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You can learn a lot from athletes’ biographies, especially from someone who innovated like Fosbury did. There are many lessons to be learned from this book both about sport and life through the chronicles of his rise to Olympic Champion and beyond. It is well framed in the context of growing up in the fifties and coming of age in the turbulent sixties. Fosbury developed his technique without coaching and in many ways in spite of coaching. This is a little pearl I go from the book regarding Fosbury’s in competition mental approach in preparation for a jump:

“First, the corrective. Fosbury would think: What if anything needs fixing from my previous jump? Often, for example, it was a reminder not to drift into the bar and instead, to jump vertically, not horizontally.” (P. 123)

“Second, the connective. Once he’d determined what needed to be fixed on this coming jump, he would connect the action to the particular part of the body responsible for making that happen, to feel it. To think that thought – more pronounced arch, for example – would help the body rehearse, or memorize, what it needed to do.” (P. 123)

“And, finally, the disconnective. In the final few seconds before the jump, he wanted nothing more on his mind regarding the past. All of his energy needed to feed his now. “I never started forward on my approach,” he said, until was absolutely convinced I was going over the bar.” (P. 124)

Enjoy the book it is an entertaining and informative read that brought back many memories from a bygone era in track and field.

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Strategies for Coaching Success

You must know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses as a coach. Just as you expect your athletes to work on their weakness and maximize their strengths you should also. Know the sport that you are working with, become an expert; leave no stone unturned in your search for knowledge. Know the body and how it responds to training. Recognize the role growth and development play in the training process. Learn to see movement better. Great coaches have a great “eye”. That is not by chance. They have cultivated the art of pattern recognition. You must be able to evaluate movement in order to improve it. Know the athlete, recognize the individual difference, one size never fits all; but never base a training plan on the lowest common denominator. Set the bar high and observe what happens. Make things relevant. Make training competitive and keep score. There is no better preparation for competition than a competitive practice environment.
 
Be creative, build movement and drill progressions in which game skill and tactics are included. Think outside the box; find ways to make the work fun without being frivolous. Learn what you don’t know and do not be limited by what you do know. Create a resource library for yourself, and fellow coaches and parents. Make use of the resources you already have. Knowledge is power, you can never know too much. Beware of “mindless” rather than mindful preparation. Know the athlete and how they respond to coaching, criticism, praise, competition, losing, and winning. How does the athlete respond (physically) to training, skill work, recovery, rest, travel, and fatigue? How do they respond to the coach? Make your specialty being a generalist so that you connect and synthesize the information into a coherent whole. Heed the words of Albert Einstein, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but simpler”
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Strategies for Coaching Success

You must know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses as a coach. Just as you expect your athletes to work on their weakness and maximize their strengths you should also. Know the sport that you are working with, become an expert; leave no stone unturned in your search for knowledge. Know the body and how it responds to training. Recognize the role growth and development play in the training process. Learn to see movement better. Great coaches have a great “eye”. That is not by chance. They have cultivated the art of pattern recognition. You must be able to evaluate movement in order to improve it. Know the athlete, recognize the individual difference, one size never fits all; but never base a training plan on the lowest common denominator. Set the bar high and observe what happens. Make things relevant. Make training competitive and keep score. There is no better preparation for competition than a competitive practice environment.
 
Be creative, build movement and drill progressions in which game skill and tactics are included. Think outside the box; find ways to make the work fun without being frivolous. Learn what you don’t know and do not be limited by what you do know. Create a resource library for yourself, and fellow coaches and parents. Make use of the resources you already have. Knowledge is power, you can never know too much. Beware of “mindless” rather than mindful preparation. Know the athlete and how they respond to coaching, criticism, praise, competition, losing, and winning. How does the athlete respond (physically) to training, skill work, recovery, rest, travel, and fatigue? How do they respond to the coach? Make your specialty being a generalist so that you connect and synthesize the information into a coherent whole. Heed the words of Albert Einstein, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but simpler”
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Commonalities of Movement

Human movement is fundamentally beautiful and flowing. Step back and look at sports from a movement perspective, not a sport skill perspective, you will see a commonality in movement, a beauty and a flow. Start with walking gait. Observe the opposition of the arms and legs and the counter rotation of the shoulders and the hips. Look for this across movements. Gait is a great place to start! All throws look fundamentally the same, all jumps look the same, acceleration, regardless of the sport looks the same. The only thing that changes is the implement, the surface and the uniform in the sport. When I coach I look for the commonalities in movements and coach those commonalities. All sports involve some combination of the following movements: running, jumping, throwing, pushing, pulling, reaching, lifting, bending, extending, stopping and starting.

When I set out to design and implement an effective training program I am aware of all these movements and how they efficiently blend and flow into athletic skill. In order to effectively design a training program, it is necessary to train fundamental movement skill before we train specific sport skill. This is contrary to the typical approach where sport skill is taught early and the sport is used as conditioning. Specific sport skill is blending of a series of basic movements into the whole. That is our objective. Start with a vision of what we want the athlete to look like at the end of the training program and then break it down into incremental progressive parts to arrive at the point, but never lose sight of the whole.

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Work Capacity - Application of the Concept

A month ago, I posted on the concept of work capacity, here is the follow-up. The application of the concept of work capacity is based on basic principles:

At younger training ages volume and general work will be the primary stimulus for adaptation. Experience has shown us that with younger athletes anything you do will make the athlete better. The more you do the better they get. This can become a trap that if continued as the athlete progresses will yield diminishing returns. At advanced training ages, intensity is the stimulus for development. As the athlete progresses it becomes self-defeating to continually try to do more. There needs to be a shift toward more intense work, higher quality effort and technical refinement.

No component of fitness should be developed in isolation. One of the biggest mistakes made in contemporary training is the inordinate emphasis placed on one component of fitness to the detriment of others. It is easy to fall into this, but this is unproductive. No one component is more important than another. We must work on the careful blend. That is not to say that certain components would not be emphasized at certain phases of the year, but all components of training should be trained during all phases, just in different proportions.

The role of general work (GPP) changes with increasing training age. At the younger training ages with the developing athlete general work assumes a great emphasis. It makes up the greatest proportion of the training. As we stated in our first principle, volume is the initial stimulus to adaptation. As the athlete matures, because training is cumulative, general work assumes less importance. There is less need for GPP and more need for specific work and technical refinement. For the athlete of more advanced training age general work is used for regeneration and a break from more intense training.

To enhance work capacity, it is important to choose the appropriate method based on the demands of the sport, the phase of training, the position or event and the athlete’s individual needs. Traditionally the most common and preferred method of training to address the aerobic component is continuous work. This work is designed to improve vascularization of the active muscles and enhance the muscles’ physical, chemical and metabolic characteristics. It consists of work in an aerobic zone for a prolonged period of time. This method works well and is particularly appropriate for the endurance sport athlete; i.e., the swimmer, middle distance and distance runner, or cyclist who is capable of pushing themselves and sustaining a sufficient workout tempo to achieve a training effect. I have found this method to be less effective with the intermittent and transition sport athletes who are used to uneven bursts of effort and do not have the ability to “push themselves” to get a training effect any more than just feeling tired. For example, take a 6’ 8” tall and 260-pound basketball forward and ask him to run thirty to forty minutes continuously at seventy percent of maximum heart rate. It won’t happen! Any resemblance to good running mechanics is purely coincidental; mechanics will quickly fall apart, and it becomes a plod or a slog (slow jog). The net effect is significantly increased impact forces without stressing the cardiovascular system to the degree necessary to elicit the desired training effect.

The challenge is adapting the continuous method to meet the needs of these non-endurance athletes. One particularly effective solution is what I call the 1/3 workout. You pick three different modes of aerobic work in order to maintain the intensity of effort. For example, with our basketball player mentioned above, his primary emphasis is running because it is a primary demand in his sport. Start out by creating a menu of the means of aerobic training modes available. For our basketball player we will use the following menu:

Running a) Over ground b) Treadmill     

Stair Stepper       Elliptical Trainer          

Nordic Track        Stationary Bike   

Slide Board          Swimming

From the menu pick three activities in priority order. By priority order I mean if the athlete has to run as their primary activity in their sport then that should be placed first in the work so that done first when they are fresh to insure quality in the primary activity. After that the criteria for choice of the activities is to go from highest impact to lowest impact. Determine a target for total training time, for example thirty minutes. Then divide that time period into thirds. The first ten minutes is a run, then immediately switch to the next preferable mode, for example stair stepper, for ten minutes. At the completion of that go to the third, the lowest impact method, for example slide board, for ten minutes. This enables the athlete to complete thirty minutes of continuous work at a higher intensity effort than if he would have “run” for thirty minutes. It is not perfect, but it works. Remember this is not going to produce a high level 10K runner but it will enable those athletes not used to or unable to push themselves to get a very beneficial aerobic training effect. It is a means to an end.

The second method of work capacity development is the variation method, also called Fartlek, which is the Swedish word for speed play. Think of this as high-level game or race simulation. It is a continuous workout where intensity is varied throughout until the target time of the workout is reached. Within games there are various activities that occur in different combinations and at varied intensities that comprise the movements of the game. The variation method affords the opportunity to incorporate all those varied movements and intensities into a workout that will simulate the demands of the game. The workout can be designed to be more specific to positions or to how an individual plays the game. The variation method can be very structured or loosely structured depending on the objective. It can be inner directed, driven by the athlete or structured to respond to demands from the coach to perform various activities throughout the workout. For the non-endurance athlete one fartlek workout a seven-day microcycle for a maximum of six workouts is sufficient to achieve the desired training response. For the endurance athlete this is a great workout to simulate the various changes of pace that occur throughout the race. It is a race hardening workout.

The following is an example of a variation workout for soccer. It is called the “Smorgy” to describe the variety of activities that are incorporated. This particular workout is a game hardening workout done late in the preparation phase. It is placed on Saturday, the sixth day of a training week when cumulative fatigue is highest to achieve a game simulation effect. It is a very difficult workout! It consists of six segments done continuously. The runs should be varied in direction involving curves, angles and cuts. Remember the goal is to simulate the demands of the game and in the game very little running is straight ahead.

          # 1 - 15/15/15 Runs (15 second walk/15 second run/15 second sprint x 6 sets)

         # 2 – 10 second Bursts (30 seconds easy jog recovery) x 10

         # 3 – Short/Short/Long x 10 reps

Two short touches with the ball followed by a longer touch – sprint after the ball.

Easy dribbles for 30 seconds recovery and repeat

         # 4 – One Minute Shuttle (20 meters – how many reps in the minute)

         # 5 – 30 seconds of juggling then sprint ten yards – repeat five times

        # 6 – One v One with passive defense (In penalty area) – three touches and a shot then sprint to mid field.

                Walk back recovery. Repeat five times

Another way to structure fartlek workouts that is less movement specific, but still very demanding metabolically is to pick a target time that you would like your athletes to achieve in the fartlek workout. For example, forty minutes. Then devise a logical progression to get the athletes to that time goal. Assign a specific number of hard efforts for each time period. For example, ten efforts between 30 and 90 seconds in twenty minutes, then let the athlete determine the actual distribution. This allows you to control the density of the workout, but the athlete can control the intensity. I have found it takes a more mature athlete with a good work capacity to get a good training effect from this method. For the less mature athlete or the team sport athlete “Whistle Fartlek” is especially effective. The procedure is the same, but the coach blows a whistle to begin the hard effort and then blows the whistle again to signal the end of a hard effort until the number of hard efforts in the target time is reached.

The third method of work capacity development is the interval method. In many ways this is the most effective and applicable method for the non- endurance athlete. It is very quantifiable and can be made very specific. It is the best method to develop an aerobic component with a minimal sacrifice of explosiveness. As the name implies in this method of training the focus is on the interval of work and rest. By manipulating the length, duration or intensity of the interval relative to the length of the rest interval the training effect can be significantly altered. I break interval training into two classifications adapted from the work of Gerard Mach, former national Track & Field Coach of Canada. Rather than base the intervals on heart rate I choose to use perceived exertion. I have found that teaching the athletes to tune into their bodies by learning a percentage of maximum effort has a very good carryover to their sport.

Mihaly Igloi, the Hungarian middle distance and distance coach whose training system was based on interval training based the intensity of interval work on the following descriptors of effort: The gradations were progressive leading up to race effort

Easy – Used for recovery

Medium easy – Moderate effort

Medium – A little harder, but still conversational

Swing – Fast but still controlled, you should still feel like you have another gear.

Fast – Just as the name implies

Race – Highest effort

These descriptors are a perceived exertion scale. The Borg Scale used extensively in exercise testing and cardiac rehabilitation scientifically validates the concept of this scale. This is a method to get the runner to tune into their body and feel the effort required by the particular interval. I have found this to be an especially effective system to help the athlete to learn the feel and the rhythm of the required effort.

The first is Extensive Tempo intervals (ETE). This consists of work at 80% or less of maximum effort. This is aerobic interval work. This type of work should be the focus for the soccer, basketball, lacrosse, or field hockey player who wants to improve aerobic capacity and power. The simplest extensive interval workout is repeat 100 meter runs with 30 seconds rest.  The 100-meter runs are done in the range of 70 – 80 % maximum effort. Over the years this has proved to be an effective way to reinforce correct running mechanics and still get a good aerobic training effect.                   

Week # 1 - 16 x 110 yards in 22 seconds – 30 seconds rest between runs           

Week # 2 - 18 x 110 yards in 22 seconds – 30 seconds rest between runs           

Week # 3 - 16 x 110 yards in 21 seconds – 30 seconds rest between runs           

Week # 4 - 18 x 110 yards in 21 seconds – 45 seconds rest between runs           

Week # 5 - 16 x 110 yards in 20 seconds – 45 seconds rest between runs           

Week # 6 - 18 x 110 yards in 20 seconds – 45 seconds rest between runs

The key to this workout is the athlete’s ability to hold the rest interval while maintaining the pace of the runs.

Another very effective extensive interval workout to improve max VO2 is the 30/30 workout. This simply consists of a 30 second run at 70% effort followed by 30 seconds recovery. The recovery can be walk or a jog. This workout can be easily adapted to modes other than running i.e. slide board or bike. If you use a bike add about 25% more repetitions.

Week # 1 - 12 x 30sec Run /30 sec walk                  

Week # 2 - 15 x 30sec Run /30 sec jog

Week # 3 - 18 x 30sec Run /30 sec jog

Week # 4 - 21 x 30sec Run /30 sec jog

Week # 5 - 24 x 30sec Run /30 sec jog

Week # 6 - 27 x 30sec Run /30 sec jog

A good high school basketball perimeter player should be able to do 21 to 24 reps of this to be considered fit to play. A post player at the same level should be able to handle 18 to 21 repetitions. A professional soccer midfield player should be able to do 30 repetitions at 75%. It is best placed in the general preparation foundation block of training, although it also effective to bring it back occasionally in the early competition block.  My experience was that this workout significantly raised max VO2. As Veronique Billat, has shown this particular work to rest interval done at vVO2 has will raise max VO2, raise the lactate threshold and improve running economy. This workout is effective to raise fitness levels if used once a week for six weeks.

If you so desire, you can use Billat’s vVO2max Six minute run test to determine a specific distance to run for the 30 seconds and then you can run the recovery 30 seconds at 50% vVO2max. From our previous example the athlete who covered 1560 meters in the six-minute test had a vVOmax of 4.3 m/sec; the he would run 130 meters in 30 seconds and 65 meters during the recovery 30 seconds. This figure is arrived at by multiplying the vVOmax by 30 seconds. Personally, I have not used this approach on the 30/30 workout because it does lend itself well to a group setting so it is not very practical to use with a team. I prefer to teach the athlete the feel of effort by using Igloi’s terms. I find this has better carryover to the game or race.

The second interval training classification is Intensive Tempo Endurance (ITE). This consists of work between 80-90% of maximum effort. It is mixed aerobic/anaerobic work. It is very taxing and results in significant residual fatigue if overused. It is usually used in a ratio of one intensive interval session to every three to four extensive interval sessions.

Staircase 30’s Plus Max Run  - This workout addresses the spectrum from sustained aerobic to anaerobic lactate production work. It is a very good workout for the intermittent and transition game athlete during a special preparation block of training.
45 seconds recovery after 30 sec runs

30 second runs at increasing effort:

1 x 70%- 1 x 75%- 1 x 80% plus 3 min run at maximum effort

          3-minute jog recovery

1 x 75%- 1 x 80%-1 x 85% plus 2 minute run at maximum effort

3-minute jog recovery

1 x 80%-1 x 85%- 1 x 90% plus 1-minute run at maximum effort

15/15/15
15 second walk - 15 second run @ 80% - 15 second sprint at 90%
9 reps’ week one 12 reps week two         15 reps week three

The most demanding and intense work capacity method is the Repetition Method. It is used to improve economy of effort. It is characterized by a high intensity workload alternated with complete rest to allow for full recovery between repetitions. It is also called special endurance. It is work in 90%-100% effort range. An example would be a 45 second all out run for distance with 15 to 20 minutes recovery, followed by another 45 second run all for distance. Compare the distance of the two runs to evaluate the workout. From track and field 3 x 200 meters at 95% intensity with 15 minutes recovery is another example of the repetition method.

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3 Dynamics

I think there are 3 dynamics of athletic-based strength and conditioning that have to be accounted for regardless of the setting, "Physical Fitness, Healthiness, and Readiness." 

Physical fitness is somewhat of a transient term because it's always evolving (progressing/maintaining/regressing) during a training cycle.  Some qualify baseline fitness using maximum oxygen consumption while others use poundage or expressions of power as a means of determining this. 

Heathiness may be a lesser observed strength and conditioning term, but as of late has gained some traction due to the impact of injuries on athletic performance.  Here, tools such as the Functional Movement Screen have become popular in helping to sort this out and make injury predictions.  Of note it seems that most athletes now are potential physical therapy patients.  Why?  Because we are not paying enough of the right kind of attention in the weight room.

Readiness, in my mind, has more to do with the cognitive/emotional aspect of sports preparation.  This area often takes a back seat to the other two dynamics, but in some ways may be much more important than given credence.  In many ways, I could make a good case for elevating the value of readiness in comparison to fitness and healthiness in athletic strength and conditioning.  Readiness is a dynamic term in and of itself and represents more than just sports psychology.

The dynamics of physical fitness, healthiness, and readiness represent a paradigm for athletic preparation and competition.  The amount of attention paid to each of these dynamics during a training cycle is relevant to the needs of the athlete, but it also affected by both the experience and perceptions of the strength and conditioning coach and amount of innovation a training culture is willing to pursue.  One thing is sure, neglecting aspects of this training paradigm will most likely result in a less balanced training program and lower actualizing training outcomes. 

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Contemporary Coaching Challenges

This is an excerpt from my book Athletic Development – The Art & science of Functional Sports Conditioning that I thought was particularly timely.

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“We do not coach in a vacuum. Within our society we have some contemporary cultural, athletic, educational, and economic obstacles that coaches from past generations did not have to contend with. A colleague of mine, Steve Myrland, has identified and articulated these challenges. Within our culture: We sit too much. We are what we eat, and we eat too much resulting in a lethargic overweight society. We are a result-oriented society with little appreciation for the process, we want it now. Failure (at anything) has a social price tag attached to it. Boys will gladly demonstrate proficiency; but will often quit before having to reveal deficiency. Girls often fear success if it places them “apart.”  Girls must try to resolve the conflict of working to be strong, fit, and fast, and a social order that offers few rewards for these qualities.

Within the context of the athletic arena: We play to train; rather than train to play. We specialize before we develop athleticism and competitive maturity. We emphasize game-skills before and often to the exclusion of fundamental movement-skills. We evaluate before we teach (always trying to find the next prodigy). Physical Education isn’t physical, and it is not educational. In training and competition: We value quantity over quality, more is better. We are (generally) forced into a one-size-fits-all model of drills and exercises, even though one size never does fit all. Play has disappeared, if practice is not organized and there is not coach present, there is no practice. We prefer to watch rather than participate. In marketing health, fitness and sports: We are led to depend on “things” and on venues more than on athletes and coaches. Recognize that in the athletic arena the young athlete may have different goals than we have.”

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Work Capacity - The Concept

Work capacity is the ability to tolerate a workload and recover from that workload. In order for an athlete to improve they must be able to do a certain threshold amount of work. They must be able to work at a level that will ensure enough stress to achieve an optimum adaptive response. If they cannot do the work, they will not improve. Therefore, the goal with this type of individual would be to build a work capacity base that fits the specific demands of the athlete’s sport.

Work capacity falls into the category of general physical preparation (GPP). There are three components of work capacity:

1) The ability to tolerate a high workload – the key word here is to tolerate. Many athletes are capable of doing an occasional high workload but cannot adapt to this workload on any kind of consistent basis.

2) The ability to recover from the workload sufficiently for the next workout or competition. This is closely tied to the first concept. If the athlete cannot recover, then they are risking overuse injuries or overtraining. They will not be able to adapt to the training stress.

3) The capacity to resist fatigue whatever the source. Fatigue is more than metabolic, it is the ability to resist neural fatigue and mental fatigue.

4) It is the refinement of the efficiency and coordination of the cardiovascular, metabolic and nervous systems.

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So, You Want a Coaching Job?

In the course of my fifty years of coaching I have been fortunate to have had great mentors, influences and role models. I learned very early that I was not entitled to anything I had to pay my dues and earn the right to move forward. I constantly had to prove my competence and continue to improve.

In today’s world with increasing specialization and fast tracking I worry about the up and coming generation of coaches. This is an attempt to help guide this generation as to what matters in coaching. Start here with this as a self-evaluation exercise. Use this to create a profile of yourself beyond your resume’

Statement of Philosophy of Training and Coaching (Two Paragraphs Maximum)

Specific Short Term and Long-Term Goals

Education and relevant course work

All Coaching Experience – In any sport at any level

         Specifically, whom did you coach

         What were your actual coaching responsibilities?

Teaching Experience – Formal and informal (Sunday School counts)

Areas of Coaching Expertise – Be Specific & include examples

What are your Strengths? What makes you special and stand out from your peers?

What are your Weaknesses? Where do you need to improve? How do you plan to address your weaknesses?

Appearance – Do you look the part? Are you fit, and do you present yourself well?

Skill Proficiency – Do you have the ability to demonstrate what you are teaching?

Work Ethic – Are you willing to go the extra mile and work until the job is done? Give examples of how and when you have done this.

Certifications & Accreditations – List all in any field

List three books on Training or Athletic Enhancement that you have read in the past three months

List three books not related to sport or training that you have read in the last three months?

List three refereed journal articles that you have read in the last three months

What are you doing on a regular basis to improve your knowledge and ability as a coach? What is you action plan to improve your skills going forward?

What will you do that will be special?

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So, You Want a Coaching Job?

In the course of my fifty years of coaching I have been fortunate to have had great mentors, influences and role models. I learned very early that I was not entitled to anything I had to pay my dues and earn the right to move forward. I constantly had to prove my competence and continue to improve.

In today’s world with increasing specialization and fast tracking I worry about the up and coming generation of coaches. This is an attempt to help guide this generation as to what matters in coaching. Start here with this as a self-evaluation exercise. Use this to create a profile of yourself beyond your resume’

Statement of Philosophy of Training and Coaching (Two Paragraphs Maximum)

Specific Short Term and Long-Term Goals

Education and relevant course work

All Coaching Experience – In any sport at any level

         Specifically, whom did you coach

         What were your actual coaching responsibilities?

Teaching Experience – Formal and informal (Sunday School counts)

Areas of Coaching Expertise – Be Specific & include examples

What are your Strengths? What makes you special and stand out from your peers?

What are your Weaknesses? Where do you need to improve? How do you plan to address your weaknesses?

Appearance – Do you look the part? Are you fit, and do you present yourself well?

Skill Proficiency – Do you have the ability to demonstrate what you are teaching?

Work Ethic – Are you willing to go the extra mile and work until the job is done? Give examples of how and when you have done this.

Certifications & Accreditations – List all in any field

List three books on Training or Athletic Enhancement that you have read in the past three months

List three books not related to sport or training that you have read in the last three months?

List three refereed journal articles that you have read in the last three months

What are you doing on a regular basis to improve your knowledge and ability as a coach? What is you action plan to improve your skills going forward?

What will you do that will be special?

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Who Am I?

I am possibly going through an old age identity crisis, but I have been thinking a lot lately about how people define themselves or let other define them. It got me thinking about how I define myself, so at the risk of coming across as vain and self-centered I thought I would share how I define myself. This is partially as a result of spending too many years letting others define me. I have learned to have a chance to make an impact and lead a purposeful life you must define yourself and stay true to that definition. Here goes:

I am a coach who specializes in being a generalist. I do this by being a synthesizer, connecting the dots in seemingly disparate areas looking for similarities, differences and patterns that may not be readily apparent. I am a connector of people, believing in the powers of networks. I am also a simplifier, there is no need to make things more complicated. Performance is by its very nature chaotic so to most profoundly affect performance staying simple focused on the basics works for me. Last but not least I am an informed skeptic thoroughly schooled in the school of hard knocks through success and failure.

How do you define yourself?

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Who Am I?

I am possibly going through an old age identity crisis, but I have been thinking a lot lately about how people define themselves or let other define them. It got me thinking about how I define myself, so at the risk of coming across as vain and self-centered I thought I would share how I define myself. This is partially as a result of spending too many years letting others define me. I have learned to have a chance to make an impact and lead a purposeful life you must define yourself and stay true to that definition. Here goes:

I am a coach who specializes in being a generalist. I do this by being a synthesizer, connecting the dots in seemingly disparate areas looking for similarities, differences and patterns that may not be readily apparent. I am a connector of people, believing in the powers of networks. I am also a simplifier, there is no need to make things more complicated. Performance is by its very nature chaotic so to most profoundly affect performance staying simple focused on the basics works for me. Last but not least I am an informed skeptic thoroughly schooled in the school of hard knocks through success and failure.

How do you define yourself?

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Who Am I?

I am possibly going through an old age identity crisis, but I have been thinking a lot lately about how people define themselves or let other define them. It got me thinking about how I define myself, so at the risk of coming across as vain and self-centered I thought I would share how I define myself. This is partially as a result of spending too many years letting others define me. I have learned to have a chance to make an impact and lead a purposeful life you must define yourself and stay true to that definition. Here goes:

I am a coach who specializes in being a generalist. I do this by being a synthesizer, connecting the dots in seemingly disparate areas looking for similarities, differences and patterns that may not be readily apparent. I am a connector of people, believing in the powers of networks. I am also a simplifier, there is no need to make things more complicated. Performance is by its very nature chaotic so to most profoundly affect performance staying simple focused on the basics works for me. Last but not least I am an informed skeptic thoroughly schooled in the school of hard knocks through success and failure.

How do you define yourself?

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Read this Book! The Playmakers Advantage

For the past fifteen years I have been focused on what to do to get better at getting better. I have explored cognitive neuroscience, recognizing that the brain and how we train the brain is the key to getting better at getting better. In that pursuit I have read numerous books, devoured research literature, attended seminars and talked to as many experts as possible. The deeper I got into the process I knew I was on the right path. This is why I am encouraging you to read The Playmakers Advantage – How to Raise Your Mental Game to The Next Level. Len Zaichkowsky AKA Dr. Z and Dan Peterson have done a masterful job of compiling the research and their extensive experience into a comprehensive informative guide to the latest information on training the brain to improve sports performance.

This is a terrific resource for coaches. They go into detail as to the what, the how and very importantly the why of training the brain. The material in Playmakers Advantage represents what we have to do as coaches to optimize what we are doing. It is not a simplistic self-help motivational work, there are too many of those and they are ineffective in changing behavior. This has breadth and depth reflecting the latest research and best practice. It is one of the most valuable books I have read in a long time. How often as coaches have we said it is all in your head. Playmakers Advantage shows how to use what’s in our head to our competitive advantage.

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Do you want your athletes fit for the test or fit to play for the game? There is a real and distinct difference on one hand and some real lessons to be learned on the other. It all depends how the “fitness” tests are used and how they are framed in the overall context of the annual and career plan. The goal is accurate feedback in a competitive environment of the physical qualities that could determine success in the game. Selection and timing of tests sends a message. Therefore, decide what message you want to send. If you are going to use a two or three mile run test upon reporting for practice, then you are sending a message to the team that it is an endurance sport and they need to get ready for that. The game could be the opposite, but if their place on the team depends on it they will train for the test!

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This post reporting Tony Strudwick’s comments is what prompted me to write this post. http://trainingground.guru/articles/tony-strudwick-why-sport-science-has-lost-its-way

Let’s stop putting inordinate amount of time in clearing a smooth and direct path for the athlete. All it does is set up unrealistic expectations. No journey toward athletic excellence is straight and narrow toward the destination without any bumps in the road, detours or breakdowns. Instead let’s shift the emphasis back to where it should be: preparing a robust adaptable athlete to negotiate any path put in front of them. To quote my colleague Bill Knowles what we have today is a "Medicalization of sport (sports medicine/sports rehabilitation): The process by which sports specific conditions and problems come to be defined and treated as medical conditions, and thus become the subject of medical study, diagnosis, prevention, or treatment."

This has resulted in reducing practice time by spending an inordinate amount of time on nonfunctional injury prevention programs, all of which detracts from what needs to be done to make the athlete better and less fragile. All this work preparing the perfect path is weakening the athlete and detracting from the ability to tolerate an adequate workload to get better. You don’t prepare the athlete for heat stress by training indoors in a controlled low humidity seventy-two degrees temperature-controlled environment or training is a weight room with temperature set at sixty-eight degrees. To get a training adaptation it is necessary to impose a training load that is age appropriate, meaningful and challenging in preparation for the chaotic uncontrolled environment of competition.

I am in no way proposing that we go back 50 years to my college football experience which did nothing but break us down. I believe there is a happy medium. We have gone overboard with our concern for athlete welfare to the point that we are placing them at risk by putting them in the competitive environment without being ready for the demands of competition.  We are being overprotective. Training load must be high, in fact it must at times be an overload to prepare for competition. We need to do a better job of using all the measuring and monitoring tools at our disposal to be prescriptive, not restrictive. We also need to measure what is meaningful and actionable. Just because it can be measured does not make it meaningful. It is time to shift the emphasis back to preparing a robust athlete capable of travel on any road.

Special thanks to Kelvin Giles, Dean Benton, Nick Garcia, Martin Bingisser, John Pryor, Steve Myrland, Bill Knowles and Patrick McHugh for their input on this post.

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Junior World Championships

Recently the Junior World Track & Field Championships were televised. I watched with great interest. It was interesting to see the wider variation in body types than what you see at the senior level. I couldn’t help but think as I was watching how many of these athletes would go on and be a factor at the senior level. By being a factor, I look at it several ways:

  • How many will go on to compete at the senior level?
  • How many will achieve personal bests at the senior level?
  • How many will achieve a qualifying standard for a senior world championships or Olympic Games?
  • How many will make a final at a senior world championships or Olympic Games?
  • How many will make it onto the podium at a senior world championships or Olympic Games?

We know from a large body of historical evidence the percentage who achieve those landmarks is quite low. Why is that? There are many reasons. Like a Mary Cain they could be tapped out with nothing left in the tank. They could have been doing senior level training for a long time. For some it is psychological. They are anointed as the next great one and the sheer weight of expectations holds them back. For some it is injuries. For others it is a change in priorities. We do know for sure that it is a huge jump from junior level success to senior success. It is a process with so many variables. This is very much the case in many sports not just Athletics.

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