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May 9 2017 - Reframing the multi-sport participation model for the track and field athlete

As a coach who has worked with development athletes from multiple provinces, teams, organizations, and groups who have taken part in dozens of activities at the same time I can fully attest to the craziness and questions that arise when trying to balance it all. However, I fully support a multi-sport environment and dealing with the craziness as the variety of experiences for the developing athletes in their middle and high school years are a proven beneficial fact. But the question then shifts to how the high school athlete fits it all in?

Framing my answer from the viewpoint of a track and field coach in my opinion there isn’t a right answer. Track coaches can’t bench their players or threaten them with decreased playing time so we are usually just happy to see the athletes on the days that they come. I only wish that other sports supported embracing a balance as much as we do. However, this approach is a compromise and comes with an understanding from the coach, athlete, and support team (parents, etc) that every choice comes with consequences. So, the question then becomes why do we participate in track and field training at all? If the athlete is going to soccer, baseball/softball, hockey, and basketball aren’t they doing more than enough to be fit and still compete well? The short answer is usually yes, they are. They are getting a number of training boxes checked and this is why we want multi-sport participation and also why we see multi-sport athletes who have never done track come out and still be successful over others. But where does track fit and why should we prioritize it to attend two to three practices per week?

This comes from the development aspects of learning and specific training that enhances the team sport. I’ll start with the second. Track and Field is one of the purest sports around and the requirements of sprinting as fast as possible or doing intervals are usually not done in the same manner as a team sport so the training effect isn’t as significant. Running is running but which running workout is going to have the biggest impact on increasing performance in all sports – running at basketball or maximum speed sprinting at track? One of those will help with both while the other will barely move the needle in the other. If we go back to the first example of learning the situational demands and well-rounded approach to development that occur in track practice – warm up, medicine ball throws, specific strengthening through bands and tubes, running mechanics, technical drills, some energy system manipulation (fast sprinting or specific intervals), and then a structured cool down that increases flexibility, range of motion, and increases the prevention of injuries are rarely done in the team sport environment. In the case of track and field practice it is the practice that benefits all the other sports. Track will positively impact hockey. Track will positively impact basketball. Track will positively impact soccer. Track will positively impact baseball/softball. Can the same be said about a baseball/softball practice having a positive impact on hockey to the same extent? Usually not but as always there are exceptions and reasons as to why we want to shift the priorities in that that multi-sport involvement.

In closing I, as a coach, want to be involved in a multi-sport long term athlete development program where athlete participation in a number of activities is supported and then decreases in the late teens as performance goals become clearer and opportunities with a greater chance of success become evident. However, with an increasing number of opportunities comes an increase in stress and costs in making those decisions based around which one do I skip today? What will happen if I skip ______ (insert sport)? What happens if I skip track? While track will still miss out more often than team sports perhaps we should look at track as the primary training for all those other sports and the glue that links success between them all together. Athlete experiences and performance are better in their team sport because of track so keep the track going and keep the performance in the team sport increasing. I have seen too often the situation where the track athlete goes to a team sport where they are initially successful only followed by reduction in team sport level success because they stopped coming to track in order to only focus on the team sport. They stopped doing what made them good in the first place. A balance must be reached and hard decisions made but track is the foundation for success so try to make sure it is being prioritized accordingly.

This article is the seventh of a monthly segment called Coaching Connection. If you are looking for additional ideas or assistance with any of the details above, do not hesitate to reach out. Additionally, ideas for future topics are encouraged or if you would like to contribute to this monthly activity please contact a member of the staff at Athletics New Brunswick.


Apr 12 2017 - Coaching Better Every Season

Keeping last month’s book theme going comes a sure-fire, must read for any coach. Coaching Better Every Season by Dr. Wade Gilbert (2017) provides a year-round system for athlete development and program success.

The book is broken down into four parts – Preseason (Envision), In-Season (Enact), and End of Season (Evaluate), and Off-Season (Enhance) which guide the reader through the book and provide a link to the regular coaching schedule/process. Through each of these time periods coaches are provided with real world, practical examples used by legendary coaches, past and present.

As the indoor track and field season has recently came to a close with the end of season bringing a period of evaluation for programs utilized. It is also important to remember that a period of time away from the track, pit, circle, or mat and coaching should be part of the plan.  This period away will allow the coaching battery (mental, physical, and emotional) to recharge as the busy summer season approaches. This short period of time is not an extended off season where we have weeks or months to evaluate, analyze, reflect, and plan how to enhance and envision athlete development. This two to six weeks should narrow in on focused evaluations and reflection that bridge the two seasons, reflecting on what was learned, and coming up with a few performance enhancement strategies for the outdoor season that are deemed effective and appropriate for the athlete/group (i.e. Long Term Athlete Development considerations).

When analyzing the indoor track and field season at the individual level it is easy to use objective criteria – medals, records, and personal bests. If the athlete is happy, healthy, and improving then it is hard to say that the season was not a success. However, at the group level while the same measures can be used to determine if the general physical development programs were effective subjective areas surrounding group dynamics should also be examined. How was the culture of the group? Was the group excited to come to practice and complete all requirements laid out for them? Is the group environment one where athletes communicate positively, openly, and honestly?  Do they share the journey with one another where the athletes congratulate one another on completing a hard workout and support one another when they just can’t finish that hard work out?  How about analyzing the coaching process? Did you arrive to practice with enough time to set up what was needed for the practice and monitor the warm up effectively? Were your instructions clear and accurate? Were you positive, motivating, and building life and sport confidence in your athletes? Evaluation should not focus on just the athlete. Self-analysis and reflection are an integral part of becoming a better coach as the book shares.

This book is a must have for any coach. It cannot be stressed enough how beneficial it can be in terms of highlighting the multifaceted nature of coaching. The topics, examples, templates, and guides are hugely beneficial for any coach. While the X’s and O’s are commonly focused on by coaches and courses there is so much behind the athlete, the coach, the program, and the culture that determines success. I would highly recommend this book for all coaches.

Additionally, Dr. Gilbert operates a Facebook page where he posts stories, videos, and examples of coaches and programs who display positive practical coaching that you can learn from.

https://www.facebook.com/CoachingBetterEverySeasonByWadeGilbert/

This article is the sixth of a monthly segment called Coaching Connection. 


Mar 6 2017 - Practice & Teaching

Recently, I read a book titled Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi.  This book provided 42 rules for improvement. This posting will highlight three of the rules and a few thoughts as it relates to athletics coaching.

Rule 2- Practice the 20

            Many are aware of the 80/20 rule where 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of the sources.  As a coach, I have hundreds if not thousands of exercises, routines, activities, and training modalities that I could use. However, I don’t.  I have a stable set of exercises, routines, and training modalities that I use to elicit responses. This is not because I am bored or lazy but rather because I know they work and while I will try to inject some novelty within the exercise/routine/modalities it always keeps the same core feeling. I propose that we examine sprinting and the goal of getting an athlete as fast as possible. If we think in terms of 80/20 then we want to hone in on the 20% of what actually works in making athletes faster. In this case, the direction is towards maximum velocity sprints and acceleration work. Please remember I not suggesting that this is all that you need to do but rather if the goal is to get faster than focus on what you know works and get results. In this case I would say that 80% of sprint improvements are going to come from sprinting. The authors state, “You have to build a map of your goals from the outset. And you have to design extremely high-quality activities for each of your 20-percenters that get progressively more complex. On the other hand, once you’ve done that, you’ll no longer waste time preparing a smorgasbord of activities that you’ll use briefly and discard. You invest in developing better activities that you will use over and over. In the end this may save you work.”

 

Here are two key recommendations for the 20:

1)   Identify the 20 percent of things you could practice that will deliver 80 percent of the value.

2)   Practice the highest-priority things more than everything else combined.

 

Rule 5 – Replace your Purpose (with an Objective)

            This one is a bit more semantic in nature but I think it is extremely important. Every practice that I (and you) probably organize has a purpose. Some reason that you are doing what you are doing (which is great) but an objective provides greater clarity and focus. Let’s say that I am working with a hurdler who has been having issues making the three strides pattern between the hurdles. My hypothesis in this situation is that the athletes trail leg and position coming off the hurdle is not in position to facilitate velocity between the hurdles and thus needs to be refined. As such, I come with an objective for the next practice where we want to hit an ideal lead leg touchdown position with the trail leg in an “A” position up tall and in front of the body 90% of the time as evaluated through video. This now provides clarity as to what we are trying to achieve rather than just what we are going to do.  The authors state, “Many practices begin with the thought, “what am I going to do tomorrow?” (or even this afternoon!). When you ask this question, you are starting with an activity, not an objective – with the action, not the reason for it. In the end, you can’t decide if any activity is the right one to do until you know why you’re doing it. Instead, start by asking what you are going to accomplish, and then ask what the best route to that goal is. When an objective is made first, before the activity, it guides you in choosing or adapting your activities. When it comes second, after you decide what you’ll do, it is a justification.”

 

Here are two key recommendations for Replace your Purpose (with an Objective):

1)   Replace your vague idea of a “purpose” with a manageable and measurable objective that is made ahead of the practice and gives mastery guidance.

2)   Teach skills in a sequence of objectives of increasing complexity.

 

Rule 13 – Make a Plan

            Coaches plan all the time. I have made or used quadrennial plans, annual plans, seasonal plans, phase & period plans, monthly plans, weekly plans, daily plans, and session plans. Each plan provides just enough information so that I can see how all the plans build onto of one another and fit together. However, how do I make sure that my plans line up? How am I getting the information to make the plan? Previous Coaching Connection posts looked at data and how it can be used to help guide the plan. The authors provide three keys for planning:

1)    “Plan with Data-Driven Objectives in Mind”.

Previous Coaching Connection posts have explored the topic of data and how it can help guide plans and decisions that coaches make. Athlete X wants to win a medal at the Canada Games. What does the data suggest it will take? How does this information guide the objectives that Athlete X needs to be able to achieve in a competitive environment? Let the data guide the development of capacities, skill sets, and abilities.

2)    “Plan Down to the Last Minutes”

Fairly simply the authors state that good plans for practice leave nothing to chance. There are no questions as to what is going to happen next, when that drill will take place, or what is needed here or there. Sure, this is going to add in the time required to plan the practice but by having a detailed plan with all areas identified I would wager that the practice runs smoothly and efficiently or at the very least you are more prepared for any changes that might pop up unexpectedly.

3)    “Rehearse and Revise the Plan”

At this stage, you have a plan that has been put together with data and key objectives resulting in well thought decisions. You have planned and put it together with all the details in place. Now, can you rehearse it and revise it? Can you practice your practice session or can you video your practice session and look for improvements in how it is delivered? The authors state, “The time you make to practice training activities in advance always results in a better practice because it leads to better plans. We have scrapped activities, drastically revised activities, and simplified directions for clarity. Is this worth the time?”

These are just three of the 42 rules examined in the text. I have no doubt that I will be re-reading this one in the future and referring to it again. I would encourage coaches who are looking for information on how to reflect, analyze, and improve their practices to consider reading this text.

 

This article is the fifth of a monthly segment called Coaching Connection. If you are looking for additional ideas or assistance with any of the details above, do not hesitate to reach out. Additionally, ideas for future topics are encouraged or if you would like to contribute to this monthly activity please contact Coaching Education Director Jason Reindl at jasonreindl@me.com

2017-05-09 - Reframing the multi-sport participation model for the track and field athlete
2017-04-12 - Coaching Better Every Season
2017-03-06 - Practice & Teaching
2017-02-06 - Practice #ís During a Workout
2017-01-17 - Performance Practice 2

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