Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Value of a Growth Mindset

This article is 100% based off of Carol Dweck’s work and mainly her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I highly suggest reading it immediately.

What is growth mindset?

A growth mindset is having the thought process that you can develop skill and ability through practice. It’s having a mindset that enjoys the process and journey rather than what’s at the finish line. Those with a growth mindset look at challenges as opportunities of growth rather than problems.

The opposite of this would be a fixed mindset that believes one has an innate ability to perform a certain task and no matter what they do they will have a predetermined limit to their ability. They’re feel it’s measured by the end results, often based on others opinions.

Why is this important?

You can come to your own conclusions with that question but in my opinion this is the basis for success. Looking at athletics, if someone feels they have only a natural ability they are less willing to put in extra work everyday that gets them a little bit better. However, if they have a growth mindset they are constantly pushing themselves to an uncomfortable level. Constantly pushing that level means they are learning at a higher rate that if they were practicing something they have already mastered.

If you’ve read any of the “Talent” books they’ve talked about how the elite constantly go into deliberate or deep practice. This practice means that constantly challenging one’s limits creates a better and faster learning environment. You cannot get to this level without a growth mindset.

How is this developed?

The best part about a growth mind set is that it is not genetic. I’ll check with some scientists but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a DNA strand that predetermines if you’re resilient or someone who gives up easily. One major way its developed is through the parents, coaches, teachers, and mentors that work with kids. Praising effort and improvement must be #1 over praising ability. Saying hey did a good job is fine but back it up with “because you worked hard is why you did so well.”

I have previously posted one of Carol Dweck’s studies where she showed how one praises could significantly affect a child’s behaviors. Those praised for growth accepted challenges and attacked them, while those praised for effort shied away from challenges to their label of being “smart.” This all with 6 words after one easy puzzle that they all could complete.

Danny Woodhead..... Not supposed to be in NFL. Don't think he really cares

This also can be changed in adults. Remember it is not a genetic predisposition. It takes a lot of work and humility but the changes reap tremendous benefits.

I also believe the youth must see it with their own eyes. Kids absorb everything, as we know. Watching parents, siblings and others have a deep focus in a task, the kids want to imitate those they admire. If a parent constantly blames referees, coaches, and teammates for mistakes, who do you think are the kids that grow up the same way? Blaming others is always the easy way out, but always ends up with the worst results. A growth mindset is about taking responsibility and holding yourself accountable. Realizing mistakes are going to happen and it’s how you respond to those mistakes that will make you a better person or athlete.

If you still don’t believe it’s important, look at the lives of Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Tim Lincecum, Steve Nash, etc. All of who weren’t expected to be MVP’s of the respected leagues. Some weren’t even expected to make it professionally. If they didn’t have a growth mindset instilled in them there would be no way they could achieve what they have.

Steve Nash Future NBA MVP from Santa Clara?? Yea right....

So if you have a fixed mindset (I noticed I had some of both depending on the subject) take it upon yourself to change. You won't believe what you can do when you eliminate excuses for yourself.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Coaches Who Used to be Great Athletes and Deep Practice

As the saying goes "If I had a nickel...." for every time someone talked about a coach who is great not because he's a great coach but rather, he used to be a professional athlete. *All power to them for using that as a great marketing technique*

Buyer beware however. They are selling you on their previous ability to perform at a sport, not their ability to make an awkward, growing, uncoordinated kid into a focused, consistent, athletic machine. This goes especially for youth sports, and the younger the athlete, the less you must care about previous experience.

Often the best coaches at any level were those who were less talented but found ways to make themselves better and analyzed skill development. At the youth level, some of the best coaches might have not ever played the sport but understand communication, skill acquisition, and a long term athletic development approach.

Does this mean a great athlete can't be a great coach? No, but being a great athlete shouldn't not be the reason why they are coaching.

Things to look for in youth coaches.

1. Do they understand the art of learning?
Before you teach kids any skill, you must read, ask questions, read some more, and ask even more questions on how people (especially a growing young mind) actually acquire skills. Having a 7 year old just repeatedly shoot jump shots, practice PK's, etc might not be the best route. Learning how small sided games, and different ways to develop skills is a little more complex than watching a youtube video of a drill. Research a talent "hot bed" see here, and you'll learn why some learn faster than others. It has nothing to do with the fact the coach played division 1 ball in the 80's.

One of the best sports for young athlete to play.....Futsal

2.Do they understand the importance of love for the sport? The most important step for any new skill being learned is developing a love and a passion. That is the #1 job for a coach with prepubescent athletes. Without the love, forget about developing any sort of drive that can propel them to outwork the absurd amount of competition they will face.

3. Do they praise effort or ability?
Are they teaching kids how to respond to failure or praising the fact that they never should fail? Believe it or not you will see more youth coaches with a Bobby Knight approach, thinking that it's making the athletes mentally tough. When in actuality, the kids will probably hate him and the sport before they even reach a competitive level. One of the greatest gifts we can give a young athlete is resiliency. You do that by praising the effort they put forth and the improvement that is made.

Deep Practice:
This goes along well with the above post. This is off the website of author Daniel Coyle who wrote The Talent Code which is a must read.
See what score you get.

Monday, March 21, 2011

3 Part Series: Part 3 Agility for Ages 14 and Up

There can be a lot of different implements used for agility in high school all the way up to the pros. We often see speed ladders, cone drills, and some other made up device that supposedly doubles your agility speed in 5 minutes. If you read my post about the difference in change of direction speed vs agility that is where my opinion may differ. Again change of direction speed is needed but as sport performance trainers, I don't think it carries over to the field as much as we'd like.

For field and court sport athletes we look at their ability to make people miss on offense and to stay in front and react on defense. Now a big factor is if they we consistently doing the games and drills in Part 1 and Part 2. If they were exposed, than continue off of that. If a child wasn't exposed to a lot of activity, or had some awful coaches, using drills to get them move naturally is probably necessary. I steal all those techniques from Lee Taft, The Speed Guy, who is the master!

But for those who had a good base (and those who didn't this will help improve as well) here are my 3 strategies for improving agility.

Strategy #1: Proper Lifting and Plyometric Progression
This is absolutely essential. I don't know a 14-16 year old (or 99% of athletes for that matter) who is too strong. They can all get stronger, more explosive, and have more body awareness. I suggest a dynamic warmup, plyometrics and olympic lifts, a lot of unilateral training (single leg and single arm), and proper "core" training (no situps or crunches). Plyometrics should also emphasize two aspects, eccentric landing and leg stiffness. I will go into this in a future post, in the meantime check out Brian McCormick's article on this subject.

Here's one of Coach Mike Boyle's hop progressions that are great for agility.

Here's a progression working on the elasticity of jumping

Strategy #2: Develop it Through the Sport
I know I know, that's for the coach of the team, not you. WRONG! You can absolutely throw in drills if you have the space and numbers. Pick your sport, Basketball-Closeout drills, soccer-1 on 1, Football-1 on 1 WR-CB's, baseball/softball- base stealing, etc. These repetitions are huge for learning and reinforcement. The only coaching I may do in this instance is cuing them staying low and in proper position. They should be making mistakes and figuring out how to correct them. The Talent Code and Talent is Overrated explains this idea of deep/deliberate practice, that speeds up the learning process.

Strategy #3: Mirror Drills, Tag Games and Small Sided Ball Games
You'd would be surprised how much fun and how hard a group of high school and college guys work playing some sort of tag variation or game like team keep away. Creating this competition atmosphere is extremely efficient for agility training. They now move at game speed immediately and more importantly react to an external stimulus. When moving at game speed, mistakes will happen and that is exactly what you want. Don't overcoach but rather let them put the puzzle together. If the mistake is continuously repeated, that's when certain drills can be intervened for correction. Even a game like ultimate Frisbee or handball is a great way to develop agility.

Here's some pretty athletic moves coming from the ultimate frisbee world

The Other Side:
Donate something for the Japan catastrophes. or text "redcross" to 90999 that adds $10 to your next phone bill.

Monday, March 14, 2011

3 Part Series: Part 2 Agility for 9-13 year olds

The best part about improving agility is the games really don't change that much. By now their fundamental movement skills should be mastered. This is the age when their Peak Height Velocity (PHV) slows down. Now that they're catching up to their body a little bit, it is a great time to work on Fundamental Sport Skills (FSS). Shooting and ball handling for basketball, dribbling and more precise passing for soccer, pitching for baseball, etc. They key for agility is combining these sports skills with the games from before. So here are 3 great ways to improve agility for this age group.

Game #1: Tag games within the sport.
Basketball and soccer are the easiest as you can add dribbling within the games. For other sports, baseball could include pickle or base stealing game, lax could be a keep away type game with tag involved, volleyball has to be creative

Game #2: Playing Small Sided Games.... a lot
This may seem obvious but too many coaches talk way too much about strategy. Small sided games provide players to be far more accountable. For instance playing 3 on 3 basketball vs 5 on 5 gives players far more many opportunities, to play on ball defense, to make moves with the ball, etc. The more repetitions the better. Playing 5 on 5 at this age can be counter productive at times as the good players always get the ball and the bad players stay in the corner.
Within the small games you can also give points that will reinforce better habits, such as every time you face the hoop you get an extra point, play to 50. Some of you might think how does this relate to agility, the more you move and cut, the better your agility will get. At a young age we must put them in situations that give them this opportunity, rather than talking for 20 minutes about how to stay in front. Small sided games give those repetitions naturally.

Game 3: Proper Warm up and Body Weight Strength Drills
Within the warm up, adding skipping, hopping bounding, etc. will help ingrain proper mechanics as well as develop eccentric strength for landing, and elastic power. A fundamental strength should being emphasized with push ups, squats, lunges, pull ups, planks, etc. Building that basic strength is extremely important. If they can't control there bodyweight with these basic exercise it will be very hard to be able to control their body in a proper position. Hammer home exercises that develops strength and power, using their own body. It will only allow them to reach a higher potential when they're older.

The Other Side:
This is freaking nuts and I want to do it!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

3 Part Series: Part 1 Agility for 5-8 Year Olds

My last post I talked about how agility and change of direction have two distinctive meanings. Agility is moving your body in reaction to a sport related stimulus, while change of direction speed is just what it says. How fast can you change direction. Now change of direction speed (CODS) is very important, but many of the best athletes do not necessarily have the best CODS. Rather they combine a good CODS with a great ability to react effectively towards a sport related stimulus. In essence I'm more focused on developing agility than CODS, as it will have a high carry over to performance.
Now how can we create situations to improve our athletes agility. This week I will talk about games for kids ages 5-8 to develop agility.

Looking at kids these age we want to improve their fundamental movement skills (FMS). Running, skipping, throwing, jumping, catching, striking, kicking, dodging, etc.

Game #1: Any Variation of Tag
Toilet tag, monkey tag, freeze tag, partner tag, blob tag, tunnel tag, flag tag or just regular old tag. Everywhere in the world kids learn tag as one of their first games. They run, skip, dodge, and most importantly they have fun.
here's some good ole toilet tag...

Notice the parents instruction. "We just have to make sure we change who's it."

Game #2: Sharks and Minnows!
Another version of tag but kids must make it across the field within a boundary. Personally, this is still my favorite game as I got to jump in it with a middle school class and probably had more fun and was breathing harder than any workout I've done in a while. I couldn't believe the amount of agility was involved especially when more kids became sharks. I would suggest this for any group of kids.

Game #3 Dodgeball or Medic
This age might be the best time to teach dodgeball/medic. Kids really can't throw hard enough to actually hurt each other (use soft balls), they aren't at the age where they pick out a kid to humiliate them, and it involves throwing and catching as well. They learn how to move their feet, hips, and shoulders. They learn how to be aware of multiple factors that could get them "out." Even though many schools don't allow this game anymore I feel it's actually one of the best games to teach our youth.

In the end, at this age no specific sport stimulus is needed. These kids are sponges so any stimulus will do. That means playing these type of games in soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc. will teach them agility that will translate to everything they do. Next week I will introduce some more games that get a little more "sport specific" but still keep it fun and in the overall picture.

The Other Side:
Finally my buddy Jake Blauvelt has a website. We've been bothering him for a while now but it just went up and it looks great. It has episodes from his FuelTV show "Blauvelt's Backcountry." Check it out Here!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Agility vs Change of Direction Speed

Brian McCormick and I had another great email thread this past week. If you've read his last posts on his new website, he talked about agility versus change of direction speed. In Brian's post he stated this quote:

“Research has demonstrated the importance of agility, inclusive of reaction to a sport-related stimulus, and its distinctiveness from physical qualities such as sprint and CODS (change of direction speed) ability,” (Sheppard and Young, 2011).

This is implying that just throwing down cones drills and having your kids may not be the best way to coach and teach multi-direction speed or agility. Usually the most agile players are the best at reading the situation in their sport which comes from numerous repetition and deliberate practice. Agility is an open skill that requires your brain to process multiple factors, while change of direction speed is a closed skill that the athlete can focus on a pre-set pattern.

So this past weekend watching the NFL combine, the 40 yard dash, 20 yard shuttle, and 3 cone drill evaluate your speed and change of direction speed, that is only small piece of a much larger picture. These numbers are important because there is probably a cut off point or a range that a NFL player needs to be in in order to be able to keep up while still being able to react to the stimulus.

Lets look at Darrelle Revis. He is an incredible athlete and he ran some very impressive numbers, 4.35 40 yard dash, 4.08 20 yard shuttle and a 6.56 3 cone drill. Though Darrelle Revis' number where not the highest seen at the combine by any means. If it were all about the numbers than Chris Houston would be just as if not more productive as Revis. Who's Chris Houston? Exactly (he's actually a decent corner but plays on the Lions).

In the NBA, Shane Battier, Ron Artest, and Bruce Bowen are three guys who are know for great defense. They probably have very average Box Lane Agility times but they are masters of reacting to what the offensive player does and putting themselves in the best position to make it a difficult shot.

So while these numbers are important, it should be more about there ability to react to their sport-related stimulus. Most of these elite athlete's probably fall within 1 standard deviation of the combine tests, but in the end it's their ability to read various amounts of information instantly will ultimately determine whether or not they will be a valuable player in their sport.

Throwing down a closed skill test (cone drills) will only give you a fraction of the information you need to know whether or not an athlete is agile and can perform in their respective sport.

Coming next post is ways to increase athlete's agility...........