Between the holidays and my "Best of 2016" series, it's been a few weeks since the last installment of this weekly recommended reading/viewing list. With that in mind, I'll throw out some extra recommendations this week:
Understanding Influencer Marketing - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, discusses the value of collaborative marketing efforts between one company or individual and another - using our relationship with New Balance as an example.
Stress is Not Stress - This was an outstanding post from Dave Dellanave; he cuts through all the science and explains why not all stress is created equal for every person.
With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2016" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:
This was my first post of 2016, and it turned out to be one of my most impactful. A cool follow-up note on this: one of the suggestions I had to reduce pitching injuries was to push the high school season back in warm weather states, and here in Florida, they actually moved it back two weeks for 2017. I doubt my writing had anything to do with it, but it's nice to see things moving in a positive direction.
The lat strain is becoming far more prevalent in higher levels of baseball as pitchers throw with more and more velocity. In this lengthy article, I discuss mechanisms of injury, diagnostic challenges, prevention strategies, and longer-term prognoses.
With this week's release of Mike Robertson and Joe Kenn's Elite Athletic Development 3.0 DVD set, Cressey Sports Performance coach Nancy Newell and I put our heads together to highlight 12 of the key takeaways from this great new resource.
1. Coaching jump and landing technique is a must.
The “athletic position” occurs in every sport. If you want athletes to apply force, they also need to understand how to absorb force. With ACL injuries on the rise, it’s no surprise that 60-70% of these injuries result from non-contact incidences. This means that kids are getting hurt because they haven’t learned or practiced this technique.
Try these approaches:
a. Deceleration on two legs (Vertical Jump with Stick)
b. Deceleration on one leg (Heiden with Stick)
c. Upper body deceleration (Medicine Ball Work)
2. Don’t count the reps; make the reps count.
It can be challenging for a youth athlete to perform a set of ten bodyweight squats with perfect technique.
[bctt tweet= "Remember: the single-most transferable trait of an excellent program is confidence."]
If you start to see their form going down the drain, break the reps up into smaller pieces of success. Instead of performing one set of ten reps, you might perform five sets of two reps. The athlete will gain confidence, learn and retain HOW to perform the movement.
3. Teach athletes to “push,” not “pull.”
A common mistake athletes make is having the mentality to “pull” weight off the floor. When we pull weight off the floor, a large portion of that force produced comes from our lower back. If you can teach an athlete to apply force into the ground by “pushing,” a large majority of that force comes from our posterior chain and creates a strong, stable base for our bodies to produce force.
4. Use single leg strength to achieve stability and control, not maximal strength.
While incredibly important, single-leg work is not the best way to get “globally” strong. In a bilateral exercise such as the squat and deadlift, you have a larger base of support to move more weight using mostly prime movers (hamstrings, quads, glutes). A single leg exercise with a smaller base of support places more emphasis on owning and controlling our bodies through multiple planes of motion. Use single-leg exercises to fill in the gaps between maximal strength and stability.
5. Attitude controls your efforts.
One of the most impactful quotes Joe Kenn had during Elite Athletic Development 3.0 was, “You’re not giving good effort with a bad attitude.” Young athletes feed off coaches’ energy, so if you're upset about something personal that happened and you bring that to the weight room, your athletes will likely adopt that same poor attitude about today.
[bctt tweet="Your attitude is the number one dictator of the success of your program."]
You need to have the utmost confidence in yourself to achieve what you set out to complete for each day.
6. Get young athletes proficient in fundamental movements.
This may seem like a no brainer; however, many coaches are willing to place an external load on an athlete before they can confidently control their own bodyweight. Fundamentals are the building blocks for getting stronger, performing better and – most above all – staying injury-free. Youth training should not be about a “quick fix.” It should be about developing efficient motor patterns, skills, and confidence to form a robust foundation for long-term athletic development.
7. “Once relative strength is compromised, continuing to focus on maximal strength becomes an issue.” -Loren Landow
Robertson and Kenn highly urged everyone to over-emphasize general basic strength qualities because strength is a skill. Once you start to “own” this skill, you can start to add layers to challenge your mental and physical strength. Use layering to prepare your athletes for the next phase of training. As an example:
Phase 1: Bodyweight w/3second quasi ISO hold
Phase 2: KB Goblet Squat w/3second lowering/ Explosive concentric
Phase 3: 2KB Squat
8. “There is no elevator to success; you have to take the stairs.”
In your personal life, career, athletics you can’t be afraid to work hard. The most valuable teaching tool is experience, and experience comes from jumping on opportunities to learn from smarter, more experienced people than you. Set your goals high, but don’t jump stairs.
9. Building a more robust athlete comes from the bottom of the pyramid.
If you want to maximize your training results, you have to maximize recovery. One way to kick start recovery is to be consistent with the little things at the bottom of the pyramid (sleep, nutrition, and soft-tissue work). These variables can have a dramatic impact on one's ability to feel good and stay healthy for the long haul. For example, take an athlete who works out 3x/week for one hour. That’s three hours out of 168 hours in a week. Your training makes up less than 3% of your week, but those "tiny" elements at the base of the pyramid that make up a big chunk of the remaining 97%.
10. An efficient warm up has three broad components:
a. Physiology - We want our athletes to warm-up to increase tissue temperature, improve joint lubrication (especially for the older athletes), and fire up the nervous system.
b. Biomechanics - We aim to optimize alignment; isolate then integrate; and sync up the nervous and musculoskeletal systems.
c. Specific - We want to reflect the actual nature of the activities that follow, whether we're incorporate lifting weights or training speed/power.
11. High-intensity/anaerobic exercise is built from a low-intensity/aerobic base.
Focusing year-round on just high-intensity work with your athlete will result in a less than impressive work capacity and performance. Instead, use various forms of cardiac output work to expand your pyramid base and help your reach higher anaerobic peaks.
12. Everybody is an athlete.
Regardless of age and training experience, everyone can benefit from training power. Power is vital for overall athleticism, but it is unfortunately one of the first physical qualities we lose as we age. By respecting all the elements on the force-velocity curve you can help anyone get stronger, faster, and more explosive.
Here's an extended warm-up example that would constitute power training in these individuals:
-Low amplitude/high velocity (jump rope)
-Upper body throw (overhead med ball stomp)
-High amplitude/low(er) velocity (Heidens)
As I noted earlier, Mike Robertson and Joe Kenn's new Elite Athletic Development 3.0 seminar DVD set is on sale for $100 off through this Friday (7/22) at midnight. I would consider it an outstanding investment for any strength and conditioning professional. For more information, head HERE.
About the Co-Author
Nancy Newell (@NancyNewell2) is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. Nancy earned her Bachelors Degree in Fitness Development from the State University of New York at Cortland. You can read more from her at www.NancyNewell.com.
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I hope everyone had a great weekend. For some reason, there was a ton of great content around the 'Net in the past week, so I actually had my work cut out for me in paring this down to my top three choices. Check them out:
When You Know it's Time to Get Out - This was an absolutely fantastic post from Dave Tate that appealed to me on multiple levels: small business success rates, retirement from strength sports, and the need for experienced coaches to "give back" to the strength and conditioning community.
Earlier this week, the Major League Baseball Draft took place, and when all was said and done, 27 Cressey Sports Performance athletes had been selected. To that end, I thought it was a good time to type up this month's Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training installment, as the draft has been what's on my mind. Point #1 is a lead-in to the points that follow.
1. I actually posted this on my Facebook page and was surprised at how many "likes" it got, so I'm sharing it here - especially since I think it'll serve as a jumping off point with respect to culture.
The biggest compliment a client can pay to CSP is when a parent trusts us to train their son/daughter during the teenage years when they're young and impressionable and need good role models to model positive behaviors.
The second biggest compliment a client can pay to us is when a professional athlete trusts us with his/her career.
The annual MLB Draft is the time of year when these two compliments coincide, and we get to see how point #1 can lead to point #2 as dreams come true. Congratulations to the 27 CSP athletes drafted over the past three days; thank you very much for having us along for the ride.
It's always awesome to see guys we've trained through their high school years transition to professional athletes. These scenarios not only provide lessons on long-term athletic development, but also the importance of creating a culture at the facility that makes training fun over the long haul.
2. I recently finished up the audiobook, Unmarketing, by Scott Stratten.
One of the key messages Stratten drills home is that customers have to like you before they can get to know you, and they have to know you before they can trust you. Obviously, in the strength and conditioning field, our athletes/clients are our customers. This "like-know-trust" is an important message, because long-term athletic development - and certainly working with professional athletes (or those trying to become pro athletes) is all about trust. They need to trust that you're giving them the appropriate programming and cues they need for success.
He goes on to discuss how many businesses put the carriage in front of the horse on this point. They don't work to build a relationship with their customers before trying to monetize them. It's like asking someone to marry you in the middle of the first date. I immediately thought about how our business model has impacted our training model.
When a new athlete comes to CSP, they're individually assessed and we have a chance to spend anywhere from 20-60 minutes getting to know them. It's not only a chance to review injury history and go through a movement evaluation, but also an opportunity to build rapport by learning about goals, training history, and common interests. It also gives us a chance to subtly demonstrate our expertise and relate a plan of attack for how we can help. In short, an initial evaluation is about learning about so much more than just whether an athlete has sufficient hip internal rotation!
Conversely, think about what happens when an athlete walks into a facility where every athlete does the same program on the dry erase board, and there isn't an assessment to kick things off. In these scenarios, the trainers/coaches really haven't done anything to get to know the athletes, and they certainly haven't gotten these athletes to "like" them. The road to building trust has gotten started with a pretty messy detour - and it'll take a long time to build things up.
3. We really go out of our way to create context for our athletes when we're coaching. In other words, our coaching cues need to build on what an athlete already knows. A front squat is easier to learn when you've already done a goblet squat, and a rotational medicine ball shotput can build upon what an athlete knows from baseball hitting. However, I don't think people ever recognize the importance of creating context for success - and I'm a big believer that it's been a huge part of the results we've gotten.
Everyone knows that for years and years, the world dreamed of having someone run a sub-4-minute mile. Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister accomplished this great feat - and thereafter, it became very commonplace. Granted, the sports media somewhat unfairly sensationalized the "quest" for the 4-minute-mile, but the message is still very much the same: once you've seen someone accomplish something that appeared very daunting, you're more likely to be able to accomplish it yourself. The 27 CSP guys drafted this year have watched over 50 guys get drafted in the three years ahead of them - and, just as importantly, they've had a chance to rub elbows with them during training. Success leaves clues - and clues help to create context for more success.
4. On the whole, at young ages (younger than 16), I think the notion of "Sports-Specific Training" is actually pretty silly. We can all agree that good movement is good movement, regardless of whether a young athlete plays soccer, football, lacrosse, or basketball. Overhead throwing athletes, though, are - at least in my opinion - a very important exception to the rule.
In all these other sports, we can adequately prepare for the most common injury mechanisms with well coached general training exercises in our strength and conditioning program. However, how many weight room exercises do you see that help an athlete build stability in this position?
If you have an athlete that goes through this kind of lay back - whether it's with baseball/softball, swimming, tennis, or any other overhead sports - you need to train them to build stability in this position.
5. In all, there were 1,215 players drafted earlier this week over the 40 rounds. That's astronomically higher than any other professional sport - and in no other sport do you more quickly go from being a big fish in small pond to being the small fish in a big pond. As of right now, only two of the 41 first round (plus supplemental round) picks in last year's draft have made it to the big leagues. Conversely, if you're a first rounder in the NFL or NBA, you're in "the show" right away pretty close to 100% of the time.
In other words, there is a lot of time for things to go wrong for draft picks while in minor league baseball. Injury rates are at all-time highs, players may get into trouble, and others might just discover that they don't have the talents necessary to compete at the highest level. Scouting baseball players is an imperfect "science" - and, sadly, 90% (or more) of these 1,215 players won't "make it."
For this reason (and many others), I heavily emphasize to our staff and athletes that our #1 job is actually to educate our minor league guys on how to be advocates for themselves and understand what is unique about how they move. If we can give them the best training and nutrition insights possible - and teach them how to practically apply them throughout a long season - they stand much better chance of making it to the big leagues. Strength and conditioning coaches may not be able to impact talent (at least not directly), but we can impact one's ability to display it consistently. In fact, this is what the wall of our assessment room looks like:
6. I've talked in the past about how all our arm care programs work proximal to distal. In other words, we focus on core control, rib positioning, and thoracic spine mobility, then move to scapular control, then to the glenohumeral (ball and socket) joint, and then down to the elbow. It's because there is somewhat of a "downstream" effect. Improving thoracic rotation can improve shoulder internal rotation. Getting an athlete out of a heavily extended core posture can get the latissimus dorsi to calm down, which takes stress off the elbow. Taking care of scapular control might even relieve nerve impingement that's causing symptoms into the hand. The possibilities for this "downstream" effect are really endless.
Conversely, though, there isn't an "upstream" effect. Nobody's thoracic spine mobility improves if you do some soft tissue work and stretching to get some elbow extension and supination back. Improving rotator cuff strength won't get rid of lower back pain.
This is why I think improving anterior core control in baseball players can be such an unbelievable game changer. We know that improving function in the sagittal plane is generally easier than improving it in the frontal or transverse planes, and the anterior core is really responsible for resisting lumbar extension.
Additionally, the core is the furthest "upstream" option to impacting function. So, if you're a believer in the concept of minimum effective dose (and I am), your goal should be to work on the easiest, most impactful stuff first. Anterior core is that option in a baseball population.
It's not just any Monday, as today kicks off the 2015 MLB Draft, which is always a big event in the Cressey Sports Performance world. To that end, I thought I'd use this installment to highlight a few old posts I've made on the subject. There are some good lessons on perseverance and long-term athletic development in these articles.
Draft Q&A with Eric Cressey: Part 1 andPart 2 - This two-part article was actually an interview of me for Baseball America prior to last year's MLB Draft. I think it delves into a lot of important topics for up-and-coming players as well as coaches and parents.
Enjoy the draft!
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Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, John O'Neil, who has a huge interest in long-term athletic development. Enjoy!
In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink outlines what defines true intrinsic motivation. As a coach, we clamor for multiple things: control, results, and motivated clients. In dealing with young clients, how do we develop a young athlete from someone who can’t define the word motivation into someone who comes to exemplify the definition of the word? Using strategies I learned practically and have organized through Pink’s motivation structure, here’s an outline of how I incorporate subtle motivation tactics while also gauging a youth athlete’s motivational progress.
According to Pink, true motivation is a blend of three factors; autonomy, mastery, and purpose. You can’t have mastery or purpose before you have autonomy. Autonomy in the training process is a client’s ownership of their program, understanding that while they are provided structure and coaching, they are the one executing the movements and looking to improve upon their given goals.
Mastery is the ability to perform the process of the given program to the point where variables – movement type, loading scheme, structure – need to be altered periodically to maintain both psychological interest and physiological adaptations.
Purpose is a client’s awareness that movements they are given have reasons in progression towards their goals and the client feeling the need to continue the process to optimize performance.
While this progression is long-term, when these pillars are in place, we have created true motivation within the client. What kind of strategies can we practically implement to lay the foundations for autonomy, mastery, and purpose?
Autonomy: We provide the client with structure, but at what point is structure overbearing to the point where it diminishes an athlete's motivation? There needs to be an element of client responsibility within the process. Challenge your athletes to make decisions in the weight room as they will have to on the field. Incorporate options, not demands. Practically:
Have your youth athletes carry their own programs and write in their own weights. While this sounds simple, how can something seem like it's truly yours if you never carry it, and you can't make your mark on it?
Instruct clients on where to be, but make them responsible for being there. For example, once the kid knows where the warm-up area is, it shouldn't be up to us to lead them there and take them through foam rolling each time. Make sure they're doing what they should be without coaching everything again. Knowledge is power. Allow them to use knowledge you've given them.
Let the client participate in the process of picking weights. Once they know an exercise and have an idea where to start, give them the option of choosing, say, 5 pounds heavier or 10 pounds heavier on the next set. I have one rule with my clients in regards to this: if you pick your own weight from options I give you, you better be confident in your decision. If not, I choose. Confidence in your selection will breed confidence in the movement and in the process in general.
Have them rack and load their own weights. While a coach can and should help sometimes, a coach should never do all of the work for a youth athlete. Make them responsible for their own process and be respectful of where they are.
Consider incorporating varying rep and/or rest schemes. There is nothing wrong with throwing in an exercise here and there that is listed as “6-8” or “8-10” reps. Assuming the client is proficient in the movement and not blowing past technical failure, this forces the client to make a decision while amidst the action. Is there anything more similar to sport than that? Another, and often times easier applicable option, is to allow rest to be up to the client. Give them a window - i.e., 3-4 minutes for a heavy strength set, or 30-60 seconds in conditioning - that makes them take responsibility for when they start the next set.
Include the youth athlete in the scheduling process. In my experience, there seems to be a clear middle school/high school divide in terms of kids knowing their own schedules. Most middle school kids leave it up to mom to be chauffeured from activity to activity, not necessarily knowing what comes next until it's almost time, whereas most high school kids have knowledge of their schedules. While you can't practically leave it 100% up to many kids, you can at least broach the conversation and force them to think about when the best time for them to come back in would be.
Mastery: Training models should stress the process, not the outcomes. We can monitor and control the process, but we can’t control the outcomes. We can, however, have a heavy influence on the outcomes and give our youth athletes as much opportunity for success as possible. A kid doesn’t necessarily have to be able to execute every movement to a “T” without coaching (most won’t), but they should gain knowledge of what they are trying to do and the difference between wrong and right. They should be held accountable to follow coaching when given and communicate with the coach about what they felt and how it went. Practically:
Over time, the client should gain knowledge of the names and positions of given exercises, and they should be held accountable in doing so. If something says “half-kneeling cable chop” and the client routinely goes to the squat rack for it, we’re in trouble. The process can’t be mastered until it is understood.
Allow this process to shift from a conscious one to an unconscious one. A foam rolling series, for example, isn’t “mastered” until someone can just go from one spot to another without being told and can hold a conversation in doing so.
To steal a quote from Eric, our most important job as coaches is to prepare our athletes for the day they are on their own. While coaching and monitoring will always be paramount, our clients will hopefully go on to play at the next level and won’t always be able to train with us. By the time they do so, they should have an understanding of types of things they should and shouldn’t be doing/feeling.
New variations are understood to be progressions of previous ones. If you spend a month goblet squatting a kid and then progress them to a double kettlebell front squat, you shouldn’t have to re-teach anything except the intricacies of the grip. If you have to, the kid really hasn’t put that mental effort into it that would allow us to believe they have taken ownership of the process.
Purpose: At this level, the client craves training. They know that the training process is a contributor towards the success they have experienced with their goals, and that without it, they would not have achieved their level of success. You no longer have to stay on top of the athlete about keeping up with things like in-season training or any take-home mobility drills you’ve given them. Rather, you know that it has become as important to them as it is to you. Our practical motivational strategies are moot point with this type of client; they are already ingrained within them. We program and monitor with the goal of optimizing progress, but coaching becomes more guidance than dictation. Success experienced by an athlete with purpose and true intrinsic motivation breeds the desire to continue the process that got them there and builds a craving to experience success at a higher level. It should be every coach’s goal to have a stable of clients that exhibit this.
About the Author
John O’Neil is a strength and conditioning coach at The Annex Sports Performance Center in Chatham, NJ and Drive495 in New York, NY. He previously interned at Cressey Sports Performance and Ranfone Training Systems. You can contact him at email@example.com and on Twitter.
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This installment of quick tips comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Miguel Aragoncillo.
1. Use “discovery learning” as a way to improve retention for movement patterns.
Going to continuing education courses consistently allows me to adjust my perspective based on the “latest” information available in the industry. However, one of the biggest things that allows me to shift my perspective further is to listen in and converse with other professionals during lunch breaks to further understand the topic at hand in a more productive way.
This first point divulges how to implement a sense of discovery about movement patterns and gives some very straight forward tips for coaching anything that is new to your clients or athletes.
Keep these points in mind when using this new technique of teaching.
• Use your athlete/client's words and language to help them learn a movement better.
Not every person will know where their glutes are, for example. Have the athlete just point to the part of their body where they feel it; you don’t need a PhD in Exercise Science to teach a basic movement pattern.
• Remove body parts.
If a hip hinge is too difficult, reduce the neuromuscular challenge by having them start on two knees instead of two feet. Now the movement is largely a singular hinging pattern when they start on their knees, instead of stabilizing on their feet.
2. Consider reducing the number of “corrective exercises” you perform.
I’m a big fan of Dan John and his easily quotable phrase, “Keep the goal the goal.” Maintain your perspective of the goal at hand. If your goal is to improve strength, lose fat, or improve at your sport, how many corrective exercises are you performing? How much time are you utilizing doing foam rolling? Minimize your time spent analyzing your own problems by seeking out the best coaches, therapists, or nutrition coaches, and get to work on that goal. Sometimes, you'll find that exercises can even be combined to improve efficiency without sacrificing the benefit.
Corrective exercises are supposed to correct something. By omitting these movements, will the athlete miss any crucial movement patterns? Play “Devil’s Advocate” and make sure to incorporate all that is necessary, but no more. If you aren't careful, your "correctives" can wind up becoming a cumbersome majority of your training sessions.
3. Learn the difference between blocked and random practice - and apply each appropriately.
On the topic of training youth athletes, I recently attended a seminar in which blocked vs. random practice was presented. For the purposes of this article, blocked practice is specific training of a singular skill with no changes in environmental surroundings (like swinging a bat against a pitching machine over and over). Conversely, random practice involves having an individual adapt to the surroundings and incorporate different (but similar) skills (like swinging a bat for different scenarios - with a live pitcher).
The biggest question of the day was, "Which athlete excelled when it came time for performance?"
When tested in the short-term, blocked practice performed better than random practice. This makes sense, because if you practice a singular skill over and over, you will get better at that skill.
However, when enough time passed for participants to “forget,” retention of skills was the name of the game. So when retaining skills for a longer term, blocked practice did not do as well, and practicing “randomly” prevailed.
From a logical point of view, this is similar to memorizing sentences when you’re cramming for a final exam. Sure, you’ll do great if the teacher just has the same exact sentences or questions as the book - but what happens if the teacher forces you to critically think, and asks questions that are different than the material presented during class?
This leads quite appropriately into the context of a long term athletic development model. By increasing skills and techniques in a broad sense, athletes will more easily acquire specific sport skills. Conversely, with early sports specialization, athletes are practicing (almost always) one skill over and over, and struggle when diverse, more unpredictable movement is required for success.
What are the actionable items you can take away from this?
If you coach youth athletes, or you yourself have a young son or daughter:
• Encourage them to try multiple sports.
• Allow them to “figure it out” when it comes to decision making skills, especially as it applies to sports.
• Provide feedback - but much, much later after the competition, game, or practice session.
• This will allow for them to come up with their own unique thoughts, and allow them to be uninhibited when it comes to creating a solution to whatever problems occur during a game.
While this is a “Quick and Easy Way to Move and Feel Better” series, I imagine that we can help everyone of all ages move and even feel better by taking this information and acting on it.
4. Try this quick oatmeal snack.
I’ve been preparing for a powerlifting meet for the past few months, and an easy go to snack in the morning and/or at night is a quick oatmeal snack.
It’s fast, needs little ingredients, is a flexible snack, or even as a snack if your goal is to gain mass.
• 1/2 cup Oatmeal
• 2 tbsp Chocolate Peanut Butter or Powdered Peanut Butter
• 1 Scoop of Protein Powder
• Handful of [Frozen] Blueberries
• Honey for taste
• 1 cup of almond or whole milk
Prep time: Pour the oats in first, followed by milk, then heat to 90-120 seconds. Then, add everything in and mix it up. The easy clean-up makes this a go-to for the past few weeks/months with all the snow in Massachusetts!
5. Remember that band can increase resistance - or assist in cleaning up a movement pattern.
Whether your goal is maximal strength, increased hypertrophy, or even learning an exercise for the first time, bands are a useful tool.
Band placement is critical for learning how an exercise can increase resistance, or assist during a movement.
For example, you can improve strength by performing a band resisted push-up, or help the push-up by utilizing a band under the waist to elicit a “pop” out of the bottom of the push-up (where the exercise is most difficult).
At the same time, bands can help to improve reactive core engagement, or in other words, your body will have to reflexively react in a favorable way.
About the Author
Miguel Aragoncillo (@MiggsyBogues) is a strength and conditioning coach at the Hudson, MA location of Cressey Sports Performance. More of his writing can be found on www.MiguelAragoncillo.com.
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Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, John O'Neil. I'd like to devote more attention to long-term athletic development here at EricCressey.com, and John will be helping me do so.
This article is geared towards working with a youth athlete who is in a gym for the first time. I have identified steps that I believe to be important with getting the ball rolling toward the athlete’s long-term athletic development, both from a physical and a mental standpoint.
1. Establish Point A.
While athletic goals can be diverse, they all fall under the simple structure of getting from point A to point B in an efficient and appropriate manner. We need to be able to address the biggest differences between what an athlete’s current Point A is and what their potential Point B is, and provide them the skills to achieve them. It doesn’t matter what assessment system you use--just that you have the ability to identify where an athlete is the first time they are standing in front of you. For youth athletes, who may not know where their Point B is yet, it’s important that we give them a variety of motor skills that allows them succeed in a number of potential athletic goals years down the road.
It’s our job to determine what lies within the arrow, and understand that if an athlete’s goals change, we have still put him closer to his new Point B than he was at the original Point A.
2. Give the athlete success.
Success is not something you can learn about on paper and enact. It is something you have to experience. While I understand it is not always practical depending on the schedule of your facility, in my opinion, it is important to give the athlete some type of training effect on Day 1. As a beginner athlete in the gym, success is given via the instant gratification of knowing that you got better today--in essence, you are one (small) step past Point A where you started. The sooner we can give an athlete confidence in their ability to execute the necessary motor skills in a gym to build strength, move more efficiently, and perform on the field, the sooner they will take ownership of their program and be able to convert what you are teaching them from their short to long-term memory.
3. Know which motor skills you want a youth athlete new to the gym to have in place.
Dan John’s basic human movement skills are a great place to start. Every advanced athlete, regardless of their sport, should be able to hip hinge, squat, push, pull, carry, and perform single-leg movements. While not all of these are always realistic to truly pattern in on Day 1, give the athlete the knowledge of and the physical basics of what you are trying to get them to do. In a baseball population, some of the most important movements will also include teaching the athlete true external rotation, scapular control, and the ability to safely get overhead. As an example, here’s a basic drill (usually included in the warm-ups) to educate athletes about where they should and should not be feeling exercises in their shoulder as their arm goes into external rotation.
4. Know which practical weight-room skills you want the athlete to have in place.
Identify the basic implements, grips, and stances used in your programming, and select exercises to teach these while also teaching the basic movement skills. A perfect example is an Anterior-Loaded Barbell Reverse Lunge, which teaches the athlete to get strong on one leg with an efficient lunge pattern, and also teaches them a front-squat grip with a barbell. We have to ask: How much of the overlap in the Venn Diagram can we get athletes proficient in, or at least give them a comfort level with, on Day 1?
Another great example is a kettlebell goblet squat, as the athlete learns both the goblet grip and the squat pattern. As Eric has written in the past, barring any contraindication, a majority of Day 1 Cressey Sports Performers learn the trap bar deadlift, but many athletes new to lifting may need more direct work to effectively pattern the hip hinge component of a deadlift. One of my favorite exercises is a tall-kneeling banded hip hinge with a dowel. This teaching tool puts the athlete in a position where they cannot fail without knowing it, thanks to having a physical external cue in both places that are important to the hip hinge--hinging at the hips (the band) and maintaining a neutral spine (the dowel).
1. Put the athlete in an environment where they are comfortable and want to be.
For someone who has never been in a gym, it is important to schedule their assessment and first training session at a time when the gym is not busy. In order to really promote athletes taking ownership of their programming and truly wanting to pursue long-term athletic development, the gym needs to feel like a safe haven rather than an overwhelming place of chaos. The athlete could be coming from a difficult situation at home or in their personal life and it is our job to make the gym a place of comfort and enjoyment. If the gym is very slow/quiet, you might even have the athlete choose which music they want to listen to. The places we learn the best are the places we are the most comfortable and the happiest being in.
2. Assess the athlete in a way that tells them that you’ve seen, dealt with, and given success to many, many people just like them.
A majority of your athletes won’t have a clue what you’re looking at, but they’ll know if you come across as confident and sure of what you are seeing. In the baseball population at CSP, this is easy to portray to an athlete because they know the success that professional baseball players have had while training there. During the assessment, you might even be able to figure out whether the athlete is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, which will be invaluable when you are cueing the bigger movements.
3. Create context with the athlete that allows you and your staff to optimize your relationship with them, both as a person and an athlete.
Athletes are comfortable with coaches they know truly care about them, and, they respond best to cues that are already within their existing schemas. As coaches, we are always working to expand the amount of schemas we can tap into because we need to know what clicks best with the athlete. If talking about video games makes the athlete want to be there and listen to you, relate to them that way. If talking to a 14 year-old about why they don’t use Facebook anymore and how they only use Snapchat and Instagram is the best way to make them think you’re someone who’s cool to be around and worth listening to, then that’s the route you should take. The best time to create said context is when you are showing the athlete how to foam roll. The correctives/warm-ups and the lifts will be more task-oriented, and hopefully by that point you know what to talk about and how to talk to the athlete.
The challenge as a coach is choosing how much information you can give the athlete that they can actually retain. One of my favorite ideas to think about as a coach is Miller’s Law--the idea that a person can only hold approximately seven items in their working memory. At the end of the day, you can’t expect an athlete of any level to retain everything from their first training session, but you can give the athlete a concept of a few basic motor patterns and a few different grips, implements, and stances in the weight room. Most importantly, you can send that athlete home with the knowledge that they are one step closer to their goals.
John O’Neil is a strength and conditioning coach at Drive495 in New York, NY. He previously interned at Cressey Sports Performance and Ranfone Training Systems. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter.
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Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance pitching coordinator, Matt Blake. Matt is a key part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team.
It happens every year. Inevitably, I talk to college coaches about players with whom I work, and without fail, the conversation always comes back to the question: "what type of kid is he and how hard does he work?"
These are two loaded questions and they’re becoming incredibly important in the evaluation process for college coaches. Because the recruiting timeline is getting faster paced every year, coaches are dipping into increasingly younger talent pools to get commitments. This process is forcing coaches to become more reliant on their ability to project what a 15 or 16 year old pitcher is going to look like three years down the road and project what that player might become at ages 18-22 in a new environment. If this is the case, then it becomes essential for coaches to be able to balance who the teenage boy is that he is currently watching, with the man he’s inherently going to become in a few years under his watch.
In order to do this, you need to have the ability to look at the individual’s actions and behaviors, as movement patterns that you think indicate potential for continued growth as this player moves forward. This topic could expand into a entire book, but I’m going to simplify this thought and condense the discussion down to one athlete to help demonstrate the point I’m trying to make.
In this instance, I want to highlight an athlete I've coached over the last few years and show what a drastic difference a year can do in the context of mechanical development. I think it will bring to the forefront how important it is to allow a player to grow into himself and not force the process for these athletes. While doing that, I want to flush out some of the character traits that are involved in refining this process on a larger scale.
Here’s a video of the same athlete one year apart (we’ll break it down in detail later in the article):
To give you some context, you have a 5’9 150lb sophomore on the right and a 5’10” 170lb junior on the left. The 150lb sophomore version of this pitcher pitched around 78-82mph with an above-average change-up and above-average command. This allowed him to develop into a consistent high-level performer on the 16U summer circuit playing in national travel tournaments, but yet the phone isn’t ringing off the hook for this type of 16U player unless he shows “projection” in the body or above average velocity now (neither of which apply to him).
I can understand how it would be very easy to write this type of player off as "average," because every high school RHP in America throws 78-82mph. As such, how could you possibly see this player and offer him a scholarship to play in college? Well, if you’re paying attention, and look at this pitcher one year later with an additional 20lbs on his frame and see that the delivery has continued to refine itself, you’re going to begin to gather a positive sense of direction for this athlete and realize that this RHP is going to conservatively throw 84-87mph this year with a very good chance to throw harder.
Now, 84-87mph still may not get a lot of people excited in this day and age, but I would go out on a limb and say that by the time this athlete is physically maturing in college, you’ll be looking at an 88-90mph RHP with three pitches, who knows how to compete in the strike zone at a high level because he wasn’t blessed with velocity from an early age. There’s a spot for that type of pitcher on any college staff; I don’t care who you are.
One could also certainly say that’s a large leap to make in projecting a 5’10” 170lb pitcher, but it all comes back to knowing what type of person they are and how hard they work. That’s why I think intimate knowledge of their overall training activity is crucial, because you can find out if this player is willing to go away from the “fun” part of developing their skills and identify that they’re willing to buy into a much larger process to make themselves a more technically proficient player on the field.
This is important, in my eyes, because there are only so many reps you can expect a thrower to execute, due to the stressful nature of the activity. So, in order to maximize the efficiency of their development, they have to be able to handle concepts that transcend the actual throwing process itself to be able to refine their throwing motion. If they can grasp why learning how to create stability is important, or why learning to manage their tissue quality on a daily basis will increase their training capacity, then you can give them larger and larger windows to create adaptation as an athlete on the field.
Take the athlete in the video, for example. He’s becoming one of the most consistent performers on the field, and it’s no surprise, because he’s learning to become one of the most consistent athletes in the weight room as well. If you are familiar with the pitching delivery, you’ll notice that he has upgraded at least four critical components of the throwing motion:
Postural control of his leg lift/gather phase
Rhythm/timing of his hands and legs working together during his descent into the stride phase
Lead leg stability and postural control from landing to release
Ability to maintain integrity and directional control of his deceleration phase
The interesting piece of these four components is that three of these are reliant on the athlete improving his overall ability to create stability in the delivery. At Cressey Sports Performance, I talk with our athletes all the time about understanding if their adjustments are mobility, stability or awareness issues. In this instance, we probably had both stability and awareness issues to resolve. The thing is, once you’re aware of the issues, it still takes deliberate work to iron out a stability problem in the delivery, which is why the athlete’s training habits are so important. Simply throwing the baseball over and over again may help you with your timing and repeatability, but we need to actively attack the strength training if we expect to impact an athlete’s pattern of stability in the throw.
In order to examine this a bit further, let’s walk through each of these components and identify a couple key things in video form:
Postural Control during Leg Lift/Gather Phase
Rhythm of Descent into Stride Phase
Stability from Landing to Release
Control of Deceleration
Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s obviously a long way to go for this athlete to get to 90mph. However, when you look at the development of this individual in the last 365 days, and you consider that there are over 730 more days before this athlete will even play his first college baseball game as a freshman, it becomes that much more important to know who the athlete is. Will the player you’re recruiting be comfortable with who they are, and become stagnant in their development, or will he use his time efficiently to keep improving both on and off the baseball field?
In the short time that I’ve been doing this, I’ve found that there’s usually a progression for athletes that involves learning how strength training can benefit them. It usually starts with showing up to the weight room from time to time thinking that’s good enough. Once they start plateauing there, they realize they actually need to be consistent in showing up to the weight room to make gains. The problem is, they eventually start plateauing there as well, and if they decide they really want to be good, they proceed to make the all-important psychological jump, and realize it’s not good enough to just show up to the training environment anymore. They realize they need to make positive decisions in their daily routines in order to make the most of every training session, whether it’s on the field or in the weight room. If they’re not willing to do that, there’s always someone else who is, and it doesn’t take long before these athletes are passing them by and they’re left wondering what happened?
When the athlete makes the jump from simply showing up to giving a consistent effort to make positive decisions for themselves inside and outside of the training environment, it becomes real easy to tell a college coach, "This is a guy you want, not only on the field or in the weight room, but in your locker room as well."
If you're interested in learning more about our approaches to long-term baseball development, be sure to check out our Elite Baseball Mentorships; the next course will take place in January.
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