only get about half. When asked who has had more than 1 class, it drops dramatically. If asked who has been introduced to something other than general motor program or schema theory or has heard of dynamical systems theory, its maybe 1 or 2 in the room.

That’s a problem. The very coaches, who are out there training MOVEMENT, have very little education in the theory of motor control.

Another problem is that we aren’t educating coaches any more. Coaches aren’t coming out with physical education degrees that included motor control and coaching pedagogy. Education has moved to kinesiology and exercise science as majors, and most strength and performance majors don’t learn motor control beyond the rudimentary basics.

I also have to blame the coaches. Why aren’t they demanding better answers? If you are out there coaching movement, be it speed, agility or sports skills, you should be thinking about motor control. How does it work? If you haven’t thought about this, WHAT ARE YOU DOING and WHY?

I had struggled with these questions through my graduate studies, because what I saw and did everyday coaching, didn’t match many of the motor control concepts I was being presented. When I discovered that there were other approaches to motor control, I saw how they nullified many of the silly debates in our field and gave a whole new perspective to others.

I am going to be writing more this month on motor control, but here are some places to start;
• Sport review article
• Athletic Insight: Chaos Theory

• Progress in Motor Control

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Check point

If you decided you were going to improve as a coach this year, how are you doing?

Time flies whether you're having fun or not, and things like improving professionally are easier to get put to the side when the rigors of coaching and the rest of life come up.

The year year is half over and its a good time to look at what you have accomplished so far and what the next goals are.

Have you attended any seminars or conferences so far and what will you do in the second half?

What books? What books that are about something other than coaching?

Have you made your list of 100 experts that you could learn from to become a better coach?

Have you found a mentor coach or an expert you can observe while coaching?

I've been working hard myself to keep myself on top of some specifics projects myself. I've been trying to complete some research on the affects of different loads on sled work during acceleration.

I understand its not easy, but if you truly want to become a master coach, you better figure out where you are at and where you are going this year?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Telling the Story

One aspect of the Art of Coaching is the Art of Storytelling. I'm not talking sit the kids down and tell'em a fairy tale and it doesn't have to be a speech with fire and brimstone that sends the troops into battle. I mean using stories that illustrate a point, or give an example. They convey a message and enhance credibility.

As a young coach its often a challenge to have the stories you need. It also may not be in your nature to do this easily. So where do your coaching stories come from?

Colleagues and Mentors
As you are building your own experiences, borrow stories. These should come from mentors and colleagues. They can come from books or at conferences. Don't take credit, but use the story as a credible example. "You know Johnny, your not the first athlete to go through this. One of the best strength coaches in the country was just talking about how All-Star Joe, went through the same thing and succeeded in the end...."

Your (team, school. facility, etc...)
Borrow from those you work with. You institution and other coaches there have stories. They are closer to home for your athletes and can carry more weight. Learn your institutions stories a well.

Your Own
Over years of coaching you will gain stories. They can be become more dramatic and profound if you stay around sport for a while. Be careful though, the most powerful stories aren't always about the famous athlete or the winning team. They may be something that happened earlier today. Sometimes it's enough for an athlete to know someone else has gone through this or travelled this path before.

The story is a tool. A tool to convey meaning to your athletes by showing them a bigger picture, giving an example, and transferring the emotional power of it to them. Used well, and not abused by trivialization, a story is a key part of the Art of Coaching.

Any Given Sunday

Remember the Titans



Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Coaching Education Rant

There are a lot of people being mis-guided at best and some probably ripped off. Institutionally ripped-off. By the very people they were looking towards, to educate them for their future.

It's that time of year when a lot of graduates are looking for jobs. I'm looking for some coaches. The former and latter don't match up however. Unfortunately, many (if not most) college graduates are not ready to coach.

They play or like sports. They may enjoy coaching, sports medicine, and/or fitness. They pick an exercise science or kinesiology program. Spend lots of money for years or school, exercise science classes, and expensive textbooks. They finish with a degree. They send out resumes and look for a job as strength or performance coach. They put in the hard work and spent the money. That's what everyone said they were supposed to do.

Now look at it from my point of view. Most apply and don't even know what we do in sports performance coaching. They think its like personal training. They have never coached any athletes. None of their classes were in pedagogy (the art or science of being a teacher and generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of instruction). They have never coached anyone in max velocity mechanics or a power clean. They probably haven't even dealt with kids in a large group at a camp, but they can tell me about the krebs cycle.

This does me no good. They have no skills of value yet. They probably don't even know enough about what we do to determine if they like it or not. I have to teach them how to do anything useful at this point.

Now don't get me wrong, I strongly believe in education. You need the science, but coaching is a HANDS-ON field. If your intention is to coach in some way, and you get zero experience coaching during your education, you are not being prepared.

I think the blame lies with both the student and the institution.

The students needs to be wise consumers and select the best programs for where they want to go. As someone who's undergraduate degree is in Sound Engineering & Acoustic Design, I understand students often start school without knowing what they really want. Still, I choose a school that provided me with hands-on learning and multiple internships.

Institutions are often so caught up in theory and the business of traditional schooling that students finish with no appreciable skills. If a student is on a track that leads to coaching, fitness training, or something where they will actively interact and instruct people in movement, than you better expose your students to it. Not just in a week overview, but more in-depth. I like the programs where the upper level student have to do an internship.

Make your students do some training as well. One of the values of the physical education majors was that they had to go out and learn different sports and experience that process. They also had to teach activity classes and learn pedagogy.

Part of the problem is also the "SHOW ME THE MONEY" attitude of many graduates. They think they've earned something. You have, the readiness to start learning how to coach. If you show promise, I'll even offer you an extensive internship where you can learn coaching skills in strength, speed, video analysis, coaching pedagogy, exposure to experienced coaches and experts in multiple disciplines, become part of a broad coaching network, and more. I wont even charge you for all this, but don't expect to be highly paid yet.

I was always impatient and hated being told I had to "pay my dues." You do need to develop some coaching skills however so you become valuable to an employer, team or institution.

A degree does not a coach make.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I rolled on the floor laughing first time I saw this movie with John Candy and Steve Martin. Thats not what we are talking about though. Listening to Walter Norton give a great talk this weekend at a clinic in SoCal, he reminded of an analogy I like.

I'm going from Los Angeles to Chicago to coach a lifter in the Pan American Championships this week. I could get there by any of these three means. Each has some advantages and dis-advantages, but in the end, each could get me there.

The plane will get me there fastest without a doubt. Now I will probably pay more (although not recently with gas and cheap flights). I won't see much, will be relatively uncomfortable and confined to my 2' x 2 1/2' space. Cant chnage my mind once we start and doesn't work well if you are afraid of flying. Still its the fastest and most direct route.

The train is faster than car but significantly slower than the train. I can see a lot more scenery and have more freedom to move around. Since someone else is driving, I can read, relax, work or whatever I want to do. I can't however, change the route we our taking or have flexibility in the schedule once the journey is started.

Going by car will take longer and I will be driving. This means I can change the pace or the route whenever I want during the journey. I can see the scenery and detour if I please. Of course I have to do the driving, can be affected by weather more, and if there's a breakdown it's up to me to deal with it.

End of the day each of these very differnt methods will get me the final results I desire, getting to Chicago. Training methods are often the same. We have coaches in sports performance that argue ad-nauseum that there is only one method and they are the keeper of the secret (available for $19.99 on there new DVD).

There is nothing wrong with believing in your methodology. You had better. You also had better realize that there is more than one way to get to Chicago. It seems like too many belive that for their methods to work, all the others can't. Not true. There's more than one way to Chicago, they are just different and which is better depends on the circumstances.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Coaching: Art or Science?

What is performance coaching? Art or Science.

It's both, and that's the problem.

Some coaches are scientists. They test and measure and make calculations. They understand the the mechanics and mechanisms of human movement. They can design the optimal program based on their knowledge.

Other coaches are artists. They inspire and challenge and connect. They understand how to communicate with the athlete and tap into the athletes motivations and personality.

There are several problems caused by this seeming dichotomy of art and science:

1. Outsiders are confused. Which are we? Is it art or science? Because they are presented opposing views, or come from a bias for one or the others themselves, we often seem like charlatans. When they encounter a coach who is all science or all art and they don't match or the results are poor, the perception is negative.

2. As a profession, we are confused. Look at the conferences and seminars and you'll see it quickly. Some are all about the science, others have no science and all art. All science and you have academia with theories, but no ability to apply it in the real world. All art and you have some successes and many failures but never know why.

This is also where many coaches are turned off from the other view and the battle lines are drawn. The artist sitting listening to the scientist will hear a blowhard talking about theory and see nothing they can use. The scientist witnessing artists doesn't understand why the artist can't give them the exact formula or proof for what they do and they see a con-artist.

3. We don't recognize which aspect is needed. You may have the best science in the world, and the perfect program, but if you can't communicate it and get the athlete to buy in, it won't work. The real world isn't a lab and you can't control all the variables. You have to have the artistic skills to adapt to the athlete appropriately and make decisions based on the day to day. You have to be creative and at times follow your gut instinct.

On the flip side if you are the artist, you may get some great results because of your talent and instincts, but eventually you will run into trouble when you are working with the right canvas, When the athlete is different or has different needs and you don't have the scientific knowledge to help guide your direction. You need the science to build you art upon.

When you witness a truly great performance coach you find genius. Most have a bias toward one side or the other, but the great ones learn to develop both. The greatest coaching staffs have a blend of both. Leonard da Vinci may be the perfect example or artist/scientist. The epitome of a "renaissance man." When you can master both sides of the performance coin, then you are a master.

Can you be that good?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Keep An Open Mind

It's been a busy couple of weeks so haven't posted much, but a lot of thought going on. This past weekend I spoke at Robert Dos Remedios' Cougar Strength Clinic. I was pleased to speak with a line-up that included Alwynn Cosgrove, Chad Waterbury, Greg Vandermade and Valerie Waters.

Now the last person there didn't appeal to me because Valerie is one of the top Hollywood fitness trainers. It's just not my scene. I like things built on performance and reality.

The discussion over getting a "red carpet" look just didn't seem interesting. However, I try to keep an open mind. One of the things I preach to my staff all the time is that if someone is having success, there is something to learn from them. Why are they successful?

Well two of Valerie's key points for her success, work for sports coaches as well in many cases.

First, she talked about listening to clients and hearing what THEY want. LISTEN. Yes, this seems obvious, but many of us violate this regularly. It's not a question of what we think they need or what would be best, but what THEY want. In her case its about actresses telling her they don't want to be bulky and that they want "long lean muscles". She needs to listen to this and acknowledge it.

Coaches need to do the same. When the player comes in and says "I don't want to hurt my back squatting". Listen. You may think squats are the entire key to success, but you better spend time listening, and acknowledging this concern.

Her second rule was to speak the clients language. Its so true for sports. It doesn't matter if you are the best technical speed coach in the world if you can't get your athletes trust. Speaking their language helps to both get their trust and to communicate your points.

If you are going to work with athletes from a certain sport, learn the language. There's a time to speak technically and with the proper scientific jargon, but it doesn't always help get your message across to the athlete or sport coach.

It was a great reminder that you never know where you will learn something so keep your mind open.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Communication. Most coaches you ask will tell it is they are critical.

Many are also terrible at it.

One of the places this shows up is in the terms we use to describe sport and training. Don’t believe it. Go look at many arguments in sports performance or coaching forums online and you’ll see there is a lot of mis-use and disagreement about terms.

A recent series of forum posts on helped point out a common one in coaching speed. Coaches readily jump into discussions and arguments about mechanics, but often, are not talking about the same thing and can’t give the same definition of mechanics.

Mechanics (Greek Μηχανική) is the branch of physics concerned with the behaviour of physical bodies when subjected to forces or displacements, and the subsequent effect of the bodies on their environment.

me•chan•ics (m -k n ks) n.
1. (used with a sing. verb) The branch of physics that is concerned with the analysis of the action of forces on matter or material systems.

Pronunciation: \mi-ˈka-niks\ Function: noun plural but singular or plural in construction Date: 1612
1 : a branch of physical science that deals with energy and forces and their effect on bodies

One of the clear things from these definitions is the connections between forces and their effect on objects (in our case humans). It involves both the kinetics and the kinematics.

When a lot of coaches talk mechanics or technique, WHAT they are really focused on is kinematics. The positions and motions observable to their eyes. Its easy to see how this happens; after all, your eyes are the tool you always have with and use while coaching. Early on it was easy to start using still sequence photos to analyze “mechanics”, then film, and now access to video is instant and everywhere.

Don’t forget however, that there are forces acting that create the motion and motion that is creating forces. They are there, if you don't have a force plate with you. They go together and true “mechanics” involves both. If you are only thinking about one or the other, you’re only half coaching your athlete.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Just Run

There it was again. That amazing coaching technique being used before my eyes. I have seen more times than I can count, but I am still amazed at times.

The coaching strategy yell at your athletes to run faster. It is packaged with cues such as;
"Let's push harder on this one"
"GO,GO, GO!!!!!!!!!"

When an athlete genuinely asked the coach to explain a cue the coach used since it was so ambiguous, the coach replied "Don't worry, JUST RUN!"

This coaching style is usually mixed with the justification along the lines of "good athletes will figure out how to do it." "They don't need to learn technique, they just need to push harder and they will get it on their own."


There are different arguments that can be made for guided learning instead of a rigid technical model. I'm all for that. I respect different approaches to coaching. BUT THAT CRAP I SAW ISN'T COACHING.

Be a coach. Teach, get a training effect, and have a philosophy and plan. If your idea is JUST RUN!, get out of this field now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Taking Credit

Its NFL Draft time and that means we get to see who is taking credit. I think it was a few years ago in a blog post, Vern Gambetta joked that with all the sports performance centers getting into Combine training we should start slapping logos on the players in the 40 like a NASCAR race.

The sports performance field is notorious for taking credit. Coaches take lots of credit when their athletes do well. Its seldom they take as much credit(blame) for those that don't do as well. The lists of "we trained the top this or the fastest this at the combine, and we had the top picks" are endless. It gets nauseating.

My coaches and I put a lot into our athletes, and we are proud of the guys that trained hard, stay focused and had the best performance at the Combine and their college pro days.

We had 12 players drafted and 5 of our guys selected in the first round; Mark Sanchez, BJ Raji, Clay Matthews, Donald Brown, and Eric Wood. I'm happy for them and genuinely like each of these guys. They all are talented AND worked to be their best.

But so did a bunch of guys that didn't get drafted at all! I'm proud of them also. Some guys get drafted and don't put any worthwhile effort into their training. These three things; quality coaching & training, quality athlete effort, and high draft position, aren't always related. You can't control the talent you get to coach, the question is; what do you do with it?

There are private coaches and college coaches out there that will never get the credit they are due. We didn't do it in 3 months of training. Those players have been training for years with many coaches that have helped them lay all the ground work. The player puts in the effort. We try to coach them and guide them so that they can perform their best. Coaching is giving your athletes the best possible chance and optimizing the athletes abilities. Our guys all PR'd at the Combine, so whether they were first or last, I am happy with the results.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Becoming A Successful Coach

What does it take to become a successful coach? I think the same things it takes to be a success in anything.

I first saw this video about a year ago or so. I was recently reminded when I came across it on Alwyn Cosgrove's site. It is very brief but does highlight the results of years of research into success.

It's consistent with what I see in successful coaches. The ideas of passion and serving are particularly important in the profession of coaching.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Harness Drills

A tool I like to employ like many other coaches is harness drills. As I was watching some coaches use these recently I was reminded of the importance of not losing sight of the forest for the trees.

We use various harness drills for acceleration such as marching, skips and runs. The harness is a great tool because the resistance can help teach body position, focus on the drive angle, and even work a little on ground reaction forces.

To effectively teach a good powerline with the body around a 45 degree angle, the partner holding the harness must apply enough force to hold the training athlete steady. Too little resistance and the athlete can't lean.

Unfortunately as I was watching the other day, the athletes were making a common mistake. They were all trying to prove how strong they were and resist when holding with all their might. This often leads to the in the harness trying to overpower them in return using long ground contact times to generate more force.

I also saw another problem whicvh was uneven force. Whether it was kids with arms bent (which causes the arms to straighten and lengthen as the athlete makes ground contact) or the holders were in bad body positions, the amount of resistance was uneven. This makes it very hard for the training athlete to get the right kinesthetic feedback or generate a consistent force pattern themselves.

These are common errors, but the real error was the coaches. Some were actually trying to encourage the resistance to gain a big force production. True, there was a lot of force applied. Unfortunately the rest of the technical model went out the window. The old adage of the 10% rule tries to emphasize the idea of not adding too muich resistance. I disagree with this for acceleration(that's another post), but regardless you can never compromise the basic technical model.

As a coach you have to make sure this is done right. The harness is great beacuse you can have differnet athletes easily focus on different aspects. Force production, contact time, body position, range of motion, direction of force application, etc... but no matter what you can't sacrifice technique for huge force overloads.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Are You A Cook or Chef

Over the years I’ve heard from several coaches the analogy as the coach as a chef and it’s one that resonates. I know Mike Boyle has used this and I think it's right on point. We are trying to produce a product that is the result of multiple ingredients. The successful chef has not only an in-depth knowledge of the cooking process and ingredients, but they are also artists.

Executive Chef
Executive chefs run the whole kitchen. They hire and fire the staff, determine costs, revamp the menu, take care of all administrative tasks, interact with the dining room managers, and generally oversee the well-being of the restaurant. In smaller, less flamboyant restaurants, the Chef de Cuisine sees to all this, and an executive chef would be redundant.

Next under the Executive Chef, depending on the restaurant, this chef is always in the kitchen. He/she comes up with the daily specials, takes inventory, watches over the staff, expedites, and basically does all the hands-on work. There are sous-chefs of two ilks: those who will soon move on to open their own restaurants, becoming Executive Chefs, and those who will remain as they are, preferring the rhythmic rigors of the kitchen to the bright lights of chef stardom.

Line Cooks
The line cooks are the people who actually cook your food. They are divided up, either by cooking technique (saute, grill, etc.), or by type of food (fish, meat, etc.). When the expeditor shouts out an order (they always shout), the line cooks jump to prepare it. Most cooks work up through the line (working every position), before being promoted to sous-chef.

Learning to Cook
Imagine. You haven’t been much of a cook in the past. It’s new to you. You got down the difference between broil and boil but creme brulee is still a mystery. If you were cooking a dish for the first time, would you take two recipes from two different cookbooks and combine them? Would you add ingredients from one of the recipes while using the preparation and cooking directions from the other? If you did, would you expect it to come out right and taste good? What if you took two cakes recipes. They both call for flour, sugar and eggs, but you double the eggs and omit the sugar. How’s that going to go over? Obviously it’s not going to work. Unfortunately, when it comes to program design, this is exactly what many coaches do.

With so many coaches taking in seminars, DVDs and internet information, coupled with an impatient attitude for honing their craft, I see many programs being written by short order cooks and not chefs. Usually the program is a little of this philosophy, and a little of theirs, with maybe a sprinkling of another guru. It’s a combination of recipes to use the analogy, and the result is less that optimal.

When it comes to designing programs, you need to know where you are on the road to being an executive chef.

Out of College / Full Internship
When you first come out of college you have some scientific basis to understand what an athlete needs. It’s like knowing the properties and tastes of various ingredients, and you have developed some basic cooking skills, but that’s it. Many former athletes that go into coaching are also at this point and they know a variety of drills and exercises. You know how to chop, broil and blend. You’re a line cook.

At this stage, you need a recipe to follow. Don’t go changing the recipe to suit your tastes. You need direction while you hone your skills in cooking. It’s not yet the time for you to be creating a menu and recipes, but you should be honing your craft with an eye on the future. As you show your skill, you will be given opportunities to display your ready for the next step. The sous-chef should be continuing to train and mentor you as you develop.

Coach well and learn how to observe the movements, analyze for technical errors, and then problem solve. Learn the rules of program design while you do this, but its not time to be creating your own dishes and menus.

Coaching for Several Years and Writing Some programs
Many third to fifth year coaches are analogous with the sous-chefs. The sous-chef is the second in command in the kitchen and have developed their ability to alter the recipe without spoiling the meal. They understand how to alter the ingredients but also know there needs to be a plan and it should be followed. The sous chef understands that the ratio of ingredients and their timing matter, and that you don't simply cook to your own taste.

The sous-chef also is the one that prevents the phrase, “too many cooks spoil the broth” They manage the kitchen staff and assign duties. This is the role of the 1st assistant in coaching. They may assign schedules and duties, and are instrumental in helping develop the younger staff.

After five years of successful program design, you might now qualify as a chef.
It takes time to learn your craft. After time serving as a sous-chef, you now think about bolder changes to the recipe because you have extensive experience "cooking". Every coach wants to do this, but you need to know the rules before you try and break them.

As a chef experiments, they don’t throw out their entire style of cooking and all that they have learned. They build on it and make smaller changes to their fundamental cooking philosophy. To use a line from Mike Boyle, “Chefs don't abandon their chosen cooking style after watching an episode of Hell's Kitchen, instead you are now making small changes to what should be a system.”

Learn to Cook
Figure out if you are a cook or a chef. If you are a cook right now, find some good recipes to follow. Find a chef to learn under and develop your skills. If you are on your own, find those recipes and mealplans and learn the appropriate time to serve each dish. Eventually you can become a chef, but go through each step to be a successful one.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


In the last post I talked about the idea of "super powers". What are you really talented at as a coach? It's an important thing to discover and then nurture to progress in your career.

The opposite question also applies. Just like Superman was weakened by kryponite, we all have things we don't do as well. Do you know what your kryptonite is? We all have them.

It's a hard thing to face for many of us, but just like every super hero has some weakness, so do coaches. Maybe you aren't as good at programming, or in-depth muscle physiology, or maybe its sprint mechanics, or peaking for competition, and so on. You have some weakness, what is it?

It's not just the science and knowledge side however, what about the ART of coaching? Maybe you struggle with the highly analytical, slightly Obsessive/Compulsive athlete. For some coaches they struggle with the athlete that challenges their system. Can you sell them on your methodology?

I have seen the coach that can do a good job with the older athletes just fall to pieces when a 10 year keeps pushing their buttons (I think pushing a coaches hot buttons is a super power many 10 year olds posess). Maybe you have to deal with parents who think they know the best training techniques.

One of the things that is important in the long run, is to recognize your weaknesses and then surround yourself with people that have that as a super power. Just like Superman needed the Flash to rescue him when he was chained up by kryptonite, you need a team. They may be just professionals you can turn to for ideas and answers, or may literally be part of your coaching team.

You have a kryptonite. Learn what it is. Work to improve it. Become part of a team that balances those strengths and weaknesses.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What Is Your Super Power?

I read an article by marketer Seth Godin that brought up this topic of "super powers." It’s funny because it’s a term we use in our family a lot. Everybody has their own Super Power.

We believe in the idea that there are different types of intelligence (analytical, language, kinesthetic, interpersonal, etc.. read Howard gardner for more detail). While I can be highly analytical, while my wife is amazing at reading and relating to people instantly. She gets more personal details and life stories on first meeting people than anyone I know. That's her super power.

It’s also something we use with our daughters and to highlight their individual strengths. Unfortunately our education system has come to value primarily analytical skills, even though real life relies on much more. One of my daughters has an amazing wit and is incredibly astute and reading people, thats her super power.

If you look at the teams of comic super heroes, each has a unique super power. The team is built on the super heroes having different skills and coming up with solutions together. When someone meets these heroes its introductions with; “I’m Superboy and I can fly and have X-ray vision, I’m Electro-Girl and I can harness electrical energy and shoot lightning bolts, etc...”

As a coach, whats your super power? What are you really good at that can help the athlete and can help your performance team. Its important for you to know for a couple of reasons.

First, grow it. Use it, nurture it, find ways to make it better. This is the basic idea of playing to your strengths. Yes, its important to fill-in those weaknesses, but don’t ever forget to focus on your strengths. So if you are really good at relating to athletes and finding the right cues for them in sprint training, BE THAT SUPER HERO. Don’t try to become GROUND REACTION FORCES/SOFT TISSUE RELEASE/SPRINT TRAINING MAN. Yes, fill in your skills, but emphasize your strengths.

Next, its important so you can sell yourself. Sell yourself to your athletes. When you are working with a new or prospective athlete, its much better to be “I’m Coach Smith, I specialize in analyzing your sprint start and 40yd dash.” Than to be “I’m Coach Smith.” Bring a strength to the table that is going to benefit them.

This is also true when getting a coaching position or becoming part of a performance team. Bring something to the job. In marketing that may be called a USP, Unique Selling Porposition. Lets just call it your Super Power. What are you really good at?

Friday, March 13, 2009

What Do You Want to Learn?

When interviewing potential rookie coaching candidates I ask questions about what they would like to learn to become a better coach. Hopefully they have an answer or else it’s a very short conversation. I need to know they have a passion for this field and learning. They have to have been doing some reading beyond school work and something needs to have sparked their interest.

The follow-up question is along the lines of, “if you could go anywhere and learn from anyone, what would you do to become a better coach?” I expect an answer. Seldom do I get good ones. When I get, "I don't know, I've been busy in school." I can be pretty sure this person is not deeply passionate about this field of coaching.

In a rookie coach I am not really judging who they want to learn from or the specific topic. I want to know they are already interested in this field and know some of the players. I don’t even hold it as a major strike when all they can name are internet gurus who are selling products (at least they are on the internet looking at the field).

For a more senior coach, the topics, the areas of interest, and the approach become more important. I am searching for them to have a philosophy that is complimentary, views that will help us grow as a team, and that they are intelligent and engaged. I am really hoping to find coaches who are looking to not just improve their science knowledge, but improve their Art of Coaching.

All the best coaches I know are always learning from others. Others in this field and others outside of it. I have a long list and its diverse in its settings, expertise and industries. From sport coaches who have built winning programs, to motor control experts who are on the cutting edge of how we control movement , to marketing experts who know about how to get a message across to people. All can help me become a better coach.

So this begs the questions, where would you go and who would you look to grow as a coach? Figure out the answer and do the best you can to get there.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Got Big Rocks?

In First Things First, Stephen Covey tells a great story:
One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students. As he stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers he said, "Okay, time for a quiz."

He then pulled out a one-gallon, widemouthed Mason jar and set it on the table. He produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them one at a time into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is this jar full?" Everyone in the class said, "Yes." Then he said, "Really?" He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing it to work down into the space between the big rocks.

Then he asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?" By this time the class was on to him. "Probably not," one of them answered. "Good!" he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand and started dumping the sand in the jar until it filled the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel.

Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar full?" No!" the class shouted. Once again he said, "Good." Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!"

"No," the speaker replied, "that's not the point." "The truth this illustration teaches us is that if you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."

What are the 'big rocks' in your life? Your children, your loved ones, your education, your dreams, a worthy cause, teaching others, doing things that you love, your health; your mate. Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you'll never get them in at all. If you sweat about the little stuff then you'll fill your life with little things and you'll never have the real quality time you need to spend on the big, important stuff."

I use this outlook as well as we approach training our athletes. There are a lot of rocks out there as training tools. Technique drills, Olympic lifts, plyos, video analysis, "corrective" exercises, core training, kettlebells, etc...

Our athletes however have a limited capacity of time and energy. This is their jar. There may be a place for all of those training methods with your athlete, but which ones are the most important? Which ones hit the primary qualities you need to develop? Which ones give you more bang for the buck because they address multiple qualities at one time? The drills and exercises that meet that requirement are your "Big Rocks".

Get them in first. After thats programmed in and accomplished you can add in all the other things. If you do the other stuff first, you might never get those Big Rocks in.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Going "10 for 10"

My goal is to be "10 for 10". I like the challenge of trying to go "10 for 10". I heard John Berardi use this term in a talk at NSCA Sport Specific this year and I will continue using it.

Many coaches point out their success stories, but if we look at all the athletes in the program is it 2 or 3 out of 10 that succeed? Thats easy, some athletes will naturally succeed with (or in spite of) your methods and will buy into you and your approach.

Athletes 4 and 5 may have a different training or injury history that changes the equation. If you learn a bit more as a coach and add some other training or assessment techniques, now maybe you can help them and go 4 or 5 for 10. Thats a hell of a career in baseball and puts you in the Hall of Fame.

Now it starts getting hard, because in those last 5 you have some challenges. Maybe athlete 6 is the athlete that just won't physically respond to what you are doing. You have to look for other methods and keep an open mind to find whats right for them. You need to have other porfessional resources you can draw ideas from.

Athletes 7 and 8 haven't bought into what you want them to do. They don't believe in you or the program and they are going to prove themselves right by not succeeding. Do you have enough skills to communicate your message, and get them on board?

Athlete 9 is in trouble. They are on a self destructive path in their personal life nd bring it with them to the team and performance training. Its not the things they do in training that limit improvement, its what they outside of you. Do you have the skills to help guide the athlete. Do you have resources to bring in for them?

And athlete 10 just doesn't care. They have checked out of the sport and your program. They are on an entirely different path. How do you get #10? Maybe its that you help them find something to strive for again? Maybe you work with them or the sport coach to reset the goals they are aiming for? Maybe you actually help them recognize this, and they leave the sport and training. Thats not a bad outcome if its where they need to go.

I will probably never be 10 for 10, but I will never be satisfied with trying for anything less. I will constantly try to learn both the Art and Science so I can help everyone of my athletes. Those obstacles and challenges are opportunities for me to improve my coaching. What about you?

What Does the Watch Say

Timing a sprint, whether its long or short, is probably the most basic way that we measure outcomes andprogress in training. Its a primary feedback tool as well when we tell athletes times. Two conversations I had with athletes this week reminded me of a common trap many speed coaches fall into.

Talking with a 5 year NFL vet, he was recounting combine prep training. He went with some teammates, and soon the speed coach was telling them they were running 4.3s in the 40yd dash. This was a huge red flag to the athlete, because he knew these were 4.6 type guys. Either the guy was bad at timing or he was telling people what they wanted to hear. Neither was a good trait in a coach.

I also had an athlete of mine this week hear a split wrong. He started bragging that he had broken a threshold he was working towards. I had to tell him he hadn't. I didn't want to deflate him. As a matter of fact, he needs more confidence and leaving him feeling positive was tempting, but it wasn't true.

So why tell him? Because I want him to get honest and accurate feedback. How is he going to connect the performance with the way it felt if I give him inaccurate feedback? If the athlete is supposed to be getting feedback on outcomes, it needs to be right. The point of that feedback is so the athlete can learn what it feels like when they have the best outcome. If I play games with times, they are connecting less than optimal technique and feelings with a better performance. Then I am slowing their learning.

Times also represent goals for athletes. If I am telling them they have reached those goals (when they haven't) they may lose motivation to develop proper technique or continue training with focus.

I have seen this in cases where I suspect a coach doesn't have confidence in their own abilities. They don't know what to do when the athlete isn't improving or don't have the skill to interact with the athlete.

It's OK when the times aren't perfect. Review your plan, make adjustments and work with your athlete.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Competition Coaching

Having just come back from the NFL Scouting Combine helped remind me how much I have been helped by my experiences coaching athletes in competition. I have been fortunate enough to have coached athletes internationally in weightlifting and in the high school setting in track as well. These experiences have given me both an appreciation for what an athletes goes through, and a mind set of preparing and protecting my athletes.
If you are going to be a performance coach, it can be a tremendous value to have the experience of coaching in competition. I believe track & field, and weightlifting, provide the perfect opportunity to do this. They are very different than coaching a team sport. In team sports its usually about group dynamics and an ongoing season. In these individual sports its about peaking and preparing the athlete for battle psychologically.

As I was at the combine, I can't help but notice how many performance coaches have spent weeks or months preparing their athletes physically, only to pay no attention to their preparation days before the event. As a weightlifting coach early in my career, I was brought up on some basic fundamentals; manage the stress of the athlete, be prepared for contingencies, keep them peaked physically while travelling.

Minimizing stress for your athlete is huge. As much as possible, it should be someone's responsibility to take care of schedules, travel, accommodations, eating arrangements, directions to venues/training sites, etc... Basically, the athlete should not have to focus on figuring stuff out. Make it easy for them. Their mental and emotional energy should be preparing for competition.

Another aspect of minimizing stress (and probably the bigger impact) is how the people around the athlete conduct themselves. As the coach, athletes can feed off your tone. You need to project calm and confidence for your athlete. EVEN WHEN YOU DON'T FEEL IT. Fake it in front of them. Few things can erode an athlete's confidence faster than doubt, anxiety and negativity in their coach.

I was an Eagle Scout so BE PREPARED is something I have had hammered in. As the coach, are you ready for problems, because something will not go as planned. Did you have your athlete put critical gear in their carry-on for when their luggage is lost? Do you build in extra travel time to arrive early so when the shuttle breaks down you don't miss the start? DO you have a back-up plan when you can't get into that room you were going to use for a dynamic warm-up the night before? The list is endless, and coaching/managing on national and international trips you will learn these things matter quickly.

Check out all of the venues and sites beforehand. Know the layout and what will happen where and when. How will things be run? What do you want to make sure your athlete knows ahead? Don't let them be surprised or thrown off their game.

The physical side is probably the most obvious for many performance coaches, but still often overlooked. I can't tell you how many athletes spent many weeks and lots of money preparing for the Combine, only to show up and have not done anything physical for 4-5 days before the biggest "track meet" of their careers. They don't sleep, eat poorly and do nothing physical, then hope they run and jump well on day 4. Worse of all, their performance coaches aren't taking steps to avoid this.

We often have the athlete whose family shows up and wants to keep him up late or the agent ho wants to go have a nice heavy steak dinner at 10:00PM when the athlete is getting up at 5:30 tomorrow to run. Its my job as a coach to try to manage these problems before hand and intercede when I can. I need to be the advocate looking out for my athletes.

Getting guys to do an early warm-pool workout after a day of travel, dynamic warm-ups, mental rehearsal, practicing starts, stretching, therapy, and soft tissue work are all pieces of the puzzle I try to manage. Make sure you have nutrition for them. At the NFL Combine, guys are stuck in interviews or medical exams for extended hours. Make sure they have healthy snacks.

Without having coached individual sport athletes in competition I would not have the same perspective. As a coach trying to develop, you should try to find those opportunities. Join a club and help coach track, weightlifting, or powerlifting. If you are not the competition coach, become a support for those clubs and coaches and travel to a competition. Learn by doing and see what you can add to your coaching toolbox.