Tuesday, June 28, 2011

3 Techniques to Improving Coaching Communication

My readers will know I absolutely love the idea of deliberate practice. Daniel Coyle even made a great acronym for it in his last post, R.E.P.S..

R-Reach and Repeat
S-Strong, direct, immediate feedback

As I learn more and more about deliberate practice I think of ways to apply it to improving as a coach. How can I deliberately practice coaching better? It's not a very easy question to answer. Practicing a sport, instrument, or new skill can be much easier to find ways to deliberately practice better. But how can we do it as a coach? Of course we can read books about new drills and progressions, and constantly look to improve our program. What I want to talk about is how can we deliberately practice communication. We must take a proactive approach, and figure out where we need improvement.

Step 1: Have a notebook with you at all times during the workout.

I have to thank fitness pioneer Alwyn Cosgrove (picture left) for truly waking me up to this idea. Everyone knows it's a good idea to have something handy to write down ideas but he put it in a whole new context for me. When Alwyn started training and coaching he would write down 100 words for every session. He had 30 sessions a week (30x100=3,000 words) x 50 weeks? He literally wrote 150,000 words per year. If a average book is 250 words per page, he wrote a 600 page book every year.

Now I don't always write 100 words per session but I always keep a notebook handy for new ways I coached a drills, things I see that need to
be improved, areas of weakness with my communication, or a joke that wasn't funny (which is probably in the 90% range). This is the utilizing reach and repeat method for communication. Push yourself to find weaknesses! Once again thank you Alwyn, this significantly improved me as a coach.

Step 2: Ask Athletes for Honest Feedback

The best part of coaching is the relationships you build with your athletes. Having them on a friendship, but I'll still do anything necessary to improve you even if that means breaking you, bond is unparalleled. Asking your athletes at the end of sessions of what they liked or disliked, what areas were unclear, what parts do you think could be improved. The better the relationship, the more honest the feedback will become.
Hug it out bro....

Step 3: Ask other Coaches to Critique

This is hard for me as I am the only coach now at my school and getting another coach to come watch isn't always easy. However, this is a very powerful tool that can really be beneficial. In the sport performance industry we always talk about how important it is to go to watch other coaches, usually the experts. How often could we ask a fellow coach down the street to just come observe and see if he finds any areas that need sharpening? I certainly don't have coaches emailing me that often about coming to watch my small program develop, time to go find them. However I do live in San Diego aka a whales..... oops I mean "America's Finest City", what they $%*^ are you guys waiting for!

Having a coach who is from a whole different sport is probably even better. They look at it with a beginners eye, but still with the eye of a coach. Use that to your advantage. In fact I need to get on that now, have a great 4th of July weekend. My beer of choice will be Leinenkugel. A great summer wheat!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Conditioning At it's Best

I recently read Ultimate MMA Conditioning by Joel Jameison. This book is outstanding to say the least. I wanted to write a book review but Patrick Ward of Optimum Sports Performance beat me to it and did a much better job than I would have.

Check it out here...... http://optimumsportsperformance.com/blog/?p=1963

Monday, June 20, 2011

Building into the Structure

The word coaching is often very misunderstood by the masses. Many times a coach substitutes coaching with telling, and even worse yelling. In the movies, television, and media we have forever associated good coaching with who can do the best job of telling their players what they're doing wrong. It's about time we challenge this idea.

I've been fortunate to learn from some very good teachers and coaches as an intern as well as through mentors, certifications and volunteering on my own. One of the biggest concepts I've learned in my early career is the idea of "Building Into the Structure." I took this phrase from Nancy Green at Brain Highways in Encinitas, CA.

When I first started out I would become very frustrated with young athletes doing things wrong or not listening to directions. Over time, I've realized this was 100% my own damn fault. The drills I used were too advanced, I would give directions at the wrong time, I would place myself in the wrong position to demonstrate, and I wouldn't have proper progressions that would've led to correct technique, and so on and so on.

By no means have I figured a perfect way to teach all drills and techniques, but I quit putting the blame on my young athletes and instead looked at the man in the mirror (I apologize if Michael Jackson is now stuck in your head for the rest of the day). I now realize I must build the desired result into the structure. The structure being the drills, how I ask them to position themselves, how I position myself as the coach, EVERYTHING! Fine tuning the little things can turn a good program into a great program.

Coach Wooden and his assistants used to spend just as much time planning the practice as they would actually practicing. It got down to the details of where the ball racks would be for each drill before it started. They built efficiency into their structure.

This applies to athletic development training by how you use your progressions, and create a logistical flow to your facility. Simply throwing a complex movement on a new athlete then getting mad that they "didn't listen well enough," or "weren't paying attention" is simply awful coaching. Instead, designing new progressions that will lead them to actually learning the movement correctly might be a different route. Again, if your athlete's aren't doing what you want, look in the mirror and take the blame or nothing will ever change.

At TPI's Junior Level 2 certification, Denis McDade led us in a youth coaching oath. I wish I remembered this verbatim but it went something like this...

"I (your name here)..... will not blame or get frustrated with..... a young athlete..... for my inability to teach.... a basic skill..... that I thought I just tell them once but they didn't do it right so now I need to re-evaluate everything I know about coaching."

A good way to figure out what part of your programs need more built into your structure is to have a notebook or print out of your daily plan. Every time you notice you get frustrated, note what drill or exercise that was on and why you're frustrated. Go back after practice, or at night, and break down the drill to it's inner core. Read, call another coach, watch DVD's on how others have taught that particular skill and figure out what will work best in your situation. Deliberate practice at it's core for coaching....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sport Performance Coaches: Athletic Development vs Strength and Conditioning

I haven't been able to write in a while because I was in Yosemite and Northern California with a group of 10th grade students from my school. I was forced to go on a the trip to one of the most beautiful places on the face of the planet with 10 outstanding young adults, fellow faculty Emma, and our fearless leader Josh. We got rained on, hailed on, and attacked by a baby cub. No worries though, I'm a bear whisperer and was so intimidating that it ran away (picture to the right proves that).

Time to get to the post......

Three Examples of Athletes:

Athlete #1: 22 year old senior in college. He's going into his final season of hockey and most likely will not turn pro after the season.

Athlete #2: A 10 year old girl who enjoys soccer, lacrosse, and swimming. Long legs and very skinny.

Athlete #3: A 19 year old Red Shirt freshman on a division I football team. Needs to put on strength, power and size to be able to compete with the bigger athletes.

Obviously you would not train these three athletes the same. If you coach these three athlete's, what your trying to prepare them for differs drastically due to their needs and the needs of the sport. I like to break it down into what percentage needs of short term training, 3-12 months, and long term training, 1+years. Short term training is looking at preparing for upcoming seasons, matches, fights, etc. Long term is looking at Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) that will maximize the potential of the athletes when they reach a competitive phase.

No matter what athlete you are don't start this program...

Athlete #1- Probably 90-95% short term training. Since this is their last go round, all focus is on getting them as strong as possible for the season as well in the best condition possible.

Athlete #2- 100% long term training. You could care less about getting them prepared for their weekend soccer tournament. All your focus is how can I help this young girl become the best athlete possible when she's ready for tough competition.

Athlete #3: I would give this about 65% Long term and 35% short term. You trying to prepare them for their sophomore through senior year, and possibly a professional career. Your goal is not having them in top condition for the season but you do want them to be prepared for the practices with them team. Conditioning is a important aspect but you're still considering this athlete as a long term project.

What does this all mean? In the future we may need to break the sport performance world into two different coaches. Athletic Development Coaches and Strength and Conditioning coaches. Programs like TPI and IYCA have already started certifying and education those interested in working with 5-18 year olds. Strength and Conditioning Coaches are well established and work with ages 15-???. There is an obvious overlap depending on the sport, athlete, and schedules.

I propose this division of coaches because working with young kids has become very important due to P.E. classes being dropped, obesity/overweight problems (25%+ with youth), and technology causing increased lazyassness (trademarked). If you've been introduced by IYCA or TPI Junior Program to a LTAD model, you know that you can have a HUGE impact on developing athleticism from a young age. I've also seen very good strength and conditioning coaches who coach a group of young kids and do almost the same things they would with a college athlete. This can potentially be a big mistake. Children are not young adults!

The strength and conditioning world continues to develop with great coaches like Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey, Todd Wright, Dave Tenney, Joel Jamieson, and MANY others constantly pushing the envelope. Topics like energy system development, unilateral training, load vectors, and others continue to push the field into new ideas and better programs.

Can one person wear both hats? Absolutely, but I think specializing in one will benefit the athletes much more than trying to learn everything. Additionally, working with a 5-8 year old is a much different animal than a college football player. Learning to communicate effectively with each type of athlete will take years to master.

Below is a table I've developed that is a very broad diagram of how an average athlete may progress from long term development into preparing for particular seasons. This can change drastically due to the sport (think gymnastics vs golf), to an athletes goals, role on the team, and other variables. The blue area consists of Athletic Development Coaches and the red area is directed towards strength and conditioning coaches.

Long Term vs. Short Term Athletic Preparation

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Applying Delibrate Practice to the Weight Room

There is a belief in the athletic development world that strength is a skill. I personally agree because strength is developed over long periods of time with LOTS of practice. No baby is born into the world strong or powerful. Developing skill takes practice, and also comes with frustration over how optimally to improve that skill.

If you're an experienced weight lifter you know all about the plateau. You try and push through by doing more weight, less weight, or try doing something a body builder told you about in Muscle and Fitness. We end up plateauing often because of poor long term programming, trying to much weight too early, or not adequately regenerating our body through diet, sleep, and recovery.

Our body also loves to adapt to what it's doing. That's why after living in San Diego for four years not, it's hard for me to go back to Vermont on the days when you spit and it will freeze before it hits ground. This (adapting not spitting) is called the SAID principle, Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands, fancy way of saying our body and mind try to adapt to our environment. That's why all the great strength coaches will changes phases with regards to volume, intensity, and tempo.

In Daniel Coyle's book The Talent Code, he talks about how great athletes, musicians, and performers go into deep/deliberate practice by either slowing the task down or speeding it up. This always for the brain and body never to become comfortable or completely adapted. By either slowing it down or speeding it up, one also becomes incredibly engaged and aware, focusing all energy towards improvement. Depending on what your trying to accomplish one might be better for the other, but for many skills, using both is a viable option that can be programed.

Lets apply this to the weight room. Even with guys who are trying to get stronger, many consistently stay in a comfort zone that labels them to their sport. Getting out of this comfort zone helps develop skills. In this case its strength and power, two concepts that all athlete's look to improve.

Deliberate Practice: Power
Power is often developed through Olympic lifts, plyometrics, med ball throws, and kettlebell swings. If we looked at the two options of deliberate practice, undoubtedly speeding it up would have to be the best option. You really can't move powerfully, slowly. It's so awkward that you can't even say it in a sentence correctly. A great way to make sure you bust through a power plateau is to reduce the weight and focus on the speed of the bar. Put your feet through the floor and make the bar move with purpose! Program this in early on, but don't be afraid to periodize a "light" week within a heavy block.

For example, in a 4 week phase that is going from 80-87.5% into another 4 week phase that goes into the heavier 90-95%, it might be smart to go back down to 60-75% in the last week in between phases. I heard Bill Hartman talk about how they accidentally stumbled upon this technique that works wonders for them at iFast (though their %'s may differ).

Deliberate Practice: Strength
We can use the same technique as above by reducing the weight and moving the load faster. Especially on the concentric phase, letting go of some of the weight and really working on the speed of movement has helped me and my athletes get through plateaus that we hit.

Another option is to slow the tempo of the weight, especially on the eccentric phase. Often coined eccentrics or negatives, be prepared for some serious DOMS. Again you must reduce your weight especially when going for 5-10 repetitions. Many strength coaches will include this as an eccentric phase for 3-4 weeks. Slow concentric movement is usually frowned upon, but if it's only for 3-4 weeks it might not be a bad idea to try controlling the bar on the way up as well.

What really makes this interesting is relating deliberate practice, which is proven to improve skills over time, to increase power and strength. These techniques that many strength and conditioning coaches use to progress physical tools, it also may be influencing cognitive connections as well with our ability to learn the movement more efficiently by focusing on it in a completely different way. I don't have any research to back this up (yet?) but my guess is we would see some pretty cool brain activity going from these different phases. That's just the geek in me.

These techniques can also differ from person to person. If a linebacker has been benching in the 85-95% range since they were in high school, I will put down a lot of money that taking some time in a lower percentage and speeding up/slowing down will improve there power and strength. If you took the opposite, a female XC runner, who only uses dumbbells under 20 lbs for 15-25 reps, it maybe time to change the speed or weight of the movement to create progression in the body and brain.

Note that these phases do not need to be long term, but are useful for creating new avenues in the body and brain for strength and power to be developed. Maybe I'll coin it muscle confusion......HAH!