No Step Back

I have read the study that is the bases the so called “plyo step” and I do not come to the same profound conclusions. In fact I have read it three times just in case I missed something. The opening sentence in the introduction is a giveaway to me: “In most types of sport the human body must accelerated from a stationary position to maximal speed.” In fact in the majority of sports starts are moving and involve movement in multiple directions. Later in the introduction the following sentence appears: ”In starting from the standing position it is noteworthy that first the push-off leg is placed backward.” In fact the push off leg, the leg that is in contact with the ground the longest is forward and the so called “fast leg,” the leg that moves first is placed back.

As I evaluate the whole study their conclusions regarding the “paradoxical step” are true given the narrow starting conditions that they define. They found what they were looking for. Look carefully at the research design, they did not really try different starting techniques, they were very narrow in their selection. Standing tall with the feet I close proximity simply hardly ever occurs in sport. My conclusion is that if you want to execute a “fast first step” and that is all that matters then step back, but make sure you are in a tall position with the feet together.

The other problem I have with the study is that they just looked at the first step. The first step is just a means to commence acceleration. To truly assess any starting technique you must look at what happens at five, ten and even twenty meters. Franklin Henry eons ago in his seminal work on the sprint start showed that the bunch start was the fastest start but did not result in the fastest time at the finish. The starting position and first step must be put in context.

In conclusion, looking at research is great, but it must be carefully evaluated in the context of what happens in the real world. You cannot draw profound general conclusions from one narrowly defined study. I spend about twenty per cent of my week studying and evaluating research and I always have to remind my self of this. I suggest those of you interested in starting look at the stumble reflex that is where the answer lies. Bottom line is taking a positive step to set acceleration to optimum speed, don’t step back!


Solving Movement Problems

Zach Snyder wrote: “In your book "Athletic Development," you have a wonderful chapter on Movement Aptitude and Balance. Can you describe some of your strategies for teaching movement awareness. On page 146 you say to give athletes movement problems to solve that will enable them to discover movement skills. Can you give some examples of this? Thanks for your book, it is great!”

Zach it is pretty simple actually. For example you tell the person that they have to get from point A to Point B as fast as possible. Put three obstacles that they must traverse that prevent them form going from going from A to B. Let them figure it out. They may have to climb over one obstacle, crawl under another and jump over something. Let them figure it out and then when they are finished debrief them and ask them why they what they did. If you want to add pressure, then add a time element.

Make it a game. With kids have them imitate animals. Make it reflexive, not cognitive. Playful is best, make it FUNdamental, believe they will figure it out.

Approaching Sixty and Training

Marshall posted this: “There are a lot of us approaching 60 and your posting recounts issues that most of us are facing. Your books are excellent for younger athletes -- how about a paper or a book on using your techniques focusing on fitness for those of us "approaching 60"? The article in Outside Magazine would seem to be a good start.”

I am fast approaching sixty, only a little over two weeks to go, so this is an area near to my heart. Here are some thoughts on things I have personally observed as well as what I have been able to pull from research.

Less is more – in fact much less is a lot more. Train consistently but remember that training is cumulative. If you have been an athlete, like I was, and have continued to workout there is an accumulation of background. I have found that shorter more intense workouts are preferable to longer more prolonged workouts. Follow these workouts by a much lighter day. If it is higher impact day then follow it with a very low impact day. I know I get in trouble when I try to put two impact workout back to back.

Just as training is cumulative, the old injuries are still there – Respect your injury history and do more remedial type of work so they do not come back to haunt you.

Warm-up – Even more important as you age. Make it active and progressive. Be sure to include rotational movement s and some crawling. 90% of the warm-up should be on your feet and moving at no slower than a jog tempo.

Don’t buy into the aerobics myth – Do not get me wrong you must do aerobic work, but it should be balance by all the other components of training. Strength training especially exercises that promote postural integrity and dynamic alignment must be done consistently. Vary your mode of aerobic work and don’t be afraid to push it a bit.

Flexibility is more important – Aging is relentless, but it seems the most relentless in the loss of range of motion. I must admit I have been very flexible all my life, but in the last year I have noticed some subtle losses in flexibility. I must make a conscious effort to incorporate this component daily. Yoga is good, especially Ashtanga yoga. Hip mobility is really essential. I prefer hurdle walks to achieve this, because it is dynamic and I have a consistent measure.

Balance – Train it in a sensible manner. Make it part of other activities and be as dynamic as possible.

Agility work is very important – You don’t have to bag drills from your football days, but body awareness work and some movements that involve quick changes of direction and reorientation of the body should be done twice a week, even if you are an endurance athlete.

There is no fountain of youth, but exercise and an athletic lifestyle come close. You are only as old as you think you are. I live a community of newly weds and nearly deads. It looks like a snapshot of the future of the US with a population that is primarily over 55. I am inspired daily by the people in sixth, seventh and eighth decades of life and how active and athletic they are. When I go swim there is an eighty year old man who has had a triple bypass who swims a mile a day. When you talk to him he doesn’t talk like he is old and he does not act it. My motto is older and better. My goal is to die doing a smorgy circuit with the breakfast club when I am in my nineties.


Breakfast Club

Over the years the Breakfast Club has expanded and contracted as the athletes went away to college, sometimes onto professional sports and others just grew up and got jobs. Yesterday we had a reunion of sorts with some of the breakfast clubbers. The former breakfast clubbers who came back to visit did a 40 minute kick ass ”Burn with Vern” smorgy circuit just for old times sake. The smorgy circuit consists of an upper body exercise, followed by a core exercise, followed by a leg exercise. Each exercise period is thirty seconds followed by a ten second transition to the next exercise. Needless to say this grows on you! The returning breakfast clubbers were one of the originals, my daughter Kristen (left front) who now works for the Houston Dynamo, Sarah Lancaster (middle), a former all state guard at Sarasota High Scholl, now a senior at Florida State, Sara Franco(Right front), the other guard at Sarasota high school, now a senior at Florida Gulf coast University. The two old guys were me and Mike Lane, the Rugby Coach at Eckerd College. The joke was that we would make this an annual post Christmas reunion and they eventually would bring their husbands and children to do a smorgy circuit. For me this is what makes coaching worthwhile. It is great to see the young athletes grow up and have careers and cherish the work and camaraderie that they shared.


Stimulating Thoughts

This was posted on Bob Sutton’s blog. http://bobsutton.typepad.com He is a professor at Stanford University, his newest book is the No Asshole Rule, I have not read it yet but if it is up to the standard of his other book it should be good. Just substitute coaching for management. I found it both stimulating and though provoking.

1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all -- first do no harm!

2. Indifference is as important as passion.

3. In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can't have both at the same time.

4. Learning how to say smart things and give smart answers is important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.

5. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; self-interest is a learned social norm, not an inherent feature of human behavior.

6. Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.

7. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.

8. The best test of a person's character is how he or she treats those with less power.

9. Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.

10. Work is an over-rated activity.


Holiday Thoughts & Reflections

Certainly the holidays are a time of joy, a time for family and friends, a time to be thankful for all the good things that we have. For me the holidays are also a time of reflection. I am very thankful for the country where I live and the freedoms accorded me. I pray that our leaders will come to their senses and recognize the folly of their ways and stop using war and killing as an instrument of foreign policy. I pray that our troops will return home safe and those that have lost their lives or have been injured that those sacrifices will not be in vain. Every Christmas eve I cannot help but think about a classmate of mine who was killed in Vietnam 1967. I was not friends with Charles Sorrow and when I heard that he was died I was sad, but at the time not particularly affected by it. In fact it was not until September 1990 that I realized the impact of his death. My family and I were visiting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. Charles was the only person that I knew who had been killed in Vietnam, so I decided to look up his name. I found out he had been killed on Christmas eve 1967. Needless to say it was a very emotional moment, in fact one of the most emotional moments of my life. I could not help but cry, cry tears of sorrow for his family, tears of frustration for the waste of a young life in a futile war, tears of thankfulness that here are Charles Sorrows who are will to fight for their country. Every Christmas eve I think about Charles Sorrow and reflect and give thanks for all the good things that we have.


First Step – Context

The more I have thought about the whole first step scenario the more I come back to context. The first step is only one part of a bigger picture. What is the purpose of the first step? The purpose of the first step is to displace the center of gravity in the intended direction and create a positive shin angle to be effectively apply force back against the ground. I break movement down into the following components:

1) Stance or starting position

2) Start

3) First Step

a) Position

b) Direction

4) Getaway Step (Second Step)

5) Acceleration to Optimum Speed

6) Deceleration

7) Possible Reacceleration

8) Stopping

This whole scenario takes place in about two to three seconds, possibly four seconds at the maximum. The ultimate goal is to keep each of the segments in the context of the ultimate objective which is to stop effectively and make the play. It is also important to recognize that in the majority of sports starts are moving, not stationary. This does not minimize the importance of first step and in many ways in accentuates the necessity of creating a good shin angle on the first step.


Positive Step

Pease send the reference I would love to read it. There has been similar research done on block starts over the years. Yes, there is a countermovement and there has to be, but a step back defeats the purpose. I am real interested in reading the study. It is one thing to look at the initial action and another to study where you end up. That is what we did when we studied the various stepping scenarios.

As far as comments about video’s and DVD’s I also do not appreciate those comments. We all have to make a living, although I do object to introducing random terms that have more marketing pizzazz than actual factual/ scientific basis. That is a general statement not aimed at anyone in particular. I am always trying to learn, but to learn I look at successful coaching application and teaching methodology supported by scientific research when possible. Statements like ‘the team got amazing results” are not good enough for. Show me the numbers! Coaches see what they want to see. It reminds of a storey of a player with the White Sox, Ozzie Guillen, who would not go near weights. One day before a game a he did three sets of curls. In the game he hit a home run and went three for four. After the game he told the reporters it was the weight program he was on. Validation?

We are Marshall

There is a GSTS connection to the movie which will be in the theaters tomorrow. Jon Haskins, (Picture of Jon executing a Med Ball throw) whom I have worked with since his junior year in high school on through to professional football and a member of the exclusive breakfast club, was the person who orchestrated all the football scenes in the movie. As an aside Jon and I have just completed a new DVD - Faster Forty that is available for purchase on the web site. What really impressed me about his research was that he had the coaches were wearing Spotbuilt shoes, standard coaching footwear for the Sixties and early seventies. From the previews and the reviews he did a great job!

Jon describes what he did for the movie:

Casting the doubles for the actors (the ones actually playing football)

Recruiting the additional football players (usually around 80 players)

Reading and evaluating the scripts for historical accuracy, overall sequence validity, dialogue inconsistencies, and feasibility (with the various options for how to most effectively tell the story, with or without cost-effectiveness).

Choreographing the sports (football) scenes

Directing / coaching the players on the set when we are shooting and in practice sessions.

Assisting the set decorators on anything from “what a locker room would look like….or a coaches office……..or how to set up the game field……..or the practice field…….etc. etc.”

Essentially we are there to expedite the shooting process………..either providing the highest quality of content with no discrepancies….or speeding the capturing process as fast as possible……..on our last movie, the football scenes averaged 1.4 million dollars per day…….every second matters, whether we save it or spend it.

Here is the trailer for the movie:http://www.apple.com/trailers/wb/wearemarshall/trailer1/

False Step /Plyo Step

I really do not want to get into a pissing contest on this one. My stance is based on biomechanical research not anecdotal opinion. When I say we researched this with the White Sox, we commissioned Dr Lois Klatt from Concordia University, to do a biomechanical analysis of the three first step scenarios. One of the scenarios was the false step, it is not more efficient! The first step action that results in displacement of the center of gravity in the intended direction is far superior. The plyo step gives the perception of a faster movement but it DOES NOT RESULT IN DIPLACEMNT OF THE CENTER OF GRAVITY IN THE INTENDED DIRECTION! A false step can be used, as I pointed out in certain tactical situations to position the body, gain dept or serve as a deceptive mechanism. Frankly coaching someone out of the false is very natural if you correctly place their hip in relation to the base of support. The bottom line is that I want me center of gravity moving in the intended direction as soon as possible! Please show me the scientific reserach to refute this?


"Plyo Step"

The basic principle in regard to first step is that the center of gravity must be going in the intended direction, the exception being a tactical advantage that I mentioned in the earlier post. I have seen the stuff on the so called ‘plyo step” to take advantage of the stretch shortening cycle. The problem is that it is not a fair trade off. You gain more with a positive step. We researched this in 1989 looking at base running stance and start. There were three different footwork patterns studied. In short the positive step gave an advantage that was clear at one, five and ten yards. The two “false step” scenarios, one of which could be considered a “plyo” loading step resulted in a disadvantage that was never regained.

Dead Wrong - Sucked In

I received the following email yesterday from Jason Krantz www.sonicboomgolf.com

Been reading your book and have to say you've really got my wheels turning. Was doing some thinking and came across a question that challenges one of the first things I learned from you.

Back at the ripe old age of 17 (can you believe it's been 9 years already?) I went to your seminar "Building And Rebuilding The Athlete" in Oak Brook. During that presentation I remember being introduced to the principle of the "core". One of the exercises we did was the "sucking in" maneuver.

I remember hearing that you should use this maneuver when exercising in order to strengthen the core. I've read this in many different places and have done it for years.

I was playing flag football the other day and made an awesome cut to completely roast a guy for a TD. After I scored, I was walking back and was thinking that everything I did to make that cut was automatic, it just happened. I didn't have time to think about "Ok, before I roast this guy, let's activate the core by sucking in so I can make a good lateral shift."

My question: In sports it is probably very rare (if ever) that an athlete (or at least myself) would be thinking of activating the core during a competition or even during intense practice. If this were true for most athletes, why would it still be important to consciously "activate the core" by sucking in during training if it isn't actually consciously done during competition?

After thinking about this for a while I'm not so sure that "core activation" is such a critical training point after all.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Jason here are my thoughts I was dead wrong. I literally got sucked into the whole drawing in idea. An example of one of the many times I did not use good common sense and let an isolated research study influence my thinking. I have posted several times on this over the past year. Abdominal bracing is natural, that is what you did in the touch football game, you did not think about it and you should not think about it. Beware of people that that are giving complicated cognitive cues for what are essentially reflexive actions. There are people that have build whole core programs around this so called “drawing in” maneuver and have sucked in a lot people along with them. Essentially if anyone is spending any significant amount of time on this it is a waste of time. Make it basic and simple. If you were a caveman and were being chased by a saber tooth tiger (obviously a life threatening situation) you would not have to draw in before you planted a foot in order to stabilize the core. If you did think about it you would be a saber tooth tiger happy meal.

Footwork - False Step

A false step is defined as a step that is a step away from the intended direction of movement. Generally a false step is a wasted step. There are situations where a false step used to gain a tactical advantage – most specifically a running back in football will use a false step to gain depth or to time up a handoff. The moral of the story again is always look at movements in context.


Gravity Wins

Gravity always wins, sometimes you can cheat it, but eventually it will get you! I have been doing an intensive ageing and exercise study as I am fast approaching Sixty (Next Month). I have been quite focused and dedicated since July save a few jaunts over the pond which interrupted my training) The focus has been on reestablishing a good strength base, focusing on the ability to handle my body weight and a huge core strength emphasis. By and large it has gone well. Still really need to lose at least 10 pounds, but that is another kind of discipline I am trying to find.

So the time has come to begin to do more running. So far the focus has been on lower impact stuff like biking and swimming, although we have done a fair bit of agility work. So Saturday is the first running day, it was great! 15 second runs and 15 second walk, felt good, all the moving parts moving. The sensible thing to do would have been to swim or bike or just do core work on Sunday. Who said common sense is common. even verbalized to Mike Lane, my friend who was training with me, how it would be best if we only warmed up and didn’t run too much. That would be too easy. We both had very tight hamstring so we warmed up well and did some jog, skip run progressions and then did circle runs (My theory is that works the lateral hamstring – that is another story) and I felt something in my hip. Ignored and stretched it. It got stiffer as the day went on. Wait it gets better. So we meet mid day Monday for workout. Good warm-up a bit of ABC Ladder and the DB PPS Squat workout plus a 100 meter run after each complex. Bam (as Emeril would say) and the hip went, but of course I finished the workout. Then went for a twenty minute swim, it felt good after that but as the day went on it stiffened up even more. Now I am crawling up the stairs. Probably will not be able to workout today and I am supposed to know what I am doing. Gravity will always win! The moral of this painful tail of stupidity is if in doubt do less. Where is the ASTYM when I need it?


The Greatest?

I am not as given to hyperbole as others. When you say someone is the greatest that means they are able to stand the test of time. Their performances should transcend eras. Ladainian Tomilson’s recent record splurge has elevated him into the lofty status for consideration as one of the greatest running back ever. He may well be among the greatest running backs, but in my book the greatest athlete to play football was Jim Brown. Brown was a starting guard in basketball at Syracuse University, where he was also an all-American in Lacrosse. He was also a national class decathlete. Brown was a real athlete. That is not meant to disparage or belittle the accomplishments of others, but we do not see that kind of versatility in today’s age of specialization.

Web Page Downloads

There are two new downloads go to www.gambetta.com and go to the Resources page. Jose Reyes winter training program from 2004-05 and a History of the Forty Yard Dash.


I love to body surf that is what made think of timing. During the summer when there were storms off Baja California and the surf was up we would spend hours body surfing. When you caught the wave just right it was a great ride. You could ride those big ones right into the beach. If you were late getting into the wave sometimes the wave just passed under you and occasionally you got dumped. If you were too early, that was disaster, you got caught in the wave and it was like being inside a washing machine. Then there were days were everything clicked, every wave was perfect and your timing was right on. Timing is everything – how many times have you heard that one. In training nothing could be truer. Sometimes it is not necessarily what you do, but when you do it. The correct workout or exercise done at the wrong time can spell disaster for a training program. It is about why you are doing what you are doing it when you are doing it. Next time you are think about workout design picture yourself in the water catching a wave. Time it so that you ride that wave to the beach.


Coaching the Monster Age Group

One of the toughest age groups to coach is the 12 to 15 age group, I call it the monster age group. This is probably the most uncomfortable time of their lives. The boys may or may not have gone through puberty, most likely the girls have. Therefore the girls are more physically developed, but very embarrassed about it. They can beat the boys, but probably do not want to, because they want the want the boy to ask them to the dance. Who wants to go to a dance with someone who kicked your butt in the pool or on the track? The boys make up for all of this by being obnoxious and acting like jerks to cover up all of their insecurities. Obvious from a coaching perspective there are huge psycho social and physical development issues that appear at this age group that are unique. Coaches of this age group must be prepared to deal with these issues. This is a good tie to train boys and girls separately. Girls who gone through puberty need to be pushed in training a bit more, especially in regard to strength training. Boys at this age are better off in groups where they are not singled out. Because of the growth spurt that occurs here the work must emphasize control of their body and body awareness. Be careful about ignoring the slow developer, they will come on like gang busters latter on. As a coach of this “monster age group” the rewards are many, you will see changes faster than any other age. You will see boys become men and girls become women. Remember it is a painful process for them, so don’t expect it to be easy for you.


Moneyball Myth

If any of you have read the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis, it certainly has an appeal. It seems that innovation has come to a traditional sport like baseball. Folks I will break it to you slowly, Moneyball is all a myth. It is about money, but it is indiscriminate use of dollars on questionable oft injured players. If you applied the moneyball formula to most of the free agent signings that have occurred recently almost all the players would be looking for a real job. Why would anyone in their right mind sign someone like Eric Gagne with his injury history? Less we forget this is not about sport, it is about entertainment. One simple solution is non guaranteed contracts like the NFL.


The Individual Training Session

The individual training session is the cornerstone of the entire training plan. The individual training session is where the long-term plan is actually implemented.

  • A long-term plan is a succession of linked individual training sessions in pursuit of specific objectives.
  • The training session should occupy the greatest emphasis in planning and execution.
  • Each session must be carefully evaluated and the following sessions adjusted accordingly.
  • Contingency Planning is a very important, and a necessary part of the planning process. It is especially important to have contingency plans ready for individual training sessions.

Planning the Session
Each training session should a have general theme.

This general theme in turn should be supported by objectives for each component in that training session, that are very specific and measurable.

When planning an individual training session, ask yourself what do I most need to accomplish?

How does that session fit into the bigger picture?

Carefully consider the time available for training and recovery.

Every component in the workout must be in pursuit of the specific objectives of the workout and follow the general theme for that particular session.

The workout is not an end in itself, it is however a means to an end, therefore it must be put in the context of the whole training plan, so it is important to not let the individual training session get blown out of proportion.

The key is to design the sessions so that there is a seamless flow from one workout into another, so that even though the focus is on that individual workout it always must be placed in the context of the workout leading into and out of it.

The actual design of the session should carefully consider:

  • Progression /Sequence
  • Training time available & time allocation
  • Integration with skill workouts
  • Size of the facility or training area relative to the number of athletes training
  • Equipment available
  • Coaching personnel available as well as the number of athletes that will participate in the actual training session
  • Remedial Component
    Make sure that there is always an injury prevention component in each workout. This is most easily addressed in the warm-up. Consideration needs to be given on how to incorporate recovery given the constraints of most situations. Self-massage, shaking and stretching as well as intra workout nutrition in the form of hydration is the most basic and practical form of recovery intra workout recovery.
  • Team or Group Training
    When training a group, carefully plan to meet individual needs in a group context. Everyone will not progress and learn at the same rate.

Multiple Workouts
Multiple workouts in a day is a viable option that allows the workouts to be even more focused and shorter in duration. Multiple sessions are a necessity for the elite athlete.

Training Effects
The physiological, biomechanical, or psychological changes that occur when training is:



Cumulative (Delayed Training Effect)

Remember no one workout can make an athlete, but one workout can break an athlete, therefore the focus should be on the cumulative training effect. Therefore it is imperative to carefully plan the sequence of training sessions from day to day and within the day, as well as project the potential effect of training on subsequent days. With this in mind always be aware of the residual training effect. The ultimate goal is the cumulative training effect, which is what occurs in the long term. Where does the workout fit within the Microcycle plan? The workout is only one component of the big picture.

Complimentary Training Units
To achieve positive training adaptations look carefully at complementary components both intra and inter workouts. Complementary training units are components that work together to enhance each other. The traditional approach has been to consider this intra workout, but it also important to consider inter-workout, both between sessions in a day and between days. Examples of complimentary training units:

Speed & Strength

Strength & Elastic Strength

Endurance & Strength Endurance

Skill, Speed & Elastic Strength

Ultimately the units have more than a complementary relationship they should enhance each other and mesh with the ultimate effect being SYNERGISTIC! The simplest means to address the complementary nature of training is to utilize the modular training approach.

Training Modules
The basis of planning the individual training session is the modular training concept that will make planning and implementation of workouts very easy as well as address the need for complementary training components both intra and inter workout.

The training module consists of specific combinations and sequences of exercises that are designed to be very specific and compatible. The exercises are carefully selected to sequence and flow from one exercise to the next within the module. Each module is designed to focus on one particular component that should fit with the other modules in that training session. The volume and intensity for the exercises within each module is determined for each session based on analysis of the previous session. A training session is a collection of modules.

Planning Factors

Factors to Consider when Developing a Plan

Demands of the event or position

Qualities of the individual athlete

Pattern of Injuries/Injury History

“24 Hour Athlete” Concept


The Time Frame Available to Execute the Plan

Specific goals

Developmental Level

Current state of fitness

Current technical development

Competitive Schedule

Qualifying Format

Championship Format



Training Caused Injuries

I am hearing more and more reports from colleagues in who are ATC’s and physical therapist about training caused injuries. Some of the stories are frankly borderline negligent. This is something that really concerns me, because it is a negative reflection on all of us in the field. Improper workout design, inappropriate exercise selection and failure to communicate with the coaches is inexcusable. The most recent incident I heard of occurred in Volleyball at a Major DI school. The Strength coach had his own agenda. He was not listening the coaches, had no regard for the demands of practice and the competition schedule. The result was a rash of shoulder injuries. At the same school, two days before the start of two a day practices the Football players were tested on 1RM squats and the punter hurt his back and was unable to practice for five days. Why test in that close a proximity to two a days and why max test a punter? These are the kind of things I keep hearing over and over. I know you have to be careful when you paint with a broad brush stroke and sound like you are pointing fingers, that are not my intention. My intention is to call attention to a growing problem. We must more clearly define the field. We need to do a better job training athletic development coaches. More certifications are not the answer – you can’t go to the people who created the problem for a solution to the problem. We must have hands on training of coaches. Strength coaches need to become athletic development coaches and get out of the weight room, which is only one piece of the puzzle. Sure it is a big piece of the puzzle in certain sports and at certain times of the training year. We must be involved with all aspects of the athlete’s physical development.

When is there enough?

We certainly do live in a culture of excess, but do we have go over the top with our young developing high school athletes? Have we taken the focus away from interscholastic competition and shifted it to commercially sponsored elite all star games, “National Championships” and showcase camps? It seems that what we are doing is trying to find the best earlier instead of a more egalitarian approach of getting more kids involved and keeping them involved. There was a saying I remember my parents using when I was growing up, “How do you keep them down on the farm after they have seen Paris? A normal high school game has become mundane, it seems it must be televised and hyped to the max or it does not have worth, rubbish. Let’s let the kids be kids. Take all that money used to hype and promote all those all star games and camps and invest in getting more kids involved and raise the standard of coaching. It should not be about selling shoes, it should be about promoting sport and better coaching


Design Coaching

Everything old is new again. Every time I have done anything or talked to anyone in the last two weeks, no matter what the field, it seems this statement comes up. The past eighteen months I have been focusing my reading and research on design and innovation. The more I read about design and innovation the truer the statement everything old is new again becomes. Obviously to innovate you have to start some where. It seems that for those who are most innovative the best place to start is on a path that someone else has traveled. Innovation demands a blurring of the boundaries between sports and various disciplines that contribute to sport performance. Here is the announcement of a new class at the Stanford University Design School that reinforces that idea: "Immersive experiences in innovation and design thinking, blurring the boundaries between technology, business, and human values. Explore the tenants of design thinking including being human-centered, prototype driven, and mindful of process in everything you do." This really resonated with me, especially the last part. Coaching is human centered, it is prototype driven, we are always prototyping, and it is a very mindful process. This is what coaching really should be.

Bob Sutton (http://bobsutton.typepad.com), a professor at Stanford wrote the following in his blog:

During the years that Andy Hargadon and I worked together on innovation research, we reached the conclusion that all, or a least nearly all, creativity happens when people do new things with old things, either bringing old ideas to new places or creating new combinations of old things. This is the main point of the second chapter of Weird Ideas That Work, where I show that everything from the invention of Play-Doh to the solution to Fermat's last theorem reflect this process of doing new things with old things. Andy I did some early work on "knowledge brokering" or "technology brokering," on how organizations can routinely accomplish innovation by importing, exporting, and mixing together ideas. Some of these ideas are in our 2000 Harvard Business Review article on "Building an Innovation Factory." But the most complete -- and I believe the best -- treatment is in Andy's book on How Breakthroughs Happen.

Creativity happens when you look at the same thing as everyone else but see something different, and this method of taking an idea from one place, modifying for another place, and then bringing it back again strikes me as wonderful method to help people to keep seeing the same old thing in a new light. In short, if people borrow the ideas from your company or group, and then succeed with them (assuming they have violated no laws), don't get mad at them, try to figure out how they've changed them and steal the version back if it can help you!

Design thinking offers the coaching profession a fresh look at old ideas and the ability to take those ideas and innovate.



To drill or not to drill, that is the question? During my coaching career I have seen the pendulum swing several times on this issue. I have seen periods where the trend was to break everything down into its smallest parts and then drill those parts, and hope that the drills would positively affect the whole action. I have also seen times where the emphasis was on the whole action with a minimum of drill work. Today, from my perspective, it appears we are in another drill era. That is fine as long as it is not carried too far. The drills must not become an end unto themselves; they must be a means to an end. Before designing drills make sure that you completely understand the whole action. Always relate the drill back to the whole action. Make sure the drill is not too far removed from the whole action. Try to distinguish similar and same. Think whole/part/whole. Mastery of a drill does not necessarily mean that the drill will automatically transfer to the whole. It has been my experience that too much drill work ultimately ends up with the whole action very segmented and choppy. I also think beginners should not be taught too many drills. They should get a feel for the whole and explore the whole movement before beginning to break it down to parts. I have seen this over and over in soccer. Young players are taught a plethora of fancy drills with no idea of how those drills flow into a game. They are also taught these drills before they are physically mature enough to get a good feel for the drills. Instead of drills it should be more playful and game like. Another example of drills rum amuck is sprint drills. You can teach someone a feel for running fast by playing task oriented games that make them feel different rhythms and stride patterns. Making it game like removes the skill from the cognitive domain and they learn by discovery. I know at this time you are probably thinking what about the mistakes they are making? Learn form mistakes. Contrast what feels good and what feels bad. Drills can have a place, but think about what is the ultimate objective. A seasoned performer that is working to perfect a small technical error will in all probability benefit more from drills than a rank beginner.

Finally apply this check list before you use a drill:

Why the drill?

What is the drill?

How is it executed?

When would it be used?

Does the athlete relate to it?

If you have good answers for all of these then go for it!


Kudos to the Soccer Champions

Chivas of Guadalajara won the Torneo Apertura (Mexico has two seasons)
I had the opportunity to consult with Chivas last November and October. It was great to watch their play and the drive to the championship. Congratulations to a great group of players and coaches

University of North Carolina Women, NCAA Women’s Champions
It has been a few years since I have worked with the Tarheels, but I keep in close contact with Greg Gatz, their conditioning coach. It is always great to see the system prevail.

University of California, Santa Barbara Men, NCAA Men’s Champions
UCSB is in my home town and I attended UCSB for my
California teaching credential a million years ago. It is always great to see David beat Goliath, they beat UCLA.

More on Workouts

“I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think.” Socrates. A much greater mind than mine sums up the philosophy. I am going to work harder to make all of you think. There is no real secret to workout design. The answer is right in front of you. Look at the sport you are working with, thoroughly understand it, do not make any assumptions, know the athletes strengths and weaknesses, have a clear objective and a plan to execute the objective and GO FOR IT!


Philosophy Regarding Workouts

I am very guarded about sending out workouts. This is not because there are secrets or I am trying to be a guru who sells everything he does. It is more about my basic philosophy. The workouts that I make up are usually for a specific person, or for a specific team that I have worked with. I know the training age, level of development. I know any physical limitations they might have. I will either administer the workout myself or have some one I have trained to administer the workout. I have posted some examples of workouts on the resource page of the web site www.gambetta.com/resources. Those were posted with hesitancy for the aforementioned reasons. My experience has shown that people copy the workouts and use them with athletes or teams that are inappropriate for the workout design. The result is that people do not improve or even worse they get hurt. Even a generic workout like the workout designed for Outside magazine is not something I am particularly thrilled about doing, but some times it is necessary to illustrate the application of the principles. In the new book Athletic Development – The Art and Science of Functional Sport Conditioning www.gambetta.com there are a fair number of sample programs, but the key here is that they are presented in the context of the principles that underlie them. The old cliché that applies here is you can feed a man a fish or you can teach how to fish. I would prefer to teach how to fish. I think that is what underlies everything I do. If I work with an athlete for a period of time, he or she should be able to coach themselves. If they cannot I have not succeeded. I am always trying to work my self out of a job. I work hard to teach them why they are doing what they are doing. It is always more than an exercise; it is how the workout fits into the context of the whole training program. Those of you that have attended my seminars have learned the why, and in certain seminars the how. This is one of the motivations for the new Coaches Chalk Talk Seminars. They are designed to meet individual needs in regard to why and how.


Too Little, Too Late

This BOLD step was announced yesterday. What a weak grandstand play. This is a classic case of shutting the barn door after the cows are out. They need to clean house. Look at former athletes that are on USAT&F Committees who tested positive and coaches who are active in USAT&F who have had athletes test positive. They should also be banned! Very weak!

US athletics toughens drug stance

American coaches whose athletes are sanctioned for doping could be penalised themselves under a revised USA Track and Field policy from 2007.

The move after several high-profile US drugs cases, including a positive test by Olympic 100m champion Justin Gatlin.

Under the USATF policy, coaches could lose their accreditation to national championships, coaching stipends and national team positions.

However, the USATF cannot prohibit coaches from working with athletes.

The new policy requires coaches to register with the national governing body to receive USATF benefits.

These include stipends of $2,000 annually for any athlete ranked in the world top 10.

Coaches could be refused the benefits if a review panel finds them ineligible because of violations by their athletes.

"We can deny USATF benefits to those who may be influencing athletes to use drugs," said USATF chief executive officer Craig Masback in a statement


Training Young Runners

Yes you are what you train to be, so the first mistake people make in training young runners or swimmers for that matter is to pile on the miles. Build that big aerobic base and get them real slow! It is preferable to start with good sound running mechanics and get them comfortable running fast. Then gradually build up their ability to carry that speed. That does mean to imply that it is an either or proposition, but it should be a mix or a blend. The reason the US is struggling to produce distance runners is that during the prime years when speed can be developed they are out slogging on the roads, learning how to run slow and getting rewarded for it. In 1972 we had five boys, ninth graders, run from 4:50 down to 4:30 in the mile. None of those boys ran over five miles in any one run, they never ran twice a day, peak mileage was 30 miles for one of the boys. All the rest were around 25 miles. They all were good athletes; they had five days a week of vigorous physical education. They had fun and played other sports. It is not rocket science, it is common sense. Treat the runner like an athlete. Get them functionally fit, make sure they get familiar with all three planes of motion. If you do that they won’t get hurt, they will get faster and they will have a great experience. Remember keep it FUNdamental.


You are what you train to be

You are what you train to be, I was taught that valuable lesson in a great class I had at UCSB in 1969, called Fundamentals of Conditioning, taught by Sherm Button. I have forgotten a lot of things from the class but I never have forgotten that lesson. If you train to be slow you will be slow, if you train to be fast you will be fast. Sounds simple and it is, but simplicity yields complexity. It is the simple axioms like this that are easy to forget. Frankly that is why when I look at some of the strength training programs that are the current rage, I wonder where common sense enters into the picture. Doing everything with chains, and bands and box squatting may make you measurably stronger, but does doing those slow movements all the time transfer? Based on what I learned a long time ago I don’t think so. Do those modes of training have a place? Sure they do, at certain phases, in small quantities to vary stimulus, but a steady diet will not improve explosive power. It all comes down to having a clear focus on what you are training for. Look carefully at the physical qualities demanded and train those qualities. You can get away with goofy stuff for a while, but eventually it will come back to haunt you. I remember a defensive back from here in Sarasota who went to an SEC school and started for four years. At the end of his senior season when he had to improve his 40 time I was talking to him one day. I had just watched him run a couple of sprints and he ran like he was pulling a heavy sled. I asked him what they had done at his school – low and behold they had done repeat 100 yard sled pulls with up to 200 pounds. No wonder he ran like he was pulling a sled that was what was ingrained in his nervous system. Remember the message you are what you train to be! There is a line from a country western song that sums it up quite well – Work your fingers to the bone, what do you get? Boney fingers!


Calvin Morriss Interview

Calvin is National Fitness Coach with British Rugby Football Union. Calvin has a PhD. In Biomechanics and has an extensive background in track & field. I think Calvin is one of the brightest minds in the field. He does a great job of combining science and practice. He and Dave redden make a great team working with British Rugby.

What are most essential requirements for a successful conditioning program?
True consideration for the athlete's needs, both psychological and physical is absolutely critical. Some athletes need a lot of motivating to train, while others need none. Some like a lot of work, some like very little. The programme has to take this into consideration, otherwise it is doomed to fail or at best be ineffective in the long-run. A programme also needs a goal to work towards. Athlete's need assessing before starting the programme, and their future goals need establishing at the outset. Without these, the programme might be enjoyable and offer certain physical benefits to the athlete, but it will be without direction. How the effectiveness of the programme will be assessed on completion is also a strong requirement.

What are the most common mistakes in conditioning?
Not to plan. Not to treat the athlete as an individual, and not to listen to them as they go through the programme. This is especially prevalent in team sports where training tends to be done as a group, and programmes get generalised. Not goal setting and evaluating the programmes is also a mistake. They don't stop a person from benefiting from a programme, but you never really now why or how much they've improved.

What is “functional training” from your point of view?
Training that enables an individual to perform better relative to their training goal (their sport, hobby, health or wellbeing)

What do you do to make your training more functional?
Compare training improvements to the performances in matches. We are lucky to have a sophisticated match analysis system. We can tell very easily if an athlete's improvement in an anaerobic capacity test had carried over to an improved work rate in subsequent matches. In the training setting, we try to create drills that incorporate aspects of the game, and match the game in regard to time, distance, and the movements involved.

For training that is less functional but important to an athlete's development, it is important that the athlete understands why they need to do it, and believes in its efficacy.

How important is specificity?
This really depends upon the factors that are limiting the athlete's ability to improve at their sport. For example, a very weak athlete might improve their sprinting ability by working on leg strength. They might have the coordination to recruit high order motor units and the ability to sequence muscular contractions to move their legs at their maximum pace. But their ability to produce force might be poor. Improving leg strength in a seemingly 'unspecific' manner (e.g squat, power clean) might well be a great way to resolve this problem.

Specificity should also not be confused with 'looks like'. Too many coaches try to train athletes with exercises that 'look' like movements in the sport, but the body positions adopted do not enable a training overload to occur, and are potentially confusing to the motor system.

The simplest way to deal with this question is to ask the question, "What specifically is preventing the improvement in performance of your athlete." A sensible choice of training mode should fall naturally out of this question.

What aspect of conditioning athletes is most difficult and how have you tried to address it?
Lack of contact is the biggest obstacle. There is no real way around this other than both parties doing what they can to communicate regularly.

Also motivating athletes to train after disappointing sporting performances can be difficult. I try to find the positives out of the performance, and the preparation before the performance and work on these to start with. Once the athlete's frame of mind has changed to being more positive once more, then their more glaring weaknesses can be addressed again.

With the plethora of information available how can a coach determine what is best?
Find a good mentor to start with - it saves a lot of time. Do not try to change too many things at once in an athlete's programme, and also evaluate after the end of training cycles. Find out what your prescription has done for the athlete. Have a very solid reason for including something in an athlete's programme. If it doesn't fully stack up in your logic, don't include it.

Where do you stand on nature versus nurture? How much difference can training make?
Elite athletes do not get where they are through training alone, they have the genes that give them a natural advantage. That said, it is more often than not, the athletes who are prepared to put the most into their training, and get the best out of whatever genes they were blessed with, that are the most successful. They often make the nicest people too.

What is the sure sign that a self proclaimed conditioning guru is not a good source of advice?
The willingness to discredit almost everyone else in their profession.

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?
Probably the internet - the ability to communicate with people and share ideas has never been so easy. Of course, it's also great for publicizing rubbish so care must be taken with what one reads over the web.

As for innovation in training I think we will develop a better appreciation of the restorative processes of the body over the next few years. This will much enhance our ability to write effective programmes. As for what will probably be the most impacting area of research in the near future - i think it will be hard to discount genetics. As to whether this impact will be good or bad is too early too say.

What's the biggest issue in training athletes today?
Everyone wants a short-cut.

Who has been a role model in your career and why?
Steve Backley - the great British javelin thrower. A fantastic competitor who always seemed to be able to do his best when it mattered most. That he felt that it was simply a choice not chance that he could achieve these performances made him an inspiring athlete to work with. From Steve's technical coach, John Trower, i learned how important it was to be enthusiastic and positive at every coaching session. Athletes don't always bring this themselves. From Sir Clive Woodward I learned how important it was to take care of details that often seemed insignificant and unimportant - to you they might be, but not to the athlete. As for coaches who have shaped my philosophy on training methods, I would include Mike Stone, Malcolm Arnold, Vern Gambetta, and my current work colleague, Dave Reddin.

What are the biggest professional challenges have you had to face?
Influencing an athlete's training practices from afar - it is very difficult.

What do you enjoy most about coaching? Dislike?
Most like - The continued inspiration of working with athletes who day in, day out, push themselves to incredible levels of fatigue in the pursuit of personal development. As for dislikes, there aren't many, but I hate writing training programmes. Designing them is the fun part, writing them down once you've done this, is the pain.

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 think that you should also feel that you can be effective in your coaching role. If this is not the case you should find a new role, or change the current one in a way that makes you effective again. I've been there a couple of times in my career so far, and have only looked back confident that I made the right decision.

What inspired you to get into coaching?
A lack of success as an athlete! Also the feeling that I knew more than I was able to put into action myself.

Is failure ever valuable?
As valuable as winning if you put your heart and soul into the performance. I recently read, 'Don't die with the music in you," by the great Australian Rugby League Coach, Wayne Bennett. Wayne felt that the emphasis placed on winning in sport these days was a shame as it detracted from the efforts of the losing party. Losing isn't the issue if the preparation and effort that had gone into the performance were 100%. I'm inclined to agree.

Which changes now taking place in your field that should be encouraged, and which resisted?
That most sports have become professional has made winning even more important, and the search for the 'cutting edge' more vital. I am pro- the furthering of knowledge and the development of training practices, but I am against the treatment of athletes as expendable assets. I think more coaches should extol the virtues of long-term commitment to effective training practices, the importance of a good basic diet that is only supplemented where necessary. Athletes will not compete for ever and I think it is a coach’s duty to prepare them for life after sport.



Are you a problem solver or a solution finder?


I spent Saturday afternoon and evening doing something I have not done in a very long time, I actually watched football games, usually within three minutes I am asleep and the game is watching me. I watched the USC versus UCLA game, a historic rivalry rich in tradition, but the stakes higher this time, a berth in the National Championship game for USC if they won. The reason I watched the football games and also watched parts of the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Soccer championships is that I am fascinated with how athletes and coaches deal with big game pressure. Getting there is one thing, but achieving optimum performance in the big game is another. It was obvious from the start that USC was feeling the pressure, the false start penalties by their linemen were an indicator of that. I also wonder if they had gone to well too often, too many must win games can be an emotional drain. On the other hand watching Florida versus Arkansas in the SEC Championship game was like watching a team going to work. Florida made mistakes, but they had a resiliency and focus that was relentless. It was interesting to watch their coach Urban Meyer, this guy is driven and intense and his team reflects him. When the players dumped Gatorade on him and there was still 50 seconds left in the game, he was pissed off, he clearly sent a message to his players that the game was not over until final whistle. Over the years I have seen athletes and coaches fail and succeed. One of the biggest characteristics of those who fail is that feel that it is the big game and I have to do something different. A wise cowboy once said “dance with who brung you,” in other words do the things that got you there when you are there. I love to watch Tom Brady, he loves the pressure, he is best under pressure. That was why it was so much fun watching Joe Montana. The demeanor and the body language never changed and that had a calming effect on his teammates. As a coach I love pressure, I like to be around the atmosphere where excellence is the only option. Have I screwed up in pressure situations, yes big time, but hopefully I have learned from those mistakes. The secret is having fun, do the things that go you to the big game, learn what buttons to push with individuals and the team. Most of the time it is not a matter of getting psyched up, it is matter of staying focused and in the moment. The atmosphere of the big game or the championship is enough to put most people over the top. The other aspect is to prepare over the long term for the big game. Put the State meet or State Championship in the schedule, talk about it all the time that is the ultimate goal. Make it familiar. Simulate the pressure situations as often in training as possible, not just in technical and tactical situations, but in strength training, in speed development and conditioning. Find out who thrives on pressure, who can make quick decisions, don’t wait until the big game to find out. It was interesting watching the North Carolina women, they were actually having fun. One of them got knocked flat on her butt, when her teammates came over to help her up she was laughing. Man did that send a message to Notre Dame. Her body language said you gave me your best shot and it wasn’t good enough. Why because that is the way they practice, they practice to be in the big game all year. Michael Jordon was a tremendous pressure performer because he put pressure on himself and his teammates every day in training. That is as good a way as any to prepare for the pressure.


Athletic Development::The Art and Science of Functional Sports Conditioning

Part I Elements of a Training System
Chapter 1 A Functional Conditioning Framework
Chapter 2 Factors Affecting Athletic Movement
Chapter 3 Sport-Specific Demands Analysis
Chapter 4 Options and Methods of Testing
Chapter 5 Strategies for Performance Training
Chapter 6 Program Planning and Fine-Tuning
Part II Physical Contributors to Performance
Chapter 7 Energy and Work Capacity
Chapter 8 Movement Aptitude and Balance
Chapter 9 The Critical Body Core
Chapter 10 Full-Spectrum Strength
Chapter 11 Integrated Power Training
Chapter 12 Linear and Multidimensional Speed
Chapter 13 Multi-Phase Performance Preparation
Chapter 14 Recovery and Regeneration
The Future of Functional Conditioning

Paperback: 344 pages

Price: $19.95

Order now at www.gambetta.com

Aimed at strength and conditioning professionals, as well as serious athletes and coaches across a wide variety of sports that are interested in challenging conventional wisdom and innovation and change to improve the athletes they are working with. This work covers all aspects of training from sport analysis and athlete evaluation to building speed, power and strength. It examines how theories and practices have evolved into today's state of the art methods for maximizing performance. From sport-specific demands to movement skill enhancement, training progressions to optimal performance, rest and regeneration techniques to training programs, this text covers all the bases in modern functional sports conditioning.

Justin Gatlin

This guy is a cheat! What kind of message is being sent to the kids when he gets a tryout with a pro football team? Actually I think this is a commentary on our society in general and our sports culture specifically. Cheating is OK if you don’t get caught. If you do get caught and you are big enough name there will be other avenues for you. This is all pretty sick.

USA Track & Filed is having their annual convention (Other wise know as the good old boy network and some token women) now in Indianapolis what are they doing to really address the issue of drugs? More platitudes and pronouncements about zero tolerance when they name known drug coaches to national staffs and allow them to be event coordinators, come on lets get real. US Track & Field is now considered a hotbed of drug abuse around the world. What of substance is being to combat this?

Isokinetic Testing

It is absolutely amazing to me that people still make extensive of isokinetic testing both for injury screening, rehabilitation, and research. This was considered cutting edge in the 1970’s when we did not know any better. At best isokinetic testing serves as a random number generator. It tells us what an individual muscle or group of muscles is capable of in a very controlled (but very unnatural) sterile environment. In the late 70’s and early 80’s at various USOC camps, in track & Field, we did extensive isokinetic testing, because we felt we needed to assess strength. I remember puzzling over the results of my athletes test results. The numbers never made sense to me, sure there were right to left differences, but when I began to understand that the body is fundamentally asymmetrical that concern was alleviated. Then there was the infamous hamstring to quadriceps ratio. As the speed of testing went up to 300 degrees/sec the hamstring to quadriceps ratio became 1:1, what was that telling us? Well it was telling what we now know from biomechanical analysis about hamstring function and what the work of Lieber has told about muscle architecture. How about in rehab as an indicator that strength is sufficient to return to play? Totally bogus, I have seen athletes with great isokinetic scores limp out of the therapy office. They were not ready to play! In summary an isolated single joint, single plane test done at speeds no where near performance speeds, in a proprioceptively unchallenging environment tells us virtually nothing about the ability to perform beyond that isolated test.