Steve Myrland Interview

Steve Myrland heads Myrland Sports Training in Madison Wisconsin. He was the Strength and Conditioning coach at University of Wisconsin. Steve is a great friend and an equally great coach. He always makes me think and keeps me grounded and centered when I get off on crazy tangents he will set me straight. Steve will make you think with his responses.

What are the essential requirements for a successful conditioning program?
1) An understanding of the physical demands of the sport / event;
2) A good plan to go from where the athletes are, now; to where they need to be then;
3) Enough flexibility to meet individual needs.

What are the most common mistakes in conditioning?
Implementing a program based on the "World-Class" model rather than a program designed for the athletes who are actually in the program. Too many coaches who came to coaching from competing only seem to recall how they trained when they were competing at the top levels. They try to apply these methods to their athletes and the result is disaster.

What is “functional training” from your point of view?
1) An understanding of the three planes of movement;
2) An appreciation of the body;
3) An awareness of the possibilities of basing your training on "organically" rather than "technologically" driven movement.

What do you do to make your training more functional?
1) We train on our feet; we rarely train off our feet;
2) We rarely use anything that eliminates / isolates any of the three available planes of motion (we choose dumbbells, for instance, over barbells);
3) We use "simple" equipment to get complex results rather than the other way round.

How important is specificity?
Extremely important--and for reasons beyond physiological applications. Specificity allows an athlete to feel like the athlete they are / want to be. It creates confidence in the movements / workouts / overall plan. Training that is consistently removed from the specific demands of an event or sport (like having your shot-putters running seventy miles / week, or your distance runners maxing out in bar-squats every Wednesday) creates a physiological mess; and psychological confusion and doubt.

What aspect of conditioning athletes is most difficult and how have you tried to address it?
1) Anaerobic threshold training is a necessary part of performance preparation for most athletes; but, it isn't fun to do. It's the kind of training that requires a good coaching effort, and is aided by a good team effort. The coach has to stick to the plan--even though the athletes will be clearly dreading the session in front of them; and the athletes need to share the burden of encouraging themselves and their teammates to get through the session with success.

With the plethora of information available how can a coach determine what is best?
1) Look first at what is in front of you, rather than what is out there. That is: pay attention to the athletes you see every day and learn who they are, and how they respond to training before you set out to learn how the pros do it.
2) Trust your instincts, eyes, and ears when dealing with your team. It's all there, right in front of you. Don't just look: See.

Where do you stand on nature versus nurture? How much difference can training make?
I believe athletes who achieve success at the highest levels reflect an optimal blending of nature & nurture. Every sport and athletic event will eventually choose who gets to compete. You don't see a lot of 6'11" Olympic gymnasts, and you don't see a lot of 5'3" NBA players. The exceptions are exceptions; and they are (generally) a lot of fun to be around. My coaching preference is always to have an athlete with all the tools, and a toolbox; but if I had to choose one over the other . . . I'd take the toolbox every time. I have enough confidence in my coaching to believe I can add a few tools to an athlete who has the box in which to carry them.

What is the sure sign that a self-proclaimed conditioning guru is not a good source of advice?
Any indication that your future success will be predicated on your becoming dependent . . . on 1) the guru; 2) the guru's certification program; or 3) the guru's equipment. Dependency is a disease I would rather avoid. Good coaches foster independence.

What do you do differently with the female athlete in terms of conditioning?

Female athletes contend with certain societal expectations and pressures that are (traditionally) less pronounced with male athletes. Sometimes these cause irrational fears concerning training. Ignoring these fears is, I believe, a mistake. Rather, a coach ought to be prepared to deal honestly with these issues. I find it is an easy-sell to get females to buy into the majority of my strength-training ideas--because they are not centered on big-plates-on-barbells; but then, I also find it more difficult to wean female athletes from their devotion to distance-running / simple stamina training in favor of event-specific / sport-specific speed and speed-endurance training. The specter of eating disorders is always a danger. Coaches must be well thought out on this issue.

What has been the biggest innovation in training that you have seen during the course of your career and where is the biggest room for innovation in training athletes?
Ironically, I think the biggest innovation has been the re-examination of old ideas--from medicine balls to some of the training approaches that were tried and true decades ago. I think training has largely been on a dead-end path for years, and that some good coaches are recognizing the wisdom of experience over marketing. And: there are still some great old coaches (and some new ones) who never got sidetracked by all the chrome, bells, whistles, and fooferaw. We can learn from these people.

What's the biggest issue in training athletes today?
The absence of effective physical education as a sound basis for athletic development. Children are deficient in remedial movement skills because the culture (and physical education) fail to make these vital and compelling. Therefore, coaches are forced to confront would-be athletes with serious physiological deficiencies. Success, then, requires coaches to address things that should have been addressed years before. Good coaches realize this and plan accordingly. Bad coaches try to muscle ahead, oblivious of these deficiencies and the results are usually bad for coaches, athletes, and teams. (The orthopedists seem to do pretty well, though . . . )

What are the biggest professional challenges have you had to face?
Sadly, I think it has been the unwillingness of so many in the athletics-business to understand, appreciate, and embrace excellence as something achievable. The gate-keepers of mediocrity have multiplied like gerbils, and they have made coaching a bigger challenge than it already was.

What do you enjoy most about coaching? Dislike?
I like finding the athlete who gets it and wants it; the kid who understands that coaches and athletes are partners in something magnificent, and that the journey they make together will be of lasting value--whatever the ultimate outcome is. I dislike (intensely) coming to the realization that I am babysitting; that the athlete doesn't get it, and doesn't particularly want it, either.

Did there come a time in your career where you were faced with a "fork in the road?" If so, do you ever revisit the decision you made or didn't make?
I left regular coaching because of my frustrations with the systemic mediocrity of the institution I worked for; and I miss certain teams and certain colleagues; but I also know that it was the right choice for me. I have always suspected, too, that most coaches make less-than-ideal employees, because successful coaching requires a degree of control that is almost never available / attainable; and the inability to have that control over vital elements is a source of continual frustration.

What inspired you to get into coaching?
Good coaches I had; and bad coaches I had.

Is failure ever valuable?
Absolutely. Failure is the necessary tool by which we encounter our limits (and we can't transcend them, until we get close enough to shake hands with them). And: Dealing with failure is an essential athletic skill.

Which changes now taking place in your field that should be encouraged, and which resisted?
Coaches need to talk and share. Good ideas often come as the result of people finding that their individual pieces of the puzzle fit well with those of another coach to make something bigger and better. We should also become critical consumers of marketed messages, trusting, instead, our own instincts, and experiences, and the experiences of trusted colleagues.


At 8/14/06, 9:32 AM, Blogger jbeyle said...

What a great interview. I especially like the answer regarding failure being a necessary athletic skill. How true, but how many athletes/non-athletes understand this. I deal with many kids who if they can't get it right off the bat, they lose interest, whether it be learning a sports skill or playing an instrument for the first time.
Steve is a genius. Not only is he a wise man, he has shown to be very approachable and giving of his time. He, like Vern and Jeremy Boone, has helped me as a middle school teacher. Their support has consistently reinvigorated me as a teacher. Espcially in times when PE is not held in very high regard.
Thanks guys.

At 8/14/06, 12:34 PM, Blogger KP said...

This looks like another interview that was cut from the book, when will the book be available?

At 8/14/06, 3:07 PM, Anonymous patrick mchugh said...

Vern: I would love to see some more on the issue of coping with failure being an essential athletic skill. As Steve and jbeyle point out so many kids need to understand that failure is part of the learning process. I see our unwillingness to accept failure today as part of our instant gratification society as well as our own inability to accept anything but perfection as notable in many fields. One of my most influential high school teachers spent the first class every year lecturing all of us -- his students -- on the importance of being willing to make mistakes. So many kids are afraid to make mistakes and instead quit activities whether it is athletics or musical instruments. I always found his first calls very reassuring since he was a very demanding teacher otherwise.

At 8/15/06, 8:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The great ones always seem to make it look so easy!



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