Thursday, February 24, 2011

Part 2 of 2: Speed Ladders.... The Myths


1. It will increase foot speed
Mike Boyle wrote a fantastic article about foot speed and why it is an overused term that doesn’t have much value to improving athletics. Summing it up in one sentence, people who are fast and explosive don't have great foot speed, they have the ability to put force in the ground better than others.

3. It will improve footwork

Similar to point one, the idea of footwork can be argued. Watching Lee Taft coach and explain changing directions, multi direction speed is all about repositioning the feet to move in a different direction. Yes it is footwork in the end but much different than what a ladder drill will give us. That relies a lot on a external stimulus, being a ball, defender, etc. The ladder drills have a set pattern that the athlete must go through. They get better at it because of this but the correlation to game speed where an athlete must react to multiple factors that they do not think about where there feet should be. More to come in a future article about agility verses change of direction speed. Oh by the way, Lee is the uncle of Jimmer Fredette, BYU all american, and has worked with him since a kid. Coincidence? I think not.

3. Improves speed and agility
This is the big sell for the ladder. However, speed is about the force you put in the ground, as well as body composition. During a ladder drill the focus becomes placing your feet in a square rather than putting force into the ground to cover space. Agility is about your ability to start, stop, and start again. During ladder drills the movements are choreographed in a very small space, again with emphasis on foot placement in a target. In sport you often move 2-10 yards before you change direction with your focus on the ball, defender, out of bounds, etc. Not 2 feet without an external stimulus.

A true speed ladder.....

These are the three myths that many see as the advantages to performing ladder drills, when in reality they serve very little purpose. The ladder is a great tool but it needs a good coach to go with it. If you’re a coach, rethink its purpose and why you use it. If you’re an athlete, first know what your trying to improve and then implement a proper tool or drill. Don't use a steak knife to cut down a tree, and don't use a chainsaw to cut your steak.

The Other Side:

Anthony Hull is a friend that is doing very big things. He is inspired by music, art, film, and just lift in general. Over the past year Anthony has inspired by many through his online web series "Ant's World." He is coming back with more episodes and this last one was my favorite. He went to a special school in Harlem called Democracy Prep Charter, where they are doing some special things.......

"Ant's World" Episode 5 - Democracy Prep Charter School from anthony hull on Vimeo.

I want to share a couple blogs with you that I can't get enough from. They both feed quality information to many coaches, athletes, and parents.

First is Brian McCormick's new site I wrote a post about our conversation and since he put together a great new website with all of his products and info. He writes a blog or 2 a week that really explains the process of learning and how to improve athletes. He has no bias and is just looking for the truth.

Next is Ben Bruno's blog. First of all Ben is one of the strongest pound for pound people I have known even though we have only met through keyboard. He does a great job of finding all the great articles of the week and putting them on one page. He also shows some great exercises that he and his boys do over at MBSC in Boston.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Part 1 of 2: Speed Ladders.... The Benefits and Myths

Turn ESPN on during the weeks leading up to the combine you'll probably see video's of some of the most elite athlete's going through agility ladders at a tremendous speed. These athletes do pretty much everything well, but the result of this has been a lot of bad trainers throwing down a ladder, putting a group of athletes through some variations and saying that they are doing "agility" or even worse "speed" work.

I am not putting down the ladder by any means and think it is a great tool, but for much different reasons. Agility ladders have their place and purpose, but I want to warn athletes or coaches of trainers saying that the ladder will make you faster.

Here's a break down, in my opinion, of the benefits and myths of speed ladders.

1. Improves foot/eye and center of mass awareness:
When going through ladder drills, the athletes must maintain control of their body or it gets ugly fast. Gray Cook coined the term "self limiting exercise," meaning that the movement itself is the coach. If someone leans too far forward constantly, they will end up messing up their rhythm and missing a lot of squares. It can naturally teach an athlete to control their center of mass while moving dynamically. This control may not carry over to full speed movement drills but they now have more awareness of their body. It also teaches foot/eye "coordination." I hate to use the word coordination here because to me this has no carry over to controlling a ball with your foot, which would be true coordination. However, your brain does tell your body where your foot needs to be which is coordination in a broader view.

2. You can reinforce some key movements:
Most of the ladder variations are just for show but there are a couple that I love because it can emphasize certain techniques that I will teach at another time. Here are two:

The crossover run. It emphasizes how to push with their lead leg and punch with the other.

Modified Icky Shuffle: You work on controlling your body and learning how to push off moving laterally. I love to progress this to see how far the kids can push away from the ladder while maintaining body control.

I still think there is value to other ladder drills but these give me my biggest bang for my buck.

3. It's a great way to warm-up:
Kids LOVE the ladder. It gets their heart rate up, their mind focused, and involves some dynamic movement while maintaining control of your body. I usually leave it at that.

In general, the athletes who look best on the ladder are the ones who have trained with me most. They are proficient on the ladder because 1. They've performed the movements hundreds of times and 2. They have worked their butt off in the weight room and during the actual speed and agility drills.

Stay tuned for Part 2: The Myths..........

The Other Side:
I love stupid videos. I think it was growing up with Dumb and Dumber, Billy Madison, and Tommy Boy as some of my favorites. I would like to thank Greg Rose for showing me this one.

Since I'm not a big fan of sit-ups here's an appropriate prank....

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Importance of Falling

Happy Valentines Day everyone! Another blurp from Bounce by Matthew Syed I felt compelled to share.

"In the 1990s researchers conducted a revelatory study into figure skating. They found that the major difference between elite skaters and their less elite counterparts in not to be found in genetics, personality, or family background. Rather, it is to be found in the type of practice. Elite skaters regularly attempt jumps beyond their current capabilities; less elite skaters do not.

Note that elite skaters do not merely undertake more difficult jumps-after all, that is what you would expect from better performers. No, the point is that elite skaters attempt jumps that are more difficult even when measured relative to their superior abilities. The conclusion is as counter intuitive as it is revealing: top skaters fall more often during their training sessions.

Purposeful practice is about striving for what is just out of reach and not quite making it; it is about grappling with tasks beyond current limitations and falling short again and again. Excellence is about stepping outside of the comfort zone, training with a spirit of endeavor, and accepting the inevitability of trials and tribulations. Progress is built, in effect, upon the foundations of necessary failure. That is the essential paradox of expert performance."

Another case of the fixed mind set vs growth mind set. The fixed mindset (believing ability is innate) athletes are the ones who like to stay in the comfort zone. They may have a lot of ability through good coaching and repetition, but don't like to push themselves beyond a comfort zone. Whether it's facing tougher competition or trying a new move, they're afraid that trying it might lead to failure. Failure is something they aren't known for and could really hurt there reputation.

The growth mind set athlete (believing deliberate practice brings results) will seek failure. They are the player that comes back every season with a new move, a more complete game, something different to add to their repertoire. As a coach, parent, and/or athlete this mindset is ESSENTIAL for long term results. You must associate losing and falling with progression and success rather than failure.

They do look good though when they don't fall

If the elite fall more than anyone else it means they consistently push themselves beyond what anyone will do. This mindset is instilled by experience, proper coaching, parenting, and circumstances. You can't control everything but you can set a great example for others to follow.

The Other Side:

If you watched the Grammy's last night I hope you caught the performance by Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, and Bob Dylan. You all know Mr. Tambourine Man but if you haven't looked into the other two bands, its time to give it a crack. Mumford and Sons have quickly become one of my favorite bands as they have a classic folk sound mixed with their own style. Their album Sigh No More has plenty of great tunes. My favorites have become The Cave, Dust Bowl Dance, Awake my Soul and Little Lion Man. What separates them is how they can build up a song and then bring down the house with amazing raw energy. I can't wait to see these guys live in the future. Here is a video of The Cave and Dust Bowl Dance.

I have just started getting into the Avett Brothers but heres a great tune from them.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Some funny videos to go with the last post......

I love these type of videos when done well. The first two go along well with the post from the yesterdayday and the second two are just plain funny because this is how so many kids think these days.

For personal trainers and strength coaches.....Thanks to Bruce Kelly for showing me this one.

Alan Stein did these next ones and they are fantastic.... stole them from his blog.

For team sport coaches

Monday, February 7, 2011

5 Ways to Filter Trainers, Fitness Products, and Programs

When a fitness program or product has the word "Guarantee" along with vertical jump, 40 yard dash, weight loss, strength gain, etc; my suggestion is to keep the credit card in your wallet. Today there are so many trainers, gyms, and online programs it's hard to know which one will provide the best results. Now, throw in the YouTube generation, everybody who's ever laced up some Nike's or cleats thinks they are an expert.

Here's a couple ways to filter through to know whether a program is garbage or not.

1. "Have they been there, done that, and still doing it?" Fitness guru Alwyn Cosgrove said this pertaining to internet products. When it comes to internet products claiming ridiculous results, first do some research on where they work, what results did they get, and are they still working in the trenches. Have the consistently improved their athletes or just had great ones to begin with.

2. If they claim to have the "One Secret you need to gain incredible results," it's probably crap. Many times parents, coaches, and even athletes come to me suggesting, "We need to do this one drill. Johnny did it and he's really fast." If I've learned one thing in my career so far, it's that one exercise, drill, or lift won't make or break a program. It's the sum of a good overall strength program, performed consistently, that will translate into better athleticism and results.

3. Ask about their injury rate. If they say, "I'm not sure," or "It's probably good," they are not paying attention to the most important detail. Which is that a sport performance coach or trainer's first job is to keep them healthy so they can play their sport. Every coach should know their athletes and whether or not they had any muscle pulls or serious injury that was non contact.

4. Experience over certifications. If you have the choice between Larry, whose had tons of experience with thousands of athletes and only has 1 minor certification versus Jimmy who has 5 well known certifications and has worked part time for a couple years. Always chose Larry. Certs are great but experience gives coaches the skills to teach effectively.

5. Is it for show or for purpose? Many times even great trainers market the harder looking exercises that only a small number of athletes might be doing. What they don't show is the beginning where they had to teach the actual skill that developed into intense drills that look cool on youtube. Today a lot of trainers and gyms base everything they do on how bad@$$ it looks and if you feel like puking after. This often leads to pain and injuries, along with the annoying "frat boy cockiness" syndrome.

(Relax, some of my good friends were in frats).
If the coach hasn't been established, ask why he's doing certain exercises. If he says "It gets them faster" chances are he's doing exercises just to do them.

The overall point I'm trying to make is not to focus on one drill or aspect of a program but the overall process that is consistent, progressive, and safe.

The Other Side:

I'm addicted to raw energy. It's something that can be faked. It's probably a reason why I fell in love with sports. It comes in all different forms from being in a energetic crowd, sky diving, music, dancing. It's a situation that gives you the chills and makes your jaw drop, makes you smile, or just say "oh my......" This past weekend I attended the SDSU Aztecs basketball game vs TCU. At the beginning there is a chant the entire crowd gets into and the whole places shakes. This is raw energy!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Praising..... A study on WHAT to encourage

Recently I read the book Bounce by Matthew Syed. This part of the book set a bomb off in my cranium!

"In 1998, Carol Dweck and a colleague took four hundred 5th graders and gave them a series of simple puzzles. Afterward, each of the students was given his or her score, plus something else: six words of praise. Half the students were praised for intelligence: 'You must be smart at this!' The other half were praised for effort: 'You must have worked really hard!'

Dweck was seeking to test whether these simple words, with their subtly different emphases, could make a difference to the students' mind-sets; whether they could mold the students' attitude to success and failure; whether they could have a measurable impact on persistence and performance.

The results were remarkable.

After the 1st test, the students were given a choice of whether to take a hard or an easy test. A full two-thirds of the students praised for intelligence chose the easy task: they did not want to risk losing their "smart" label by potentially failing at the harder test. But 90% of the effort praised group chose the tough test: they were not interested in success, but in exploring potentially fruitful challenge. They wanted to prove just how hardworking they were.

Next the students were given a test so tough that none of them succeeded. But once again, there was a dramatic difference between the ways they responded to failure. Those praised for intelligence interpreted their failures as proof that they were no good at puzzles after all. The group praised for effort persevered on the test far longer, enjoyed it far more, and did not suffer any loss in confidence.

Finally, the experiment came full circle, giving the students a chance to do a test of equal difficultly to the very first test. What happened? The group praised for intelligence showed a 20% decline in performance compared to the 1st test, even though it was no harder. But those in the effort praised group increased their scores by 30%: failure had actually spurred them on.

And all of those differences turned on the difference in six simple words spoken after their very first test."

Actual evidence that telling someone how good they are actually hurts them in the long run.

I used to have a couple friends who always used to say to me or others, "I would get just as good of grades if I worked as hard as you," or "Yeah but if I shot as much as he did I probably would be just as good....." Here's the thing, they didn't.

If you look at every great program that has great results no matter who is playing year after year (Bellicheck, Coach K, Bill Walsh) you see that a major principle instilled into their program is praising effort.

Comes back to the quote that "Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard."

The Other Side:
Lately I haven't been able to turn off Matt & Kim's new record Sidewalks. They're energy is off the charts and bring a sound that you've never heard.

Here's one of their past songs you might recognize.