Saturday, March 6, 2010

Reverting to Prior Technique

One of the things that is interesting at the NFL Scouting Combine is the chance to catch up with coaching friends and meet new ones.  It's a great opportunity to discuss approaches to training.  Of course because of the setting, discussion of training the 40yd dash comes up.

I've talked about my approach to training 40 technique before.  We can modify what's there a bit, but not huge wholesale pattern changes. 
How much can you change technique in maybe 12 weeks, but often more like 6 weeks? 

Not much in most cases.

Even if you get a guy to make some changes, will they stick when the pressure is on?  Coaches are always lamenting how we taught the player this and that, but when they got out there they went back to the same old technique they used not what we taught them. 

And we're surprised? 

They have been doing those previous patterns for years.  They have accumulated thousands of reps.  They have myelinated the the right circuits (ala The Talent Code).  They have had some level of success (they were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine afterall). 

For example, every year there is at least one or two players who come in that have great "quickness."  When we first test them they have a very high stride frequency and put in 9-10 steps in the first ten.  It looks like Fred Flintstone with the feet spinning but not going far.

In reality we need to understand why some do this.  Higher stride frequency means their feet are on the ground more often.  In a game setting, if they can move at nearly the same speed, then having your feet on the ground more often is an advantage.  It's an advantage because you can only change direction when your feet are in contact with the ground.  In most team sports, the ability to react to the environment and change directions is an advantage.

However in the 40yd dash there is nothing to react to.  Maximal speed is the key and that athlete needs more stride length in that initial 10.  They need it for more speed, but to also set up the continued acceleration into the transition phase.

This year I had 4 guys like this.  During training they all got the concept.  In the 2nd week the group had a collective "ah-ha" moment when we were doing starts. 

We had already done some bounding, and bounding 3 steps directly out of the 3pt starting stance.  After several of them saw the electronic timers and reverted back to their habit's of high turn-over in the first 10, we stopped the group.  "Don't go fast, focus on driving like the bounds" we told them.  To a few we emphasized the longer, aggressive arm action.  Immediately the entire group saw the change when the first one dropped his time by 0.15 in 10 yards.  Now they were buying in and got it. 

Over the weeks we strove to build this consistently.  I wanted to see it happening rep after rep.  I wanted them to visualize it that way.  I wanted them to associate that feeling with "feeling fast."  After all this, we knew they could do it.  We knew they could do it when they are calm and confident in the practice setting. 

The problem; that is not the setting at the NFL Combine.  They have been through 3 days of ineterviews, MRIs, medical exams, and lots of stress.  They have the eyes (and watches) of GMs, head coaches, and coordinators on them when they line up on the Lucas Oil field.   They have no roar of the crowd or support of the teammates.  They have only 2 attempts, not 4 quarters.

What we see consistently is that the ones who can remain Calm and Confident, can use the technique they have been practicing for only a few weeks.  If they don't, I can guarantee they will revert to their old habits.  The good news is that 3 of the 4 were calm and confident and they stuck to it.  They acheived new PRs when it mattered.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Validation of Success

Coaching athletes in competition is a great experience that I think a lot of performance coaches have missed out on.  Coaching track athletes a little and weightlifters internationally, has made me a better coach overall by providing both perspective and experiences.

Right now we have our players at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.  They have 4 days of various tasks; medical, interviews, meetings, psych profiles, weigh-ins, bench, and field drills.  All in all a very busy process.  Also very different than their experiences playting football.  The Combine with it's structure is more like a track meet immediately after a 3 day long job interview. 

If you've coached track or another Olympic sport, you know that the mentality going into this type of competition is much different.  As I mentioned yesterday, managing stress and building confidence is critical.  One important element of that confidence, is their confidence that I have prepared them right as a coach.  Confidence that what I told them was a realistic goal was true.  Confidence that when I say they are ready to run a certain time, or bench a number of reps, I know what I am talking about.

While their confidence has hopefully been growing since Day 1 in our system and staff's abilities, there are doubts.  They don't have years of training with us.  They haven't walked in to competition before with me as there coach.  This is new and when going through this 3 day interview process, it's stressful.

Reflecting today with some other performance coaches here, one of the things I want to pass on to my younger staff and other coaches is structuring things to continually validate their coming success.  Validate it before it happens so that it can.

By this, I mean you need to set up continued success so that when you say that they are ready to be successful in competition you have already validated your knwoledge and then they can buy in.  This is primarily accomplished through the coaching you do, day in and day out on the field or turf, and in the weight room.  If you haven't done this part of coaching then you are already in trouble. However, there are many other subtle ways you can validate success.

It also starts long before we arrive in Indianapolis.  Its all of the things we are doing to prepare them and the various details and challenegs we share with them. Sometimes it doesn't seem to sink in or some of it may seem trivial.  Other times it can be frustrtaing when they don't want to stay on plan, or aren't listening to the message.  Hold the course though and work your system.  It may take them hearing that message 10 times until they get it.  I've answered the same questions here on things we have already gone over, BUT NOW IT'S REAL. 

Suddenly they see you were right when telling them that someone will get stuck in the MRI for hours on end and thats why they need their MuscleMilk drink with them.  Or maybe it's when they realize that sitting around all day in medical and media can leave you tired, but that 15 minute warm-up and rehearsal really DOES make them feel better.

As a developing coach, find the opportunity to do some competition coaching and observe some good competition coaches doing it.  It gives you another perspective as well as develop some skills.

When they start seeing even the little things come true it validates all of what you have been telling him.  We search out the opportunities to do this.  We structure training weeks out to point this out.  Do things to validate your credibility, but not so things about you, but instead so you can validate your athletes success before it happens.