Archive for Coaching

The Conundrum of Sport-Specificity…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2014 by razorsedgeperformance
(This article was partly motivated by the story out of the NHL combine about the top-ranked prospect being unable to complete a pull-up in testing…)
This one is a doozie. There is no right answer, just multiple perspectives to consider. 
Sport-specificity creates an interesting dynamic for sport scientists and coaches because it can be ALL THAT MATTERS or very restrictive at the same time.
The first thing to mention is that as a sport scientist (or performance coach, or strength coach, or physiologist, biomechanist, athletic therapist, physiotherapist, chiropractor, or anyone that works in sport regarding athletic performance and injury prevention) all of your efforts are measured by the goal of the athlete in their sport. Improving speed, power, strength, flexibility, etc. are all great but at the end of the day people want to be more successful tomorrow than they were today. The attraction to sport specificity is around being as efficient as possible, to affect those things that can translate directly to sport. It is the reason you see so many training tools on the market that simulate many sporting activities. If you can create overload on the exact same move you do in sport, then you should improve and succeed. Or so the belief goes.
This can lead down a very closed-minded path though. Some people will believe that you can’t predict or correlate performance with metrics in the gym, because the sport is more complicated that that. Or other people will say that attempting large-scale changes in the weight room via weightlifting for example are a waste of time because the given athlete doesn’t compete in weightlifting, therefore there is no need to develop the skill.
The truth is sport is so dynamic and unpredictable that we constantly need new ways of inching closer to our goal when we are limited in what we can measure or impact. Let’s look at the weightlifting example. There is only one sport that uses these lifts officially and we will leave that out of the discussion, because it is the definition of sport specificity. Then there are secondary sports i’ll call them, where a sport skill is directly reflected in the performance of weightlifting exercises. For example, athletes who perform jumping in their sport would likely benefit directly from the triple extension that occurs. What is sometimes lost though, is the specificity of neural recruitment. The nervous system can behave similarly anytime you want to do something explosively, or at high velocities. Think about changing the speed that your watch keeps time. If you tried to do your daily activities in the same amount of time as usual, but your clock moved twice as fast, you would be running all over the place trying to be super-productive. Your ‘normal’ pace would now likely be twice as fast. On the other hand, if you slowed the clock down to take twice as long, your behaviour would likely slow down as well. (This has never been proven, but the concept just came to me, and seemed to validate my point…so take it with an open-mind!) When performing activities at high velocity then, like weightlifting, we serve to increase the rate that we do most of our work at. So any sport that involves movements of high velocity then could see potential benefit of weightlifting exercises. Yet how often do you hear coaches say, “This sport is different, we don’t need that stuff”, or some version of that.
When it comes to predicting performance improvements then, sometimes we need to think outside the box in order to work through a possible checklist. If your sport involves an opponent and weather conditions, you can never be truly sure of performance outcomes. However, we can’t let that hold us back from finding ways to measure progress toward mastery. Going back to our weightlifting example, if after a given mesocycle we can say that athlete X has higher power and rate of force development, then we can probably assume an improvement in the sport. If we have an energetic test (or conditioning test, or whatever you want to call it), and we determine an athlete to be more fit, then that will likely confer a competitive advantage. What about mindset and sport psychology principles. Often in sports, coaches and commentators will call them the intangibles, or people will say “he/she has that something you can’t teach”. Over time, research has looked at talent identification and development, and you know what, there are many times where these things are measurable. So how many people are doing questionnaires and profiles to measure these so-called things that can’t be measured? (Maybe another story for another day!)
One thing that has always resonated with me form my time at Edith Cowan University with Dr. Haff and Dr. Nimphius, is the concept of building capacities. Every time you improve on one of these outcomes, you expand an athlete’s physical capacity for competition, which is rarely ever a bad thing! Sometimes just because you can’t see how a specific metric or test fits into actual gameplay, doesn’t mean it’s improvement won’t somehow impact performance. When we open our mind to the possibilities that many roads lead to Rome, we can usually find that improving physical and mental capacities give athletes a better chance when going for gold!

An Overlooked Aspect of Coaching in Athletic Development

Posted in Performance with tags , , , , on January 6, 2012 by razorsedgeperformance

In our athletic development programs we work with a lot of highly skilled athletes and just as many uncoordinated youth, hoping to one day become highly skilled athletes. No matter what level they are at, they are constantly being introduced to new movements, drills, and exercises that we feel will help them get better at their given sport. When teaching an athlete to perform a given task, there are a lot of different factors that go into the success you’ll have in getting the desired result.

A Deeper Understanding of the Activity

One of the best things you can do to speed up learning a new task is to properly explain the reasoning and the details before you start. Let’s use sprinting mechanics as an example. We think it’s important to teach sprint mechanics to all of our athletes, yet with some sports where running isn’t used often, some great athletes can struggle the first few times we go through it. Just having an athlete start running, then cueing them on specific details will not have a lasting effect on how well they repeat proper technique. Instead, it is better to describe proper sprint mechanics, throughout the whole body, and elaborate on how these mechanics improve the speed of the runner. Most athletes won’t remember all of the key points after the first explanation, but what they will see is how each correction fits into the bigger picture. This improved awareness provides much more meaning to them when you say things like ‘hammer the elbow back’ and ‘step over the stick’. I know that many people say that athletes don’t need to know how everything works, they just need to be told what to do, but I believe a deeper understanding in the mechanics of movement helps athletes use coaching cues better.

A Growth Mindset Atmosphere

An athlete with a growth mindset will see challenges as opportunities to learn, grow, and improve. An athlete with a fixed mindset will see a challenge as something that can’t be done, and something that can be avoided. It goes back to the ‘white man can’t jump’ concept. Some people will say, “Oh I’ve never been able to jump, that’s just not me” and avoid the concept of learning and improving, writing themselves off before they start. An athlete with a growth mindset will see a small vertical as a chance to improve their athleticism and accomplish something great. As coaches and professionals in the training field we know that you CAN teach the ability to jump, and you CAN teach speed. When tackling new exercises and techniques, fostering a growth mindset will help your athletes tremendously. Helping your athletes understand that they won’t be perfect at everything they try, but instead will meet a challenge, learn, improve, and overcome the difficulty. Don’t let your athletes get discouraged when trying something new because it doesn’t feel right or go as well as hoped. Learn more about different types of failure here.

Different Types of Cues

It would be interesting to record yourself coaching your athletes. Do you always give the same cues? How many times do you have to repeat ‘faster’, ‘harder’, and ‘stronger’ before you realize those instructions aren’t working? It’s important to think about the types of cues you use when coaching and try to change them. You can use internal and external cues. This means relating the cue to the athlete and how they control their body versus what is happening with the training implement or the environment around them. Another good approach is to be more interactive with the athlete. Ask them what they feel. Ask them the difference between two different techniques or repetitions or sets. Sometimes it’s not the athlete’s failure to understand or execute, but rather the coaches failure to give proper direction when searching for a specific result.

Coaching is a very important part of athletic development but it is also a very subjective activity, and often its success is measured by the success of the athlete or team in competition. This doesn’t always tell the whole story though, so it’s important to sit down every once in a while and ask yourself, am I doing the right things to help my athletes succeed? Everyone has effort, but sometimes misdirected effort can be a tough pill to swallow. Don’t confuse passion and effort for proper coaching. Those are two important factors that every great coach should have, but they don’t guarantee a great learning environment. Go through a checklist and figure out some things about your approach. How are you cueing? Do your athletes know why they are doing something? Are you providing a supportive and growth-centred environment? Your answers may surprise you.

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