In the past few weeks I’ve had a few eye opening experiences that inspired this post regarding how we go about preparing athletes. Both were related to baseball and softball, but the concepts we will discuss can be carried over to just about any discipline or activity.
The first instance was a high school baseball player who came in for a training session and told me that he would be limited because he thinks he strained his hip flexor. When I asked how, he said he did it at one of his lessons with his private hitting instructor. Upon further investigation, he said he felt it when he was doing his Tire Flips. I paused for a second and said, “Wait, I thought you were at a hitting lesson?”. He said, “Yeah, we do them at every lesson. My coach said it helps me hit with more power.”
OK, simmer on that one for a little while…
The second case was doing a thought exercise with my friend Mike Viramontez we call “Dissecting the Drill”. Mike is a very accomplished softball coach, coaching most recently at Oklahoma State and Marshall. The exercise works like this:
The skill coach will present a concept that they are trying to teach to their player. In this case, we were discussing an infielding approach. The steps of the exercise are then for the coach to explain the key components of what he or she is looking for and how you can recognize correct execution, as well as common flaws they are trying to eliminate. From there, we try to distinguish between coach and trainer if this issue is a skill necessity or a physical limitation, or in another words, does this need to be coached or trained, or both?
To try and make the story as succinct as possible, when I asked Mike how he would approach the issue, he explained some of his drills and techniques and as I often do, I just kept asking, “why?”
After continuing to “peel back the onion”, one of the conclusions he gave me was to create “fatigue”. This set off a cascade of questions in my mind:
-When one of his infielders doesn’t make a play, how often was conditioning the limiting factor?
-Can this player even get their body in position to make that play? Do they have the mobility, stability and body control to get there?
-Are they good enough at the actual specific skill of making that play that it even warrants repeating for enough multiples that would lead to fatigue?
We could go on forever. Stay tuned, more on the “Dissecting the Drill” concept coming soon…
So the question to coaches and trainers is this, “Are we just doing random exercises and drills or do we have an end goal in mind? If you do have a goal, can we back track the steps to make sure what we are practicing will actually lead to the desired end result???”
The concept of “Learn, Practice, Train” comes from a Greek Stoic philosopher names Epictetus. The thought process applies just as well to modern day athletics as it did when he coined the phrase as an approach to life over 2000 years ago.
First and foremost we must understand why we are doing something in order for our mind to process the concept and give it worth and meaning. Whether it is footwork, hand position or integrating the hips into an athletic activity, do we primarily appreciate what is required to be successful and how to recognize when an improper or inefficient effort is being made? As one of my mentors physical therapist Gray Cook says, “the primary goal of a corrective exercise is not so much to correct anything as it is to create awareness.”
There are two great books, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and Grit by Angela Duckworth, that both investigate the preparation habits of high achievers across many disciplines. The common theme that they both found among them was their use of something called Deliberate Practice.
“Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance. Deliberate practice is a way for teachers to grow their expertise through a series of planned action steps, reflections, and collaboration. Involved in the Deliberate Practice Plan are: setting goals, focused practice, focused feedback, observing and discussing teaching, and monitoring progress.”
It is this approach that explains how not using this method can have someone see minimal to no improvement in spite of endless hours of training. As the old adage goes, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” If not, you are just getting really good at really bad movement.
Unfortunately we often fast forward to this step way too quickly. An expression that I often use is to “earn your multiples”. If you can’t do it perfect once, its not going to get better doing it for more reps. The other aspect to the “Train” component is understanding the concept of carryover. Carryover refers to an exercise or drill matching the mechanical, physiological, physiological and functional properties of the activity you are trying to improve. The best way to see if a drill or exercise may be effective is to do a regression model of looking at why the individual is not executing the activity well now. Is it a lack of awareness, mobility, stability, balance, strength, speed, power, reactivity, endurance, etc.?
From there you must make sure that you don’t prescribe an endurance solution to a mobility problem, or a power solution for an awareness problem.
Is this a Good Exercise or Drill?
1. First answer, “I don’t know.”
2. Next question, “What is your goal?”
3. Next question, “Why do you think this person can’t do that now?”
4. Next question, “Why?”
5. Keep repeating #4 until you find your answer…