athletic development

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

First Things First

Coaching Feedback, Part III

The phrase “Paralysis by Analysis” is a perfect description of the way Charles Barkley’s golf swing has evolved. According to Tiger Woods, Barkley had a “normal” golf swing until he took lessons and started thinking too much. As a result, the movement is plagued by his overthinking, and this is what he is left with today (this is his actual golf swing):

Now put yourself in the shoes of the Hank Haney, the former swing coach of Tiger Woods. Coach Haney took the challenge of working with Barkley a few years ago.  In fact there was a TV crew documenting the entire process.  If you were Coach Haney, where would you start?

OK, so chances are you won’t ever need to solve the Barkley golf swing conundrum. But as coaches, we see our fair share of rough technical models when it comes to complex movements. In fact, when an athlete is first learning a new exercise or movement skill, multiple faults are expected. Attempting to fix the athlete, young coaches are often tempted to give feedback and foci for most, if not all, of the faults. Unfortunately, this can lead to the CBE (commonly known as the Charles Barkley Effect). More experienced coaches will recognize the faults, identify the major causes of each, and prescribe one solution at a time to correct the faults. However, GREAT coaches will go one step further and deliver one solution at a time in PRIORITIZED order. Prioritized feedback not only prevents your athletes from being paralyzed by overthinking, but in many cases, fixing the most pressing issue will cascade down to the other faults and clean up multiple errors.

Take Pedro’s Power Clean for example:

I think we can agree that Pedro has more than one thing going on here. After observing his technique, if your only feedback was “Roll your knuckles”, then you would have missed the bigger picture. Even if his grip position at the start does actually need to be fixed, there are more critical issues to be addressed first (start position, early arm bend, finish position, catch position, bar path, joint angles, rhythm & timing…) That said, what would you address first? Then second? Then third, etc.?

So take some time and compartmentalize what areas are most critical to the learning and mastering of the skills you teach and train. From there you can create a more systematic method for the order in which you provide guidance to the movement problems faced by your athletes.

Lets’ recap the Coaching Feedback principles from the last few blog posts.

1. SPECIFIC. What exactly are your athletes doing well? Are you limiting feedback that communicates a general or negative action? Read more…

2. INDIVIDUAL. At multiple points throughout the training session, did you recognize or correct individual athletes by their first name? Read more…

3. PRIORITIZED. Are you attacking one issue at a time? Are you starting with the most critical fault, or the quickest fix?

– Coach Hall

Sierra College Regional Fire Academy

I had the pleasure of stepping in as a Guest Coach for a physical training session with a group of fire academy recruits this week.  Their full-time instructor, Coach John Hofman, does a fantastic job with this program but was gracious enough to allow his recruits to get another perspective on training to be a firefighter.  He gave me 2 hours and free reign, which provided plenty of opportunity to sweat, laugh, and learn.  I took an Athletic Development approach with them and expressed the occupational demands for sprinting, lifting, throwing, and reacting.

I couldn’t have asked for a better group of athletes.  They were extremely respectful, well-organized, fast-learners, and hard workers.  I haven’t seen many groups that can hold a high level of focus and intensity like they did.  Coach Hofman should be proud of the way they represented themselves.

Being able to get out my everyday environment and work with 34 new athletes was a blast, and I definitely recommend doing so if you ever get the chance.  Likewise, I hope Coach Hofman was able to pick up a few things by observing my coaching style and will have me back next year.

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– Coach Hall

Don’t Throw Your Juice

Being a parent has helped me learn many valuable coaching lessons.  For instance, when my son was going through his “terrible twos”, he had this adorable habit of throwing his Go Diego Go sippy cup after taking a few drinks of his juice. Early on, my response was “Lil’ V, don’t throw your juice!” Apparently this meant he could still shake his cup letting a few drops fly out, or take the top off and dump the rest on the carpet, or even (this is my personal favorite) take another drink and spit/spray a mouthful into the air. As you might imagine, I thought of banning all beverages in my house until I realized that it wasn’t really his fault. To be fair, he was listening to me; he wasn’t actually throwing his juice.

The outcome I was shooting for was for him to put his cup on the kitchen counter when he wasn’t thirsty anymore. Realizing that my instruction wasn’t very effective, I made a change. Instead of telling him what I DIDN’T want him to do, I started explaining precisely what I DID want him to do. So when he would start to rear that cup back over his head, you wouldn’t hear me say “Lil’ V, don’t throw your juice!” Rather, I’d say “Lil’ V, put your juice on the counter please”. I would be lying now if I told you that my genius parenting strategy had a 100% success rate, but I can tell you that I definitely spent less time cleaning upholstery and carpet after this little change in communication.

So what does my son’s juice crisis have to do with coaching? Simply put…

Avoid telling and showing athletes what NOT to do. Especially when developing young athletes.

  • As coaches, this is most applicable to the times we deliver Instruction and Corrective Feedback:

Instruction: When introducing new exercises and drills, we all use some combination of visual demonstrations and verbal descriptions.  With visual learners, it is quite likely that a demonstration of what not to do has a strong influence on subsequent modeling. Even when coupled with the correct demonstration, the result is often a confused athlete. On the verbal side, consider that the brain can’t easily create an image of a negative action. So when we use an instruction like, “Make sure you don’t squat on your toes”, the athlete’s brain typically creates an instant image of squatting on the toes. And since the brain drives movement, I prefer to not even enter the thought into their mind. Instead, try making a habit of only demonstrating the technique you want them to perform and/or describing the precise action you want to see.

Corrective Feedback: From a feedback perspective, our coaching cues and remarks are meant to direct and/or correct actions. Feedback along the lines of “Nick, try not to let your shoulders rotate when you’re running” is typically not highly effective. For developmental athletes, NOT doing something could represent a handful of movement solutions; similar to Lil’ V and his juice. And if they knew exactly which one of the solutions was appropriate, then they’d probably be doing it in the first place. So take out the guess work and give them only one option. Directing a specific action helps avoid the gray area that often leaves athletes struggling to find the right solution.

Wooden on Coaching Success

Coach Wooden reminds us to look beyond training methodology, sets, and reps.  Coaches have such an amazing opportunity to be mentors and make positive impressions. What struck me most about Coach Wooden is how firm he was in his beliefs.  If someone asked what you believed about coaching, could you communicate your beliefs?  Better yet, would your answer be compelling? If so, how often do you communicate your beliefs to your athletes?

  • Take some time to write down your core beliefs about coaching and WHY you coach.  Then share those beliefs with your athletes, family, friends, colleagues, etc.  You’ll establish authentic leadership by letting others have insight into your beliefs.  Not to mention that this level of self-awareness will take your coaching to the next level.

Here is some insight into Coach Hall.  I coach because I believe…

…that a coach can make a positive and life-changing impact in a single moment.

…a personal relationship is more valuable than a physical adaptation.

…that competence precedes confidence.

…young athletes need mentors.

– Coach Hall

Fatal Flaws

A friend of mine, and fellow Coach Joshua Aycock –, recently got me thinking about fatal flaws. Joshua has a unique ability to conceptualize critical aspects of professional development, and I frequently look to him to put me on the right thought track. Essentially, a “fatal flaw” is something that is completely devastating to one or more central principles. It is so damaging that if done will completely and irreparably negate all past/present/future positive and constructive steps toward your goal. Pete Rose is a classic example.

“Charlie Hustle” has over 4,000 hits, multiple World Series rings, gave 110% to the game of baseball for 24 years… BUT… he gambled on games. His fatal flaw was placing those bets. And because of it, his accomplishments may never be recognized in the MLB Hall of Fame.

This concept can be applied to all aspects of life, but for Performance Coaches there are some valuable applications to coaching, training, and small business ownership. Likewise, the fatal flaws for each of us will probably be different as we don’t all have the same central coaching focus, and training focus isn’t always identical for each athlete. Just to be clear, COACHING is what you and I do. Coaching is teaching, observing, delivering feedback, building relationships, etc. TRAINING is what your athletes do. Training is performing work to affect desired physical results. As Performance Coaches, we have a direct influence in the type, amount, and intensity of the training done by your athletes.
For me, the process of determining fatal flaws has been challenging but also extremely useful. Knowing what to avoid at all cost has helped me fine tune my professional objectives.
Finish these sentences and answer these questions to uncover potential coaching and training fatal flaws.
  1. The primary reason I coach is to…
  2. What are some fatal flaws that can devastate my coaching goals?
  1. The primary reason my athletes / clients train is to…
  2. What are some fatal flaws that can devastate the training goals of my athletes?

– Coach Hall

100 Expert Challenge

Part of what I want to do with this blog is to start moving away from discussions about sports performance training methods (there will be some of that), and instead focus more on optimal coaching strategies. In other words, HOW training programs are delivered rather than WHAT training methods are used.

You’ll be hard pressed to find literature or a DVD series on coaching pedagogy or the art of coaching. Plenty on training athletes, but very little on actual coaching. So then, where do most of us learn HOW to coach? For me it was from trial and error and observing other coaches. Sometimes it was what not to do, but for the most part I have been lucky enough to work for, and with, coaching practitioners that have mastered their craft. Part of this learning process involves reaching out beyond those you have shared the coaching floor with, and becoming familiar with the leaders of the athletic development industry. Maybe you won’t always be able to learn how to coach from these experts but I believe that there is a linear relationship between coaching quality and level of awareness within the field of athletic development. And thus, the birth of the 100 Expert Challenge.

I will extend the same challenge to you that I was recently part of. Come up with a list of 100 experts in the field of athletic development. This isn’t an exercise in “who you know”, but rather a list of who you know about and how much about them you are familiar with.

The format and rules are simple:

1. Expert Name
2. Area of Expertise
3. Company / Location / Website / Authorship
4. Brief description of philosophy

1. The expert must have a clear and known expertise.
2. Hold off on help from the world wide web as long as possible and only use it to fill in details of #3 & 4.

There you have it. Get your colleagues together and have some fun with this!

WARNING: lively discussion can ensue regarding who is an “expert”.

– Coach Hall