The Time of the Year - Pitching

This is the time of the year when you hear a lot about pitchers getting their arms ready for spring training. I always have to chuckle when I hear this. Is it really their arms they need to get ready? I am amazed at the amount of attention given the arm and shoulder. Certainly science and practice has shown that you do not throw with your arm. (I defy Roger Clemens to throw a 95 mile an hour fastball from a kneeling position) The key to a good arm is strong legs and hips, great hip mobility (like a hurdler) and a strong back. The arm and shoulder follow, they are among the last links in the kinetic chain to be engaged. It is ironic that those pitchers who are getting their arms ready are now out jogging 30, 40 or 50 minutes to build up their endurance. Pitching is a power activity. It is a burst of explosiveness. This demands explosive training, not endurance work which detracts from explosiveness. Pitching coaching has as many gurus as strength and conditioning. They all have different opinions. Some wrap themselves in pseudoscience, but the bottom line is that there is good science to direct us how to prepare a pitcher to pitch. Pitching is a kinetic chain activity, it is part of the throw push continuum. That speaks volumes. It is not a mystery, but if you want to be a guru you must make it mysterious.



Yesterday there was big feature article in our local paper on the epidemic proportions of ADHD in students. I know I have a strong bias toward the importance of movement and its relationship to learning, but they “the experts” have really missed the point. They spoke about diet the societal stimulus of bombardment with fast non stop images, but they forgot the key element. They forgot recess and free play and even Physical education. I read the article twice to see if I had missed the exercise part, no nothing. It is my belief that ADHD behavior could be significantly reduced if we gave short 15 to 20 minute periods of recess and a longer lunch hour. ( I know that saved me in school, my best subjects were recess and lunch) But of course we can’t do that because then more children would be left behind. They would not have enough time to spend preparing for standardized tests to get the teachers and administration a monetary bonus. The ADHD syndrome is a symptom of a larger malaise that is affecting society. If you had more time for recess then the school day would be longer and the kids would have less time to play instant gratification video and would watch less TV. If you lengthened lunch hour then someone would have to supervise the kids and that would cost more money. As I said ADHD is part of a much bigger problem. Let’s work to get real Physical Education back in the schools that will help. The emphasis needs to be on the physical to provide a release. PE does not have to be academic as some people are making it now. Make it physical, make it fun and playful. Give the kids a release. While I am on a rant here is another one. No coed PE from sixth grade through to the junior year in high school. This is a real tough time for both sexes. Girls are physically mature and worry about showing any physical superiority to the boys. The boys are awkward and if given a choice will not do anything to reveal just how awkward they are. Most of the people who read this blog are professional who have a voice. Let’s get people thinking about this!


More on HIT Training

I was asked by a reader to comment further on so called HIT Training. For those of you who do not know this is characterized by one set to failure on machines that isolate single joint movements. In essence they are training muscles not movements. As far as I can see the main benefit of this methods in significant in muscle hypertrophy. I question whether this transfers to performance. I am presently consulting with two teams at the University of Michigan whose strength training staff are longtime advocates of HIT Training. The coaches who brought me in recognized that that HIT methods was not making their athletes better. There is no doubt that as far as a method for training athletes in is not of value! One of my concerns is that it does not address intermuscular coordination. Consequently the ability to use the strength gains garnered from the training is difficult if not impossible to apply. Research has shown that multiple sets are superior to one set to failure. HIT is fine for body builders whose main objective is to gain muscular size. There is another aspect of HIT Training that is seldom mentioned, it that of efficiency and cost. You need a different machine for every exercise and you can only have one athlete on a machine at a time. This takes time. In addition the need to have so many machines is very expensive. For the cost of three or four of the larger machines I could go a long way toward equipping a full strength training facility with tools that would transfer to the field. One of the main arguments in favor of HIT Training is that it is ‘safe.’ They argue that free weights are ballistic and therefore dangerous. That may be the case if proper progression is not observed. Frankly is 37 years of coaching I have never had an athlete get hurt in the weight room using free weights. I know one HIT school several years ago that had seven hamstring injuries in their Football winter conditioning program. There is no doubt that the neural confusion caused by the hamstring curls coupled with high speed treadmill training were major contributing factors. So much for safe!

Frankly I feel the same way about all machine training. My experience with machines goes back 40 years to my freshman year in college. The big innovation was the universal gym. It was the first selectorized weight machine. I trained religiously from the end of freshman football and to the start of spring practice. I got strong and bigger. The only problem was that I could not move. I could not use the ’strength’ that I had gained. This lesson has stayed with me over the years. I know I was not a very good athlete, but that mode of training did help me.



This was send to me by Jim Richardson, women's swim coach at University of Michigan

"There are people who work at 50 percent of their ability and who are
successful. Then there are the ones who give 110 percent of everything
they've got and barely make it. Which ones would you want? I'd rather
have the people who give it their all and walk off the field knowing
that...'I gave it everything I had; win or lose, you got the best I can
give.'" - James Williams, Paralympian

Drills to the Max

Cones, poles, ladders, and sticks it does not matter, more drills is not the answer. I find that the more I coach the less drills I use. I have basic drills and then derivatives of those if necessary. The magic is not in the drill, but in the application of the drill. It starts with thoroughly understanding the sport the athlete is preparing for, then what position or event and last but not least what are the athlete’s individual needs. After that analysis then look at your drill menu and see what drills will apply. Make sure they transfer and the athlete understands the application. For example I use four or five basic ABC ladder drills, that is all regard less of the sport. When the athlete understands and masters those, then and only then will I add variations. Drill for drill sake will only make the athlete tired, not better. I want to make the athletes better.


Knee Braces

I have never been a fan of knee braces both after knee surgery (with certain exceptions) and as a preventive measure. I am amazed at the number of football teams that brace their offensive lineman. It is interesting to note that Caron Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals Quarterback was wearing a knee brace when he was hit. He was wearing the brace due to a prior knee injury, but is did not prevent was described as a ‘devastating’ knee injury. The doctor who performed the surgery was quoted as saying:” The brace didn’t function well in this environment and should have done better than it did, frankly.” Well da!!!

Proper strengthening and learning to use the wisdom of the body is better than bracing. Not to mention that braces hinder mobility which in my opinion make the player more susceptible to injury. Any thoughts ?


US Tennis Performance

I have particularly interested in the reaction to the poor performance of American players at the Australian Open. The hue and cry is similar to what I have seen in other sports over the years as other countries caught up to us. Success in sports is not the exclusive domain of the United States. Many other countries are taking a much more systematic approach to the Long Term Athletic Development process than the US. I have written several different times in this blog about the decline in youth fitness and lack of physical education. That is the foundation for any kind of athletic success. You cannot build a house without a foundation. In our local paper this morning tennis guru Nick Bollettieri offered up some of his opinions. It was what you expect from a guru, quite self serving. His idea was to bring back the past, get kids younger into academies and play more tennis! To quote Bollettieri “We had them at a young age and never ran out of ammunition. We should be concentrating on players who are 11, 12, 13 and 14 years of age.” I had the opportunity to consult at a nearby academy several years ago (Not Bollettieri’s but modeled on that) and it was ridiculous. The kids were on the court up to eight hours a day. It violated all principles of sound training and motor learning. They were just repeating errors when they were tired. When that was done then they were supposed to strength train or do ‘speed’ development. It was borderline abusive. For all of this the parents were paying in excess of $20,000 a year. Needless to say the players who have talent and survive are good. Contrast this with other countries that are systematically developing their players. They work on coordination and specific fitness. They observe the influence of growth and development. Folks this is a problem that transcends tennis. Look at basketball it is much the same.


Commonsense and Nonsense

I am working on the finishing touches for a book on Athletic Development. It is due to be published next fall by Human Kinetics. It has been a long and interesting and sometimes painful project. Yesterday when I was writing the epilogue I was struck by how much nonsense is associated with this field. Along with the nonsense I could not help but think of the people who have all the answers. At the completion of over 100,000 words the common theme was common sense. Training is a basic process, strip away all the mumbo jumbo and guru speak and it is very basic. I struggle to understand why people try to make it complicated. The other common theme is that there are no answers; there are principles that lead to solutions. Each individual athlete and team is a unique work in progress. A method that works great for one will result in disaster for another. Remember simplicity yields complexity, you don’t have to make it complicated to be effective.


Turning Back the Clock

I was going through some files the other day looking for some information. I did not find what I was looking, but I did find something I had been looking for, for quite a long and could not find. (Good filing system) I found President’s Council on Youth Fitness test manual and the AAHPER Youth Fitness test manual from the 1960 when I first started teaching. What a revelation! These were all written in the early Sixties when there was mandatory PE Kindergarten to Grade 12. You talk about comprehensive. There was a balance test. There actually was a flexibility test that was a good test of balance and proprioception that included transverse plain movement. My question as I was reading through all of this was why did we get away from all this? I really think it was part of the overall dumbing down of our education system. We became so aware that someone might fail and hurt their self esteem that the tests were watered down to the point where now I am not sure what hey they are measuring. Sure not many kids scored above the 90th percentile to qualify for the Presidents fitness badge, but that made the award that much more meaningful. Getting the award was a real goal. The youngsters had a standard to measure against. I know as a teacher I always stressed improvement. The kids worked to improve their performance, that way everyone was rewarded in a positive manner. I strongly believe that your level of expectations determines your level of achievement. We definitely need to raise our level of expectations of children today. I am not so sure that kids have changed as much we like to think, but I sure do know that our expectations of kids has changed. I really think we need to revisit a lot of that material. Let’s not reinvent the wheel!


More Winning the Workout

This is an example of how winnng the workout leads to competitive perfromance.
“For us, it was definitely quality. A simple scenario: we race over two kilometers and take about 220 to 240 strokes per race. Our aim in training was to work on various aspects of our preparation so that on race day, our boat would go half an inch faster per stroke that every stroke of our opposition. We knew that we weren’t the biggest or strongest guys in the competition, so we had to look at other ways of generating boat speed; this in a sport that is built on strength and endurance. So our focus was on our quality and efficiency of movement, particularly in our technique. If you look at the margin we won by in
Atlanta, it equated to roughly two-thirds of a second per stroke quicker that the second boat.”

Nick Green rower, one of the famous Australian ‘Oarsome Foursome’ who won the Gold Medal in Atlanta


How important is planning? My mantra for years has been failing to plan is planning to fail. So obviously I think it is important, but I have some questions at the concept of periodization achieves popular acceptance. Where does the focus in planning need to be, long term or short term? I have come to the conclusion that the focus must be on detailed short term planning, the actual microcycle and the training session. I have found over the years that the long term plan demands constant adjustment. I used to put too much detail in the long term plan and always end up modifying it or changing it anyway. The other aspect of planning that should demand attention is the planning of the interplay between all the components of training. Is everything in context or is it coming out of left field? Ironically some of the most productive training sessions I have ever had as a coach have come when I threw out the plan and followed my instincts. I guess that is the art of it, but at least I had a plan to throw out! To move forward and make planning more meaningful will require a significant paradigm shift. It will require a move away from the Newtonian, linear, reductionism approach that has gotten us to this point, but will hold us back from making future progress. Advances in science in the twentieth century logically lead us to a quantum approach to planning training. The quantum approach focuses on relationships and connections. Coaching is no more than learning to take advantage of these constantly changing connections and relationships. Using this approach training literally becomes a dance of discovery. It requires the coach to be more involved in monitoring all aspects of training. It is a significant departure from focusing on the parts and assuming that the parts will come together in some sort of sensible usable whole. The plan should constantly look for critical connections that will allow the body to adapt to the stress of training. The body is a fully integrated system; to optimize the performance of this system we must take a systems approach to planning and implementing training.


Win the Workout

I must admit when I first heard Wayne Goldsmith, an Australian sports scientist, speak about this I was a bit put off. My thought was how can focus on winning the workout and still have something left for competition? The more I thought about it the more sense it made. Before I can ever think about winning in competition I must win the workouts consistently. It is a mindset that each athlete must bring to every training session. It is a convergence of psychology and physiology that accumulates over time. An athlete who is confident in their preparation is an athlete who has a chance in competition. To win the workout it must meet the following criteria:

ü The workout must be completed with concentration on the task at hand.

ü The workout must be done with the effort required, nothing less. This should be a given.

ü The workout must be done with intensity. Effort does not equal intensity

ü The drills and exercises must be done precision and quality

ü Finally the athlete has to be accountable for their performance during training.


More on Gurus

Everyday I get questions from people who read this article or heard that guru speak at a seminar (that they usually paid a lot of money for). The questions usually are something like this: What did he mean by this or How do I do that that? I usually have no clue because it is some term that the guru invented that I have never seen before. Remember gurus thrive on making things complex. If you can’t break it down and make it simple it is probably not worth doing. The current guru buzz word is prehab which is the most nonsensical term I have ever heard. I thought it was nonsense when pitching guru Tom House first used in the mid eighties and it is just as nonsensical now. Basically call it what is, it is remedial work designed to prevent common injuries in a sport. Why make it more complicated? Because if it is not complicated you can’t be a guru! It used to be harder to be a guru, now it is easy just get a web page or even a blog and declare yourself an expert and instantly you are a guru. This is the downside of the information age in which we live. We need to have checks and balances, but the best check and balance is your philosophy and base of knowledge. A good sound philosophy and foundation of knowledge will allow you to put you bullshit filter on fine to screen out the guru speak.


Heart Rate Monitoring

What does monitoring heart rate really tell us? I have wondered about this for years. I have used heart rate monitors and I have not used them. As I step back and evaluate I realize that at its best heart rate is a very gross measure. The biggest thing you have to worry about heart rate is if there is none. Heart response with healthy athletes is quite predictable. For example with a professional soccer team in the age range from 18 to 28 doing short rest intervals at 70% effort in all probability will have a heart rate that averages 170 beats per minute during the work and drops to around 130 beats per minute during the rest. I really do not need a heart rate monitor to determine this. What about basing training heart rate on a percentage of maximum heart rate? The question is what maximum heart rate, the training maximum heart rate or the competition maximum heart rate. They can be quite different. Formulas used to predict maximum heart rate are notorious for they inaccuracy. So what is the value of heart rate monitoring?


Obstacles to Excellence

The following are four thought provoking observations by Steve Myrland

We train, rather than coach

We specialize before we develop

We put specific event skills before movement skills

We evaluate before we teach


Work or Training

It is easy to do work, it is much harder to train. At first glace that may seem like a stupid statement. Aren’t they synonymous? No they are not. This is a trap that I see many people fall into, it is the activity trap. The attitude is that if I am doing something instead of nothing that I am improving my physical capacities. To differentiate between work and training is important. To improve any of the physical qualities demands focused and directed training. Training is work with a purpose, a specific goal in mind. In training there should a logical order and progression of exercises and drills. This order and progression should be apparent both intra workout and inter workout. When I watch workout of other coaches I am looking for connections and relationships throughout the training. This requires detailed planning, careful preparation for the training session and a above it demands that the coach be fully engaged in the workout. The coach has to make the connections so that the athlete can relate to them and internalize them.


More Answers

This is my answer to the dilemma of one sided biased training. This is a common problem in many programs today. Instead of keeping perspective on the big picture and evaluating and developing all athletic qualities there is a tendency to emphasize one component to the exclusion of others. Perhaps the most overemphasized is the component of strength manifested in weight training. There are many commercial programs that market to high schools with prepared programs that emphasize loading the youngsters up. There is no progression and no adjustment made for different sports and gender. These program claim big numbers in terms of squat and bench, but is the cost worth it? We do not hear anything about the injuries that occur because young bodies are being prematurely loaded. In many respects it does not matter what component of training is overemphasized, they are all interdependent. If you bias training toward one component during the developmental years the athlete will not reach their full athletic potential later in their development. Even though one quality was improved it’s ultimate development will be limited by its dependence on other qualities. For example how can you train speed with training strength and power? To develop speed to the fullest there must be a parallel development of strength and power.


Value & Role of the Coach

Coaching is the key to the success of any system. For some reason the value and importance of coaches has been down played. Frank Dick, Britain's chief coach during the golden age of athletics expressed it quite well: "Somewhere in the last 10 years or so we have lost our place as coaches; somebody, somewhere has decided coaching cannot be respected in the way that it used to be," he said. "If this is not addressed quickly then who is going to lead the athletes? Don't tell me the scientist’s can. Science has never led sport. It is coaches that lead the process. As Winston Churchill said, scientists should be on tap but never on top." We must train coaches so they have the knowledge in how to teach and communicate. Not everyone can be a coach. It is a demanding job regardless of the level of sport. We should encourage and reward good coaches to stay at the developmental levels where providing the young athletes a good foundation is so important.

Happy New Year - Looking back to Move Ahead

Each year I use the time between Christmas and New Years to reflect and evaluate my work over the past and even over the other years of my coaching. I use this period of time to gain perspective to move ahead. 2006 begins my 37th year of coaching. In many ways it does not seem like it has been that long. In other ways it seems like forever. Society certainly has changed during that time, consequently sport, which is a mirror of society, has also changed. I remember 1969 as a more naive and innocent time in sport. The athletes in high school played multiple sports and they were encouraged by the coaches to do so. There was mandatory Physical Education from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Youth sport was almost nonexistent, except for some summer baseball and club swimming. Kids played without adult supervision, yes there were some fights, but they settled it without lawyers or parents involved. On the negative side there were very limited opportunities for girls to compete in interscholastic sports, it took another five years for that to become reality. There were actually amateur sports. I could not be paid to coach, I had to be paid as a Physical Education teacher or I would have lost my “amateur” status. Many of us trained just because we wanted to get better. I trained with some Olympians, but I was far from that level.

I know this sounds like I am living in the past, I must admit that as I get older the good old days do look better. We have certainly made tremendous progress in the past 37 years. I talk about the past because it is important to know where you have come from to get ahead. We now live in an age of professional sport, early specialization in youth sports, and a lack of Physical Education. As someone who has seen it both ways I feel we need to take a good look back so that we do not repeat our mistakes and progress forward. We certainly have the advantages that technology has brought us. We do have better facilities. I am not sure that our coaches are as well prepared. In the old days the great majority of the coaches were affiliated with the schools, so they had a good background in pedagogy, they were teachers. We do need to do a better job of training our coaches, There are some very good programs out there like the USA Track & Field Coaching Education program. We need more programs like that. The goal in youth sports should be to provide a good experience by teaching fundamentals and the rules.

We can move forward in a positive manner. There are many more opportunities now that there were 37 years. The explosion of information on training and coaching is mind boggling. It is imperative that there be a context to evaluate the information and separate the wheat from the chaff. That is my goal in 2006 with this blog and the web page. I want to help coaches be better by directing their search for knowledge.