Month: November 2010

Do as I Say, AND as I Do

Growing up, a common phrase from my parents was “Do as I say, not as I do” (second only to “Because I said so”). This beauty normally got dropped when they weren’t practicing what they preached, and got called on it. The equivalent in the athletic development coaching world is related to coaches’ demos. Too often do we rely on our verbal descriptions of exercises and drills, while letting the actual physical demos get a little sloppy. Especially if we are reviewing an exercise that has been introduced already but the athletes don’t necessarily know it by name. Admittedly, I have been guilty of this. After ten years of coaching the Acceleration A-Skip, my verbal description is quite rehearsed, specific, and concise but I don’t always have a high attention to detail when demonstrating it.

Laziness isn’t always the culprit for poor demos; sometimes coaches have legitimate difficulty with physically performing certain exercises or drills. In which case, an athlete might hear “Don’t do it like me, but…” Sound familiar? Worse yet, you probably know coaches that avoid using some exercises or drills when training athletes, solely because they aren’t good at them themselves. The coach that’s still nursing 19 welts from the last time they tried 20 reps on the jump rope probably isn’t likely to use a jump rope warm up very often. It goes without saying that our athletes are the ones that are shortchanged most by poor coaching demos and exercise exclusions.

So there it is. Coaches need to demonstrate exercises and movements correctly. Nothing groundbreaking or new about this topic. However, next time you catch yourself just going through the motions when demonstrating or reviewing an exercise, consider these points:

  • Most people are visual learners and learn by modeling what they see. Regardless of your verbal description, many athletes will do as you do. This can be a good thing or a bad thing; use it to your advantage.
  • Position yourself and your athletes to best view the demo. Demonstrating from multiple angles will help athletes see and conceptualize critical aspects of the activity. Facing athletes is best for them to hear you, but not great for them to see some movement patterns. Athletes to your side and back are best for them to view most movements, but not great for them to hear you.
  • If using a Part to Whole teaching approach for complex movements, showing the Whole first can help to provide a conceptual model for the parts to relate back to. Athletes that know how a Buttkicker drill fits into a top speed stride cycle will have a higher level of drill transfer to the real deal.
  • Use slow motion along with full speed demonstrations.
  • Limit the amount of demonstrations that show what not to do. “What I don’t want to see is…” Read more about why in my Don’t Throw Your Juice post.
  • Video support is a great alternative for coaches that have difficulty with performing a particular exercise or drill. It isn’t cheap but a laptop with Dartfish software is perfect for this.
  • Utilize your studly and veteran athletes for demos you aren’t comfortable with. It will totally make their day too.

– Coach Hall

GUEST BLOG: Name That Tune

This post comes courtesy of Rett Larson – The original Super Coach.  Check out his website for great coaching and training tips, www.performancecorps.com.  Here are some insights to training young athletes…


When my mom was a little kid she had a vinyl record titled “Name That Tune,” and whereas we now have millions of video games, this was an audio game. Basically, the record had around 30 snippets of popular 1950’s songs. Each snippet was only ten seconds long, and at the end of each was a little chime that let you know it was over and that it was now time to actually name that tune. Well, nowadays whenever one of those 30 songs comes on the radio my mom will intone the chime at exactly the moment that it occurred on her old vinyl record.


In thinking about that this weekend two things occurred to me. First of all, how starved for entertainment do you have to be to play that record so many times that you’ve not only memorized all the songs, but also the end-points of all the snippets therein? Clearly her cup and ball game was broken at the time. The second thing was that her dedication to that record really highlights a coaching principle that we sometimes forget about, which is that athletes crave achievement.

Sure, of course they do – they’re athletes who obviously love sports, which are little vehicles of achievement. No big surprise there. Well, I think that we sometimes forget this obvious point when we’re training athletes, especially young ones. When faced with a team of 9 year olds, the temptation is to pander to their low attention span and give them lots and lots of activities to keep them occupied. Many young coaches will expend lots of energy throwing the kitchen sink at their athletes because they’ve forgotten that athlete love to see themselves getting better. Why do you think they’ll watch the same 5 Disney videos 300 times? A) Because Ratatouille is the most adorable rat to ever pick up a whisk and B) because they love knowing every line.

So, let them achieve during your coaching sessions. Pick one or two things each day and make it your goal to be knocking them out of the park by the end of the coaching session. Maybe it’s the perfect lunge, or a pro-style 2 point starting position. Maybe you just want them to memorize the muscles of the leg, or the conversion of pounds to kilos. The point is, keep it simple and repeat until they’re quoting you like a celluloid rat-chef.



Relationship Barometers

As a young boy, John Wooden’s father gave him a card with a Seven Point Creed written on it.  Coach Wooden would go on to use the wisdom in each point as part of his personal and professional belief system.  The fifth point on this creed was “Make friendship a fine art”.  As a coach, Wooden didn’t always foster immediate friendships with his players, but his genuine ambition to teach skills that served his players well after their time on the hardwood certainly laid the foundation for lifelong relationships – many of which were recounted in eulogies after his passing.  The notion that coaches can/should nurture personal connections with athletes is central to my own Coaching Constitution;

  1. Develop Relationships
  2. Have Fun while Minding the Details
  3. Learn Something New Everyday

I believe a personal relationship is more valuable than a physical adaptation.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all the tactical components of designing, implementing, and adjusting training programs.  But I’m most energized from coaching when I’m able to learn about an athlete’s life outside of the gym.  Great coaches do this without even thinking about.  Taking an authentic interest in others is just part of their DNA.

Because it’s first on my Coaching Constitution, building relationships with athletes is always at the top of my mind.  Nevertheless, it also seems valuable to have some form of objective measure for these personal connections.  Here are three examples of Relationship Barometers.

Birthday Parties

This is a concept I began using shortly after starting to work with young athletes.  Prior to that, most of my coaching experience had been with collegiate athletes.  Transitioning from college strength and conditioning to the business of youth athlete development took some getting used to.  Quite frankly, it didn’t start too well for me.  But then my boss at the time made a very specific comment to the coaching staff that changed everything.  He said, “Remember guys, we aren’t here to be their friends, we’re here to coach them”.  I think the point he was trying to get across was for us to always be sensitive to difference between being “friends” and being “friendly”.  But at face value, he was wrong.  Without fail, the young athletes and their parents (who footed the bill for training at our facility) that kept coming back to us were also the ones that had the strongest relationships (read also: friendships) with the coaches.  That coach – athlete connection proved to be the strongest predictor of repeat business.  And like I mentioned, it is also the biggest personal reward for me.  What does all this have to do with birthday parties?  Well, my goal was to develop such strong relationships with young athletes and their families, that I would get invited to their birthday parties.   It might seem a little silly, but you show me a coach that consistently gets invites to birthday parties of his/her young athletes, and I’ll show you a great coach.

Pictures

I stole this one from Martin Rooney.  During his presentation at this year’s Perform Better Summit, Coach Rooney put up a picture of himself in high school at a track meet with a medal that he’d just won for javelin.  He’s standing next to a man with his arm around his shoulders and Coach Rooney starts talking about that meet being a huge meet for him, and that day being one of the best of his life at that point.  And, he didn’t want a picture with his Dad that day, or his Mom, or his teammates – he wanted a picture with his coach.  And this was back in the day when a picture meant a little more, because you only had 24 on the roll and you had to take your film to a store to be developed.  Coach Rooney then asked everyone in the audience how many of their athletes or clients ever want to take a picture with them.  He said that he knows a coach is building relationships when he sees an athlete asking their mom to take a picture together with them.

Weddings

Over the summer, a friend sent me an ESPN article about Paul Longo, the new strength and conditioning coach at Notre Dame.  The article’s main focus is the increased importance and compensation of Division 1 head strength and conditioning coaches, particularly at prominent football schools (read the entire article here).  But the author also slipped in a subtle reference to Coach Longo’s thoughts on building relationships;

‘That’s why I’ve been in it this long,’ Longo said. ‘The relationships are what keeps you going. Sometimes you’re the heavy, sometimes you’re the go-between. But it’s a great thing to be a mentor.’

This point is hammered home when you find out that Coach Longo was the best man in the wedding of one of his players.  Clearly the two of them had a special relationship, and while it might be difficult to replicate that on a big scale, this is just another indicator of how great coaches can make a significant impact in the lives of their athletes.

Whether it birthdays, pictures, or weddings, you’ll know that you’re creating connections when your athletes want you to be involved in their special moments.  If you can think of other ways to put coach – athlete relationships skills to the test, add them in the comments below.

– Coach Hall