The All-Round Athlete

 

Long Term Athletic Development

Long Term Athletic Development Model Used by Speed Academy

 

ATHLETE development is a must – the benefits last a lifetime.

Think about how coaches and parents could enhance their kid’s experiences if they invested in athletic development training in the off-season rather than playing more games and having more practices.
 
Would it help decrease the drop-out rate of females at an early age?
 
If men and women had been taught to run, jump, and throw, would more of them join local league netball, play recreational 5 a-side, play vets rugby, or pick up a golf club or tennis racket at a later age? 
 
Would we see more parents, especially mums, happy to participate in a kids vs. parents game at the end of the season if they had the agility, balance, coordination, or speed to at least avoid being embarrassed or getting injured?
As John O’Sullivan from Changing the Game Project says, “We have the opportunity to serve our children better. We have the responsibility to help them become better athletes by encouraging them to become all-round athletes.”
 
Why can’t ‘all-round athlete’ last from primary school to adulthood — from youth leagues to adult leagues?
The reality is that athletic ability trumps skill.
 
If we teach and train our kids and our players in the fundamental movement skills and ABC’s, that will help them score more points/goals and help coaches win more games.
 
A better athlete will always find a way to shut down a great striker and a great athlete will be able to slice through any defensive strategy a coach has implemented.
 
Better athletes
• pick up new skills quicker and are easier to coach
• are much more resilient to injury
• transfer skills to a variety of sports
• are less likely to drop out of sport
• perform with greater consistency
 
These factors remove much of the stress felt by young sports people and thus allows them to enjoy their sports much more.
 
The ‘all-round athlete’ lasts from primary school to adulthood — from youth leagues to adult leagues.
 
If we invest in developing all round athletic ability, we have an opportunity to enhance the enjoyment of sport for all kids, not just the superstars. And last time I checked, there is no reason to put an expiry date on enjoyment.

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.  

10 ACCELERATION TIPS FOR IMPROVING GAME SPEED

10 TIPS FOR FASTER ACCELERATION 

The ability to accelerate into space or away from defenders is a devastating skill to have. Instantly the opposition treat you differently because this kind of pace is hard to handle. 

Somebody with a high top end speed will just be marked closely and not allowed the space to get up to speed.

A player who can accelerate from a stand-still is much more of a handful. Get too close and they’ll leave you for dead. All they have to do is get you to commit one way and BANG they’re gone the other way. 

The key to rapid acceleration isn’t genetic (good genetics increase your potential but don’t guarantee good mechanics) it’s technique. I’m going to give you 10 ways you can begin to improve your acceleration now. If you improve 5% in each area imagine the difference that will make to your speed.

These are not in any particular order, but if you don’t do number 1, the rest will prove much more difficult if not impossible.

1. GET A MOVEMENT SCREEN
No, really. This is the most important thing you can do when approaching any kind of performance enhancement. 

The way you move is dictated by your history. 12yrs of sitting 5hrs a day at school takes it’s toll. As do any previous injuries, repetitive movements and poor coaching. There’s an underlying reason why you run the way you do.

Over the years, you’ve most likely developed various movement dysfunctions and/or asymmetries. Putting more force through a faulty mechanism will only lead to breakdown. 

Getting a movement screen will highlight anything that will cause you to compensate and move inefficiently. You can then correct these areas and it will be like taking your car in for a full service. All movements will be smoother, balanced and more efficient. The key attributes of speed.

Seek out a recommended strength and conditioning coach or sports physiotherapist who offer some kind of systematic movement screen. Ideally, I look for those certified in the Functional Movement Screen, or Kinetic Chain Assessment as they a robust systems providing reliable information.

2.  TAKE THE BRAKES OFF

So you’ve had your movement screen. It should have highlighted issues that are slowing you down. By applying a corrective programme you will mobilise areas that have become tight and activate muscles that were dormant. 

Do you think McClaren would send out a car that had a sloppy clutch, buckled wheel and warped brakes? 

Is it a good idea to increase engine power before dealing with these fundamental problems? 

To achieve an effective acceleration position you need sufficient mobility in the ankles, hips, rib cage and shoulders. To maintain those movements, you need to make sure there is good energy transfer from feet to hips and hips to shoulders.

Corrective exercise shouldn’t be viewed as injury prevention, it will actually vastly improve performance in itself. As well as allow greater power to be transferred through the system.

There’s no such thing as injury prevention work or prehab. Just good training. By improving the movement system, you move more easily with less resistance.

3. STRENGTHEN YOUR PILLAR

The core is a very ambiguous term. Most people tend to think of it as just the abdominal area. I prefer the term trunk to cover the whole area from the shoulder blades to the pelvis inclusive. Even better is the concept of the pillar I learned from Athletes Performance. This helps us envisage how we want it to operate – as a strong, sturdy support that all other strength is built around.

If every ounce of force you put through the ground is going to move you forward, then the pillar had better transfer that energy like a golf ball rather than a squash ball. All force is generated from and transferred through the pillar. So it had better be strong.

OK, when I say strong, I don’t mean cover model abs. Exercises where the trunk resists force rather than creates force are the order of the day here. Sit ups, crunches, side bends and like are exercises that flex the trunk. 

This will make you strongest in a flexed posture. This will lead to shoulder and neck tension when you run. It’s also a major cause of sports hernia. You want to avoid torso movement in sport, so that’s what you train for.

Exercises I use include various styles of crawling, single arm pushes and pulls, cable chops and lifts. You want to progress the exercise to finally perform them all in am upright, standing position. As you would be in your sport.

Sprinting places huge forces on the pillar in all directions. Deceleration and direction change even more. You cannot be too strong in this area.  

4. SINGLE LEG STRENGTH

Squats and deadlifts have their place, but the weakest link in acceleration tends to be the feet, hip and pelvic stabilisers. Applying force through one leg is very different to doing it through two. In your sport, how often are you on two feet?

Do a 2 footed jump as high as you can. Now do the same on one leg. Swap legs.

Was there a difference on one leg than two? 
How about the difference left to right?

Start practicing split squats and lateral squats TODAY! Perfect the technique with body weight only rather than add weight. Only add weight when you can still perform the exercise perfectly. If the hip or knee deviates, or you can’t relax your feet, regress the exercise.

5.  GET COMFORTABLE LEANING FORWARD

Many of the players I work with stand up vertical straight away when accelerating. This is the equivalent of attaching a parachute to your back. You can’t generate force from an upright position. 

Acceleration should feel like a perpetual fall. Your body will automatically rise as your speed increases. This does not mean look at the floor! You can’t see the game if you’re looking at the floor.

The causes of this problem are 1) Weak pillar (we’re dealing with that right?) or 2) fear of falling.

Use Wall Drills to get used to being in a leaning position:
Stand facing a wall at arms length with your hands on the wall at shoulder height.
Take 2 small steps back so you have about 50* lean.
Feet together.
Create a straight line head to heel, thighs and Glutes squeezed and chest lifted up through your biceps.
Now lift your right knee into a sprint position while keeping perfect alignment.
Push the wall away, do not lean on the wall!
Hold this position for 20secs the swap sides.

Sled or partner pushes allow you to get used to driving the ground away forcefully while keeping your acceleration lean.

Hill sprints bring the lean to you (see no. 7). Gradually reduce the incline as you get more accustomed to leaning.
 
6. DRIVE BACK AND DOWN

Many people reach forward and focus too much on driving their knees in front of them. Instead, focus on driving the knees back and down. Don’t worry about knee lift, that will just happen.

Drive the knees like pistons from the hips. Don’t be polite with this. The force created from hip to knee is the force that goes through the floor. The greater the force, the faster you move.

Pillar marches are a great tool for drilling in that knee drive and for firing up the Glutes and hamstrings prior to acceleration work. 

7. HILL SPRINTS

The benefit of hills is that they bring the angle of lean to you. Great if you don’t have the luxury of push sleds and harnesses.

A short sharp hill of about 10% will allow you to focus on the driving back and down in a leaning position. 

6-10 reps of 10-15m is ideal.
These are explosive so take 1-2min between sprints. This is technique work remember. Not fitness.

8. PUSH AS MUCH GROUND AWAY AS POSSIBLE

Fast feet does not equal fast acceleration. Tap dancers have fast feet, but they don’t get anywhere. We want force through the floor, lifting the foot off too soon will reduce force massively. 

Acceleration is the opposite of top end speed. You actually want to keep the foot on the ground as long as possible (as long as it’s pushing maximally).

All the time you’re pushing through the floor, you’re accelerating and the last 15 degrees of extension are the most powerful (which part of the squat are you strongest, the bottom or the top?). 

When driving out, think push, push, push. Try to make the stride as long as possible. But by pushing, not reaching.

9. WARM UP FOR SPEED

This sounds obvious, but your body must be fully ready to move fast through large ranges of movement. The warm up isn’t just about raiding body temperature. 

You need to ensure you have full range of motion, the sleepy muscles are activated, 
the muscles, nervous and energy systems are primed. It should flow seamlessly and take you from doing nothing to maximal performance without fatiguing.

Ours looks like this:
Soft Tissue Work (optimise tissue quality)
Active Isolated Stretching (remove the brakes)
Muscle Activation (fire up dormant muscles)
Dynamic Mobility (show the body the positions you require of it)
Integrated Movement (put it all together with rehearsal of good movement patterns)
CNS Stimulation (get nervous system up to speed)

10. WATCH THAT 2ND AND 3RD STEP

This is the one that pops you up. Trying to over stride or stopping yourself from falling will cause you to put your foot in front of your hips. The foot will land flat and put the brakes on instantly. You also run the risk of pulling a hammy doing this.

Focus on the knees driving like pistons and keep pushing the ground away. If it scares you, you got it right. You will feel no resistance and it may feel easy.

The key to remember about acceleration, If it feels slow, it’s usually fast.

Yours in speed

Rob

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