Old School

What exactly is old school? Is old school having a work ethic? Is it old school to respect your opponents and your teammates? Is it old school to respect your coach? Is it old school to make a tackle and get up and go back to the huddle – no celebrations or sack dances? Is it old school to have to pay your dues? It is old school to take responsibility for your actions? Is it old school to just play the sport because you love competing – no worry about earning a scholarship or being ranked by archrivals.com as one of the top players in he country? Let all wake up, we are all party to this, the athletes, coaches, parents, administrators, the media – let’s get back to basics and enjoy sport for the essence of it. It is amazing to me that a coach making Two Million plus dollars a year at a university has a special secret newsletter for boosters that he charges premium price for. Come on this is ridiculous. I thought we were supposed to educators. Let put play and fun back into sport. We can’t turn back the clock, but we can take a look in the mirror and see what each of us can do to change what is happening.

Wish it could be so easy

Do a squat, do a single leg squat, take a still picture, plug it into a computer and get a training and injury prevention program. Presto – no need to watch the athlete move, no injury or performance history just two simple tests, a video and a computer program and an online certification to learn how to do the evaluation. Something is wrong with this picture, yet in certain situations this is now considered the way to go. Let get real. You wonder why we have injuries – one size does not fit all.

Another Paradigm

Mike Keeler, swim coach at University of San Diego wrote me the following: What do you think of this paradigm as far as exercise prescription? Effectiveness first, Intensity second, Frequency Third, and Volume last. I like it. I assume effectiveness means teaching and foundational work. Not quite sure what you mean by frequency in this context, once again I assume it means increasing the number of training sessions, which would have the effect of increasing the volume. Some people are calling this type of model reverse periodization; I prefer to call it common sense. I think we all need to recognize that training is cumulative process from day to day, week to week to week and month to month. Effectiveness first should mean that everything that follows will be quality and efficient.


More on Basic Paradigm

You do not have to play the sport to know the sport. Today there are many tools to use to learn the sport. Virtually every sport has instructional books and videos available that explain the sport from a technical and tactical perspective. Also remember the rules of the sport also dictate conditioning. That is why High School, Collegiate and NFL football have subtle differences. To continue the American football example something like a no huddle offense will impact how you condition your offensive players. As far as having played the sport especially at a high level I do not feel it is important at all, in fact it can he a hindrance. Not playing the game allows a completely unbiased perspective. I have found that many people who were stars think they did things one way when in actual practice they did it better. This reminds of a conversation with Buddy Bell, current manager of the Kansas City Royals, when he took over as our field coordinator with the White Sox. He took me aside and told me that because I had never played the game and he had played in the big leagues for 19 years that I what I was doing was virtually worthless, at least he was honest. This is a very typical attitude, as far I am concerned not a healthy attitude in terms of progressing. Classic example of one experience 19 times!

When looking at game demands I would use GPS and accelerometer data if available. This data enables the conditioning and strength training to be more exact and also to be adapted for the individual athlete. Many people have used heart rate data extensively; personally I have not put as much stock in this. I feel it is pretty predictable and there are too many artifacts in the data to base training sole on heart rate. (Obviously not on Polar’s payroll)

I think it is also important that the game itself and practice for the game plays a huge roll in actually conditioning the player. The game represents the highest form of stress. I know the good soccer coaches I have worked have made practices very game like so my emphasis was on speed, quickness and power development. Actual fitness was not as much of a consideration because of the types of practices they ran. John Wooden and Dean Smith are good example of this in basketball.

As you work through all the steps of the paradigm you will see a true system begin to evolve. It is a process both scientific and experiential.

No Instructions Included

Recognize and use the wisdom of the body. The body is very smart; instinctively it knows what to do. It gets confused when we put artificial restraints on it and it rebels by getting hurt or not performing up to optimum levels. No instructions needed or included, just some common sense and a feel for movement. If you are not sure about this watch an infant crawl and begin to walk.


The Cult of the Amateur

I have just finished reading this book. It really gets you thinking about where we are going with the internet. I found it especially interesting in light of some of my recent posts on the internet experts. This is a review of the the New Yorks Times Book Review.

How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture
By Andrew Keen
228 pages. Doubleday. $22.95.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Mr. Keen argues that “what the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment.” In his view Web 2.0 is changing the cultural landscape and not for the better. By undermining mainstream media and intellectual property rights, he says, it is creating a world in which we will “live to see the bulk of our music coming from amateur garage bands, our movies and television from glorified YouTubes, and our news made up of hyperactive celebrity gossip, served up as mere dressing for advertising.” This is what happens, he suggests, “when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule.”

This book, which grew out of a controversial essay published last year by The Weekly Standard, is a shrewdly argued jeremiad against the digerati effort to dethrone cultural and political gatekeepers and replace experts with the “wisdom of the crowd.” Although Mr. Keen wanders off his subject in the later chapters of the book — to deliver some generic, moralistic rants against Internet evils like online gambling and online pornography — he writes with acuity and passion about the consequences of a world in which the lines between fact and opinion, informed expertise and amateurish speculation are willfully blurred.

For one thing, Mr. Keen says, “history has proven that the crowd is not often very wise,” embracing unwise ideas like “slavery, infanticide, George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, Britney Spears.” The crowd created the tech bubble of the 1990s, just as it created the disastrous Tulipmania that swept the Netherlands in the 17th century.

Mr. Keen also points out that Google search results — which answer “search queries not with what is most true or most reliable, but merely what is most popular” — can be manipulated by “Google bombing” (which “involves simply linking a large number of sites to a certain page” to “raise the ranking of any given site in Google’s search results”). And he cites a recent Wall Street Journal article reporting that hot lists on social networking Web sites are often shaped by a small number of users: that at Digg.com, which has 900,000 registered users, 30 people were responsible at one point for submitting one-third of the postings on the home page; and at Netscape.com, a single user was behind 217 stories over a two-week period, or 13 percent of all stories that reached the most popular list in that period.

Because Web 2.0 celebrates the “noble amateur” over the expert, and because many search engines and Web sites tout popularity rather than reliability, Mr. Keen notes, it’s easy for misinformation and rumors to proliferate in cyberspace. For instance, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia (which relies upon volunteer editors and contributors) gets way more traffic than the Web site run by Encyclopedia Britannica (which relies upon experts and scholars), even though the interactive format employed by Wikipedia opens it to postings that are inaccurate, unverified, even downright fraudulent. This year it was revealed that a contributor using the name Essjay, who had edited thousands of Wikipedia articles and was once one of the few people given the authority to arbitrate disputes between writers, was a 24-year-old named Ryan Jordan, not the tenured professor he claimed to be.

Since contributors to Wikipedia and YouTube are frequently anonymous, it’s hard for users to be certain of their identity — or their agendas. Postings about political candidates, for instance, can be made by opponents disguising their motives; and propaganda can be passed off as news or information. For that matter, as Mr. Keen points out, the idea of objectivity is becoming increasingly passé in the relativistic realm of the Web, where bloggers cherry-pick information and promote speculation and spin as fact. Whereas historians and journalists traditionally strived to deliver the best available truth possible, many bloggers revel in their own subjectivity, and many Web 2.0 users simply use the Net, in Mr. Keen’s words, to confirm their “own partisan views and link to others with the same ideologies.” What’s more, as mutually agreed upon facts become more elusive, informed debate about important social and political issues of the day becomes more difficult as well.

Although Mr. Keen’s objections to the publishing and distribution tools the Web provides to aspiring artists and writers sound churlish and elitist — he calls publish-on-demand services “just cheaper, more accessible versions of vanity presses where the untalented go to purchase the veneer of publication” — he is eloquent on the fallout that free, user-generated materials is having on traditional media.

Mr. Keen argues that the democratized Web’s penchant for mash-ups, remixes and cut-and-paste jobs threaten not just copyright laws but also the very ideas of authorship and intellectual property. He observes that as advertising dollars migrate from newspapers, magazines and television news to the Web, organizations with the expertise and resources to finance investigative and foreign reporting face more and more business challenges. And he suggests that as CD sales fall (in the face of digital piracy and single-song downloads) and the music business becomes increasingly embattled, new artists will discover that Internet fame does not translate into the sort of sales or worldwide recognition enjoyed by earlier generations of musicians.

“What you may not realize is that what is free is actually costing us a fortune,” Mr. Keen writes. “The new winners — Google, YouTube, MySpace, Craigslist, and the hundreds of start-ups hungry for a piece of the Web 2.0 pie — are unlikely to fill the shoes of the industries they are helping to undermine, in terms of products produced, jobs created, revenue generated or benefits conferred. By stealing away our eyeballs, the blogs and wikis are decimating the publishing, music and news-gathering industries that created the original content those Web sites ‘aggregate.’ Our culture is essentially cannibalizing its young, destroying the very sources of the content they crave.”

Paradigm for Athletic Development Program

This is a paradigm I have used for years. It has worked well for me and my colleagues. It certainly has grown and evolved over the years but the basic ideas are the same. I truly believe that by applying this paradigm and understanding the basic principles of training that you should be able to work effectively with any sport. Here is the paradigm:

# 1 - Know the Demands of the Game or Sport

# 2 - Know the Demands of the Position or Event

# 3 - Know the Qualities of the Individual Athlete

# 4 - Know the Pattern of Injuries in the Sport

Over the years I have found that if I deviate from this then there are problems. Once I have gone through the evaluation of these four steps then it is a matter of determining the need to do versus the nice to do training activities. This simple paradigm will allow you to derive as complex a training program as needed. This paradigm really evolved when I was working as Al Vermeils’ assistant working with the Chicago Bulls in the mid eighties. I thought that some of the things I was having the players do in regard to conditioning were not really based on the game of professional basketball, so I went to Al to get the video guy to shoot individual isolated video of our top six players in games. What a revelation, it was not basketball it was more like football or wrestling. It certainly made me rethink my ideas about conditioning for pro basketball. I do not know what was done with in regard to the Bulls, because I left soon after that to go to work for the White Sox. I know that with the White Sox we carefully studied the demands of the game, individual positions and the individual players. It is all part of a comprehensive system of athletic development. With the sophisticated tools available today there is no excuse for what we see today in regard to conditioning for various sports. The conditioning must fit the game, the position and the athlete and must prevent injury. Too often we are trying to force the athletes into boxes. Thing like the big three or distance running for speed power athletes’ simply do not reflect reality of sport demands. As the old cowboy used to say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.

Weekend in Madison, Wisconsin

I had a very enjoyable visit to
Madison, Wisconsin. It was really fun just spending time with Steve Myrland and his family. We were able to talk and philosophize about a myriad of topics, most of them having nothing to do with training or sports. Here are some picture of the weekend.


The Weekend

Today I am off to visit with a great friend and professional colleague, Steve Myrland in Madison Wisconsin. While I am there I will also get to visit Jack Pettinger, he is one of my heroes, a great swim coach and great person. He worked close with Doc Counsilman. I always learn so much when I get around these guys it is really amazing. It is always great to be around people who are so uplifting.


There have been several requests for the workouts I am doing with the Bucks. I am not doing workouts with them. I am consulting and advising, working with Tim Wilson on fine-tuning his training plan and structure of training. We are then working with individual players on their movement mechanics to develop individual routines for those players.

All this being said I want to reiterate my philosophy about sharing workouts. I generally do not share workouts, that is not because they are secret, but because the workouts are developed for an individual or team and are specific to that team or individual. Remember it is not about the workout or the exercise it is how they are applied. What is the logic behind the workout and what are the underlying principles. I have been very open with those in all my materials; they are openly available in published articles, my books and on the web page. I once again urge you to think – think about context and the situation you are working in. It is the chef not the recipe!


Thought Provoking

This one got me thinking: “When I was young and confused, I looked forward to being older and wiser, or at least to have solid lists of reliable ideas that would make me look wise. But now I am old enough to be acquainted with the conservative realities of life, I can’t cope with the farfetched speculations of the young.” Gerald M. Weinberg

Milwaukee Bucks

I am in Milwaukee now working the Bucks. My primary focus here is to work with Tim Wilson, the strength and conditioning coach. Tim is an old friend and colleague. He and I worked for AlVemiel at the same time and then worked together with the White Sox. Tim is a very good coach who is always interested in making himself better. Yesterday we focused on working on improving acceleration mechanics as they relate to the game of basketball. It is always fun to work with professionals like Tim.


Food For Thought

Gary Winckler send me the following thought from Esa Peltola. Esa is a great coach and sport scientist who now works at ASPIRE in Qatar, he was formerly the sport science coordinator for Athletic Australia.
"The fastest movement does not always produce the highest power implying that high power does not always mean fast force production"


"I don't know what other people are doing - I just know about me." Thelonious Monk, June, 1965


Static Stretching

In response to the question about static stretching feeling good – absolutely, it does feel good because it has a calming effect. In the period pre practice “socialization time” I have found they will do it then on their own. I give two minutes sometimes during warm-up to “stretch where they are tight,” a way to encourage them to read their bodies and to feel good. I try to teach the athletes and coaches that stretching is a separate training unit to improve range of motion. Warm-up is to create readiness for training.

Raising Consciousness

Michael Shermer in his column in the most recent September 2007 Scientific American www.SciAm.com called Skeptic (www.skeptic.com) wrote a thought provoking article entitled Rational Atheism. He offered five points in arguing about atheism to raise our consciousness.

1) “Anti-something movements by themselves will fail.” It is not enough to be against something, you must be for something. Defining oneself by what you do not believe does not hold much substance.

2)” Positive Assertions are necessary.” Champion what you believe, have courage of your convictions and be able to articulate your beliefs in a logical systematic manner.

3) “Rational is as rational does.” Science, reason and proven best practice will prevail, but to have it prevail we must apply science and reason to our arguments

4) “The golden rule is symmetrical.” This does not warrant much explanation.

5) “Promote freedom of belief and disbelief.” We can believe and act the way we want as long as our beliefs do not impinge on the freedom of others to express their opinion.


Cal & Oregon Warm-ups

I will talk to Jim Radcliffe and get him to give a few comments on his pre game warm-up. Once again it is not so much the actual specifics, but the principles behind the warm-up that are important.

Anonymous Posts

From now on I will delete any anonymous posts, if you do not have the courage to put your name on it then don’t post. I have opposed doing this, but in speaking to colleagues that I lean on for advice and guidance, they convinced it was the way to go.

Training the Developing Sprinter - Article

This is available (Free – no strings attached) at www.gambetta.com/resources look under downloads. This is the chapter that originally was written for one of Ryan Lee’s bogus publication for which he was going to charge $90 plus dollars. Enjoy it!

Stretching and warm-up

It never ceases to amaze how warm-up and stretching are equated. Warm-up to stretch, do not stretch to warm-up. Essentially it is counterproductive and a huge waste of time. If you are spending ten minutes a day static stretching in warm-up, that is ten minutes that you are not making them better athletically.There is plenty of research to show that pre exercise stretching does NOT prevent injury. Despite this knowledge you still see Football teams lying on the ground for ten minutes doing static stretching – what a waste. Don’t get me wrong there is a place for active stretching in warm-up. In the later third of the warm-up when the body is well on it’s way to being warmed up. To see where it is placed go to www.gambetta.com/resouces to see the active warm-up sequence. Watch Oregon football warm-up that is the way it should be done, active and dynamic. I have been told that Cal Berkeley Football is now warming up the same way. I have been using an active warm-up with a minimum of static stretching for thirty plus years. I think the results and lack of injuries bear out its efficacy.

That is not to say that flexibility is not important, it certainly is. It is when you work on flexibility. It is separate and distinct training unity. It is best done post practice or after a good warm-up. More on flexibility in another post.


Dave Brubeck – Indian Summer

I am a big of jazz and an even bigger fan of Dave Brubeck. One of my favorite albums is The Dave Brubeck Quartet At Carnegie Hall originally released in 1963. Well Dave Brubeck is now 86 years old and he is still touring and producing CD’s. His latest is a collection of piano solos entitled Indian Summer. He recorded the whole album over two days; each song was recorded on one take. He is truly a master.


Protecting the Pitcher

Fragile. Handle With Care. Is the title of an article in the New York Times on Tuesday September 11 whose theme was protecting the young pitcher by limiting innings pitched. Why protect, when we should be thinking build and develop. They are only fragile because we make them fragile. You protect by being proactive – by doing the correct work to prepare to pitch. I strongly believe we need to take a long hard look at what has become the contemporary approach toward development and training pitchers. They are athletes and should be coached and trained accordingly. Build them from the ground up, stop emphasizing the arm and shoulder; they are the last links in the kinetic chain. Work on the whole kinetic chain.

The biomechanics of pitching have been thoroughly studied. Look closely at those studies, don’t listen to opinion, look at scientific fact and develop the program accordingly. That is what we did with the White Sox almost twenty years ago. So far nothing has been to refute what we did.

Work on mechanics without making them so mechanical they look like clones. At the developmental stages teach them one pitch, the fast ball. Learn how to command the strike zone with a fastball, and then learn a change up instead of a breaking pitch. Breaking pitches should not be taught or allowed until at least the junior year of high school.

Institute a structured throwing program that includes throws at various distances and at varied intensities. Include once bounce throwing to a target to encourage rotation and correct and complete follow through. (Interesting side note on a throwing program – The Boston Red Sox have instituted Dice K’s throwing throughout their minor league system. How stupid – I thought they were a money ball team. Dice K’s program works for him, why not take the trouble to develop a program that fits their players. Monkey see, monkey do)

Build and train the pitcher that is how to protect the pitcher. Artificial pitch count limits do not solve the problem; they actually contribute to the problem. The pitcher never learns how to adjust and pitch in a tough situation and with a certain amount of fatigue. A good athletic development program will prepare them for the demands of pitching. Remember to be better at anything you must practice that activity, to become a better pitcher you must pitch.

Putting Money in the Bank – Venice Volleyball

The Venice girl’s team is 11 and 0 having defeated three of the defending state championship teams in the last seven days. Congratulations to the girls and the coaches, they are doing a great job. My task now is to keep putting money in the bank. Every time they play a series of tough matches like this the challenge is to get back to some of the basic training that helped them to achieve this. We are now going to recycle back through some of out Foundation Strength phase with a big emphasis on leg strength to start a push toward the championship season. We will back off the plyo’s the next two weeks and bring up the volume of throwing to raise explosive power without pounding their legs. It has been really cool to see how the kids have responded to the training. Remainder this did happen overnight, they began training January 11 – training is cumulative less we forget that.

Coaching Speed In

Let not over complicate this. You coach speed into the athlete by training speed at the appropriate time in the workout, using an appropriate method and dosage for the time of the training year. You train speed out by doing all sorts of general non specific work and slow “base building” type of work. Remember you are what you train to be! To be fast you must train fast. Look at University of Oregon versus University of Michigan as an example. There are many more. When I hear a coach say I have not started speed work yet, I just smile and I hope we can compete against those teams often.


Train Speed In or Training Speed Out

Speed is the most precious of all the biomotor qualities. It is dependent of fine motor control, coordination and explosiveness. That being said, training speed out of someone is simply emphasizing the type of training that negates those qualities. Speed and Endurance are at opposite end of the spectrum. You can train both, but not to the fullest extent of each at the same time. There must always be a thread of speed development work throughout a program in any sport. If you get too far away from speed then it is hard to get it back because it such a neural quality. The concept of “Training speed through endurance” is contradictory and basically fallacious. I conceptualize speed as an electric shock that excites the nervous system. For the middle distance and distance athlete and any sport that has an endurance component this is a good way to think about it. Use it wisely, do not overdue and remember that speed development must have a foundation of good movement mechanics for optimal development.

Energy Systems – Excerpt from Athletic Development – The Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning

The following is an excerpt from my book Athletic Development – The Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning, Chapter Seven – Energy and Work Capacity. I thought it might help to clarify the use of the energy systems in training.

“The next point in regard to the development of work capacity is the concept of training the energy systems. When the concept of training the energy systems was first articulated in the book “Interval Training” by Fox and Mathews in 1974 this was major breakthrough in training. It was presented in such a manner that concepts and ideas that had been the exclusive domain of the scientist in the lab were articulated in terms and a context that coaches and practitioners could apply. Unfortunately as the concepts gained in popularity it seems we have deviated from some simple scientific facts.

Conceptually, the energy systems are intensity dependent, not time dependent. Somehow the misconception has arisen that the energy systems function like a set of timed switches that sequentially turn on as the duration of exercise increases. In actual fact all three energy systems are “turned on” at the beginning of exercise. Essentially the proportionate contribution of each system will vary with the intensity and duration of the effort. ATP is necessary for movement; it is manufactured aerobically or anaerobically depending on the intensity of the exercise. Furthermore, the energy systems must interact with the other systems of the body to ensure that the output is an efficient, smooth, and coordinated action. We always train the energy systems, but it will not be an up front objective. Consideration is always given to the dominate energy system demands of the various training activities relative to the demands of the sport. This is to guide us, but it is not the sole objective in a workout.”


Thoughts on Speed Training from Stephan Widmer

Stephan is an outstanding sprint coach. He is the Head Coach of the Queensland State Swimming Centre in Brisbane, Australia. He coaches sprint swimmers, but the more I get to know him I am convinced he could coach speed in any discipline. Here are some ideas that he presented on speed development at the ASCA Convention last week in San Diego. It is interesting to note that he is a graduate of the Federal Technical Institute in Zürich Switzerland. He has an excellent foundation in sport science, but also has the practical foundation of being of being a top class swimmer and a graduate of a program that required proficiency in at least ten sports (very much like our traditional Physical education majors used to be in the states). I think regardless of the sport you will find these ideas to be common sense and useful.

Coach must have a passion for speed and power

Speed improves through skill

Attention to detail is necessary

Stresses to his swimmer – How good is your worst repetition

3R’s – Rhythm, Range and Relaxation

High Level of concentration necessary and less space for error

Constant flow of energy and body parts

Specific training and race modeling necessary for sprint events (Could not help but think of Gary Winckler’s race models here)

Learn from TES (Top End Speed)

Training needs to be distance specific in terms of Top End Speed (TES), Front End Speed (FES) and Back End Speed (BES)

What is Back End Speed (BES) training without Front End (FES) stimulation?

Must account for difference between genders

Start with Speed – Early in the season the swimmers are fresh, this is a perfect time for speed. Good time to feel speed and teach speed.

Beware of training speed into the athlete versus training speed out of the athlete (This really hit home with me, especially in the middle distance and distance events where we have people thinking speed through endurance)

Speed demands high a skill level and fast execution of precise movements

Train different speed zones

Energy system readiness rather than energy system emphasis

Thought on Strength Training

Rob Sleamaker, inventor of the Vasa Trainer www.vasatrainer.com shared this thought with me in regard to strength training: “We want muscles that are built in, not built on.” Think about that for awhile, it should get you thinking.

In Spite Of, Not Because Of

Remember above all else talent will prevail. The cornerstone of a great program is a system of talent identification and acquisition. In the American non system it is recruiting. Now you got them what do you do? Some people are smart enough to leave them alone and let the talent rise to the top, this is very Darwinian and is typically in sports like professional baseball. The scary part is that sometimes the athletes are so talented that no matter what you they will prevail. I went to a presentation at ASCA from the coach of an American record holding sprint swimmer that blew me away. The weight training program was right out of the 1970’s, a body building program that Arnold would have been proud of, the swim program in the water training was more like what you would do with an open water swimmer. Truly amazing, but I see this all the time. Sure there are many roads to Rome, some are more direct and some more circuitous. The scary part is that it is 2007, we do know better. There are scientific principles that are not refutable, there is also good practice. Neither can be ignored. I am amazed that people lose games because their players get slower and hurt, but there is never a connection made to training. It is particularly ironic that many of these people preach that they do not want to do anything in training that might cause the athletes to get hurt. They never sensitize them in practice to the demands of the sport and expect something miraculous to happen on Saturday or Sunday. Let’s get real and pragmatic and take a educated proactive approach to training the athletes we work with. Everyone can get better if aided by a systematic sequential and progressive training program.


I am continually amazed at how experience is both undervalued and overvalued. It is overvalued because we get caught in the trap of thinking of experience in terms of years rather than what went into the years. My mentor and friend Joe Vigil put it quite well when he said to me one time: “You can have thirty tears experience by having the same experience thirty times or you can have a new experience each year for thirty years and truly have thirty years experience.” In my estimation truer words have never been spoken. I see this all the time. The coaches and professionals that I admire and emulate are the people who have had different experiences. They have tried new things and failed; they have pushed the boundaries and gotten out of their comfort zone. They have used their experience as a launching pad, not an anchor. I spent a fair bit of time at the ASCA Convention with Nort Thornton, the Men’s swim coach at Cal Berkeley who has just retired but will continue to coach there. He is a prime example of a coach whose experiences are valued. He was attending presentations and taking notes. He is 75 years old and still learning and trying to improve what he does with swimmers. He has been an inspiration to me over the years because of his approach. Has he made mistakes, sure he has, but he has learned from his mistakes and not repeated them over and over. He made an interesting comment to me after a young coach had come up and commented to me that he wished I had shown more videos of exercises during my talk, Nort said: “ They want the x’s and o’s but they don’t know the why’s, they all want the recipe but they have not learned how to cook yet.” I will close with a quote from Aldus Huxley: “Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens.”


Blocking Change and Innovation

Perhaps the two biggest and also the most frequently occurring blocks to change and innovation are two simple statements:We already do that and let me play devils advocate. I have heard those two statements way too much recently. They lead to maintenance of the status quo and eventual stagnation. Obviously if you already do something then there is no need to seek out change and innovation, but what if what you are doing is not producing results? By playing devils advocate you are already thinking about why an idea cannot work instead of think how it could work. Those are just a couple of thoughts for those of you that are working in an environment that stifles change and innovation. Sometimes being a change agent is not comfortable.

Nutrition and Health

The current issue of Scientific American www.sciam.com is a special issue devoted to Diet, Health and the Food Supply. I found it quite thought provoking.It is truly amazing to see how fast obesity has spread throughout the world.


Back Online

Just returned from the ASCA Conference in San Diego, it was great experience. I really enjoyed seeing old friends and just talking coaching for three days. The following is the outline of my Coaching Excellence talk that I gave. It was a huge honor for me to present this since it was the Doc Counsilman memorial lecture. Doc Counsilman was a great swim coach at Indiana and an icon in coaching in general. His work certainly had a huge influence on my career.

Coaching Excellence


Share Provoke Motivate Excite

The Story

“Training the best to be better”

Following the functional path

Think Big Picture

Sustained Excellence

“You do not merely want to be the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.” Jerry Garcia

“A Champion is something you have been and can become – it is never something you are” Bjorn Daehlie

Why is the Dinosaur Extinct?

They were completely adapted!

Why did the cockroach survive?

They are adaptable

Are you adaptable or adapted?

Lessons from “Good to Great”

#1 – First who – then what

#2 – Confront the brutal facts and never lose faith`

#3 - A culture of discipline

#4 – Use technology as an accelerator not a centerpiece

#5 – Good to great does not happen overnight, it is a process


Time Zones

Past >>> Present >>> Future


Be here now! In the moment

Bill Jensen “The Simplicity Survival Handbook”

Say no more often

Question more often

Call Time Out and Whoa more often

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” Alan Kay


Change is a Constant

Instituting Change

Outside the tent pissing in or inside the tent pissing out


“Walking the Stairway” - Success comes one step at a time

“Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens.” Aldus Huxley

Personal Productivity
Achievement Zones

Comfort >> Performance >> High Performance >> Peak

Mindset – Fixed or Growth

Acceptable is not good enough, it must be exceptional

ICE - Intensity Concentration Effort

“Win the workout”

Often what you do not do is as important as what you actually do!

Seek knowledge rather than information

Specialize in being a generalist

Get a mentor not a guru


Are you training them or are you coaching them?

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. Bob Sutton

Start with what you know; then remove the unknowns

Sometimes the best management is no management at all -- first do no harm! Bob Sutton

95 percent of any creative profession is shit work

If everything is equally important, then nothing is very important

Don’t over-think a problem

The rest of the world counts

Failure & Risk

“Fail Forward” – Tom Peters

Keep changing – whether you win or lose

Know your weaknesses - and do something about them

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take” Wayne Gretsky

Believe in yourself – If it is to be, it is up to me!

Call to Action

Be a leader not a follower

Achieve mastery

Beware of Sheep Walking

Free the Lunatic Within!

Take Care of the 98%

Remember it is not about you or me, it is about the ATHLETE

“There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less.” Kurt Hahn


Following a Training Road map

This is a short excerpt from a forthcoming article in Training and Conditioning www.momentummedia.com tentatively titled “Following a Training Road map.”

Each journey is unique, even if the destination is not. Sometimes the weather will be clear, other times stormy. Sometimes construction or a special event may slow you down or steer you toward another route. If you’re taking a fully loaded truck, you’ll probably want to take a different route than if you have a sports car.

Similarly, no two athletes are the same. Even when it appears they’re going to the same destination, they may need to get there via different routes. Each sport has unique demands, as does each position or event within a sport. Developing athletic performance is a complex process with seemingly endless variables in play.

However, to make the journey more manageable, you must look for similarities in movements and common characteristics between sports and individual positions. If you don’t, the complexity will be too great. You’ll either get lost entirely or revert to a one-dimensional training philosophy and trade effectiveness for simplicity.

Regardless of the destination, the most effective roads on the functional path are progressive and sequential, giving the athlete increasingly difficult movement problems to solve, a process known as adaptation. The body is highly adaptable, and if left to its own devices, will find a way to get the job done. We do not need a detailed script or a paint-by-numbers approach. That only stifles an athlete’s creativity and limits their natural movement patterns. Still, you must have a well-planned progression that builds on previous gains to keep the athlete moving forward.

There will be speed limits, red lights, and construction zones along the way, all of which must be accounted for. While it may be tempting to ignore those limits, doing so may actually slow you down if you end up being pulled over for speeding, find yourself breaking down, or get into an accident. Similarly, if you rush the adaptation process by having athletes try to lift too much, too soon or move on to more complex movements before mastering basic ones, you risk doing more harm than good. Only the proper progression will lead you to your ultimate athletic destination.


I am heading to San Diego to speak at the American Swim Coaches Association. I will be giving two talks: Thoughts of Dryland Training and Coaching Excellence. I love spending time with this group of coaches. By and large they get it. Where else would you be able to get 400 coaches to come to a two hour talk on Dryland Training at 6:30 in the morning. I am looking forward to the next four days as an opportunity to learn, exchange ideas and visit with old friends.

A Sign of the Times

The following sign was posted at the foot of the stairs in a medical building where I was going to get a blood test:

Check with Doctor before Climbing Stairs

To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement. I almost turned around and took the elevator. I went ahead and climbed the stairs without asking a doctor; in fact I even climbed a second flight of stairs.

I was struck with the irony of all this. I had just come from a doctor’s appointment where I sat and tried to explain to a doctor a upper respiratory problem that I had been having the past month. I emphasize tried to talk to the doctor. The whole time I was talking to him he was not listening, he was writing out orders for tests. When I saw the sign all I could think about was why would I check with a doctor before climbing the stairs. Hell you go to a doctor when you are sick and even then they can’t help 90% of the time. Welcome to America 2007! Beware of your local doctor he or she may be harmful to your health.


Training Tool - The Front Snorkel

This is a tool I have used the last seven years. I am by no means a technically sound swimmer but the front snorkel enables me to swim with a semblance of good technique. It enables you to hold a good position in the water and rotate on the long axis. This is a good tool to use with a non-swimming athlete who wants to swim for recovery or as a supplementary aerobic workout. It allows swimmers to concentrate on body balance, head position and stroke technique by eliminating the breathing cycle rotation. Breathing through a snorkel while swimming, increases the capacity of the lungs to expel air, required for optimal intake of oxygen. It is made by Finis www.finisinc.com (Disclaimer - I do not get paid them, they do give me discounts on their equipment)

The “F” Word – Function

Joe P wrote me the following: You use to use the phrase "all training is functional training". As a matter of fact, you once spoke of moving away from the "F" word. Elaborate on what changed your mind, and if you still stand by that quote. Joe I still stand by the quote, now more than ever. But as you know it must be considered in context. What activity or exercise are you using relative to the desired outcome? I think of function as continuum from 0 to 10, O is death and 10 is the actual activity you are training for. If the majority of your training is not in the 7 to 10 range on the ten point scale then you are lower on the continuum of function and it will probably take longer to achieve your goals if in fact you do.

Yes I tried to get away from using the word function or functional. Around late 2002 early 2003 I felt it all had become trivialized. Everything began to be called “functional training or functional rehab.” Of course by my definition as stated above that was correct, but it all became very confusing. It seemed that more weird and far out you could make the activity the more “functional” it was. In many respects this continues today, it has not reached its nadir. As a person who has been espousing this approach far longer than I would care to remember, I felt a debt of responsibility and still do to clarify and define not confuse and trivialize. That is why I finally finished the new book whose purpose was two fold: 1) to define the field of Athletic Development and 2) to clarify and give parameters to functional training as it is applied to the athlete.

Some of my hesitancy to use the “F” word was an overreaction to an uncomfortable position I was put in week after week while appearing with the Perform Better road show. I was explaining concepts and showing exercises and movements that represented what I espoused to be functional training. Everything that I showed had simple progressions that demanded mastery of one step before moving to the next step. That is the way I was taught and continue to teach. It was more than a hodge podge of exercises and equipment. For me the straw that broke the camels back was the fact that week after week I had the station following Mike Boyle’s station. At his station the people lay on the ground and put a little mini cone on their bellies and tried to suck the cone in to learn the infamous “drawing in maneuver,” the secret to core function. Then they would come to me and we would work through a progression of reaches and bends designed to feed through the core and lead to higher level movements’. This was all done standing and moving involving gait. The juxtaposition could not have been greater.

The options were to fight them, join them or get the hell out of dodge. I chose the later and disappeared for awhile to get my bearing and make sure that I had not lost my compass. I stepped back and looked long and hard at my philosophy and the science behind what I believed in. I came to the conclusion that I had been on the right path, the “functional path.” I decided to retake the high ground and reclaim the use of the word in the context of what I believe it to be in regard to Athletic Development and rehab. That is my mission going forward, no hidden agendas, no impending certifications, no inner circles or outer bands, just education and research to keep learning and moving forward.


John Perry Interview

I forgot I had the following interview with John Perry from two years ago. John was with me at University of Michigan and gave us some really neat input into some exercises because he brought a different set of eyes to swimming. He has a great eye for movement and a deep understanding of function. He has worked both as a physical therapist and as a coach.

What are the essential requirements of a conditioning program?

The activities must fit the results you are trying to achieve. The “why” behind what is being done should come first when designing the program. This should be backed by scientific fact, theory, research and experience (of the coach or others).

One workout must build on the next, i.e. workout # 3 is being done to prepare for activities or results in workout # 7.

There must be a rhyme and reason for all speed, strength and even flexibility work. This would include intensity, volume, rest and variation.

A program must include constant evaluation and re-evaluation of the athlete and team.

Flexibility in the program is a must. The program must be written in a way to allow for modification when needed.

What have been your biggest mistakes?

No “why” behind what is being done.

No plan of action from one workout to the next.

No “end in mind”…i.e no progression to the routines.

No consideration of volume, intensity, work load and rest as variables when designing a program.

What is functional training?

Training the body as a linked system. Also, training movements vs. individual muscles.

Actually, all movement is functional, otherwise we would not move (like when we sleep to recuperate). Should maybe be called purposeful training or directed training or goal-specific training…O.k. I’m done.

How do I make more things more functional?

Evaluate the task and/or goal the athlete is trying to achieve or improve upon. Direct my training based on the biomechanics required for the task, event etc.

This may mean part to whole or whole to part training…it will depend on my continued assessment of the athlete and their activity. It will also depend on their performance in the activity.

What is specificity?

To me, it is anytime you are doing a directed activity to achieve a specific result. “I am doing x because I want a y result. It is also going back to putting the “why” into your design. Basically, it is the reason behind your training.

With the plethora of information how do you know what is best?

I base it on science and research. Any form of training has to have as its foundation some scientific fact or research.

Honestly, I can tell by the way the article is written whether or not it is worth my time. The flow, the examples, the case studies all demonstrate whether an article is worth reading . Ultimately, it is the science and/or research behind it that gets my attention.

What about nature vs. nurture?

I have yet to find an athlete, male or female, that I could not find something to improve upon.

Even Michael Jordan had problems with patellar tendonitis, Shaq and his big toe. (Both biomechanical problem in my opinion…without having looked at them, of course). Whether its posture, flexibility, weakness etc. something can be found to make an athlete more efficient and therefore improve his or her performance.

In some cases a small tweak can make a huge difference…like a compounding effect.

Some changes result in pain decreases, some are improvements in movement or efficiency…all can result in improved performance.

I believe there is a big mental component to performance as well. This should also be part of the training regimen.

Different with females conditioning?

Nothing. I will expect their times and loads (on average) to be different. Overall, their program designs look the same as the men’s.

I do have to emphasize more hip strength/awareness to prevent excessive knee adduction on my female athletes. Trunk strength is another area I emphasize with women.

But, other than some biomechanical considerations the routines vary little.

Biggest innovation? Future innovation?

The biggest innovation I have seen is the way we look at anatomy, physiology and kinesiology. Looking at movement from a loading to exploding perspective. Training from the standpoint of training synergies vs. individual muscles. Yes, this is not a new concept, but it has been emphasized more in the “functional” movement trend lately.

The biggest room for innovation may be in the mental aspect of training. Motivation, visualization, goal setting etc. are huge components of training, often left to sports psychologists and head team coaches.

Personally, I incorporate motivation into each workout in some way. In fact, during the last training day of each week I allot time for reflection of the past week, future goal setting, questions and comments.

Future strategies for the “mental game” would be a nice adjunct to any training program, at any level.

The biggest issue

Using your time wisely or getting the biggest bang for your buck. There is only so much time to train with so many athletes competing on a regular (and too often) basis.

Athletes today play a sport year round. They often play in more competitions away from school, in special leagues, than they do for their own school.

More training and less competition should be the norm. So, fitting in training and the right amount is challenging. Training either has to be very directed to work on a specific issue or very encompassing due to low frequency of training sessions.

Also, as mentioned above, I think the mental aspect of training need s to be addressed more. With school, jobs, competitions and just trying to figure out life, athletes need to work on focus, time management and motivation.

Professional challenges?

As a Physical therapist my biggest challenge has been dealing with insurance companies. It basically drove me out of the private practice setting. However, this turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me, career wise.

Dealing with coaches at the college level would be another issue. Sometimes it is a great learning experience. I have learned a lot about the art of communication and persuasion through these experiences.

Likes/dislikes about coaching

I enjoy teaching. As the saying goes; “If I train you I can help you today. If I teach you I can help you for a lifetime.” Educating my clients is the best part of the job…keeps me on my toes too.

This goes for athletes, coaches and parents. Listening to the needs of these same clients is also important. A mentor of mine always reminded me; “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” You can learn a lot if you just listen.

There are aspects of dealing with these clients I do not like. It usually involves a parent or coach affecting the training by some ill-advised decision they make. The athlete suffers and I have to put out a fire.

Fork in the road?

I was faced with continuing to deal with insurance companies or to lose some security and go out on my own. I ran a performance enhancement center involving physical therapy and performance enhancement training.

Between insurance companies and dealing with employee relations, I decided to move out on my own. I have never looked back.

Who has inspired you to get into coaching?

My dad, uncle and other family members were all coaches. I began coaching when I started working with local high school teams for injury prevention.

Is failure ever valuable?

I think Knowledge is valuable. This is where teaching comes in. The more knowledge you have the less mistakes will be made. Mistakes or failures occur, the fewer the better, however. I think everyone can get to success faster by making fewer mistakes along the way.

Learning from your mistakes is very important. In fact, I would rather call them learning experiences. Personally, I would rather learn the right way to do something…perfect practice makes perfect. Confidence will then improve and success is achieved.

I think that if athletes, coaches and parents are educated and taught correctly then failure will not occur as often. Watching a kid fail by doing something incorrectly and then just telling them what they are doing wrong should not even be called coaching. Coaches should instruct or tweak the athlete, consciously or subconsciously, into the right movement or correct performance of the task.

Letting an athlete fail to teach them a “lesson” is a waste of their time and mine. I feel there are very few exceptions to this. Now, you can let them perform an activity and coach, tweak or modify their movement as they go. Give them feedback as they get closer and closer to the desired result.

I don’t even like to term failure.

As far as the term failure when talking about strength training:

I tell my athletes to go to fatigue, or “go until you cannot get another rep with correct form.” I will do this with body weight exercises occasionally.

Changes encouraged and which resisted?

I think it is good that we are looking for more and more ways to get information out to other coaches and professionals. Seminars, workshops, videos, CD’s and the internet are some off the vehicles being used. I feel this can only improve what we do and benefit those we work with. This is ultimately why we do what we do, right? We are trying to enhance the lives of those we train and educate?

However, I feel not every Tom, Dick or Harry with a “certification” needs a microphone. I realize everyone has a right to their opinion and right to make a living. But, the title of expert or “guru” should be justified and earned before they are tagged as such.

Weeding through the myriad of today’s trash to get to the treasure is part of a professional’s repertoire…or at least it should be. It helps to be a good detective if you want to be a good coach these days.

No Positives!

Truly amazing, at the conclusion of competition in the World Track & Field championships there have been no positive drug tests announced. That leads me to think one of two things: 1) The outlaws are ahead of the law again 2) There is another cover-up – if in doubt throw the piss down the toilet! You draw you own conclusions but if you think of it from a pure statistical viewpoint to have no positives given the number of athletes competing is almost impossible. Sorry for the cynicism but I have been there before.

The Recipe

You can have all the ingredients of a great meal but without a cook who has a feel and touch for what they are doing, a clear vision of the finished meal, and good recipes to blend all the ingredients in a systematic manner, you have nothing. For good lessons in coaching watch the food channel!


This anonymous comment was sent in regard to my post on hamstring injuries:

Vern, Running curves and arches could compromise the ankles of a player already playing his/her sport. Sprint straight ahead while training and leave the lateral movements to the sport itself.

This is exactly what has caused the problem. You must prepare for the demands of the game. Strength is only one piece of the puzzle. You must prepare for the torque involved and learn proper running technique as it must be adapted to the game. One of the reason there are so many more injuries today than ever before is because they are taking that approach. You must train to play not play to train! If these guys would take fifteen minutes a day and pay attention to preparation to play you would see a significant reduction in injuries. Instead they all do a group stretch, jog a bit and declare themselves ready to rev up the engines. How many times have I heard: “I will turn it on when the lights come on” A loser’s lament.


Partners In Command

I just finished reading Partners in Command – George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace by Mark Perry. I thoroughly enjoyed it on several levels. As one who fancies himself a student of modern history, the insights into the relationships between the countries and their leaders was very interesting. I did not realize how much interaction Eisenhower and Marshall actually had with FDR and Churchill.

I also could not help but draw parallels to today. These two men were leaders who were very well prepared for their roles. They were not political appointments, although army politics did play a factor in their choice. They were selfless and completely devoted to service of their country. The magnitude of the decisions they made weighted heavily on them, they weighed all the alternatives, but they made the decisions and lived with the results.

It also made me think again of the admonishment “those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.” The seeds of what is happening in the world today both on the Middle East and in the Orient were sown in the days immediately following world war two.

Here is a line from a letter Marshall wrote to Eisenhower when Eisenhower was elected president: “I pray especially for you in the choice of those near you. That choice, more than anything else, will determine the problems of the year and the record of history. Make them measure up to your standards.” It is too bad George Bush did not have a George Marshall to mentor him. These men were truly the last of a breed.

The Madness of the Method

Air, water, dumbbells, smartbells, free weight, machines, altitude submersion – use whatever you choose – all is for naught if it is not based on sound training principles grounded in sports science and proven practice. It is not the training methods or the exercise, it is the system. When and where does the method fit? When is it appropriate to include? When is it a=inappropriate? How can the training effect be measured? The fact is that sound training requires direction and purpose. The goal of a systematic is to achieve results that can be consistently repeated.



I have had several people ask me why baseball does not change. The comments were something like this – After all those are multi-million dollar players, don’t they want them to get better? The answer is simple and it transcends baseball. In order to change you must want to change. Then you must make a sincere and total commitment to change. You have to wipe the slate clean and start anew. There are so many examples in the sport world from this past week it is mind boggling. American throwers fall flat on their faces in World Championships – Why? Because their preparation and training are stuck in the past it is about as contemporary as a Jefferson Airplane vinyl album. Alan Webb fails to medal – it was very predictable. He is trained to run for time, not to race. Change is constant and uncomfortable. To hang with the big dogs and perform at the highest levels, demands a high level of discomfort. Many are not will to pay that price and many other do not know how to get there.