Growing Pains

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

There’s something strange happening to a large number of adolescent and pre-adolescent children on sports pitches every where.

It’s not a new phenomena, but it seems to be getting worse and is occurring right under our noses. If the national media get hold of it it will be labelled an epidemic.

It’s not obesity… or acne… or the sudden personality change. Something far more disturbing.

Young, talented, hard-working sports people across The land appear to be having their bodies snatched, and replaced with the body of someone who has never played sport before.

Get after their Number 8. He looks like he’s going through a growth spurt.

It’s heartbreaking. One minute your child is an athletic young player enjoying their sport and displaying all the attributes of a future champion. The next they look as coordinated as a new-born giraffe on roller skates.

Years of hard work. Hours of dedicated practice and honing of their skills seems to have disappeared.

Not only that, but they spend most of their time with niggling injuries. Knee pain. Unidentifiable muscle pains. Thigh strains. Shin splints. Back ache.

The doctor tells you it’s growing pains and will pass.

The physio advice is to stretch the tight muscles to regain mobility.

So they stretch their hamstrings, quads and groin. They do it for a while but then give up.

Then on the return to the Physio, there’s a stand-off. The Physio says they aren’t seeing any improvement because they aren’t complying with the stretching. The child’s says the stretching feels like it’s going to snap and saw no improvement so lost the motivation to do it.

In the mean time, your young player is rapidly losing confidence. They have had to adapt the way they move to still play their sport with their new body. And these awful movement patterns are becoming permanently ingrained.

Players who were way behind them on the pecking order are now overtaking them.

The sport they loved is now just a constant source of frustration and inadequacy. Nobody has an answer for them and the coaches that couldn’t do enough for them a year ago, now seem to have little interest in their issues.

As a parent it’s painful to watch. You can see the pain and anguish they’re going through, but feel helpless.

This is one of the key reasons I formed Speed Academy. The majority of young players that come to me are in this exact situation.

Most parents don’t see the need for dedicated athletic development until certain developmental issues highlight the deficiencies in sports training and school PE.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

When you understand what’s happening, it’s actually quite a simple solution.

Even better, if you have kids who are yet to go through this stage, it’s avoidable.

The medical advice that many parents get told is that the bones grow in spurts while the muscles and tendons grow at a steady rate.

So there will be periods, where the bones get too long for the muscles, making them tight.

So the answer is to wait until the soft tissue catches up and you can speed the process by stretching.

I used to advise this too. It kind of makes sense.

But then, when I started working more with young athletes, I actually had a chance to see what was going on.

The kids presenting with Osgood-Schlatter disease and other related knee problems all had the same faulty movement patterns.

Movement patterns that would cause huge stress for the knee joint and tendons. Allied to the multi-directional nature of the sports that they played and you have all the mechanisms for a chronic knee problem.

So what was the nature of this faulty movement pattern?

Why was it happening to young people that previously moved so well?

To demonstrate what’s happening, you need a hammer.

Get a big mallet and hold it in one hand half way down the shaft and lift it up and down using just your wrist.

Your wrist represents the hip, the shaft is the thigh, and the hammer mead represents the additional weight of the lower leg and foot.

Shift your hand a couple of inches further away from the head and repeat. Not as easy, huh?

Now try holding it right at the end.

This is how it feels when your thigh bone rapidly grows.

Where previously, the body could handle the shorter limb through a full range, the now longer and heavier levers create a higher strength demand.

The hip muscles can only control these levers through a much shorter range. Anything outside this range would be beyond the capabilities of the muscles thus leading to possible tear.

So in order to protect them from being torn, the body limits the length available.

With certain muscles shortened, movements have to adapt.

Feet splay out like a clown when trying to accelerate.

When they decelerate, the back bends like a willow tree in the wind. And posture all round is weak.

When they try to run, it looks like their feet are stuck in treacle. It looks like the whole body gets involved in dragging the foot off the floor and through for the next stride. Knee lift is none existent.

This isn’t a flexibility issue.

It’s a strength one.

We need to create a buffer zone of strength in the hip and trunk muscles. Then and only then, will the body will remove the safety restrictions.

Therefore, through this growth period the focus should be on postural awareness, and full spectrum strength through full range of movement.

Basic strength exercises performed with good technique are all that is required here.

With this understanding it is possible to prepare your players in advance so that the growth spurt has a minimal effect on their athleticism and hence enjoyment of sport.

It is criminal that young athletes – even those in professional football and rugby academies – can fall completely out of the system having shown so much promise.

It’s unnecessary if robust training systems are in place and the children, coaches and parents are educated and buy into it.

As part of my ‘Developing The Growing Athlete’ month I’ll be holding an educational workshop for parents and coaches on Thursday 17th April.

If you’re interested in helping your child/ren achieve their potential and continue to enjoy playing sport then please contact me via email, Facebook or Twitter for further details.

If you have found this article useful, I would be most grateful if you could share it in the usual social media channels.

Yours in speed

RG

SPEED TRAINING TIP No2 – STEP BACK TO MOVE FASTER

STEP BACK TO MOVE FASTER

Explosive and reactive on field movements require immediate and efficient action, which is why the following statement is one of the biggest controversies in sports training.

Taking a step backwards will actually help you sprint forward—faster.

When some Australian scientists at Edith Cowan University had athletes use this “false step” technique to trigger a sprinting motion, the men covered five metres significantly quicker than when they took off by initially stepping forwards.

The Mechanics

In order for an athlete to initiate forward movement of the body, their driving foot needs to be behind their centre of gravity in order to maximize the first step.

There are two ways to achieve this:

  • allow your bodyweight to fall in front of the feet
  • rapidly and explosively step one foot backwards (plyo step)

It has been the eternal argument in speed and agility training. A few years ago,  this study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, appeared to shed some definitive light on the matter.

The Payoff

The researchers state that the plyo-steppers were six percent faster over their first few yards of sprinting than those who relied on gravity at the starting line. “And a six percent reduction in the time to cover a short distance may have a considerable impact on athletic performance,” write the study’s authors, who add that the benefit over longer distances remains unclear.
 

Why I Advocate The Plyo-Step

I prefer the term plyo-step as I think false step and backwards step give the wrong impression. A false or backwards step implies that the hips or centre of gravity shift backwards. This is not the case. The term plyo step was coined by USA’s leading sports speed expert Lee Taft.

If you put anybody into a good athletic base position where they are fully loaded, then get them to react to a stimulus, every time they will make a plyo step. Not 9 out of 10, but every time.

It is an instinctive reaction, especially when you’re bouncing on the balls of your feet. I want to work with instinct rather than against it. 

The reason the Plyo Step occurs at all is because the body realizes it cannot manage the weight of the body effectively from its current position. In other words, the body doesn’t have an optimal angle to efficiently drive the body into its intended direction.

Certain people can appear slower and clumsy using the false step initially. This is because they don’t prctise the movement and aren’t strong enough or proficient in it. This is especially the case in tall people and those who don’t adopt a good athletic position. Regular practice and strength training quickly clears this up and the plyo step makes these athletes much quicker.

The Take-Home Message

Making a step backwards will boost your body’s natural shift forward, helping you generate more power in any direction. By getting the body moving forward instantly, the next step will be a much more powerful push as the body is already travelling over your base.

Practise the false step off either foot because you won’t always want to go straight forward. Landing about 6 inches behind you should be enough to create the force needed. 

Put it to the test and tell me how you get on.

Back To School, Back To Basics – Part 1

Back to schoolOr in the case of my daughter Emily, 1st day at school.  She took it all in her stride, as did all her friends at the gate. It’s us parents who get all worked up about it.

As far as young athletes are concerned, this is massive for them. It’s their New Year. A time for a clean slate and new beginnings.

Whatever their goal, making the school or representative team, last season is forgotten. Some kids come back from the summer holidays looking, sounding and moving completely differently. Like some one stuck them in a grow bag and fed them steroids for 6 weeks. With some, the transformation is huge. Others may appear to have been left behind.

In a time of new beginnings, there can be a tendency for coaches to introduce the new stuff they learned over the summer. Big mistake. That’s basing training on what THEY want rather than what their athletes need.

This is the perfect opportunity to strip things right back to basics.

Ensure the foundations are solid so that when you introduce the sexy new drills in later, it’s easier to coach.

Let’s step into the kid’s shoes for a minute, you’ve been given a new body that’s bigger, stronger and more powerful than the previous one. Chances are it’ll take a while to get the hang of it. Going back to basics is a chance for the coach to see where everyone is at and for the athletes to get to grips with their longer limbs.

The athletes may also find that they struggle with certain things that would have been simple for them a few months ago. This isn’t a time to panic, but it IS an opportunity for the coach to earn their stripes.

No matter what the age of the athlete or the sport they play, the basics of movement are this:

SQUAT
LUNGE
BEND/HINGE
BRACE
PUSH
PULL
ROTATE

You could call this the alphabet of movement literacy. Personally I also think that single leg stance should be in there as a movement quality despite it not actually being a movement. An inability to carry out any one of these movements correctly will have a knock on effect with all movements related to this pattern. In a sporting setting, compensations will arise in order to carry out a task. Uncorrected this will lead to impaired performance and chronic injury thus affecting enjoyment of their sport.

 

Just like limited vocabulary affects ones ability to communicate effectively and hence the way they perform in a group, the same can be said for movement literacy and performance/confidence in sports.

Movement vocabulary encompasses (among other things) walking, running, accelerating, decelerating, changing direction, catching, throwing, hopping, skipping, crawling, striking, manipulating objects,  spatial awareness, jumping and landing. If you work with adolescent or pre-adolescent  athletes and you want them to be the best they can be, you need to be covering all of these areas in training. Not every session, but in phases.

Today’s society doesn’t expose children to these stimulus like it used to. If something’s missing, movement doesn’t flow. Try to imagine Jonathan Ross  saying “three free throws”?

Without mastering the basics, movement will not flow, nor will it be in control. If a player/athlete isn’t in control of their own body, they are going to really struggle with a ball and reactivity to situations will always be slow.

If you want to quickly get up to speed, then I suggest you go straight back to the fundamentals of movement. The knock on effect of mastering these is everything else starts to fall into place and coaching new skills becomes so much easier.

Master the basics and the rest comes easy!

In part 2 I’ll take a deeper look at the basic movements.

Yours in speed

Rob

Reduce Injuries This Preseason

Is it really August already?
I can’t believe the Football League has already started with the Premiership to follow.
For most amateur football and rugby clubs, it’s pre-season time.
Everyone’s excited about the season ahead. It’s a clean slate. You just want to get pre-season out of the way and start playing.
Everybody dreads pre-season. It’s those never ending running sessions. The endless press ups, burpees, piggy backs and anything else the coach can think of in order to break the players. Some coaches even take pride in the fact they made players throw up.
The only guarantee are the injuries. Why do we do it?
Coaches tend to blame the players for not looking after themselves.
Whereas players blame the coach for the torturous training sessions.
Both have a point.
I have a problem with the way pre-season is generally done.
Traditionally, the idea is to build a broad platform of general fitness to then get more specific, using matches in the latter stages to get match sharpness. Most coaches and players would agree that the only way to get ‘match fit’ is to play matches.
Is that the only way? Or just the way it’s always been?
When you only have 6 weeks to prepare for explosive endurance sports such as football and rugby, you don’t really have enough time to build a conditioning base from scratch, then try to convert that into speed and power.
Those 6mile runs to get in the “Aerobic Base” – not necessary.
The press ups, sit ups, squats and lunges in their hundreds. – too much.
The Crufts style agility courses with cones, ladders, hurdles, poles done as fast as you can – doesn’t prepare for the game.
Let me put this to you. If you got your 6mile run time right down to 36mins. That’s a good aerobic base right? Maybe for a 10k runner, but 6 minute miling is only 22.5sec per 100m. Not only is the intensity too low for the energy systems, but the muscular force required and speed of contraction is not preparing the body for the sport of football. So you might be aerobically very fit, but the first time you make a couple of short sprints or an overlap, you’re goosed. What about accelerating, decelerating and changing direction?  So much more can be done in that 40 or so minutes.
For “I’m not match fit,” read “I’m poorly prepared.”
I’m of the opinion that you can’t endure what you haven’t got.
Train speed before speed endurance. Develop strength before strength endurance. Power, before power endurance.
It makes sense when you think about it.
When pre-season training involves massively over working the players before they have developed fatigue resistance is going to lead to technical breakdown and a reduced ability to concentrate. The key ingredients for accidents and injury.
In a game, during the last 10mins of each half, is it the lungs bursting that’s making it hard? Or is it that your legs feel heavy and can no longer respond at the speed you want them to?
If it’s the latter, the fatigue is down to the number of times your legs have had to accelerate and decelerate. The discrete direction changes. Getting low.
Do you know how often you do these in a game? How quickly you need to be able to recover? No? Then that may explain why you can only get match fit by playing the game.
This time, why not try doing your pre-season everything the other way round?
Start with fast work over about 40/50m. Fast, but not flat out and in a straight line. We don’t want sore hamstrings. Just slow walk back for recovery (about 60sec). Don’t get competitive with the sprints until week 3 or 4 unless you want them to tense up, get slower and get injured.
In these early sessions, also work on the mechanics of direction change at a slow speed and groove the technique of the basic strength work you plan to do.
Week 2 Just increase the volume. Stop when you first notice technique deteriorates. You’re not training for fitness or fatigue resistance yet.
Week 3 Start to load up deceleration work when the muscles should be able to tolerate it. You can start to get competitive with the sprinting now. Still no fatigue yet.
Week 4 Introduce reactive agility and shorten recoveries. Technique should be able to handle a bit of tiredness.
Week 5 Now is the time to start pushing the fatigue resistance. Also introduce randomisation and chaos now to your agility work when the movement patterns are ingrained and robust enough. Get more specific with timed possession games
Week 6 Maximal intensity so there’ll be no shocks on game day. Short recoveries (1:2or3 work to rest). Put them in small clusters or sets like in a match situation with a couple of minutes recovery.
If you’re training 2-3 times per week, that will be enough to see you getting the season off to a flying start but also ensure injuries are kept to a minimum.
Try this system and tell me how you get on.. It’s worked for me but I’d love to hear your feedback.

Is It Worth Screening Young Athletes?

I know there are many coaches out there that believe that you don’t need to screen athletes. Just seeing how the athletes deal with certain drills and exercises tells them all they need to know.

Well I apologise now, but I’m not that good.

Firstly, when you have a squad, it’s hard to objectively look at the specific movements of every member and glean all the information you need. 

You may pick up that Jonny’s on his toes too much, or is posturally weak and struggles with stepping off his left foot. Or that Jenny’s knees collapse inwards when she jumps or changes direction.

Over the course of the first few weeks of preseason it becomes clear what each player can and can’t do. 

How is that going to direct the programme? 

Do you have a strategy to clear up the movement issues? 

Or do you just hope that your programme and coaching skills are robust enough to develop them through it?

If you’re reading this then I’m sure you’ll already know that you can’t develop a skill if the players don’t have the required movement ability to execute it. 

So this is a problem holding the team’s development back.

This is why I screen ALL my athletes. 

Just so you’re clear, I’m not talking about a medical screen or genetic screen or anything like that. This is just a simple Movement Screen that highlights any basic movement dysfunctions.

After the first session, I now know what each player’s problems are. Not only do I know WHAT they can and can’t do, but more importantly I know WHY. 

What does each individual athlete need to work on to get to where we want them? What do I need to include in the session? 

Is it Movement Quality, Strength, Power, or Technical Skills related to their sport? 

Without a good screening and testing procedure set up, how will I ever know? 
 
Screening young athletes is a vital step in the training process. I take the time to do a movement screen (as well as the performance tests) with each and every athlete that joins one of my programmes. This directs what to work on during each training session and how each person can can get maximum benefit from the programme. 

It’s my responsibility to enhance each athlete’s performance when they come to train with Speed Academy. After all…that’s what the parents are paying for, right? They’re paying me to help their child get more from their sport. Whether that’s to make them more competitive in a performance setting, or to get a more enjoyable experience from sport leading to a healthier relationship with exercise in adulthood.

Most athletes tend to spend a lot of time working on the technical skills of the sport. I think all NGBs now understand that technical proficiency is critical. But for every specific skill, there is a certain physical demand. 

If the movement skills and athleticism aren’t there in the first place, then execution of a skill will be impossible no matter how good the coach is.

I had a lightbulb moment at an FA Sport Science Conference about 5yrs ago.  Athletic development guru Kelvin Giles stated that
“you need the physical qualities in place to do the skills work, and the specific skills to do the tactical work, in that order.” Or something to that effect.

This struck a chord with me as it seemed at the time that many clubs and coaches were only really working on the skills and tactical side. So they’re just waiting to be given a great athlete so that they can turn them into a football or rugby player.

The problem here is that some kids move brilliantly at a young age, then grow a bit. This growth spurt causes them to lose control of their limbs and posture, start to move a bit like C3P0. Because of this, they have to adapt the way they move to account for the lack of stability and mobility. Many never recover from this as the new, less efficient movement patterns become engrained.

There are other young athletes that have the perfect attitude, co-ordination and awareness, but are physically easily dominated. These players are often missed and it’s too late when they catch up ini the late teens. The opportunity has gone. The potential was there, but completely overlooked.

Gray Cook a Physical Therapist from the States came up with the very simple Functional Movement Pyramid. This pyramid consists of three different blocks, or primary focuses, that need to be addressed to improve sporting performance and explains in a picture what I think Kelvin was saying..

Movement is the base of the pyramid and establishes a base for us to work from.  Without good, clean efficient movement…performance will be decreased and injury rates are sure to increase.  I have noticed over the years that in order to play at a high level, my athletes need to be able to squat, lunge, step, reach, push, pull, and crawl.  I first recognised the effectiveness of this approach with my golfers. 

For a long time I’ve worked closely with a very good golf coach called Mark Pinkett. 
Early on in our relationship, Mark sent a young payer to me because he saw the value of athleticism in golf.

As always, the first thing I did was screen him. Now he might have been 16 and playing for England, but not knowing much about golf at the time, I just treated him like any other athlete and stayed true to what the screen was telling me.

I wanted to see him be able to master the basics of movement. So for the first 6-8 weeks we just focussed on specific mobility, stability and posture to enable him to perform basic movements such as squat, static lunge, push and pull.

After about 6weeks I got a phone call from Mark. His first words were “What the bloody hell have you been doing with Cameron?” 

First thought that went through my head was “Sh*t! I’ve screwed up his swing by doing none specific stuff.”
“Just some foundation stuff, why?” Keeping my poker face.
“He’s hitting the ball miles, and I’m getting him to do things with his swing he couldn’t do before…”
We’ve worked together on a lot of players since then and we’ve never failed to get at least 25yds or dramatically improve consistency.

This experience with those golfers highlighted to me the importance of movement screening and creating the broadest foundation possible in the time I have with an athlete.

You can build a beautiful house on sand, but it won’t be long before it crumbles and you have to start again.

Using the Functional Movement Screen, I am able to screen each athlete and see what we need to work on. This sets up everything else and enhances performance. 

Next, we want to attack the performance level.  If they are moving well, this is where we will reinforce that good movement by loading it using resistance exercises. A good strength and conditioning program will help reinforce proper movement.  Resistance training will basically tell the body we like what we see.  If we like the movement, we want to load it.  We want to tell the body this is good, so strengthen and reinforce this movement.

That’s why the base is so important.  If we start to strength train on a poor base of support or movement, we’re going to reinforce faulty, inefficient movement. You will undoubtedly get some gains in performance, but what you have is an over-powered athlete. This is an injury waiting to happen. Imagine putting an F1 engine in a beat up Fiesta.

Fast yes. But it’s only a matter of time.

Clean up the movement first, and then move into some traditional strength and conditioning routines to build a stronger, more powerful athlete. 

Finally, the top of the pyramid is the last thing we want to focus on.  This stage is important, but building a solid athlete begins by working on building a foundation…A foundation based upon being strong and moving well.  If the athlete is weak or moves like crap, there is no amount of skill work that will help enhance their game.  

During the offseason, we focus primarily on the bottom two blocks of the pyramid.  We want to build each athlete up by laying a foundation of good, efficient movement capacity.  After we like what we see there, we start to reinforce that movement with strength and power work.  

Finally, as the season gets a little closer, we will start to integrate more skill work in their programming.  We may focus more on sprint, cutting, deceleration, reaction skills, and other technical skills related to being a good athlete.

However, we only focus on this phase if we have established a proper pyramid based on movement before performance and then performance before skill. 

The short time it takes to run a good screen helps guide the development of a game plan for each athlete.  

Whatever the scenario is, a good screen will help apply the best plan of attack in addressing the weaknesses of each athlete or the team as a whole. Taking the time to screen on the front end reaps huge benefits if the info found is used appropriately.  

Youth Training Tip No 1

Youth Training Tree Climb

Do Something Different This Summer

The football and rugby seasons are over. The best thing a young athlete can do to improve their football or rugby is to do no football or rugby.

Yes, that’s right NONE.

Their body needs a break from the repetitive movements of the sport which can lead to overuse injuries in growing bodies – as an aside, if your child has had a none contact injury then this is paramount as it should never happen.

The summer is an opportunity for them to move up to the next level. Do you think that will happen if they keep doing the same thing?  Would you want your school to ONLY teach Maths or English in the hope to make the kids fantastic at those subjects alone? Young bodies as well as young brains need to be challenged. They also need variety to prevent burnout, both mental, physical and emotional.

All the top sports stars are great all round athletes. Look at Michael Jordan who had a dabble with baseball, Roger Federer who’s quite handy at football (as is Andy Murray), Gary Lineker had to choose between football and cricket.

When the focus is purely on one sport, the athletic foundation of that child will be narrow. Meaning the height of possible performance will be reduced. Challenges are few. With fewer challenges, they will not be able to fulfill their potential.

On the other hand, if that child were challenged on areas of weakness or different movement patterns, they will return to the sport a stronger, more capable athlete. More than that though, their attitude to their chosen sport will be enhanced for the break.

Tennis and other racket sports challenge the upper body in ways that football and rugby can’t. Working on striking movements, hand eye co-ordination, lateral footwork, torso strength and linking upper and lower body.

Cricket involves powerful throwing actions and again, striking. Track and field offers a world of opportunity to get faster and stronger. All these summer sports truly complement the winter ones.

On top of this, climbing trees, swinging on ropes and just free play will improve strength, balance and body awareness.

Summer. Use this time well and you’ll really see a forward leap next season.

Are You Training Or Developing?

If you want your young players to fulfil their potential and get maximum enjoyment out of sport, you need a developmental system. 
  
Training for speed regardless of the sport, has to be developmental in nature.
  
With younger athletes (6 – 9 years old) training for speed is a matter of allowing them to explore various aspects of movement from a self-learning perspective. Remember that it’s not about trying to make them fast NOW. 

Think of lifetime performance potential as a pyramid. These early years are where the base is set. You will never have another chance to lay this foundation, so if you want to build high in the future, you’d better start broad.

As a Coach or Trainer, the objective is to create games, drills or situations that provide this broad-base of movement. The central nervous system is very plastic at this stage, so the more different situations and challenges you expose them to, the more ‘memories’ are created in the nervous system, thus providing a broader base from which to work. 

By limiting the stimulation of movements to one sport, you are narrowing the base of their foundation. Running, jumping, landing, skipping, hopping, crawling, balancing, reaching, throwing, catching, striking, pushing, pulling, bending, manipulating. It’s important that they are exposed to all these movements regularly in a challenging environment where they have to figure it out for themselves. Playing football all year round will lead to a very narrow base. You may have a very good junior player who may even get into an academy. But with such a narrow foundation, the height of the performance pyramid has been limited. 

The result is that many get frustrated and drop out of sport as they become less dominant figures. The ones that stick at it end up being injury prone. 
  
It is important to resist the urge to ‘over-teach’ or ‘make perfect’ the way youngsters are performing these skills. Babies go from lying on their backs to crawling then walking and running in a logical progression without any input from a coach. They’re very good at working things out for themselves. A coach’s role is to inspire in them the desire to learn.

Young nervous systems must be given the opportunity to learn through a trial and error process, what quality movement feels like. 
  
With pre-adolescent athletes, training efforts can become more teaching based. The focus will shift to honing movement habits and and putting into more complex scenarios. a strength component should be introduced here to facilitate the skill progression. This is important to understand. We are not trying to get really strong or build muscle. Pillar/core strength is of utmost importance to make skill progression a smooth process. It allows for better manipulation of their centre of mass (agility) and control over limbs.

Eventually as we reach 14-18 there will be more repetition of specific skills and they can be made much more sport specific. The ability to reproduce the skills under the pressure of higher speeds, loads and fatigue need to be introduced.
  
Do not be fooled into thinking that young athletes and more mature athletes can learn the skills associated with speed & agility in the same way. Programming must have a plan. 

There’s a reason they don’t teach Shakespear in Primary school. Speed and athletic development is no different.

Yours in speed

Rob

Don’t Neglect This In Your Speed Training

In field and court sports, the speed and success of performance isn’t just down to the speed of movement. Speed of thought and interpretation of situations are equally important.

We all know those players who aren’t the fastest in the tests and races, but always seem to be in the right position.

A typist thinks in phrases rather than letters and words. This is called chunking. skilled players develop the ability to chunk and act in ‘action phrases’ through repetition. By always practising movement sequences in training, even simple practice situations, will contribute immensely to the speed and rhythm at which a team can play in competition.

At the same time, training for reaction speed will bear little success. Reaction speed is very specific to the stimulus. Responding to a single stimulus has very little impact on performance speed. Match situation involves a player having to filter constant information from the field of play. The ability to pick out and respond to the most important information develops through learning from previous situations. This will be facilitated through coaching feedback from live situations. Not drills or exercises.

True Game Speed is about:
1) always being in a ready position
2) reading the situation
3) movement

And I would put them in that order for most field and court sports. If you’re lacking in one department, you’ll always be beaten to the ball/tackle or have to work twice as hard to make up for it and fatigue too quickly.

Yours In speed

Rob

A Coach’s Number 1 Frustration

Coaching can provide some of the most rewarding moments in your life. Especially if you work with young athletes. But along with the rewards come the frustrations.

One of the most frustrating situations comes when your players are not able to carry out a skill or drill the way you have pictured in your mind. All your research says they should be ready for it, but in the session, 80% just don’t get it.

You’re stood in front of them thinking;

“How long do I carry on trying with this? Shall I just regress it now? No, I think they can do it.”

You walk them through it, and explain it fully, but as soon as any kind of tempo is added, their technique falls apart.

No matter how good a coach you are, no amount of great cueing will sort out a problem that’s rooted in movement ability. The only way to advance the players is to strip right back to fundamentals. That means removing the ball, taking out any competitive or reactionary element and breaking the movements down.

By breaking the movement patterns down to their constituent parts, you can isolate the problems. These issues can be worked on individually, then progressively re-integrated into the full movement pattern.

Let’s look at a simple football example. If you’re trying to coach an inside-outside dribble to beat a defensive player, you would make sure the players can adequately and consistently perform a turn with the outside of the foot, right?

But if you want the players to really perfect the skill so that it’s quick, balanced, reactive and undetectable, they need to be able to perform a perfect cutting action, or side step. Without the ball.

To perform an effective side step, they need to be able to achieve the following:

  • Adopt a low centre of gravity

    Ronaldo’s foundational movement skills make it easy for him to execute great skills.

  • Plant a flat foot (all studs, not toes)
  • Plant it outside the base of support perpendicular to the line of force
  • Drive the foot down and away with optimal force and direction
  • Create full extension of hip, knee, and ankle
  • Maintain posture to keep head up and transfer energy
  • 2nd step should be powerful and in the new direction (no good needing 2-3 steps to change direction).

Your players should be able to walk this through and describe this for you, let alone demonstrate proficiency. Only by knowing exactly how it should feel and what they’re aiming for can they analyse and self correct.

In order to carry this movement out effectively, the players need to have developed the following physical capabilities:

  • Ankle mobility – tight calve and stiff ankles will result in player being on toes. Less power and stability with high risk of knee, ankle sprain.
  • Great postural strength – torso collapsing results in energy loss and the head drops so eyes removed from game
  • Hip mobility – to fully extend without compensation while opposite hip drives in new direction.
  • Pelvic stability – for energy transfer and to prevent groin injuries
  • Single leg strength – to absorb and push off with no compensation
  • Proprioception and awareness – so can feel exactly where they are and what they’re doing. This way the athlete can make adjustments on the fly if needed.

In an ideal scenario, all young athletes should have developed these skills, but the reality is that most do no other activities other than their sport. That means it’s down to the sports coach to develop these areas of movement if the players are to progress and reach their potential. Hell, it’s not going to get any better sat at a desk in school or playing on the X-Box at home.

When players develop the foundational athleticism demanded by the sport first, coaching the skills is significantly easier. In this example, the players can perform a great side step, so all you have to do is introduce the ball and ask them to push it with the outside of the boot as they make the side step. Because they are balanced and strong on one leg, the application of a ball skill on top is a comfortable one.

When you break the movements down into their fundamentals you can clear up the issues, then re-integrate.

Doesn’t this just sound like whole-part-whole coaching?

I know what you’re going to say, who’s got the time to strip things back that far?  You’ve got 10 minutes per session to work on a movement pattern. You’ll be rehearsing the movements of the sport. Hitting the required positions, going through full range and gradually speeding up. Sounds like a specific warm up to me.

Except it’s not JUST a warm up. It actually makes them better athletes in the process.

Here’s a thought for you. What if, you had a strategy to develop the movement ability in the phase before you introduce the skill. It’s all down to how far ahead you plan your sessions. But in a progressive plan for juniors, you should be thinking long term, no?

If this all sounds like hard work, contact me. It’s what we do day in day out at Speed Academy. Maybe we can help you get the most out of your teams.

Yours in speed

Rob Gascoyne

Speed Coach

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT WORD IN SPEED TRAINING?

I was reading an article by an American sprints coach called Latif Thomas. And whereas I don’t coach track and field, what he said resonated with me. The main crux of this article was that there is one thread that runs through all our training. And without constantly referring back to that thread, those different areas of training become disparate and fail to transfer to improvements in speed.

I was going to rewrite the article with my own spin for multi directional speed training rather than just sprinting. But I think it’s better that Latif should take all the credit.

Besides, he says it much better. Even with the track focus, you can easily transfer the information to multi directional sports.
Take it away Latif:

“Our athletes will be faster when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will be more explosive and powerful when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will be on the board (instead of over and behind) and won’t trip over hurdles (or themselves) when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will consistently hit their times during tempo runs and race modeling sessions once they develop more of this quality.
So, if all I’ve said here is true, then what is the most important word in all of speed training?

Coordination.

Everything we do in practice is designed to improve the ability to express technique in order to positively influence performance. An athlete’s inability to express said technique simply boils down to lack of specific coordination.
Of course, I didn’t invent this concept. I heard Gary Winckler (coach to Alyson Felix, Olympic 200m champion – Rob) talk about it. Then I thought about it. Then I stole it. Now here we are.

Here’s an example. Last week I ran the exact same workout with two different athletes.

One was a 16 year old high schooler with a 200m PR of 26.1. The other was a 22 year old post collegiate with a 200m PR of 24.7.
The high schooler has been doing consistent technical work all summer and fall, going back and forth between me and another great sprints coach, Marc Mangiacotti.

In our last session, she looked incredible. Her bad runs are now vastly superior to what good runs looked like in June. She can break down her own technique before I say anything which, to me, is a sign of wildly improved kinesthetic awareness and skill acquisition. Her confidence is light years ahead of where it was 6 months ago. I’m very proud of her and can’t wait to see her reap the rewards of her hard work.

The post collegiate, on the other hand, comes from a (Division I) college program that did absolutely no technical work, no speed work and sent 200m specialists out for 30 minute runs on a routine basis even in the middle of the competitive phase. She came from a good high school program (cough, cough), so that’s roughly the last time this athlete had good technical instruction (a 25.02 HS PR vs 24.71 collegiate PR is not a comforting improvement over the course of 4 years at the D-1 level).

Needless to say, this athlete was some sort of Hot Mess. She could feel it wasn’t right.

It wasn’t lack of effort or focus. And it sure wasn’t lack of ability. It was pure lack of coordination.

She lacked (’lost’ might be a better word) the strength (coordination training under resistance), endurance (coordination training under event specific time constraints), speed (coordination training to express highest force in the least amount of time and resulting in optimal displacement) and mobility (coordination training to dynamically express forces through desired/required ranges of motion) to accelerate to top speed and maintain that velocity with any semblance of efficiency or consistency of execution.

Once she acquires the coordination that the high schooler currently possesses, I know one thing for sure, she won’t be grinding to dip under the times she ran when she was 16.

My point is pretty simple. If you want to run a 21st Century program, it’s not enough to just run fast in practice. As coaches we have to have our own process for solving the acceleration equation. And, just as importantly, we have to be able to help our athletes solve it themselves. Because we can’t cue them or engage in technical feedback once the gun goes off. Their success fundamentally depends on the ability to feel what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ and make corrections in real time, under the stress of competition and with 6-7 other athletes trying to beat them. Or with a crowd of people staring at them while they barrell down the runway.

It’s not enough to send kids into the weight room if you don’t have the same technical standards for a squat or clean as you do for coming out of blocks or doing phase work in the triple jump.

But if you reframe your training perspective with coordination being the ultimate goal and strength, speed, endurance and mobility being interdependent qualities, it will be easier to connect the dots between movements, event groups and specific skill development.”

OK, I’m back. Thanks Latif. Those Americans are good at self promotion aren’t they?

So what am I trying to get across with this?

Any body who has worked with me knows that I will not let poor technique go unchecked. In the weights room, it’s not just about shifting heavy loads. We want to understand what good movement feels like and how, when we have good movement, the force you can create is greater with more control and less stress.

In movement training, if we can hit the positions correctly, movement is much more fluid and effortless. What are the standout characteristics of the world’s best players? Fluid and Effortless. 

Fitness conditioning is about maintaining technique while resisting fatigue. 

By focussing on coordination you get a better understanding of what good a nd poor movement feels like. With this quality you can self correct. An essential ability to have once the whistle goes and there’s no coaching instructions to prompt you.

In your next practice, perform all your drills and exercises with this concept of ‘coordination as the ultimate goal’ in mind. It will be both liberating and overwhelming at the same time. Ask the coach how they want you to move. What should it look like? Get them to break the movement patterns down and demonstrate perfect technique (if they can). 

Slow it down, try different ways and see how they feel. Ask for coaching feedback. Only when you’re happy that you’ve mastered the technique should you then start to speed it up. If you haven’t learned something in your session, then it was pointless.

Yours in speed

Rob 

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