Just Train!

I received this call for help yesterday on my web site. I thought it would be worth sharing.

I am getting dreadful stick from my Physio at work for doing band-walking with my cricketers (was at the ECB conference that Vern did) he is saying it will cause tightness of the ITB. Bearing in mind I just do this as part of the warm up to activate the gluts. Has Vern got a beautifully succinct and concise argument to help back up my argument? the Pysio also states that Glut Max is not a stabilizer of the hip. Does Vern agree with this? I think it does help massively because of its attachment to the thoracolumbar fascia. Would be really grateful for any feedback

To me this epitomizes all that is wrong with our field today. This guy is really trying to really do the right thing, but the physio does not get it! If we left training up to the average physio we would never train, we would be neutralizing our spines while drawing in to activate God knows what. We would never get hurt, but we would never get better. Let’s get real here. Does it really matter in performance if the Glute Max is a stabilizer of the hip (I think it is by the way – it all depends on how you look at it) Remember we do not function it the anatomical position. It is about muscle synergies, acting against gravity on the ground!

The Mini Band routine is something virtually every athlete I work with does every day they train and sometimes before competition if we deem it necessary. The goal is to wake up and activate all the intrinsic muscles of the hip that play such an important role in movement. This routine does not cause ITB tightness, if any thing it takes stress off the IT band.

Let’s get away from this reductionist approach that creates robotic movements. Number one do no harm. Number two to get better we must pust the envelope, that demands knowing the athletes and having a system that empjasizes good progressions. GO FOT IT!


I saw this quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower the other day:
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” This certainly is applicable to coaching. My experience has taught me that detailed long term plans are virtually useless, they end up changing so much by the time that they are actually implemented that any resemblance to the original plan is almost purely coincidental. That does not mean there is no planning, far from it, the key is the focus of the plan. I have shifted my focus away from detailed long term planning to more general thematic plans for the long term and very detailed plans for the sessions and microcycles. For more information on this approach I recommend chapters 5 & 6 in my new book – Athletic Development – The Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning.


Vibration Training

Joe P asked to comment on Vibration Training as the latest fad. The fact that it is a fad does bother me. It is a viable training tool and modality in the correct hands and in the correct situation. It is not viable for the general public in a health club or gym environment without strict supervision. As a method it has been around for at least thirty years. I first saw it alluded to in Soviet training literature in the 1970’s. I did an extensive literature search of vibration training about six years ago and found an article in an American physical therapy journal from the early 70’s. A lot of the early research on vibration was designed to study the negative effects in industrial settings and with truck drivers. Don’t quote me on this but I also think this was a factor that was studied early in the space program due to the severe vibration forces at lift off. I have not any first hand experience using vibration with athletes I have worked with. I have played with a bit myself just to get a feel for it. Talking to my colleagues who have used in a systematic manner with elite athletes it definitely helps with flexibility. They also felt it was very individual in its application and adaptive response. Some have used it very individually as a recovery modality. The vibration platforms they used were not commercial platforms, but specially built platforms that had narrower ranges of vibration. The commercial machines that I have seen go up in 10Hz jumps, way too big a jump in my opinion. There is also the danger of harmonic convergence with human tissue. If not used properly it can explode eyeballs! A good overview of vibration training from a scientific perspective is “Vibration Loads: Potential for Strength and Power Development” by Mester, Spitzenpfeil and Yue. In Strength And Power In Sport. Second Edition. Edited by Pavo Komi. My advice is let the buyer beware.


Achievement Zones

This was a fun weekend my daughter was home for a wedding and Steve Odgers, a former athlete and a colleague with the White Sox visited. Steve now works for Scott Boras, the most powerful agent in baseball. He does the conditioning for Boras clients. In that capacity he works with some of the biggest names and highest paid players in baseball. The point of all of this is that Steve and I and then Kristen and I at different times on the weekend were talking about work, training, achievement and success. Here are my thoughts based on my conversations with them.

Anyone can work. Work is not training. Training has a specific direction and purpose in pursuit of a specific goal. There are three training zones.

Zone One is the foundation. This is where the athlete starts. They get familiar with training. They learn routine. The work is more general in nature. In essence they get in a comfort zone.

Zone Two is the performance zone. Here they learn to be uncomfortable. They intensity is higher. There is a narrower focus.

Zone Three is the high performance zone. This is the zone where many are called and few are chosen. The focus is lazer like. This demands the highest level of commitment. Everything here is purposeful, mindful and directed. There is no fluff. This is where the big dogs play.

Progression from zone to zone is not automatic. There is no social promotion. Each step must be earned. It seems that the hardest transition is getting out of zone one. There are many million dollars athletes in zone one. They are simply getting by on ability and skill. The great one, the ones who achieve consistently at the highest levels live work and play in zone three.

Functional Athletic Development DVD Series

We have switched all of our videos over to DVD Format – Back when we started developing the videos the idea was to develop a series that represented a systematic approach to training, they have been repackaged as the Functional Athletic Development series. The material in these DVD’s has stood the test of time. Each DVD in the series is build upon others in the series. In each DVD there is a progression of exercises. The newest DVD in the series is Faster Forty. Go to www.gambetta.com to see what is available in DVD format.


Swim Training for Pitchers

Several weeks back Mark Crabtree wrote to ask me my thoughts on swimming in shorter bursts as a form of conditioning for pitchers? There are certainly much better alternatives. Pitching is a ballistic dynamic activity. Swimming is not. In addition the pitcher would have to be a pretty good swimmer to get enough out of the swimming. In addition the additional stress on the shoulder is not worth the risk. Power activities and intensity are the stimulus for improving and conditioning pitchers. Some water running would be good for recovery as well as some upper body large amplitude movements in chest deep water. One thing to watch in the water is the effect it has on the callus buildup on pitchers fingers. The water may soften the callus which could affect the movement of the ball. Another thought is that if the pitcher lives near the ocean surfing is great – the paddling is a great motion and the balance required is fantastic, still a bit of concern on the callus issue. To substitute for surfing I have always used the VASA Swim trainer with my pitchers. I noticed way back when I first started coaching that the kids who were the surfers excelled in the softball throw which was part the Presidents Physical fitness test then. I was talking to Rob Sleamaker about it, he is the inventor of the VASA (http://www.vasatrainer.com), so he sent me a VASA to use with the White Sox. The pitchers loved it. I put it into the program and varied the routine based on the time of the season. We got the advantages of surfing without the water. I actually use it many of my strength training programs.


Exuberant Animal

I am only about 55 pages into this book given to me by the author, Frank Forencich,so far it is really thought provoking and I am sure it will continue to be. Here are two quotes that really resonated with me in light of the neutral spine/drawing in phenomenon.

“Modern fitness and exercise science bludgeons us with an overwhelming flood of data, clinical studies and research results. From this perspective, fitness often seems like something that is almost impossible to do right. But if we look at it from the point of view of the opportunistic primate, we see that fitness is something that is almost impossible to do wrong. If we move consistently and vigorously, our bodies are going to remain substantially healthy. (Page 53)

“Don’t get lost in details of expert training practices. Instead, give yourself a diversity of physical challenges throughout the day. Do some strength work, a little endurance training, some balance and agility. Grab movement opportunities in the mundane activities of your life.” (Page 55)

Thoughts on Neutral Spine and Movement in General

I have been following the comments on my post on the neutral spine. The comments have been interesting to follow. The post was prompted by a question at my seminar in Seattle. I was demonstrating a squat and at the break the question was: do you tell the person squatting to keep their spine neutral. As I am sure you would expect my answer was I tell them to squat. For some reason this question and several others made me think. I was concerned that my answer had sounded flippant, that was not the intention. It made me think of some other questions where people asked questions about movements that seemed to focus on small movements or extraneous motions that really did not impact the desired outcome. It dawned on me that someone somewhere was teaching people to be aware of all this stuff. I know term stuff is not too scientific, but stuff does get in the way. Focusing on stuff that is extraneous is robotic. If we were building a robot and we had to program each action then it would be a whole different story. The body is not a robot; we do run motor programs, some a faulty and some are fine tuned. The body has to constantly solve movement problems presented to it by the environment, most of the time it finds successful solutions, sometimes it does not. In either case it moves on. Movement is flowing and natural, many of the problems we have today are due to lack of movement. It just seems that having to teach someone neutral spine by putting them in a supine position on the floor or plinth creates a fundamental disconnect. There is too much of a gap between the supine position and weight bearing on one leg – this is true for the athlete and the 82 year old lady next door. Unfamiliar and unnatural positions will not help the body to solve more complex movement problems. Gravity and ground treat everyone the same and gravity will always win! There is a simple solution to all this, get people moving by bending, reaching, pulling, extending, walking, stepping, in short natural movements that work through all three planes of motion. Good motion occurs through the center of the body; the center is a relay site that smoothes out movement and helps with efficiency. By thinking about the pieces and components the movement will be robotic, that is not what we want. I end with some pretty sage advice from my friend Steve Myrland who has a keen eye for movement: “Don’t try to pick the fly shit out of the pepper.” Step back look at the big picture.


NFL Combine - The Happening in the Dome

Today is the first day of the NFL Combine, the event which along with Groundhog Day signifies the arrival of spring. This year the combine has been moved a week or two, I am not sure because unlike many of my colleagues my life and livelihood does not depend on this happening. Combine training has become a parlor industry with every ex player who ever strapped on a helmet and lifted a weight advertising combine training. Two weeks ago there was an article about a combine preparation factory in New Jersey who had improved a player’s time from 5.4 to 5.1 seconds. WOW! That was real impressive – why didn’t he save his money and stay at his university and work with his track coach? When you run that slow anything you do will make you faster.

Since the happening is being televised live on the NFL Network I propose that the NFL charge naming rights and turn it into a team scoring competition. Each player would wear the colors and logo(s) displayed prominently of the combine preparation group that he worked with. It could be like NASCAR with Athletes Performance matched up against Parisi, Shaw and all the other combine prep gurus. Score it like a track meet with five or six places per position. Give bonus points for anyone who sets a combine record. Oh by the way no points if the athlete does not improve over their times before the combine. No hand times, only electronic times. If there is a tie then the gurus would have to race in the Forty to determine a winner. I would get the NFL network to watch that!

Valery Borzov

A few weeks ago Joe Pruzulta wrote the following in response to my post on “Visions of Eight.” Give me your thoughts on Borzov please. To me, he never did beat the best (i.e. Steve Williams, Harvey Glance, Houston McTear, Ivory Crockett et al).

He was the Olympic Champion at the 100 and 200 meters. We will never know if would have happened if the whole American contingent had made it to the starting line for the 100 meters. Borzov certainly was on top of his game at the Olympics and he clearly beat the best in the 200 meters. I got to see Borzov run once indoors and at the 76 Olympics where he took the bronze in the 100 meters. Technically he was impressive. That was the first time a sprinter had medaled in the 100 meters in two Olympics. Much mythology has arisen around Borzov. He is one of the few male sprinters to come out of the Soviet Union; they had success with females, but not the same success with the males. At age 15, a comparable age to an American high school sophomore or junior, he ran a 10.7 hundred meters. That certainly shows very good potential. He was very well coached by Valetin Petrovsky. He did not run that many meets so he was able to point for the big meets where he usually excelled. In contrast to other Soviet sprinters before him he did not look like a weight lifter. I used to marvel at the Soviet sprinters in the sixties who looked more like weight lifters than sprinters. They were always great for thirty or forty meters and then would fade. It is only speculation but perhaps he was identified young and trained properly as a sprinter with a proper balance instead of an emphasis on max strength. What I have read of his coach makes much sense and was very forward thinking then and quite contemporary today. Mind you this is all my opinion because there continues to be a veil of mystery surrounding Borzov; to my knowledge no western writer has interviewed him. It would be enlightening to see someone do that and find out details of his training and background.

Drawing In Article

Excellent article in todays New York Times on "Drawing in." The title of the article is:"Everything you knew about good abs may be wrong." It was written by Paul Scott who did a great job reseraching the article. Here is the link http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/22/fashion/22FITNESS.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&ref=fashion


Neutral Spine

Is this concept another concept that has taken on a life of it own totally out of context? This seems to be the current buzz with gyms passing out t-shirts that read: Is your spine neutral today? Let’s take a step back and look this in the context of the three movement constants the body, gravity and the ground. In the body are we once again taking a sub cortical action, the neutral spine position, and making conscious? ( I doubt this tennis player has time to think about a neutral spine) If we are then ultimately it will not be beneficial because in movement we must react, not think. Regarding gravity, we are told to learn the “neutral spine” position we must start in a supine position so we can feel the proper alignment of the pelvis to achieve this elusive position. When we are in a supine position we are taking gravity out of the equation? In regard to the ground we are bipedal terrestrial beings who move over the ground off one foot onto the other foot. Can we maintain a “neutral spine” during gait without stiff robotic actions? Once again I feel like a voice crying out in the dark. I do want to be contrary, but to urge people to use good common sense. The “neutral spine” is not a position, it is a moment in time, part of a bigger picture.


Seattle Trip

Sorry for not posting much over the past week, I was out in Washington doing some consulting and to teach my Functional Path Seminar. It was a very enjoyable trip in so many ways. It is always great when you get to spend time with passionate highly motivated people. That really inspires me. Thursday I spent the day in Spokane with the guys from U District Physical Therapy. They have a contract to do the strength & conditioning for Gonzaga University. It was fun to sit around and talk coaching and see them work.

On Friday it was back to Seattle to spend the day with the guys from 6DD – Sixth Dimension Devices whom I consult with. I will write more about this later in the week, but they have developed a great device to measure many aspects of movement. I had not seen the device for almost a year, the progress is fantastic. They left me one for me to play with; I cannot wait to use it.

Saturday and Sunday I taught my Following the Functional Path seminar. It was hosted by Integrated Rehab Group. There were seventy people in attendance, a great and diverse group. There were physical therapist, athletic trainers, coaches, conditioning coaches and some people just interested in their own fitness. They were a very lively group who had great questions that got me thinking. I was honored to have an old friend in attendance, Alan Bonney, who was the women’s track & Field coach at University of Washington when I was coaching at UC Berkeley. It was fun to catch up with Al and share ideas; he is now working with youth soccer. Also in attendance was Frank Forencich a real interesting guy who has written a book that I am looking forward to reading called “Exuberant Animal – The Power of Health, Play And joyful Movement.”

Saturday Jim Radcliffe from University of Oregon came to visit. He is an old friend and a consummate professional. It is always fun and enlightening to get together with Jim. His energy is very contagious. We talk a long time about coaching and the state of coaching and the lack thereof. We agree that the field of strength and conditioning is crying out for definition.


The Core of the Matter

The fundamental underlying philosophy is that all training is core training. Without a fully functioning core, efficient movement is not possible. The core is involved in all movement as a major factor in control of movement. Currently core training is the buzzword in training. We need to rethink how we are training core in the light of the above stated philosophy. Conventional wisdom would have us doing much of our training in prone and supine positions while emphasizing drawing in or sucking in of the stomach muscles in order to activate the internal oblique and transverse abdominis. That is fine in theory, but in practice we need to look at how the core functions as one of the largest links in the kinetic chain.

The body is a link system; this link system is referred to as the kinetic chain. Functional core training is all about taking advantage of this linkage – it is how all the parts of the chain work together in harmony to produce smooth, efficient patterns of movement. Movement occurs from “Toe nails to finger nails” with all the segments working in harmony to produce smooth efficient movement.

In order to truly understand core function in the context of function of the whole body we must shift our focus away from individual muscles to integrated movements. Current thinking would have us focus on the Transverse Abdominis and the Internal Oblique as key core muscles. This is fallacious thinking because the brain does not recognize individual muscles; those muscles are two core muscles among many that contribute to efficient core function. The brain recognizes patterns of movement, which consist of the individual muscles working in harmony to produce movement. It is unreasonable to think that two muscles could play such an important role that they are more important than any other muscles. According to McGill: “The muscular and motor control system must satisfy requirements to sustain postures, create movements, brace against sudden motion or unexpected forces, build pressure and assist challenged breathing, all while ensuring sufficient stability. Virtually all muscles play a role in ensuring stability, but their importance at any point in time is determined by the unique combination of the demands just listed.” (McGill Pp 144)


How much is too much?

The coach from the Woodlands in Houston, Texas presented at the MITCA Clinic. I was able to attend his first talk which was quite entertaining and informative. He has a very successful program in terms of state championships as well having his athletes go onto compete in college. What did bother me was his emphasis on getting his athlete to 100 miles a week. I just do not think that is necessary at that age. That is too much, too soon. It reminds me of the old saying: how do you keep them down on the farm after they have seen Paree? Where do they go from there? How do they progress? I would rather see a broader foundation of work capacity and athleticism. I know the young Kenyans run a lot of miles, but we must also consider their overall lifestyle. Their success has a lot to do with upward mobility. Our kids today generally do not come from as good a movement base as they did in the past. I post this not to be critical, but to get people to think that there are other approaches. 100 miles a week in not a magic solution, I have coached high school athletes who certainly were capable of running 100 mile weeks, but I not sure if they would have been faster. In the mid Seventies there were a large number of athletes who were running 100 plus miles a week, to my knowledge only one or two eventually achieved world class status. In the 1975 California High School State meet my athlete ran 8:56 Two mile for fifth place. He ran 50 to 55 miles a week. The top four ranged from 95 to 120 miles a week. Maybe had he reached that milage level he would have run much faster, but I really do not think so. Remember volume is not a biomotor quality. That being said I also understand there are many roads to Rome, chose the one that works for your athletes.

Tournament Play

John wrote the following in response to my post on Tournament play: my principal sport is Ultimate Frisbee. The sport is played entirely in a tournament format where it is common to play 4-5 90 minute games on Saturday and then 1-4 games on Sunday. The conditioning needs for an individual game (very high intensity, short duration sprinting and jumping) are at odds with the endurance requirements of tournament play. For an athlete to be successful they need to be able to perform on the last game of Sunday (Finals). Obviously having a bigger team and the ideas you provide in this post can do a great deal to help. Do you have thoughts on general ways you'd modify conditioning for adult athletes if all competition took place in the context of tournaments? John, the good news is that you do not have to compete week after week in an extended competitive season. My advice in preparation for this format is to set up training in revolving three week cycles. Cycle #1 would have a speed and power emphasis. Cycle #2 would have a speed endurance emphasis and cycle #3 would have an aerobic emphasis. Repeat this pattern for nine weeks total leading into the tournament. The last three weeks (10th, 11th & 12th weeks) into the tournament should be more specific with week #1 of that cycle emphasizing skill and game simulation. Week #2 should be the highest intensity week of the whole cycle and week # 3 should taper down and rest up for the tournament. In the last week be sure to do a good warm-up the day before the tournament. Take Thursday off completely and make Wednesday very light. Tuesday of that week should be a speed endurance day with Monday a short sharp aerobic day.


Teaching & Coaching

Teaching, Coaching and teaching are essentially the same; it is sharing and raising the standard of performance along with the level of expectation. It is also about finding the correct buttons to push, given varied styles of learning, innate ability and motivation. Not every athlete comes out for a sport to be an athlete. Often the younger athletes do not even know what that is. Our job as coaches is to teach good training habits along with sound fundamentals. Some will want to achieve at higher levels and others will not, the trick is to serve both without short changing either. Many young boys and girls just want the affiliation of being part of a team, we must not forget that. Some of my fondest coaching memories are of these athletes.



Today post by Seth Godin http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/ is priceless. He is not talking about Athletic Development, but he might as well be. I am concerned that there are too many people who are sheepwalking. Read the post it is outstanding!!

Interval Training Descriptors

Zach Snyder asked me to write about the descriptors you use for teaching percentages of maximum effort for use with interval training. For example, what does 80% (or 50, 60, 70, 90%) of maximum effort feel like? This question stems from page 130 of Athletic Development book.

Zach let me briefly explain the genesis of using verbal descriptors rather that actual percentages for the particular distance. Verbal descriptors are nothing more than indicators of perceived exertion that have been validated by Gunnar Borg, a Swedish researcher. It seemed to make sense, especially when I was working with team sport athletes who had no sense of pace even if I would have given them an exact number. They should know what 100% is, I tell them it is all out. How hard would all out effort be for 30 seconds? Then ask them to run what they think is 80% of that with the understanding that they have run 12, 16 or eighteen repetitions with a 30 second walk. Then I coach it, I do not just hold a stopwatch and blow a whistle. Closely observe how they a handle it. Probably in the first few sessions they will undershoot and run more within themselves than you would like. As they get into the swing of things then they come to understand the gradations of effort. Basically 70% is a pretty conversational pace if the work to rest ratio is 1:1. That is a good staring point. It is good to have descriptors for the various percentages of effort. The famous Hungarian distance coach Mihay Igloi used that system very effectively. I have borrowed that idea and change the descriptors based on the population. Generally the descriptors go something like this:

Easy – 60%

Medium Easy – 65% to 70%

Medium – 75%

Medium Hard – 80%

Hard – 85% to 90%

Competition of Game Effort – 95% to 100%



I had the opportunity the past two days to speak at the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association. It was a wonderful experience. It is always great to be able to interact with high school coaches and teachers. They are on the firing line everyday. This group was eager to learn and share. What did strike me though was the almost complete lack of a historical context. I know this is a recurrent theme that I keep hammering on, but how do you know where are going if you do not know where you have been. I think you must know of and read and study the great coaches of the past, study the training and results of their athletes to learn, not just from their successes but from their failures.

On another note, there was an elderly gentleman that sat in the front row during all of my talks I spoke to him before each talk but did really know who was until I was leaving. His name is Kermit Ambrose, he is 96 years old! He was listening and a couple of times even wrote a couple of notes. It turns out that Kermit was the founder of the Coaches Association and a legend in high school coaching in Michigan. I was honored to have him present. My only hope is that the young coaches pick his brain, I am sure he has seen it all before. When I mentioned that today we are doing too much static stretching instead of warming he applauded. What an honor to have someone like that present.


Train for Work Capacity Not Endurance

We have all heard the axiom that more is not better. But within each of us there is a fundamental insecurity that we are not doing enough, so we do extra work. This seems to be especially true in an endurance dominated event. The result is that we lose sight of our objective in training which is to become a faster cyclist, runner or a swimmer. The work should not be an end in itself but a means to an end. That end is the improvement of performance. All training should be in pursuit of this objective.

Work Capacity is the ability to tolerate a high workload and to recover sufficiently for the next workout or competition. Raising work capacity will improve the athlete’s capacity to resist fatigue. It involves the functional efficiency and coordination of the cardiovascular, metabolic, and nervous system. With all these systems working together it is closely related to speed, strength, flexibility, and coordination. It is more than endurance. The key is functional efficiency of all systems working together to increase work capacity. An increase in work capacity will allow the athlete to work more efficiently and get more out of each training session. In the language of training theory it falls into the category of General Physical Preparation (GPP) type of work.

In order to raise work capacity with the objective of improving performance it is necessary to incorporate a mix of three elements:

1) Capacity - The total amount of energy available to perform work.

2) Power - Amount of energy that can be produced per unit of time.

3) Efficiency - Optimal use of the energy available.

The tendency is to emphasize capacity to the exclusion of power and efficiency. To be most effective it is a blend of all three depending on the individual athletes strengths and weaknesses and the particular sport they are preparing for. The most overlooked of the three and yet the one that has the most potential for improvement lies with efficiency. Improving efficiency allows greater utilization of the capacity and power available.

How do you achieve this? Proper periodization which is essentially having a plan and working that plan. As detailed record keeping as possible to provide objective feedback. Know yourself by honestly assessing your strengths and weaknesses. Know your sport. Know yourself, how have you achieved the best results?

Conceptually this all seems very simple and it is, but putting it into practice is what is tough. It is much easier to fall back into the security of quantification rather than preparing to compete.


C. K. Yang

I just found that C.K. Yang died on January 31 from complications from a stroke. When I was in high school and college I used to have a picture of Yang on my bulletin board because I had seen compete at the Santa Barbara Easter Relays and had been impressed with him. He was one of a few decathletes to score over 9,000 points on any scoring table. When I was in eighth grade there was a terrific hour long special on Yang and his UCLA teammate Rafer Johnson. They shared the same coach, Duck Drake, who was also the trainer at UCLA. There trained together everyday leading to the Olympics in 1960. Yang represented Formosa and Johnson the US. Johnson won the gold and Yang the silver in a great competition. It stuck me even as a thirteen year old how they had really helped each other. That is what competition is all about. They brought out the best in each other.

“Shin Splints – Compartment Surgery”

Jon Beyle wrote me this: “I would also like to get your thoughts on something. I just got off the phone with a girl who has been playing field hockey at Princeton and her career is being threatened by lower compartment syndrome. She had the release surgery and it did not help much as of yet. she has a friend who plays D1 soccer who has the same thing. She told me also that she ran into a D1 field hockey coach at another major university who said this is becoming epidemic (shin splints, lower compartment, etc.). What are your thoughts on this?”

This surgery was quite the rage a few years ago. I actually thought it had gone out of favor. This is a classic example of reductionist medicine – focusing on the symptom rather taking a giant step back and looking at the big picture. Because there is pain and swelling there then you operate. Bottom line is that 9 times out of 10 the operation does not work. Think global, look above and below the problem. I am of the opinion that the problem really stems from the inability to properly shock absorb, the big shock absorber that needs to be developed is the butt. Movement mechanics must be addressed – how they stop and change direction. Look at the foot, more specifically is the subtalar joint locked up.If it is then mobilize it.

As far as the shin splint issue it is much the same answer. I know field hockey must play on a very firm and generally unforgiving surface, so look at opportunities to train off the surface for non technical work. Look at foot wear, I have found that rigid shoes often are the culprit. In collegiate and national team environment the players are often forced to wear sponsors shoes and all of one style. That shoe and style may not be correct for the individual athlete. The common solution for “shin splints” is to dorsi flexion exercises which can cause more harm than good because the anterior tibialis main job is to help decelerate the foot. Once again work above and below. Excessive weight is another issue, tough to address with the female athlete. When they are too heavy gravity wins! Not an easy problem to solve, but with work it can be done.



The following are common questions & concerns from coaches on training and fitness:

When is it appropriate to begin formal speed training?
A common mistake many coaches make when beginning formal speed training is to prepare their players for a track meet and not for the game of they are training for. Speed training for sport should always have a game-like emphasis. Typically, younger players between the ages of 7-9 should focus on free play. Variations of games such as tag are a wonderful way to work on speed and improve gross motor skills. Coaching considerations prior to implementing any type of formal training include the ability of the player to handle formal instruction and the player’s physical maturity level. Starting at an early age, sport technique should be developed concurrent with speed training. Once these skills have been mastered, players need to learn to distribute their efforts relative to the technical and tactical demands of the game, incorporating short explosive bursts with varied changes of direction.

In need to improve my team’s endurance, should I do distance running?
Practical experience and research has shown that slow steady distance running detracts from speed and explosiveness. In the last minutes of a game or match your players should not only be able to run, but continue to run fast. This is accomplished by incorporating fartleks and interval runs into your training. For example, have your players perform a 30/30 run. This is a 30 second jog followed by a 30 second run at 70% of maximal effort. Start with a 10-minute run and work up to 18 minutes. Carefully consider the conditioning that also occurs in the course of practice. Additional fitness work that is relative to the demands of soccer and properly planned into the overall training cycle will help to ensure a fitter and faster team.

When is it appropriate to begin formal strength training for a young player?
Strength is one of the biggest deficiencies in young athletes As with speed training, the athlete’s emotional development and level of physical maturity are important in determining if the athlete can learn the routines and handle formal training. Although research has shown that pre-pubescent athletes may benefit from weight training, heavy loading of the spine is not recommended until after puberty. The player has to be able to handle his or her own body weight before adding external resistance. This can be accomplished by incorporating pushups, pull-ups, body weight lunges, and body weight squats into your program. Various medicine ball exercises as well as hopping and jumping games will also help to strengthen the tendons and ligaments further helping to prevent injury and establishing a solid strength base.

How can I include fitness activities within a normal practice?
Integrate each component throughout the entire practice. It all starts with a proper warm-up. This is the time to work on balance, coordination, speed work, and high quality touches on the ball. The objective is to work up to game effort speed, therefore, warm-up to play, don’t play to warm-up. From this point on the entire practice should mimic the game. This requires a well thought out training plan that flows from one component to the next with a smooth transition. For example, when performing team drills, the length of the lines affects the work to rest ratio. Players should never stand around for more than 30-40 seconds at a time. Use the length of the lines to determine the desired work to rest ratio. We look at the whole practice as a water break. Have your players bring their own water bottle so that whenever they need a break, they quickly take it and get immediately back in to practice.

What can I do to help prevent fatigue when my team plays two games in one day?
Your players are only as good as their ability to recover. Factors such as hydration and a pre and post nutrition plan are always important. Be aware of environmental conditions such as altitude changes, time zone changes, and the weather. The warm-up before the first game will be more extensive while the warm-up before the second game will be much shorter in duration. Many teams will go through a long warm-up before their second game and end up coming out flat. This may be attributed to the players becoming fatigued from the long second warm-up. Include a cool down after each game lasting around 10-15 minutes incorporating light jogging and dynamic flexibility. End the cool down with a short static stretching routine to help the muscles return to resting length.


Crossing the T’s & Dotting the I’s

As a young coach I was always told to be sure to cross the T’s and dot the I’s At first I thought they were kidding me, but the longer I coached the more I realized that was much truth attached to that time worn cliché. Here are some T’s to cross and I’s to dot that I have found to be important in my own coaching and through observation of successful coaches and athletes the past 38 years.

Talent -- It all begins here: without native athletic ability and a feel for the event it is tough for an athlete to excel at the highest levels. That doesn’t mean that someone with less talent can’t succeed, but he or she will have to work much harder. The less talented individual will also have less margin for error in training. The coach’s job is to identify talent, nurture and direct the talent.

Tenacity -- Mental toughness is the result of sound physical preparation. It is also the ability to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by minor setbacks. The champion is often the one who can persevere and overcome obstacles

Technique -- Sound fundamental movement skills are a precursor to specific event technique. Both must to be developed early in an athlete’s career and refined as the athlete progresses to the elite level. The challenge is to become technically proficient without becoming mechanical.

Training – This is the process of acquiring specific fitness while balancing all training components. Obviously this is the foundation for success. No one can succeed without a good training base. Never lose sight of the fact that training is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. That end is competition. Winning is the outcome of good preparation.

Tactics – Tactics are based on knowledge of the sport and of effective competitive skills. Know the rules; study the skills involved in competing well..

Testing - The competition is the ultimate test of the total training program. It must be measured not only by wins and losses, but also by improvement and quality of effort. In order to be ready for the ultimate test, it is important to test periodically in training to assess progress toward a goal.

Inspiration – This is the spark that motivates the coach and the athlete to persevere through difficult times. It is the vision of the results of the hard work. It is the courage to do the little things that make the best better. It is willingness to do the morning run when it is snowing and it would be easier to stay in bed. It is doing the cooldown after a very hard workout when it would be easier to head for the shower. Inspiration is the guiding light toward pursuit of the goal.

Innovation – The willingness to try new things, to change even if you have been successful. Change is a constant. We must be willing to change to get better. This involves continually learning and upgrading your knowledge base. Never be satisfied with where you are now; always seek ways that will help you get better.

Intensity – This is the laser-like focus on the task at hand, the focus that is necessary to be the best you can be. It is not screaming and hollering; it is focus, concentration and inner drive. It is attention to detail.

Interest – This is the commitment to improve. Your interest must be clearly defined, whether it is to be the best coach or athlete you can be. The interest must be unwavering.

Involvement – This is necessary for success in any endeavor. You must be fully involved; it cannot be a passing fancy. Involvement is a 24 hour commitment, not two hour commitment during the workout. It is committing to a lifestyle that supports excellence. Everyone wants to be involved on meet day, but the winners are those coaches and athlete who pay the price everyday.


Coaching Feedback

If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. The following has been told to a friend of ours daughter by her coach after every race she swims: “You need to get stronger and develop more front end speed.” She is thirteen years old and a very bright kid, finally out of frustration she said to her dad: “Why don’t they give me workouts to do something about it? We all do the same thing all the time.” If you do not have an action component and follow-up to the feedback then do not give it. No follow-up makes the feedback meaningless. The thirteen year old figured it out, why can’t the adult coaches?


Answers to Questions

There have been quite a few questions on specific aspects of training over the past several weeks. I have not been ignoring those. I will begin to answer them starting next week. If you have specific topics or ideas you would like me to comment on please email me at www.gambettasports@hotmail.com

Discipline – An Outdated Concept?

I spend a lot of time with friends who are coaches. Invariably the topic turns to today’s athletes, and to one question: “Are they different?

They certainly are different in many ways from the athletes of 1969, when I started coaching. But the biggest differences are not in the athletes themselves, but in the society we live in.

One of those differences has been a breakdown in discipline. Discipline is the foundation for excellence, and self-discipline is the highest form of discipline.

Of course, for youngsters to learn self-discipline they must have guidance: what is right, and what is not right? That guidance takes the form of rules.

Coaches today have become reluctant to set rules, because then they must enforce them. That could be uncomfortable. What if a parent challenges them? Will they receive backing from the administration, from the school board, the principal, the vice-principal, and the athletic director? That’s certainly a legitimate concern, when anything from an attack by a parent to the coach’s job to a lawsuit could be at stake.

My conversation with various coaches who have been coaching for more than twenty years indicates that such backing from the school system, or lack of it, is the basic problem.

Coaches believe in discipline just as they always have, but they do not have the backing they used to have. Younger coaches are reluctant to set rules and enforce discipline because they will not be popular and they know they will not be backed.

What is the answer?
Sport is not isolated from society; it is a microcosm of the society in which we live. So it is naïve to think that the problems that exist in society will not exist on our track teams.

For the young athlete to learn discipline demands guidance. We as coaches must provide that guidance. We must set the standards by fair rules that carefully lay out the behavioral expectations involved in being part of the team. These must be written. They must be clear so that there is no room for debate. Essentially as the coach you are providing a structure to begin to improve their abilities and their enjoyment of track and field.

I think many of today’s athletes crave the structure we can give them, even though it may not be part of their everyday life outside of sport. But they have to understand that it’s a two-way street – that they can’t just follow the rules they like, but sometimes they must obey rules they don’t like. That’s the price they have to pay for the structure the coach provides.

Discipline is a responsibility of coaching. If we do not enforce discipline then we are shirking our duty as coaches.

We must understand that we are not coaching a sport; we are coaching young men and women who are competing in a sport. We owe it to them to provide the most positive experience that we can. Through firm and fair discipline we can create a favorable learning environment that will allow them to reach their potential.

How can we do this? We can start by getting everyone on our side.

You and your coaching staff should decide on the behavior that you expect of your athletes and then set the rules that will define those behaviors. Review them with your athletic director and if need be, the principal. Get them to buy in and support you before any challenges are made.

It might be even better if you can get your athletic department to set rules that members of every team at your school must observe, to insure consistency from sport to sport.

To those general rules, you can add rules specific to your sport. And if you feel comfortable doing so, you might want to involve the senior athletes and the parents in the process. If they’re part of the process, it’s easier for them to buy in.

Once the rules are set, schedule a mandatory parents’ meeting to go over the rules and responsibilities for their youngsters to be on the team. This meeting should also educate the parents to practice procedures, nutrition guidelines, lettering policy and criteria for varsity selection. Take the opportunity to educate the parents about the sport.

Both the parent and the child must sign a statement that they will observe the rules. If they do not they will not be allowed to participate. Emphasize that to be an athlete is special. It is a privilege to participate, not a right. There should also be a pledge from the coaches as to the behavioral standards the athletes and parents can expect from the coach. The ultimate goal is to create an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Remember as coaches we have a responsibility to teach our athletes. Very few will compete past the high school level, but they all can have the great growing-up experiences of testing their limits and being part of a team. The beauty of track is that there is a spot for everyone.

Discipline will help insure a positive experience. It is not outdated, and it never will be.