Try looking at things from a different perspective
For those of you studying at University, you may be under the impression that there is only one way of doing things. Try to look outside of the parameters of the people who are marking your assignments.
Here are some useful tips to get the ball rolling:
Get some space between you and the daily grind- 15 minutes of non-electronic communication\ noise time. It is difficult to be creative with your mind being full of bills\ work\ relationships.
Look at something different that you have never read or seen before, something completely unrelated to the norm. E.g. read Good Housekeeping magazine,watch how a beetle moves, or study a postcard in detail. Then write down 3 things that you have observed, or learnt.
Creative coaching to help solve problems
Once your mind is a bit clear, and you have been exposed to some new ideas or concepts, then it is time to try and apply this to your coaching or training.
You have written down 3 things that you have observed, now write down your 3 best coaching points and your 3 biggest coaching problems.
See how you can connect the good coaching with your problem via one of your observations on a non related subject.
It sounds bizarre, but in order to change, you have to try looking at things from a different perspective.
It is a lot more interesting than just copying someone else’s drills.
On every coaching course I have attended, the tutor has pointed out the section in the workbook entitled “communication”. There follows a group nodding of heads where every budding coach agrees that “communication is a good thing”. If we are lucky, the tutor might divide communication further into “verbal” and “non-verbal”. We then move onto the next important quality required to be a good coach.
Writing is a form of “non-verbal” communication and, despite what the popular opinion may be, is here to stay. As a coach you may think you don’t write, but how about:
Rules and Guidelines
I was asked to give feedback on a series of exercises that were going to be given out to young golfers by the “lead strength and conditioning coach”. They were grouped into different components of fitness including:
We all make typos and that is why we ask people to proof read and correct. But, when I pointed out the typos I was told “it doesn’t matter”. To me that attitude is showing a lack of respect to the young golfers, all of whom are told endlessly what they can do to improve.
The same thing applies to giving presentations. Typos are common, but easily resolved. Improving the overall content and style of your presentation is a different topic, but if you are using the written form, try to improve the clarity of what you are saying.
If you are still reading, then you might be interested in some book recommendations on how to improve your writing.
Four books that can help you improve your written communication
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Lynne Truss
The first book I recommend to the coach who forgets the difference between “your” and “you’re”. It was a surprise best seller in 2003-2004. A very funny book, partly written out of frustration at reading blackboards outside shops that sell “CD’s, Book’s and Video’s” (remember videos in 2004). This will help clear up many of the daily mistakes that we all make.
The Elements of Style: W. Strunk and E.W. White
Classic short text
An accepted classic first printed in 1959 and remaining in print since. It is much more of a rules book and is of its time. However, at 96 pages short, it is extremely accessible and of use as a reference. Much of the advice will be familiar to coaches:
“It is better to express even a negative in a positive form”.
In coaching terms, rather than say “don’t bend your knee” we might say “straighten your knee” or even better “reach for the sky” depending on what we are trying to achieve.
Strunk and White use the following written examples of unnecessary negative words and their alternative:
Not honest – dishonest
Not important- trifling
Did not remember- forgot
Did not pay any attention to- ignored
Did not have much confidence in- distrusted
As you can see, much of this can be applied to our coaching language as we endeavour to “omit unnecessary words”.
On Writing: Stephen King
A good read
An outlier perhaps, but an interesting read on creating a narrative. Aimed at fiction writers, it does give a great perspective on the writing process and how ideas are formed. The first half of the book is autobiographical; the second half gives more
direct ideas on writing and getting published.
This is an entertaining read and shows how King learnt from early mistakes and advice from ruthless editors (“healthy heat” would have been black lined). This section shows how he offers advice partly based on using correct grammar, partly on avoiding clichés:
“Anyone using the phrase “That’s so cool” should have to stand in the corner and that those using the far more odious phrases “at this point in time” and “at the end of the day” should be sent to bed without supper (or writing-paper, for that matter).”
The Sense of Style: Steven Pinker
In depth book for professional writers
Finally, if you are in the serious business of writing professionally, including academic papers, books and journal articles, then this book is a must-have. I borrowed this book from the library and then bought my own copy.
Well written (as it should be), humorous and insightful, this is a guide to writing that will appeal to all of us who wish to convey a message clearly and concisely. It can be quite hard to follow, I got lost in the chapter about sentence trees and strings, but my understanding of grammar rules is vague.
The second half of the book can be used as a reference as it summarises common errors and questions such as the difference between “who” and “whom”. My understanding of words such as “practicable“ and “practical” improved thanks to me reading the second half of the book (Practicable means it is easily put into practise; the –able means it is an ability).
I would suggest this book be read after the other three.
If we wish to share ideas and improve our understanding of the world improving our writing skills is essential.
So much of journal writing is poorly written that trying to ascertain the pertinent facts is too difficult. We then fall back into just reading abstracts or, worse still, twitter summaries of the abstracts. This then means we are unable to truly learn and understand, let alone challenge the authors or reproduce their work.
Whilst this blog is about writing, I would recommend Dan Roam’s books “Show and Tell” and “Back of the Napkin” to help you use drawings and picture boards for presentations.
Coomonwealth medallist Neil Taylor gives some tips on hot coach the Olympic lifts. Neil has recently been appointed as Performance Manager for South Wales with Welsh Weightlifting. I know Neil from our days working together at the RFU. Here are his tips.
I have been performing the Olympic lifts since the age of 11. My coach at the time kept it simple, didn’t over complicate the movement and allowed for errors early on. Here are some of my Olympic Weightlifting tips.
With his expertise he helped me lift MY way and not the way the books said. 30 years down the line I have watched those lifts turn into a menu of biomechanical myths and mind numbing terminology.
KEEP IT SIMPLE.
In my opinion it is always easier to teach the Power Snatch first, the pulling phase is the same as the Power Clean and the lift a little less problematic. (Becky Brown in pic).
Demonstrate the lift without a verbal description then ask athlete to perform the lift and observe their interpretation of that lift, they may be near perfect, they may be not, treat each one on how THEY lift
At the start position instruct your athlete to push the chest out and through whilst pulling the bar off the floor this will encourage correct lifting posture with the back being slightly in extension
Depending on your athletes’ training age you may wish to break the lift down into stages. Start with the first pull by deadlifting the bar to the waist position and returning it back to the floor, encourage the athlete to push their chest through to retain good posture.
Repeat this until your comfortable with what you see, be patient
Once confident with the first pull, move to the high pull. It is important at this point for your athlete to work on pushing the hips forward and extend up on to the toes. (James Marshall in pic).
One coaching tip you may wish to use here is to pull the bar up to chest height rubbing finely against the navel area, this will encourage the athlete to keep the bar close to their body
Move on to the full lift when you feel the athlete has mastered the above and never be afraid to revisit the basics.
A great tool to use is the video camera but be aware of gaining consent from the parents or guardians of your athletes should they be under 18 years old
Compliment the athlete on their good lifting points as it is important to finish lifting on a feel good note, people deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong.
Try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom.
Neil Taylor: Commonwealth games medallist. RFU Weightlifting Coach.
When delivering strength and conditioning coaching courses, we always discuss coaching philosophy and how to develop a club culture. Two books I have read this year have helped with this process, both by NFL coaches. Here is a brief review of both.
Win Forever by Pete Carroll (recommended by Mike Bahn)
A frank and revealing tale of how Pete Carroll developed his coaching philosophy. Fired by the New York Jets and the New England Patriots, Carroll has gone on to be a very successful college coach at USC and is now with the Seattle Seahawks.
His philosophy was developed in response to adversity, rather than through unparalleled success from the start. As you can see from this picture, the philosophy starts with some simple rules: no whining, no excuses and be early.
It then expands into style of play and practice and beliefs.
When these foundations are in place, the focus on competing emerges with a “relentless pursuit of a competitive edge”.
Where the book might be useful to coaches and people outside of sport is in the application of this philosophy and making the athlete accountable.
“It’s the individual himself who ultimately is the only one who has the power to develop his fullest potential.”
“Getting that across to players is a constant occupation. You have to continually encourage people to the point where they feel empowered to call the shots that will position them to become the best they can be. It’s not any one specific thing but rather than an ongoing process of showing them what they’re capable of.”
I find this is the differentiation between talk and action when trying to implement a philosophy.
Carroll goes on to use words like discipline, effort and diligence in a reminder of what it takes to get it done.
Two years ago a lot of coaches were waving “Legacy” around as a good book, I wonder how many of them have implemented and stuck to a coaching philosophy since?
You Win in the Locker Room First by Jon Gordon and Mike Smith
I have lent this book to several other coaches as a really quick read with good ideas. Mike Smith was coach of the Atlanta Falcons and Jon Gordon has written “The energy bus”.
Together they have written a simple but very clear guide to building a winning team by establishing the right culture.
“Culture drives expectations and beliefs. Expectations and beliefs drive behaviours. Behaviours drive habits and habits drive the future.”
There are 8 chapters, with the first 7 each expanding on a word beginning with C that underpins the culture. It is a bit of an artificial premise, but helps with recall.
For example, the chapter on consistency explains why this is important in coaching.
“If you are not consistent, you will lose the trust your team has in you. When you lose trust, you lose the locker room.”
Players and other coaches need to know that you can be relied upon rather than erratic. Consistently being humble and hungry are important whether you are winning championships or trying to avoid relegation.
Consistency applies to players too who are expected to be stable personalities rather than moody (or at least maintain stable behaviours around their team mates).
The book is littered with anecdotes from the NFL to illustrate the points made in each chapter. Good practice and problem areas are covered, Smith is very good at sharing his shortcomings or mistakes that he has made. This makes for an entertaining and enlightening read.
The chapters have bullet point summaries, plus easily remembered quotes, which make re reading and revising easier.
“To be a great leader, coach and team member you must be more than involved- you must be committed. Your team has to know that you are committed to them before they will commit to you.”
Why hiring an expert coach will save you time and money
Young athletes (and their parents) are overwhelmed with information from varying sources that is often conflicting. It is my job to help them navigate the maelstrom.
Originally designed as a concept to deal with organising and displaying online information and layouts, information architecture could as easily be applied to coaching.
“I mean architect as in the creating of systemic, structural, and orderly principles to make something work — the thoughtful making of either artifact, or idea, or policy that informs because it is clear”
Richard Saul Wurman
Too much information, too little time
Athletes I work with come home from a Regional or National camp with a sheet of paper and a directive to “do these exercises or else”. They then ask me what a “SLDRDL” or a “One legged Monkey Puzzle” is.
They go to a p.e. class the next day where they are made to hold a plank position for endless minutes to “strengthen their core”, but not told why or how to improve and if there is any transference to sport.
Finally, they visit their club where the coach drills them through ladders, hurdles and doggies to finish off their last remaining reserves of energy and enthusiasm.
The poor parent in the meantime is standing on the sidelines forking out cash and time for kit, petrol and accommodation. Wondering if they are “doing enough” for their child.
The job of a good coach is to make sense of all this information, filter out what is noise, but still stay abreast of latest research and developments.
That is different from telling all athletes to eat pilchard eggs because one study of 3 Eskimos found that they were able to run faster after eating pilchard eggs for 2 weeks.
The coach then needs to present this information in an orderly and systemic fashion, rather than all at once.
This does include selective delivery of information, feeding it to the parents and athletes at regular intervals. This allows positive behaviours to develop.
3 steps to becoming a winner
Find out what is happening in all aspects of the athlete’s life and write it down. I get the athlete to fill out a 4 week planner that shows all sporting and p.e commitments.
Write down what current exercises are being done and when. Clarify the exact nature of these exercises and make sure the meaning is understood. Any exercise that is written down but has never been coached is binned. Look for duplication of work: hockey might be doing doggies, rugby might be doing 3km runs. Avoid doing both.
Look for gaps between current ability and what is required. Put in exercises accordingly. You might be doing lots of running, but zero postural work. You might be able to hold the plank for 5 minutes (why?) but are unable to stand on one leg with free hip held high: essential for running well.
The complete picture is often forgotten due to the confusion of information and dealing with the logistics of getting the young athlete to the venues, school and training!
Hiring an Expert Coach
Life is too short to do everything yourself. Trying to do it all on your own can cause unnecessary stress. If you want to be the best that you can be, then you will need some help along the way.
The Excelsior Athletic Development Club was started to help parents, coaches and athletes work together. By informing parents and sports coaches of best practice, we are working together, rather than against each other.
It requires coaches of different sports to stop trying to force early specialisation (a difficult task) and to think of next year, rather than next Saturday.
It requires parents to take an active role in planning and ask questions of the p.e. teachers and coaches.
It requires athletes to think about why they are doing things, and to learn how to organise their time.
It requires us at Excelsior to continually strive to make sense of this information and develop ways of improving our ability to coach.
Sign up to our newsletter today to get 2 free ebooks on coaching young athletes.
“A Jedi gains power through understanding and a Sith gains understanding through power” says Senator Palpatine in Attack of the Clones.
If you want to coach like a Jedi, study hard and for long, learn from your experiences.
I see quite a few young coaches who have graduated from their University courses calling themselves “experts” at 21 years old.
They do an academic based accreditation such as the UKSCA with no Coaching requirement or background and pronounce things like “You must be able to squat twice your body weight.”.
“Only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes.” Obi-Wan Kenobi
If you go out into the Coaching world with a closed mind set, looking for short cuts then you will be taken down a false path that could lead to the Dark Side. Part of the problem is coming from an environment where you are judged on saying the right answer all the time.
“I find your lack of faith disturbing.” Darth Vader
If your mentor is a Sith Lord, then you will become their apprentice, not a fully fledged Coach. Ask questions (without being impertinent) and you will learn more.
“You must open your mind to other opinions.” Mace Windu
Coaches need to expose themselves to different envronments and to different types of athletes in order to fully develop. Get out of the gym and onto the Track\ Court\ Field.
Try different sports, try different physical activities. Read about what previous athletes and coaches have done. Not just what a “pseudo science” journal has to say.
“The more we learn, the more we discover how much we do not know.” Yoda
Yoda had it right. In his 800 years of training Jedi knights, he learnt a thing or two (although not correct syntax).
Have some patience and control, show humility and your athletes will respond better.
Trying to gain knowledge through power is pretty short sighted.
I mentioned this yesterday on the SW Fencing hub when asked by a coach how I structure my sessions.
When coaching groups I try to structure the session like this:
Show: me demonstrate, (or the best technical person in the room) with only essential cues.
Do: The athletes have a go and feel what it is like. I may add 1 or 2 more cues depending on my observation.
Teach: They work in pairs and observe each other and offer cues/ feedback.
(I got this simple premise from Ed Thomas, as well as “precision, variety and progression”).
This then lead to a discussion about coaching styles and the dreaded p word: pedagogy!
Vince Lombardi again
As the Green Bay Packers won yesterday, I thought I would quote the legendary Vince Lombardi
“They call it coaching, but it is teaching. You do not tell them it is so, but you show them the reasons why it is so, and you repeat and you repeat until they are convinced, until they know.”
“We concentrate on the ‘whys’. I never tell a player ‘This is my way, now do it’. Instead I say, ‘This is the way we do it, and this is why we do it.”
This is essential stuff. But first the Coach must be very clear in their own mind why they are doing things.
That is why having a sound underpinning of knowledge is essential before you start delivering.
Best to deliver what you know, and make it fun, than try and copy someone else without having a real understanding of what you are trying to do.
Following from Monday’s blog about coaching blind people who are visual learners. We can look in more depth at different learning styles.
The 3 learning styles
If you are to believe the coaching and teaching manuals, then you might categorise people into having 3 different learning styles:
Auditory: responds to sounds and descriptions
Visual: responds to visual images and demonstrations
Kinesthetic: learns by feeling and doing and experience.
I have yet to see the research behind this (Please contribute or reference if you can find it) despite it being quoted in lots of texts.
It makes sense that people learn differently, and as a coach I always try to use all 3. But, as I have worked with people who are blind, deaf and have learning difficulties, I have to adapt to one style more heavily with those individuals.
One of the hardest agility sessions I had to coach was with a deaf, dyslexic person and a blind person. I had to keep switching cues and demonstrations, and body position continually.
Working on the agility technique recently with different athletes has highlighted the need for different cues. I have yet to find the “Magic Pill” that works on everyone. The athletic ready position was adopted by the blind players using an audio cue “pounce”.
Some of the sighted rugby players needed to practice jumping, and then see how it would aid avoiding contact in application (Kinesthetic).
Hockey and netball girls were a mixed bunch, with some getting it, others not. Time is a factor in this, but I think setting out what I want to achieve with more of a “Chalk and Talk” delivery is necessary.
I find that some high achieving girls are less likely to “have a go” in case they can’t get it straight away. I have to factor that into my coaching. (The ability to try something new and make mistakes is not always encouraged or rewarded.)
Same sweet different wrapper
One of the joys (and frustrations) of coaching is finding out how to transfer the knowledge and theory of what you want to achieve into the athlete.
It is not as simple as saying “Just do it“, instead, experimenting with a variety of cues and teaching methods will hopefully allow you to get a better working relationship with your athletes, and then better results.
The upcoming Excelsior Sports Training System uses all 3 styles with audio and visual content, plus demonstrations and written handouts.
If you have invested heavily in researching the Olympic lifts and read research conducted on mediocre athletes or sports science students over a 6 week period, then you may have to justify their use at all times.
This could be an emotional attachment. You then look to seek out others with your point of view and add confirmation bias to this. If this happens to be Academics, then they will only publish work that confirms their views, and get undergraduates, and Phd students to do likewise.
What you then need to do is to set up an organisation or association that “accredits” members who also then use Olympic Lifts for all athletes at all ages and stages of training.
Then you charge for courses, conferences and CPD points– and you are onto a winner.
Of course, you could just Coach some real people, over time, in real life situations and use what ever methods will suit that athlete.
What it takes to be a successful strength and conditioning coach.
“People in support positions should be seen and not heard” Jim Radcliffe at the beginning of his presentation on successful S&C coaching.
(By successful, he means producing extremely fit, agile and fast athletes that then produce results on the field, court, track or pool. Rather than how many twitter followers you have got!)
Successful coaches explain the “Why”
Most coaches are good at telling athletes the what to do, some are really good at explaining the how, but very few are great at understanding the Why.
Radcliffe explained this at the outset, based on Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, coaches need to understand why they are doing things, before they start just doing exercises or drills.
His #1 factor of great or elite athleticism is acceleration or burst. The more people in the team who can do this, the better. This is the why.
Rehearse consistently is the “how”
In an average football practice at Oregon, they have 90+ acceleration reps for the exterior positions and 65+ for the interior positions.
This includes burst requiring decision making. An example was his Punt Returners hold lacrosse balls when about to return a punt. This forces them to have correct body alignment and position when they do catch, which then facilitates a burst upfield (a great example of task constraint for youmotor learning buffs).
Negative practice drills which detract from the ability to burst must be eliminated. This includes the butt kick drill which just encourages a pendulum swing action and overstriding when running: failure practice!
Thwe warm up is an opportunity for rehearsal, rather than just getting warm. Radcliffe teaches and reinforces push mechanics in every warm up.
“Agility is about efficient transitions”
Agility progresses through these stages:
Change of direction
This requires the ability to maintain correct posture as the body flexes, extends and rotates (pic of Excelsior athlete Sean Clifford).
One great tip was to emphasise knee seperation over foot seperation. If the feet are getting further apart than the knees, then it shows poor hip projection.
Ladder drills are redundant because they do a lot of footwork, but do nothing for knee seperation and hip projection.
This can easily be seen in drills such as the one pictured with mini bands. The athlete at the front as feet coming out wider than the knees (poor hip projection) the athlete behind has knee above foot (better hip projection).
Every drill and every athlete must be coached to ensure consistency.
The 2 key points to be emphasised here are
Body posture cues.
Increase strength- power-impulse.
How to develop explosive power on the pitch
Being able to apply and strength and power develeoped in the gym onto the pitch requires the ability to apply great force over a small base of support and great righting and tilting reflexes.
Radcliffe said that explosive power can be borken down into 3 areas as shown in diagram below.
This requires practicing fast, explosive intense movements. Another key point was “The more time spent on the ground =the more BAD things happen than good.”
Here Radcliffe was talking about an athletes’s ability to negotiate the ground. The ability to turn and run fast is a sign of efficient quickness and correct mechanics. There is a need for fast response to a stimulus.
Placing the feet outside the knees is a sign of the less agile athlete: (I question the transference of ultra-wide squats to agility work: hence my athletes squat with feet under hips).
One of the ways to get the athlete to improve mechanics is to train barefoot. This give better immediate sensory feedback about the ability to have a spring loaded foot, rather than a flat foot.
The whole foot lands on the floor, but only a tiny heel mark is left on the grass or sand. A spring loaded foot is essential for running fast and quick turns/ reactive jumps.
Agility drill progressions
Radcliffe spent some time going over how he progresses his agility work with his athletes.
Starting with the two basic actions of:
Speed cuts: Pivot action, rolling off the inside foot.
Power cuts: The sit, dip and drive action, pushing off the outside of the foot.
He then progresses to the Sway drill, lateral starts, backward starts and then elastic lead-ins to the the speed and power cuts. This could be stepping off a chair and landing on the outside edge of the foot to push sideways for a power cut.
This then leads to to reaction drills (with directional components such as a clock drill) to a games related skill or drill.
From Day 1, practice 1, Radcliffe emphasises the “Go as fast as you can go” approach to training. Initially this may only be 1/2 steps in different directions, but they are FAST.
This seminar showed how Radcliffe has a truly great understanding of Why, brilliant progressions of how, and then practically he can do the what.
What is really refreshing about Jim Radcliffe, is that he is at GAIN to learn as much as to teach, he is always writing notes, or asking the different presenters questions so he can improve his own practice (see pictures of him sharing with Vern Gambetta and Finn Gundersen).
This is the 4th year in a row I have seen him present, and I always get something new. I have completely changed how I coach agility and pliometrics as a result of seing him in action. Highly recommended.