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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 8

It's time for the December edition of my musings on the performance world. Our twin daughters were born on November 28, so this will be a "baby theme" sports performance post.

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1. Sleep might be the great equalizer in the sports performance equation.

For obvious reasons, I've been thinking a lot about sleep quality and quantity since the girls were born. Obviously, how well you sleep is a huge factor in both short- and long-term performance improvements (or drop-offs). I think everyone knows that, but unfortunately, not everyone acts on it.

Additionally, I'm not sure folks realize that sleep is probably the only factor in the performance training equation that isn't impacted by socioeconomic status. Good coaching, gym access, massage therapy, and quality nutrition and supplementation all cost money and can be hard to find in certain areas. Getting quality sleep really won't cost you a penny (unless you're forgoing sleep to try to earn a living), and it's easily accessible. tweetSure, you can buy a better mattress or pillow, turn the air conditioning up, or get reinforced blinds to make your room darker, but the truth is that these aren't limiting factors for most people. Usually, the problems come from using phones/tablets/TVs on too close to bedtime, or simply not making time to get to bed at a reasonable hour. That might be why this Tweet I posted a few days ago was well-received.

I think the lesson here is that if you're struggling to make progress, begin by controlling what you can control. Sleep is usually a good place to start.

2. You need a team, but not an army.

Without exception, everyone who has ever had a child is willing to offer advice. Unfortunately, while it's always incredible well-intentioned, it isn't always useful. We've found this to be particularly true because we have twins, which is a total game changer as compared to a single baby. It's like getting a pitching lesson from a golf professional; he might "get" efficient rotation, but have no idea how to apply it to a new sport.

With that in mind, as an athlete, you have to have a filter when you create your team. Too many cooks can spoil the broth, and having too many coaches (and related professionals) in your ear can lead to confusion from over-coaching and mixed messages.

Taking it a step further, as a facility owner, this is why I love to hire from our Cressey Sports Performance internship program. We get a great opportunity to determine if folks can seamlessly integrate with our team while still providing unique expertise and value to our clients. It's also why we don't ever have independent contractor trainers come in to coach under our roof; the "team" becomes an "army"and the messages get diluted.

Speaking of internships...

Mastery_Cover3. Apprenticeships are tremendously important for athletes and coaches alike.

The current audiobook on my iPhone is Mastery, by Robert Greene. Greene goes to great lengths to describe the commonalities of success for many of history's great "masters:" Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and many others. One experience they all seem to have in common is a tremendous track record of apprenticeship (or internship) under a bright individual who has gone before them.

It goes without saying that we know this is the best way to learn in the fitness industry. If you need proof, just look at the loads of successful trainers out there who have never opened an exercise physiology textbook, but have logged countless hours "in the trenches" - much of it under the tutelage of a seasoned fitness professional - to hone their skills. As Greene notes, however, not all mentors are created equal, and you have to be very picky in selecting one that is a good match for you.

For us, that meant listening to parents of multiple babies, as well as the nurses at the hospital who had experience caring for twins. As strange as it sounds, it was a blessing that one of our babies needed supplemental oxygen for a few days after birth, as my wife and I effectively got a bunch of one-on-one tutoring from some incredibly helpful nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit. I could have tried to learn it from a book, but there's no way it would have come around as quickly as it did from performing various tasks under the watchful eye of a seasoned pro.

4. Don't take advanced solutions to a simple problem.

I'll admit it: screaming babies terrified me about three weeks ago. While I kept my normally calm demeanor on the outside, every time one of the girls cried, on the inside, I was actually as flustered as a pimple-faced teenager who is about to ask the captain of the cheerleading team to prom. I'd suggest to my wife that we play some music for them, try a different seat/swing, let them cuddle with one another, or play Monopoly (kidding). Not surprisingly, none of it worked.

In reality, the answer is a lot more simple: 99% of the time, they want to eat, get a diaper change, or be held. Seriously, that's it. Who wants to listen to sit in a nice swing, listening to Today's Country radio on Pandora when they're wallowing in their own turd?

Basically, the athletes needed to squat, press, deadlift, and lunge - yet I kept trying to program 1-arm, 1-leg dumbbell RDLs off an unstable surface while wearing a weight vest on a 12-6-9-4 tempo. This is a stark contrast to they way I live my life and how I carry myself as a coach. Lack of familiarity - and the stress it can cause - was the culprit.

Extending this to a coaching context, when you're working with a new athlete or in a new situation (i.e., sport with which you aren't familiar), always look to simplify. Remember that good movement is good movement, regardless of the sporting demands in question.

5. Different athletes need different cues.

Here are our two little angels:

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Even after only three weeks, they couldn't be any more different. Lydia, on the left, can be a little monster. Even the slightest disturbance throws her into a fit, and she wants to eat just about every hour. On the other hand, Addison, on the right, is as mellow as can be. In fact, as I type this, she's quietly sleeping next to my desk - while her sister is in the other room doing her best to wake my wife up from much needed sleep. While the goal is to get them on the same schedule, doing so requires much different approaches for each girl.

In applying this to athletes, you'll have different kinds of learners. Kinesthetic learners will need to be put in a position to appreciate it. Auditory learners can be told to do something and usually pick it up instantly. Visual learners just need to see you demonstrate it, and they'll make it happen shortly thereafter. Your goal as a coach is to determine an athlete's predominant learning style in the first 20-30 minutes of working with him. Most athletes will require a little bit of all three (depending on the exercise you're coaching), but determining which approach predominates makes your coaching more efficient; you can get more done in less time, and fewer words.

Wrap-up

This will be my last post before Christmas, so I just wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very happy holiday season. Thanks so much for your support of EricCressey.com in 2014!

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