Friday, May 27, 2011

"FedEx Day" in Sports Performance

I recently finished the book Drive by Daniel Pink. It's a great read that discusses how people are motivated in today's world compared to past generations. Three major points Pink emphasized were developing autonomy, mastery, and purpose. At the end he suggested some techniques that companies have used, which have increased production and profit. An Australian company called Atlassian came up with "FedEx Days" that were designed to give complete freedom for the employees on certain days and times to develop new projects, and work on ways to improve how they do their job.

Brian McCormick linked a post on his website, where a basketball coach let his players make all coaching decisions for an entire game. Pretty much a "FedEx Game." He used this to see how they would react to certain situations and what they've learned from him as a coach. I wanted to try this in regards to my sports performance class. So when the kids came in for their workout, I gave them a piece of paper and pen. I told them they could do whatever they want, they just had to write down what they did, and at the end write down some reasons why they did those exercises.

I did this to evaluate how much I've connected with this group over the past 10-12 weeks. I also wanted to see if they are starting to buy into my program.

The results????

I was pretty damn happy about the results. Here's some bullet points on things I took away. Total it was about 16-20 kids who did took part.

-Not one sit-up was performed. All core work involved rollouts, planks, pallof presses, etc. Even 2 girls did some Turkish get ups!!!-------- MAJOR WIN!

-About 60% jumped on the foam roller before they started to lift.----- 60% WIN. I really want all my athletes to value soft tissue work.

-2 of my girls did cleans. Other than that there wasn't much power work.----LOSS. Something I need to emphasize the importance of power, especially for athlete's.

-Lots of full body movements including push ups, pull ups, TRX Rows, bench press, goblet squats, etc.--------WIN.

-Only one male went back to isolation exercises----NOT SURE. I don't think the other boys have even read a men's fitness magazine. The only one who probably did was the kid doing flys, curls and "kickbacks" as he called them. Teaching them the value of movements vs. muscles for athletes is needed a little more.

-There really wasn't much lower body work. Almost no single leg work.------ LOSS. There were some goblet squats, which I loved. Something I need to work on is having my athletes value single leg strength and power. Something that I view of as a staple in my program.

Overall, I felt this was a great exercise that revealed a lot about what I personally need to work on as a coach. This can be translated to any sport or profession. A big tip, don't take anything personally and actually give them complete control of the day. You may be surprised at what your athletes do. It also gives them a break and lets them experience your situation in a completely different mindset. They might try something new you never thought of, or give you a new idea because instead on instructing, you're just observing.

Try it out if it works in your situation and let me know how it goes!

Here's a video about the book Drive

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mindset + Deliberate Practice= No Limits

Since my obsession with athletic development began in high school, I have repeatedly come across two names that everyone in the "talent" and motivational books seems to mention. The funny part is that these two people are research driven and don't train or coach athletes, which is not who I usually look to for coaching advice. However, their research and case studies have given ways to develop strategies and systems that can maximize potential of any skill or profession. These two people are Dr. Carol Dweck and Dr. Anders Ericsson. They each have dug deeply into a concept that are the building blocks of development, ability, and success. I fully believe that if you embrace and apply these two concepts that you can achieve almost anything you desire.

Dr. Carol Dweck- "Mindset"

If you read my blog consistently, you know I'm a die hard fan of Dweck's work. Her book Mindset is a must read that discusses the difference between a Fixed Mindset and a Growth Mindset. A Fixed Mindset is broadly defined as one who feels they have predetermined abilities, skills, and/or intelligence. This type of mindset believes improvement has a genetic ceiling. Growth Mindset is loosely defined as believing that anything and everything can be improved. Failure is looked at as apart of the process to finding a solution, rather than a result of your genetic predisposition.

Why is this important?
If you can name me one person who's gone through life without dealing failure, conflict, or challenges in their life, please let me know so I never have to have a conversation with them. Everyone comes across failures and problems. It's your decision whether to improve or to give up. Giving up is much easier and less work than the former, but improving has the advantage of making you a better person with more opportunities.

Dr. Anders Ericsson- "Deliberate Practice"

Dr. Ericsson has contributed so much to the world of athletics without even coaching or training a single athlete. His worked has helped figure out what the great ones in their respective fields have done compared to their counterparts. He discovered that the very best have practiced better and more than their competitors. Period.

If you don't believe me, go look at his article that describes research done in multiple fields including music, sports, and chess.

Ericsson defines deliberate practice as "a very special form of activity that differs from mere experience and mindless drills. Unlike playful engagement with peers, deliberate practice is not inherently enjoyable. It does not involve a mere execution or repetition of already attained skills but repeats attempts to reach beyond one's current level which is associated with FREQUENT FAILURES. Aspiring performers therefore concentrate on improving specific aspects by engaging in practice activities designed to change and refine particular mediating mechanisms, requiring problem solving a successive refinement with feedback."

David Shenk does another great job paraphrasing deliberate practice in his book The Genius in All of Us.

"Simply wanting it badly isn't enough. Deliberate practice requires a mindset of never, ever being satisfied with your current ability. It requires a constant self-critique, a pathological restlessness, a passion to aim consistently just beyond one's capability so that daily disappointment and failure is actually desired, and a never ending resolve to dust oneself off again and again and again" (pg. 55).

I couldn't say it any better.

Combining Dweck and Ericsson:
Looking at these two concepts, you can't have one without the other if you want to be great. The best part is both mindset and deliberate practice can be taught and created. Praising effort and encouraging failure as apart of a learning process can fuel our youth and ourselves to becoming better than the day before. These two concepts are the building blocks for success and greatness. It's hard to find someone who is great at what they do without having a growth mindset and have gone through thousands of hours (10,000+) of deliberate practice.

Taking action on these concepts is very hard work and with it comes frustration, humility, and sacrifice. It's your choice to be the person who is known for doing great things and pushing the envelope or being the person who says, "if I worked as hard as him I would have been just as good or better." You make the call....

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Human Foosball

So we have developed a game at Pacific Ridge School that works on agility, quickness, acceleration etc. I also love this game because it simulates offense vs. defense from court and field sports. If you have read my posts on agility vs. change of direction, you know I believe games like this will help develop quickness and agility much better than running athletes through choreographed cone drills.

So here's the game. Think of one team as the players stuck to the Foosball handles. All they can do is move side to side on their line. Below is how I would typically start the game. Red's the defense and blue is trying to get to the other side. Red must stay on their line and is trying to tag the blue. Blue is trying to get by without getting tagged. They can wait for their teammates to move into their zone to help team-up on the defense.

In the video below you will see 1 person on the front line, 2 in the middle, and 2 in the back. At first, I started with sending one person at a time and then I switched to 2 at a time. Once a person gets through a line or gets tagged the next person can go. If you have a couple athletes that are far superior I suggest making their boundaries wider to have them cover more ground. I also like to switch defense from different lines as the first one is much busier than the back line.

This game is very new and very fun for us. I will probably adjust the rules as we figure out what works and doesn't. Try it out this week and let me know if you have any suggestions or things you saw that could be adjusted!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture: Round 1-Kenyans

Over the past couple years my opinion on how genetics affect environment has changed greatly. Thanks to the infux of "talent" books from Daniel Coyle, Geof Colvin, Malcom Gladwell, Matthew Syed, and David Shenk, they have put together the research and case studies that can essentially prove that the environment and circumstances have MUCH more of an effect than what people think others are "naturally gifted."

I wanted to start a series of posts that I will do periodically that disprove genetics are the main factor into what makes athletes and others talented. My reason for doing this is to get rid of the excuse that someone is more gifted genetically, and look for solutions that can improve our athletic ability and give ourselves and the youth a chance to be great. The first step is to believe that anyone can be great.

Nature vs Nurture Round 1: Kenyans

Everyone loves to talk about how great Kenyans are at long distance running, especially marathons. There's reason for it as a Kenyan has won all but 3 Boston Marathons in the men's division since 1991, and the women have 8 winners since 2000. Not too shabby.

Most people think that area of the world has been genetically grown to run marathons. They all are built of slow twitch muscle fiber that is key for any great long distance runner. But is genetics really the reason why?

Matthew Syed in his book Bounce brought my attention to why they're so good. The Nandi District of Kenya lies at the heart of the running world. What has the Nandi District produced? Out of 11 of the Boston Marathon winners, 7 were from the Nandhi District. I tried fidning the other winners birthplaces but it was not listed from multiple sites. This area is roughly 1.8% of the Kenyan population. The average person would say that this area was mutated for long distance running.

Then you look at the other factors. Nandi district is at a high elevation, which is essential for any great marathon runner. It lies around 2000m or 1.2 miles above sea level. However, altitude isn't enough as we would have plenty of great marathon runners coming from Denver and the Rockies if that were the case.

Another major factor is public transportation. There really isn't any at all. Kids from a young age average 8-12 km per day, sometimes up to 20 km, to get to and from school. As Syed said, "This adds up to 80 minutes of running per day, more than 90 hours per week, five hundred hours per year, and in excess of six thousands hours before their sixteenth birthday"(p.273).

The last factor is also the cultural obsession with the distance running. This area isn't know for it's wealth and now with marathon winners coming back with more money from one race than an average person makes in a lifetime, it provides deep motivation to improve the standard of living. As well as become a local and national hero.

Combine these 3 factors and you get one hell of a long distance runner. I will leave you to reason if genetics still had a large part to play but ask your self this.... if we switched two kids at birth, one from Nandi district and another from the 'burbs in Denver, who would be better at marathons. Genetics would have to say the Kenyan, but my money is on the kid from Denver in the Nandi environment, and I would bet a lot of it. You can make your own conclusions though.

What does this teach us?
Notice what your child takes interest in a place a positive environment that can foster learning. Then praise effort.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Revisiting Jogging... Asking the Right Questions

I went back and read my post about jogging. Though I still have the same opinions I realized that article was more just a unorganized rant and my writing was all over the place. Since writing that article I have learned a lot about energy systems development (conditioning) and the bio mechanics of jogging (technique). I've also realized that pushing my thoughts in a sarcastic way also doesn't help people change. I'm learning rather than giving the right answers to ask the right questions. I wanted to ask two questions for coaches, runners, athletes, and anyone else who's interested.

First questions is.... Why do you jog?

Really think this answer through. I tried looking up the top reasons people go jogging and found nothing so I'm going to think of the top 4 reasons and then lets see if jogging is a good answer.

1. "To get in shape" i.e. Fat Loss and Feel better. Look at the research that proves nutrition, strength training and metabolic circuits have a much greater impact than aerobic work. Also look at a sprinter/anaerobic sport compared to a marathon runner and let me know whats a more appealing body.

2. Relieves Stress/Mentally Soothing: If jogging gives you this effect than by all means continue the cheap therapy (unless your getting injured). I actually think the people who get this euphoric feeling are very good at focusing on their breathing. Similar to meditation, it will clear your mind of the rambling self talk.

3. Build endurance for a upcoming season: I have changed my opinion on this slightly. I think there is a time for some aerobic work for field/court sport athletes but its for about 3-4 weeks of a year or long term training program. There's also other ways to get this similar affect without the pounding of joints on the pavement. A suggestion is to by a heart rate monitor and for a 3 week period do 30-60 minutes to where your HR stays between 120-150. Read Joel Jameison's book Ultimate MMA Conditioning for more info on efficient conditioning.

4. To compete in Running events: If this is what you love to do than you definitely will need to have a good amount of jogging in your training program. Staying healthy is key so time for the next question.

Second question... Do you run with correct technique?

So for those in categories 2 and 4 here is some info that can help you run better and without injury. Running with poor technique is the reason so many people (80% of runners per year) become injured. Another major reason I rarely program lost distance work. How can one have poor technique? It has to do with how your foot hits the ground and the type of shoes you wear. Sorry to say that the $120 special running shoes do more damage than good. Go to this website that breaks down running mechanics and technique.

Here's two videos from the site that show the difference.


One thing I don't suggest is to immediately go barefoot/vibram running. Again ask a question.. "Am I ready for this?" Probably not. My suggestion is to first switch to a shoe like the Nike Free and if you want to try barefoot/vibram running than go to a grass field and start shorten your stride. It will literally feel like a whole new way of moving, so give it time. See if there are running coaches in your area who teach this type of running. If so it would be a wise investment that will save you from physical therapy in the long run (no pun intended).