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.