Friday, February 6, 2009

Coaching Eye Tools

What will you do to develop your coaching eye in the next month? If you are a coach with decades of experience its probably just a matter of consciously going out and actively watching athletes. If you are still developing your eye, then I think it needs to be a more planned effort.

Without question in my mind, the #1 thing you need to do is coach side by side with a mentor. If you can find a skilled coach, to coach with, DO IT! Time spent watching reps and comparing what you saw, to what a more experienced coach may see will accelerate your learning more than anything else. Being able to ask questions while right there in the action lets you find out not just WHAT that coach sees, but WHY its happening, and WHY they gave WHICH cues.

If you can't do that on an extended basis, do it when you can. I was not in a position early on to have a daily mentor to work with, so instead I found opportunities. These were chances to observe better coaches than me during training sessions. At times, I was able to take my athletes to workout in other coach's sessions. I could get their eye on my athlete, and get their input.

In my experiences, its a regular occurence to ask a fellow coach to watch a rep or run. "Can you take a look at this next one", "What do you see happening with his recovery?" etc.... Its not a lack of skill that makes us ask, its enough intelligence to get other qualified points of view.

Don't leave it to luck and chance to develop your coaching eye around a better coach. Make it happen. During the next month, where is an opportunity to develop your coaching eye with the helpof another coach?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Game plan and Adjustments

One of the things my athletes experience every year is the adjustment to my programming and coaching in the weightroom. We have 23 athletes preparing for the draft, and not one of them has the same strength program. There are many elements that may be the same on a given day, but we fit a program to each athlete, not the make the athlete fit into our program.

That means for an explosive exercise to develop Rate of Force Development we may have some guys doing hang power cleans, others using the Vertimax, and still others doing heavy medball throws or plyos.

This alone throws off many of the guys. They are probably used to coming into a weightroom with a “weight program”. The same exercises, #of sets, # of reps, what weight or percentage, etc… When guys don’t see this they can become a little unsure about whats going on. “Are these guys organized, do they know what they are doing?” goes through some minds.

We then throw them another curveball by not using a set number of sets or exact weights. BLASPHEMY! How can a good strength program not have an exact periodized program with a specific volume and intensity? As we explain to our players, IT’S CALLED COACHING.

A simple, consistent, and very organized program is important when in a setting like college where you have a lot of athletes, limited staff, and different priorities. We have the luxury to do it more individually in this setting.

To help them understand, we relate it back to their sport. You always go into a football game with a gameplan right? Yes. Do the coaches make adjustments based on what they see happening? Yes. They are coaching during the game. SO ARE WE. When we get in there for a strength & power session it’s our game time. Blindly following some plan written out days, weeks or months ago, without adjusting to the athlete, is ridiculous.

We have a plan. We go into the session with a focus, specific goals, and a planned means to achieve it. However, we individualize and adjust according to the state of the athlete. No matter how hard we plan, we can not control the athletes state. Did they eat right, sleep well? Did they stretch and foam roll as advised at home? Was it hotter outside today and the position coach did extra reps? Did they get a call from home and have a family issue? The list goes on and on. We try to manage what we can and help them overcome, but we can’t always control or predict.

If you were to look at my plan it might have 4-6 sets and an 85% intensity listed for an exercise. This is a target range. It means I want about an 85% OF THEIR CURRENT CAPABILITY TODAY intensity. Knowing what they can do helps, but on any given day that 85% is a different number. If everything is on, we strike when the iron is hot and don’t stop at a weight because a chart says that it’s 85%. Conversely, if the weights are heavy that day, we might achieve an 85% effort with less.

The number of sets can work the same way. By having a range, there is a volume I would like to achieve, but I have room to adjust. If that bar is still moving with good speed and technical proficiency, or the athlete is maintaining a low ground contact time and high height with each jump, I might keep doing sets. His results are telling me his system is ready to keep training.

This was the case the other day when USC linebacker Clay Matthews was smoking through his hang power clean reps. We worked up to the right weight, but he wasn’t dropping off set to set. . West Virginia quarterback Pat White was using heavy Vertimax jumps as his explosive that day. After each jump and a 2:00 rest, he did 2 jumps on the Vertec. Through his early sets his Vertec jump kept increasing, up to a 3 inch PR. While it maintained, he kept doing his loading sets on the Vertimax. When it dropped about 5%, we stopped. Both of these athletes did higher than the planned number of sets since the next day was a recovery day

This takes good communication with your athletes, and coaching tools to measure that intensity. Good communication means athletes have to understand how they feel. Most team sport athletes don’t. Football players have probably been conditioned to ignore how their body is feeling. So we have to teach them by asking, making them answer with a number scale, and then re-asking as they continue to work. That re-asking is important because what at first they thought was an 8 ½ ends up a 7 after the 3rd set.

Your coaching eye is the first and most important tool. Watching quality of movement and speed of movement are critical. For Olympic lifts, speed work, and plyos, your ears are just as critical since they give you important feedback about ground contact times and impulse.

The external tools can be basic or high tech. Using the vertec for jump height tells me about both the neuro and contractile systems fatigue. I also may use contact mats, accelerometers, tether-devices for bar speed, and video. Each has its place.

The bottom line is we don’t go into a workout with a sheet of exercises and numbers and follow it blindly. We have our game plan, but when its time we coach!