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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


Feb 6 2017 - Practice #ís During a Workout

As previously discussed, the recording of competition data is an important piece in assessing athlete development. This information can be used to guide key performance indicator development, goals within the daily practice environment, and help shape individual workout items. When integrated as practice numbers the details can provide further insight into plans, purpose, and athlete priorities during training situations.

A few common workout/practice numbers that will be explored are the following:

-       Distance

-       Intensity

-       # Contacts

-       # Throws

-       Rest Intervals

Distance

            Distance is a common metric to be recorded from practice situations. When running during a timed run the distance can be recorded giving an indication on velocity capacities. Jumpers can record how much distance was covered in a certain number of bounds, hops, or jumps. Throwers and horizontal jumpers might record the distances of the day’s throws/jumps to determine the farthest performance along with the average. This average number can be quite useful depending on the goals of the workout and training phase. For throwers, this can also be valuable in managing abilities with heavier or lighter implements highlighting developmental needs.

Intensity

            Intensity is a common parameter found within workouts but its assessment is sometimes for subjective than objective. For sprinters and hurdlers this can take a more objective outlook by determining their velocity (how fast they are travelling in meters/second) as determined by their distance/time. For example, if the athletes best thirty-meter fly (a common metric for maximal velocity sprinting) is 3.32seconds their maximum velocity is approximately 9.03m/s. If the athlete, then performs a 22.50 second 150m run the average velocity would be 6.66m/s giving us an approximate average intensity of roughly 73.8% of the athlete’s maximum velocity capabilities. While this level of detail is not only applicable to sprinters and hurdles, it can be used for all athletes and especially useful when returning from an injury. For endurance athletes, the use of intensity most commonly involves running intervals at a percentage, higher for lower, of their race pace goals. For the jumps and throws this becomes slightly more subjective analysis and based off of the coach’s program design but throwing with an underweight implement could be viewed as a lower intensity day or taking jumps from a short approach. However, depending on the volume and mental investment on this short approach jump or light implement throw the intensity could still be quite high.

# of Contacts

            For jumpers, this is a common metric that is measured but it can be used by all who utilize jumping activities. For the jumper, they might do sets and reps of bounds and hops where contacts are the main parameter (3x10x10 Hops per leg) or six take offs from their left leg. Very simply it is how many jumps or foot contacts take place. If athletes are doing hurdle rebounds (hurdles placed a set distance apart from the legs and the athlete jumping over top of one landing and jumping over the next) it is easy to calculate. Eight hurdles would be eight landings and if the athlete is doing six sets that would be forty-eight total contacts. For running, if an athlete is coming back from injury and we want to progressively increase the number of running contacts they take during a workout we could measure their stride length and determine how many contacts occur over a given distance. For example, if the athletes sub maximum running stride length is approximately 1.8 meters a fifty-meter run would result in approximately twenty-eight strides or fourteen contacts per foot.

# of Throws

            Many throws coaches will count the number of throws in practice to determine and monitor volumes however for those also using throwing modalities it is an important number to keep track of. If the athletes throw medicine balls or shot puts for athletic development reasons they should be recorded. Did the athlete do twenty forward squat heaves or did they do fifty and how much did the implement weigh? These numbers and differences are valuable pieces of information especially when determining competition and taper plans. When combined with an intensity metric (distance that the implement is thrown) an approximate overall training load can be determined.

Rest Intervals

            While rest intervals are usually a secondary thought they are extremely important when determining density patterns of the workout. These density patterns of work to rest can influence the athlete’s perception of workload and overall focus on quality within the workout item. Let’s use a sprinter, endurance runner, jumper, and thrower with each having to perform five runs or jumps or throws. If the time between each repetition was only sixty seconds that might lend itself to lower intensity activities very suitable for a runner where endurance is being developed but if we elaborated on the other events and said it is a maximal effort flying thirty, a full approach long jump, or competition effort javelin throw this would raise red flags as to the purpose of the workout and its intended effects on competition performance as well as having an increased likelihood of injury. If the time between each repetition was eight minutes that might lend itself to a higher intensity where the sprinter doing the flying 30m, the jumper doing the full approach long jump, or the thrower doing the competition effort javelin would have a greater importance and make much more sense in terms of development of competition performance while the endurance runner would be looking for high quality efforts at greater proximity or even exceeding race paces.

The above information is merely a snapshot of examples that through further reflection, inspection, and analysis can help the coach identify numbers used in practice to guide the goals, developmental needs, and focus of the athlete and support staff within the daily training environment. However, it must be reiterated that individual numbers are unique to the coach, athlete, training phase, goals, and developmental needs of the individual. The importance of the numbers is found through the process of identifying them and impacting the focus, understanding, and pursuit of key performance indicators within the athlete development plan.

This article is the third 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 and if you would like to contribute to this monthly activity please contact Coaching Education Director Jason Reindl at jasonreindl@me.com

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
2017-01-06 - Linking Competition Data with Practice Data

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