How Taylor Fixed The Squats

Hockey Player Turning on IceWe were walking from the gym to the rink with our hockey players last week after a dry-land session when Taylor Hardy, one of the assistants, told me he had noticed something. We had been working with some of the younger groups – 9 and 10 year olds – on getting in and out of an athletic postion, squatting and jumping. They were pretty good at finding an athletic position; hips, knees and ankles flexed, chest up, back straight. Squatting though was a problem. Lots of bending at the waist, heels off the ground, heads down. The typical stuff.

But, Taylor noticed that when they jumped they came down in a good position and from there it was only a few more inches to the squat. We had also had success teaching the young players by emphasizing the eccentric motion, lowering themselves slowly over three counts rather than trying to get down quickly.  (everything nine and ten year olds do they want to do fast)

Taylor experimented with putting those things together. Have the kids get into their athletic position, squat jump, land in position and then lower themselves into a squat.

It worked. It didn’t get everyone into a perfect position but it got most of them there or much closer. And, it was a more athletic way, a more natural way to get there.

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Two things stood out:

1. The body has a way it wants to work. That’s going to be a little different for each of us but there is a wisdom to it and if we take a moment, pay attention and work with it we can often get a better result than when we take a diagnostic / prescriptive approach to developing physical literacy with young athletes.

2. Creativity is key. Steve Jobs had a quote about creativity that made a lot of sense to me.

” Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it. they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

While Jobs was talking about the computer industry he could have been talking about coaches. We can get pretty linear.  What Taylor did was notice some things and put them together in a way that got us better results. He noticed the dots and saw a different way to connect them. Others have probably discovered the same thing but for us, it was out of the box,  outside the frame we were looking at.

What dots are you seeing that aren’t connected that might be. How can you expand your vision, see more of the dots? How much time do you spend noticing and thinking about what you are seeing?  Food for thought. Have fun playing with the dots. And, way to go Taylor!

Steering A Better Course For Young Athletes

images-4I was having dinner with an old college football friend a few weeks ago. One of his daughters played and is now coaching at the Division 1 level in college. A second daughter is in the middle of the process of making choices about where to continue in her sport after high school. She’s just a sophomore. It’s an intense experience. He shared that when his first one went through it he tried to resist some of the pressure in the process and keep it sane and healthy. In the time between them things have changed, the process is even more intense and he feels more like he’s being pulled along in the wake of some enormous ship doing his best to keep up. The question keeps coming up, who’s got the kid’s best interest at heart?

I came  across an interview with sports performance coach Kristen Dieffenbach in the Frazier Cycling Newsletter last week. It was an insightful and helpful look at the process of athletic development and working with teenage athletes. Dieffenbach who is also a professor at West Virginia University makes  a number of strong points. And, while the interview was about development in the world of junior cycling her conclusions apply to any sport. Here are a few  things that stood out.

1. Our current models of development for junior athletes ( 15 – 20 years old ) too often functions on what she calls, “a faulty adult model of sport that is about dollars/achievement and not about true development, improvement and enjoyment.”

2. As she points out about her own sport of cycling, ” the irony of this is that true talent development actually will foster a system that will also allow for more young riders to do extremely well in racing.” It’s true in any sport whether it’s basketball, soccer or hockey. The guys at Breakaway AAA Hockey in Minnesota are proving this on a regular basis

3. Real development focuses on fostering the total individual psychological, physical and social growth of young men and women in a way that helps them become the best they can be both now and in the future, in whatever they choose to pursue. It’s about the whole person, not just their role as a competitor or athlete.

4.The emphasis in many programs is on immediate outcomes and elite teenage athletes ( which is a bit of an oxymoron as Dieffenbach points out). We look for the next champion or D1 player rather than trying to develop potential.  As she says, ” Trying to find the random talented needle in the junior athlete haystack is a poor and ineffective use of resources ( not to mention a poor indication of adult potential in many cases.)”

Dieffenbach offers some ideas that might help those of us who are coaching or in leadership think differently and change the model.

1. If you are going to coach teenagers ” know that you ARE taking the responsibility to be part of a young person’s holistic development whether you like it or not.”

2. Take the responsibility seriously and learn about the ways a coach can help ( or hurt ) the growth and development of a young person, not only into a good athlete but more into a quality person.

3. As a coach or director skip the self promotion; the “come race, or play or train with us” as the first area of interest. Put the young person first. Ask yourself, ” Are you only interested in those who show “podium” or “elite” potential? Is that your only view of development?”

IMG_3016I found the interview helpful and I encourage you to read it here. It’s short and well worth a few minutes of your time. An athletes’ development is an unfolding process circling around regularly to the fundamentals and basics. A coach’s development isn’t any different. It’s good to reminded of what’s important and challenged to look at how we’re applying it. Just like my friend it’s easy to get pulled along by the current. Dieffenbach’s thoughts might help us get our paddle in the water and steer a different course.

Trust The Players And The Process

I found myself frustrated at the end of a training session last week. The session didn’t go the way I had planned it. The players were struggling to learn new movements.The energy level was low and their focus was a little off. I couldn’t fault the effort but the results weren’t what I was expecting.

The group came back at the next session and it was completely different. Technique and mechanics started to come together. Energy was high, and the things we had worked on for a few sessions started to seem like second nature

IMG_0710Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.- Emerson

The process of planning is essential… andpeople are always bigger than the plans we make for them.  An athlete’s development is a natural process not a mechanical one. It’s about unfolding and growth, not construction. I was reminded again last week that when I find myself frustrated by the pace of things, or because they aren’t working according to my plan it’s good to pause, allow a little space and be patient. We create the environment, provide the stimulus and trust the process and the player. New growth happens when the time is right not because we put it in the schedule.

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Eight Things I Learned This Year

calendarI’ve been working on a lot of professional development over the past year; attending more conferences and clinics,  doing more reading and taking part in a lot of webinars. It’s been great to hear the really big names and leaders in the field speak and in a few cases even sit down for an hour or two over coffee and pick their brain. The old adage holds true: The more I learn the more I realize how little I know.   A few things have emerged as consistent themes.

One – Keep it simple. As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough.” Working with the younger athletes constantly challenges me to get to the essence of the movement. Having to explain it simply to a 9 year old makes me a better coach with a high school or college player.

Two – It’s about how you move. It’s not about the exercise or drill or program. Can you start and stop, change speeds and directions? Can you push and pull, squat and lunge?  Can you jump and land? How long can you do those things efficiently and effectively in the environment you compete in.

Three – There is a hierachy to skills. Physical skills precede sports skills – always. Just like a pianist is limited if they can’t play their scales so is an athlete who can’t move well. The problem with your daughters jump shot may be that she can’t jump not that she can’t shoot. That doesn’t mean the young athlete shouldn’t shoot the ball anymore than the young musician shouldn’t play songs until they’ve mastered every scale. But, we can only build sports skills as far as physical skills allow.

Four – Work with the whole person.  I’m not coaching speed, or strength or agility or fitness. I am coaching a person who is trying to develop those characteristics and qualities to play or peform or stay healthy doing something they love to do. That person comes as a whole, not in pieces or parts. Mental, physical, spiritual, social, and I need to be aware of and pay attention to the whole. As one of the experts said, “If  you just broke up with your girlfriend it may not be the best day to throw at Nationals.”

Five – Everyone is a unique individual with their own optimal way of moving. Vern Gambetta calls it a movement fingerprint. Shawn Myszka calls it movement signature. Dan John says the same thing in another way when he says ” We were not all born to squat deep.”  When you realize we’re working with unique individuals who are each at a unique point in their development and unique moment in life – you see that one size can’t fit all.

Six – Make it athlete centered. The athlete is in charge of their own development even that 9 year old hockey player. They make the choices, do the work and get the results. As a coach I am a servant not a manager. I need to manage my choices actions and plans – and create an environment that’s both challenging and safe. An empowered athlete at any level makes intrinsic adjustments that expand their capacity to do more.

Seven – Have a framework. While they didn’t say it, I observed it. They all had a framework that they had developed over time that allowed them to focus their work with an athlete. They were not moving from trend to trend or fad to fad. And, both their humility and their curiosity keep those frameworks flexible and open. They are alive and evolving not fixed and set.

Eight – Be generous, humble and curious.  “I wonder what I’m not seeing that I don’t even know I’m not seeing”, one of them said to me. This coach has a Ph. D.  over  forty years of experience, consults internationally and is a former national coach of the year. His latest project was trying to shadow a physical therapist or a few months to see what he could learn about movement from that perspective.It’s comforting and inspiring to know that we’re all still learning and we’re all in it together.

I’m grateful for all the learning this past year and eager to discover more. I’m also eager to  build on it in our coaching as we go forward. Ain’t it great to be a work in progress.

Growing Confidence

DSCF1217Most of the time we think of training as mainly a physical process. It’s something  we do to develop a skill or quality like speed or strength or passing and shooting. There’s another aspect we often overlook or undervalue. Preparation and training contribute mentally as well because they give us confidence.

A source of great anxiety for a lot of high school players going on to college is the fitness test that they get in their packet from their new school.   While we don’t “train to the test” we will run it with players regularly to help them see how their work is paying off. It may not be an ideal part of our training program but by the time they head to their teams they have already demonstrated repeatedly they can meet the standard. That allows them to show up with confidence and focus on their game rather than the test.

GIRLS SOCCERWe work on deceleration and stopping as well as speed and acceleration because when a player has confidence in their brakes, they can play faster, go harder and put more pressure on their opponent. Without that confidence they may pull up too quickly, afraid to over run, leaving their opponent with more time and space.

 

IMG_0650A Bigger Kind Of Confidence – Part of the value in assessments and training logs lies in helping a player track their own growth and development.  With time to reflect, they come to have confidence in their ability to accomplish results over time, to make changes and develop what Stanford Psychologist and Professor Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset.  That mindset is more important in the long run than any physical quality. When they hit a plateau or struggle with something new they can draw on the confidence they’ve developed in themselves and in the process of training.  Focus, intentional work and consistency have helped them thus far and will help them with new challenges as well.

Slowly, in little ways, over time, good training and the right atmosphere can help us develop not only the physical qualities we need to compete but the confidence in our capacity to grow that will serve us whenever we need it.

In his Wheel of Excellence model, sports psychologist Terry Orlicki says, “Belief in yourself and confidence in your capacity allows you to extend your limits, create your own opportunities and push through performance barriers. Where there is unwavering belief in your capacity to carry out a mission and absolute connection with your performance, doors are opened to excellence.”

This week as we wrap up our fall training with assessments we will ask our young players to notice their progress, look back at the effort they have put in and begin to see that those doors can open little by little, for all of us.

Only one opportunity to success concept

It’s OK To Take A Break

Tired AthleteThanksgiving is coming at the perfect time. For one of our older groups its the fourth week of a training cycle; typically an unloading week where we back off and allow the mind and body to catch up and adapt to the hard work we’ve done. Because of the holiday we have one day in the gym this week  and the kids have a technical session on the turf. That’s it… perfect!

Along with a change in routine we want the athletes – especially the younger ones – to understand why we back off and  begin to think in terms of stress and recovery. We want them to learn to follow that oscillating wave of intense challenge and deep rest and regeneration, to pay attention to it and work with it, not to try to overcome it.

Kristen Diffenbach, Ph.D. said in an article for Podium Sports Journal ” If you can’t recover from the training you do and you don’t have an environment set up that allows that to happen you’re not going to get stronger no matter how much work you do.”

Creating awareness and opening up new thinking are part of creating that kind of environment. So, along with lightening the load this week we also talked about recovery, why we’re doing this and how they can optimize it so that their bodies adapt to the work they have done. That’s why it was so encouraging after our last session  to see this in one of the player’s journals. ” Its ok to take a break.” IMG_0871

We live in an outcome driven society where ” big data ” allows us to measure and rank and compare constantly. We have to keep moving and producing so taking a break is often seen as weakness or at the very least just falling behind. It’s not. It’s an essential part of the balance that’s required for both health and performance.

So Thanksgiving is here. Time for all of us to pause, rest, reflect and take a break. Sleep late, eat well, enjoy time together  and alone. The holiday is coming at the perfect time.  “It’s okay to take a break.”

 

Accomplishing Results and Growing Capacity

SCOREBOARDWe love the scoreboard, the standings, the stats. They’re easy to see.  They help us measure what we’ve accomplished. They serve as a way to mark our progress and measure ourselves against our competition. They’re important. They’re just not the most important thing when we’re developing young athletes.

The most important thing, and the context for considering those accomplishments, is creating capacity. How has the process of accomplishing those results, whether its on the scoreboard or in training, helped the young athlete grow their capacity to take the next step, to accomplish even more in the future? Reframing the process this way puts things in a larger context and helps us think about what we want to emphasize and how much competition or training is too much. How does the next  tournament, the next practice, the next training session fit into the larger purpose of helping young athletes discover and develop their potential and enjoy the process of development as much as accomplishing the results? It’s a good question to struggle with. Thinking