Symphony or Jazz

Is movement and movement skill a symphony or is it more like jazz - improvisational? Yesterday when I was working with my beach volleyball players this thought occurred to me. We were working on some movement patterns and I had fallen back into the old trap of teaching them like robots, a step here, crossover there when I flashed that this was borderline useless. They have to be like Miles Davis, they need to know the notes and improvise, just play. So what I need to do is sharpen their knowledge of the notes and let them play and see what happens. I can rehearse them like a symphony but they are not playing Carnegie Hall, they are playing in a jazz club in the Village. I am reading a real thought provoking book that has really challenged my thinking on all of this. The book is Dynamics of Skill Acquisition – A Constraints-Led Approach, by Keith Davids, Chris Button, and Simon Bennett. The concepts presented will make you think of movement more like jazz. Every move is an opportunity for personal expression. Teach them the notes, sharpen the notes and let them play!


Throw Downs

The exercise that you see Jalen Rose doing in this video was at one time a very popular exercise.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nq54mOaZAQI I personally used to do them all the time, until I realized that every day after including them in my workouts my low back was sore. I took them out of my toolbox awhile ago. Have an evaluative criteria for selecting an exercise or a training method, just copying someone else does not get it done. Ask yourself: Does it work multiple planes of motion, is it proprioceptively demanding, does it address the demands of the sport, what is the context it is used, how do you progress form this exercise?


For the reader who commented on the shoes that the Venice girls are wearing, I could not agree more. I do not advocate the higher heeled shoes worn as training shoes today. I also believe in training barefoot given the correct surface and situation. All of that being said, now let’s be practical. I do not have control over what shoes these kids wear. It is totally their choice based on what they can and cannot afford. Also as you can until we go indoors in June all the training is done asphalt. As homework I have assigned certain players barefoot work. In addition there is a big emphasis on three dimensional clave stretching. As a side note tone of the girls who broke her wrists last fall and was unable to participate in practice did all her plyo work during that time on the court barefoot. Before that she has problems with chronic ankle sprains – no more, in addition a nice vertical jump improvement.


Wisdom of the Body

R. A. Dickey a pitcher for the Seattle Mariners does not have an ulnar collateral ligament. There is a story in today’s New York Times sports page about this. “For him to be able to throw at all is pretty phenomenal in itself,” said Rick Griffin, the Mariners’ head athletic trainer. “But he’s doing it in the major leagues. People in sports amaze you physically, but this is something you’d never suspect. It’s like a running back in the N.F.L. having no anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. It’s amazing.” Is this really that amazing or is another case illustrating the wisdom of the body? Jerry Reuss, who had a long (20 plus years) and a very successful major league career as a starting pitcher was missing one of his rotator cuff muscles. Roy Wegerle, a member of two US World Cup soccer teams had no ACL. In the days before we were so quick to put the player under the knife or MRI every ache and pain I suspect there were a lot pitchers throwing with torn rotator cuff muscles and labrums. When I played football there were a fair number of players around who had a “trick knee”, I now realize that they did not an intact ACL. What does all this mean, simply that the body has a highly innate intelligence. It can substitute and compensate if it needs to. The body is self organizing and completely adaptive. Out of fear or insecurity we fail to give the body credit and allow it to do its job. If we understand the structure and function of the body we would quickly realize it is not about one muscle or a particular ligament, it is about muscle synergies. It is analogous to a good a good basketball coach during a game, when the coach sees a player getting tired the coach will put in a substitute. The body has many substitutes we just have to make sure that all those substitutes are as highly trained and finely tuned as the starters so they can do the job when called upon. How do you do that? Simple train across a spectrum of movements, with resistance and assistance, work though all planes of motion to challenge the body to solve increasingly complex movement problems.


Where’s the switch?

Where is the switch to turn on those magic muscles in Shaq’s butt? The drivel and misinformation that is passed around continues to amaze me. “He has weakness in his gluteus muscles” according to Phoenix suns trainer Aaron Nelson. Wait it gets better: “The medical issues that forced the 7’1” O’Neal to miss sixteen games this season were not, they say precipitated by structural abnormalities, widespread tendinitis or lingering ramifications from surgeries to his right big toe (a bone spur removed in 2002) and left knee (a scope in 2006). Rather, the tight and weak muscles have prevented have prevented him from moving freely. “We can get those areas firing,” says Nelson.” Sports Illustrated, February 18, 2008 page 35. This is just another example of the reductionist approach that does not work. The athlete becomes dependent on the therapist to “activate and get those muscles firing”, they do not get a feel for their body and the movements necessary to stay healthy and efficient. It is amazing to me that they dismiss the toe surgery and left knee scope as unimportant. If you have anything wrong with your big toe it sets off a chain reaction up the kinetic chain that will cause a myriad of problems. Sure he is tight in his calves and hips, he has to be to be to make up for what is happening down the chain with his toe and knee. Folks this is not rocket science, think big picture and remember it is ultimately about the athlete. He must be motivated and compliant and want to get better and stay healthy. Stop looking for the switch to turn on those magic muscles and focus on movements and coordination of the body parts working together.

Lifting Real Weight

This was posted in response to my post on the Venice Girls program – “FOR THE RECORD - This team got smoked by Palisades Charter HS which is lead by three girls that lift real wts and regularly perform Olympic lifts. Palisades Charter HS, not Venice, won the League and City Championships.” Sorry friend get your facts straight, this is Venice High School in Florida, not California. As far as lifting real weight bring your girls back to do a workout with us anytime and see who is fit to play volleyball. We are not preparing weight lifters we are preparing volleyball players. One of the biggest impediment to progress is that idea that you have to “lift real weight” to get strong and powerful. Last night one of the beach volleyball players lifted over 6,000 pounds total load in a dumbbell complex series. No matter how you slice it that is a lot of real weight, lifted through full ranges of motion in multiple planes. A high pull and a snatch are Olympic lifting movements whether they are done with a bar, dumbbell, kettelebell or a sandbag! Welcome to the real world where we are training adaptable athletes to be better volleyball players.


Weight Room Without Walls

Outside or inside it does not matter - A hallway is just as good - Get it done! Never let facilities or lack thereof limit a workout. Never let equipment or a lack of it limit your training. Building champions is about getting the job done, not style points.

Venice Volleyball Workout – February 21, 2008

These are pictures from yesterday’s workout. These girls are awesome! I thought the group last year was focused and worked hard, but these kids have taken it up a notch. As you can see by our “facility” it is not about facilities! We have a great “weight room without walls.” Spirit, work ethic, imagination and effort make up facilities. What you see in these pictures is all you ever need to prepare teams to win championships!

A Thought from Steve Myrland

Steve Myrland and were talking about various presenters and presentation we have heard when he shared this thought with me:

There are two kinds of presenters*:

The kind that want you to know what they know

The kind that want you to be impressed by what they know

* You are wise to mistrust both


Venice Volleyball 2008 Training Plan

Venice High School Volleyball

2008 Training Plan Overview

Mission Statement

To train with intensity, concentration and effort to be the most athletic

and specifically fit volleyball team in Florida

General Theme

Make Connections





Foundation I

Get Structurally Strong

Lay the Foundation

Six Weeks



Test and teach

Foundation II

Strengthen the Foundation

Six Weeks



Build the volume with DB Complex & Leg Circuit


Fast & Explosive

Six Weeks



Higher intensity work/ lower volume


Get Vertical

Six Weeks


Emphasis on Jump Improvement

Pre Season


Six weeks


Integrate strength, power and jump gains with VB skills

Competition I


Six Weeks


Individualized programs

3 x week

Competition II


Three - Four Weeks


Individualized programs

2 - 3 x week

Championship Season


Three Weeks



Individualized programs

2 x week

Why Train Like the Pro’s?

Even if you are a pro why would want to train like the pro’s train. Stop and think for a minute, it is a big mistake. I see so many commercial programs that advertise using this mantra. Is what they are doing athlete appropriate or is one size fits all? Let’s remember one thing about the pro’s, that their main focus is competition, the actual time they have to prepare for competition is minimal. It is a fundamentally flawed model, so why copy it. The other thing to remember is that the pros are physically mature; they do not have to deal with growth and development. Do you really know how the pro’s train, don’t believe the hype on commercials or what you see on ESPN. Over the years what I have seen of professional teams training is often eyewash, they are benign programs designed to not get someone hurt in training rather than doing things to make them better. Sure there are some real good programs out there, but a common characteristic of those is the unqualified support of the head coach, that does not happen often. Here is one example I just heard about that is almost comical if it were not true. A pro football team now has a scanner that scans the player’s body and through some magical process determines which individual muscles are weak and then the results are given to the strength coach with instructions to strengthen those muscles. WOW, isn’t that neat, I think I will find out if can get the franchise for that machine! How about Ladanian Tomlinson’s secret workout that appeared on the television program Sixty Minutes? Real secrets, BOSU, slide board and medicine ball, give me a break. Anyone can beat someone up and make him or her tired, but that is not training. Training is specific directed work with a goal and purpose. The message: Don’t train like the pros, train using good sound principles and methodology that takes advantage of the cumulative effect of training. You are invited to come and see the Venice Girls volleyball team train, they are more professional in their approach than most pros.


GAIN Apprentorship Opportunity

Don't miss out on this opportunity to innovate and learn. For more information go to www.gambetta.com/pdf/ApprentorshipOverview.pdf or for an application go to www.gambetta.com/pdf/ApprentorshipAp.doc Feel free to write me at gstscoach@gmail.com or call me at 941-379-3455 if you have other questions.


Thought for Today

"A champion is something you have been and can become - it is never something you are" Bjorn Daehlie

Strengths Finder

I was exposed to these ideas in the audio book version of Now, Discover Your Strengths which I listened to on a drive across country after a disastrous work experience. The message struck home with me, but I never actually used the assessment until this January. I was at the book store and picked up Strengths Finder 2.0. I did the online assessment; it was thought provoking and helpful to gain further insights on a path of continual improvement.


How often have you heard the statement: “I tried that and it did not work” or the other classic,” that will not work here.” How often are you limited by your experience? What do you do with your experiences? Aldus Huxley said: “Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens.” In my career I have been around too many people who have had 30 years of experience, when in reality they have had one experience thirty times. Each situation, in fact each new day is an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to gain new experiences. Just because something did not work before does not mean it will not work now under a new set of circumstances. Use past experiences as a springboard for growth. The beauty of coaching is that we are change agents. Our job is to constantly force change and adaptation in the people we work with, but sometimes I think we forget that we must change and adapt to foster continued growth.


Wisconsin Track Coaches Association

The clinic this past Friday and Saturday was one of the best have spoken at in years. It was so uplifting to see a group of coaches so eager to learn and share. They asked great questions. I think the parents and children of Wisconsin are very lucky to have the caliber of professionals that I saw and interacted with this past weekend working with their children. I think what struck was the number of coaches that were actually teachers, in so many other states there are more and more “walk on” coaches. By “walk on” I mean coaches not employed as teachers, but who come to coach after school to coach. That is what I do art Venice High School with volleyball and I know having been a teacher that it is just not the same. I think that there is a real advantage for the coach being able to be around the school all day and actually have the athletes in the classroom as students. It presents a bigger picture to the coach and the athlete. This is such an important age for the development off the athlete, not just athletically but cognitively and emotionally. If you ever get a chance to go to this clinic it is well worth it. I am going to go back again even if I am not speaking.


Monica Seles

I saw yesterday that Monica announced her retirement. She is one of my favorite athletes, a real class act. I had the honor of working her for about five months in 1998-99. She was as focused as any athlete I have ever worked with. Never complained about anything, very positive. She certainly is the antithesis of some of the spoiled prima donnas of today. She was a very good athlete who was given a very good athletic foundation by her first coach who was here father. He had been a triple jumper and trained in the elements of track and field. I wish her all the best in her life outside of tennis; something tells me that in the future we will be hearing more from her. All the best Monica - you have been a terrific role model for young and old!



I sure do respect all of you that live in cold weather. I am in Milwaukee to speak at the Wisconsin Track Coaches Association, it is 11 degrees right now with a whole bunch of snow on the ground. I will never complain again when my wife wants me to rake leaves in 75 degree weather, sure beats shoveling snow. It also explains all those Wisconsin license plates in Sarasota. Seriously I am looking forward to the clinic, there are over 1,000 coaches in attendance. Hope to keep them some practical ideas appropriate for high school boys and girls.

Good Quote

Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results. ~ George S. Patton



Why was congress having a hearing on drug use in baseball? I did not watch it, I was traveling all day, I would not have watched it if had been home. The commentary that I heard on the News Hour last night made it sound like a soap opera, which it is. I could not but help but think that with all the issues that we have in our country today, why is congress wasting their time on this. Don’t get me wrong, I dead set against drug use in sport, but this served no purpose. Who was not lying? There is no solution to this problem that is outside the commissioner’s office, it is amazing how silent the great Bud Selig is on this. I really believe he hopes it will all go away, all he cares about is asses on numbers, selling tickets.


From the Ground Up

I read this quote yesterday from Japanese player Kosuke Fukudome, who will play for the Chicago Cubs this year. Despite what many American hitting gurus think it is not the hands! Strong powerful legs and core, this guy gets it:

“I was explaining to them that if you told a man to stand on his hands for a day, he couldn’t do it,” Fukudome said. “But if you told him to stand on his legs for a day, that would be no problem. The point is your legs have more power than your arms so when you’re batting, you’ve always got to be concerned with how to transfer the power of your legs to the bat in your hands.

“Since the hips are the midpoint between the two, the way you rotate them is crucial for delivering the strength from your legs. This isn’t the stuff of home runs, it’s about effectively harnessing the power from below to make contact with a strongly pitched ball and not be beaten by its strength.”


Latest on Muscle Fatigue

Finding May Solve Riddle of Fatigue in Muscles

The New York Times, Published: February 12, 2008

One of the great unanswered questions in physiology is why muscles get tired. The experience is universal, common to creatures that have muscles, but the answer has been elusive until now.

Scientists at Columbia say they have not only come up with an answer, but have also devised, for mice, an experimental drug that can revive the animals and let them keep running long after they would normally flop down in exhaustion.

For decades, muscle fatigue had been largely ignored or misunderstood. Leading physiology textbooks did not even try to offer a mechanism, said Dr. Andrew Marks, principal investigator of the new study. A popular theory, that muscles become tired because they release lactic acid, was discredited not long ago.

In a report published Monday in an early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Marks says the problem is calcium flow inside muscle cells. Ordinarily, ebbs and flows of calcium in cells control muscle contractions. But when muscles grow tired, the investigators report, tiny channels in them start leaking calcium, and that weakens contractions. At the same time, the leaked calcium stimulates an enzyme that eats into muscle fibers, contributing to the muscle exhaustion.

In recent years, says George Brooks of the University of California, Berkeley, muscle researchers have had more or less continuous discussions about why muscles fatigue. It was his work that largely discredited the lactic-acid hypothesis, but that left a void.

What did make muscles tired?

The new work in mice, Dr. Brooks said, “is exciting and provocative.” It is a finding that came unexpectedly from a very different line of research. Dr. Marks, a cardiologist, wanted to discover better ways to treat people with congestive heart failure, a chronic and debilitating condition that affects an estimated 4.8 million Americans.

Its hallmark is a damaged heart, usually from a heart attack or high blood pressure. Struggling to pump blood, the heart grows, sometimes becoming so large that it fills a patient’s chest. As the disease progresses, the lungs fill with fluid. Eventually, with congested lungs and a heart that can barely pump, patients become so short of breath that they cannot walk across a room. Half die within five years.

In his efforts to understand why the heart muscle weakened, Dr. Marks focused on the molecular events in the heart. He knew the sequence of events. As the damaged heart tries to deal with the body’s demands for blood, the nervous system floods the heart with the fight or flight hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine, that make the heart muscle cells contract harder.

The intensified contractions, Dr. Marks and his colleagues discovered, occurred because the hormones caused calcium to be released into the heart muscle cells’ channels.

But eventually the epinephrine and norepinephrine cannot stimulate the heart enough to meet the demands for blood. The brain responds by releasing more and more of those fight or flight hormones until it is releasing them all the time. At that point, the calcium channels in heart muscle are overstimulated and start to leak.

When they understood the mechanisms, the researchers developed a class of experimental drugs that block the leaks in calcium channels in the heart muscle. The drugs were originally created to block cells’ calcium channels, a way of lowering blood pressure.

Dr. Marks and his colleagues altered the drugs to make them less toxic and to rid them of their ability to block calcium channels. They were left with drugs that stopped calcium leaks. The investigators called the drugs rycals, because they attach to the ryanodine receptor/calcium release channel in heart muscle cells. The investigators tested rycals in mice and found that they could prevent heart failure and arrhythmias in the animals. Columbia obtained a patent for the drugs and licensed them to a start-up company, Armgo Pharma of New York. Dr. Marks is a consultant to the company.

It hopes to start testing one of the drugs for safety in patients in the spring, but the tests will not be at Columbia because of the university and investigators’ conflicts of interest. In the meantime, Dr. Marks wondered whether the mechanism he discovered might apply to skeletal muscle as well as heart muscle. Skeletal muscle is similar to heart muscle, he noted, and has the same calcium channel system. And heart failure patients complain that their muscles are extremely weak.

“If you go to the hospital and ask heart failure patients what is bothering them, they don’t say their heart is weak,” Dr. Marks said. “They say they are weak.”

So he and his colleagues looked at making mice exercise to exhaustion, swimming and then running on a treadmill. The calcium channels in their skeletal muscles became leaky, the investigators found. And when they gave the mice their experimental drug, the animals could run 10 to 20 percent longer.

Then, collaborating with David Nieman, an exercise scientist at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., the investigators asked whether the human skeletal muscles grew tired for the same reason, calcium leaks.

Highly trained bicyclists rode stationary bikes at intense levels of exertion for three hours a day three days in a row. For comparison, other cyclists sat in the room but did not exercise.

Dr. Nieman removed snips of thigh muscle from all the athletes after the third day and sent them to Columbia, where Dr. Marks’s group analyzed them without knowing which samples were from the exercisers and which were not.The results, Dr. Marks said, were clear. The calcium channels in the exercisers leaked. A few days later, the channels had repaired themselves. The athletes were back to normal.

Of course, even though Dr. Marks wants to develop the drug to help people with congestive heart failure, hoping to alleviate their fatigue and improve their heart functions, athletes might also be tempted to use it if it eventually goes to the market.

The odds are against this particular drug being approved, though, cautions Dr. W. Robb McClellan, a heart disease researcher at U.C.L.A.

“In heart failure, there are three medications that improve mortality, but there have probably been 10 times that many tested,” he said.

Even if the first drug that prevents calcium leaks does not work in patients, Dr. McClellan added, the important advance is to understand the molecular events underlying fatigue. “Then,” he said, “you can design therapies.”

So the day may come when there is an antifatigue drug.

That idea, “is sort of amazing,” said Dr. Steven Liggett, a heart-failure researcher at the University of Maryland. Yet, Dr. Liggett said, for athletes “we have to ask whether it would be prudent to be circumventing this mechanism.”

“Maybe this is a protective mechanism,” he said. “Maybe fatigue is saying that you are getting ready to go into a danger zone. So it is cutting you off. If you could will yourself to run as fast and as long as you could, some people would run until they keeled over and died.”

From Today's Writers Almanac

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "In The Middle" by Barbara Crooker from Radiance. © Word Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

In The Middle

of a life that's as complicated as everyone else's,
struggling for balance, juggling time.
The mantle clock that was my grandfather's
has stopped at 9:20; we haven't had time
to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,
the chimes don't ring. One day I look out the window,
green summer, the next, the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,

again how to love, between morning's quick coffee
and evening's slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies
twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between;
his tail, a metronome, 3/4 time. We'll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.


Curt Schilling

“Schilling said he passed all physical exams when he negotiated his new contract.” How many times have we seen this? The Boston Red Sox are supposed to be a moneyball team, what do you think the physical consisted of, probably an MRI (Might Reveal Injury), a Biodex isokinetic evaluation and some manual muscle tests. Was there any functional testing done? What about medical history? Isn’t the best predictor of future performance past history, especially when it comes to injury. What about biomechanical analysis? You would think with the millions of dollars at stake teams would invest in pre and post biomechanical analysis to track changes over time. We did this with the White Sox in the early Nineties when it was more difficult than it is today. Where does he do his off season conditioning? Professional sports – entertainment or sport. I guarantee you that the preparation of elite Olympic athletes is more sophisticated that what occurs in MLB, NFL and NBA, no stone is unturned and nothing is left to chance.


Good Eats!

If you are ever in Sarasota on Saturday I highly recommend you stop by at Choo-Choos for some BBQ. When I ride east from where I live you can smell this BBQ two blocks away. When I am home on Saturday it has almost become a ritual - ride 20 to 25 miles, go home shower and back to Choo-Choos for some pulled pork or ribs. Definitely not health food , but it is sure good. Best BBQ this side of Houston. They are only there on Saturday.

Some Thoughts from Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou said this:
'I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.'

'I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.'
'I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life.'
'I've learned that making a 'living' is not the same thing as 'making a life.'
'I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.'
'I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back.'
'I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.'
'I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one.'
'I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.'
'I've learned that I still have a lot to learn.'
'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.'


Training to Your Strengths

Training to your strengths is certainly not a new idea but in many ways it runs contrary to the way most coaches think. There is something about coaches and coaching that lead us to do the opposite, train the weaknesses. It is so typical to hear a coach talk about what if. What if so and so had a better kick, was stronger or could just handle running heats? I propose that before you focus on what the athlete cannot do find out everything they can do. What are their strengths? How do they use their strengths? How is their training structured? Is an inordinate amount of time being given to training to improve weaknesses to the exclusion of the strengths? If this is the case, mentally the athlete begins to focus on their weaknesses to the exclusion of their strengths.

With the young developing athlete, ask the obvious question: Are they in the correct event, position or even the correct sport? Instead of spending an inordinate amount of time working on a perceived weakness see if the athlete is better suited for something else. Sometimes what is perceived as a weakness in one event will be strength in another. Find the talent that suits the event; do not try to make someone they are not.

Know yourself and know your athlete. Recognize the patterns that are strong and build on those. Just as you should not be defined by the competition, the athlete should not be defined by their weaknesses. Focus on weakness makes a fallacious assumption

1) that anyone can become competent in most anything

2) The greatest room for growth and improvement comes in the persons weak areas
Each athlete’s strengths are unique and personal. The more that we as coaches can help the athlete explore their strengths the more sold they will be on the training. They will see progress and then begin to factor in work on strengths that can be systematically addressed.

Do not focus on strength to the exclusion of working on the weakness, rather learn to manage the weakness. To begin to deal with the weakness first identify it. Is it something that is holding you back from being significantly better? One approach is to let your strengths overwhelm your weakness.

Is it really your weaknesses that are defeating or are you not completely exploiting your strengths. To do this you must start by being acutely aware of your strengths. To really be a strength the athlete must be able to do it consistently. This is not to say ignore your weaknesses. Work around the weaknesses to enable you to use your strengths more wisely. Make sure the weakness does not undermine the strength. Do not take your strengths for granted, learn them, and appreciate them. What is standing in the way of using your strengths?


Using Scientific Studies

This is from Seth Roberts’ blog, http://blog.sethroberts.net it particularly resonated with me because of a conversation I had just the other day with Dean Benton, form Leicester Tigers on this same subject. I know I am guilty of this. Thought provoking!

How to Be Wrong

February 6, 2008

There are two mistakes you can make when you read a scientific paper: You can believe it (a) too much or (b) too little. The possibility of believing something too little does not occur to most professional scientists, at least if you judge them by their public statements, which are full of cautions against too much belief and literally never against too little belief. Never. If I’m wrong — if you have ever seen a scientist warn against too little belief — please let me know. Yet too little belief is just as costly as too much.

It’s a stunning imbalance which I have never seen pointed out. And it’s not just quantity, it’s quality. One of the most foolish statements that intelligent people constantly make is “correlation does not imply causation.” There’s such a huge bias toward saying “don’t do that” and “that’s a bad thing to do” — I think because the people who say such things enjoy saying them — that the people who say this never realize the not-very-difficult concepts that (a) nothing unerringly implies causation, so don’t pick on correlations and (b) correlations increase the plausibility of causation. If your theory predicts Y and you observe Y, your theory gains credence. Causation predicts correlation.

This tendency is so common it seems unfair to give examples.

If you owned a car that could turn right but not left, you would drive off the road almost always. When I watch professional scientists react to this or that new bit of info, they constantly drive off the road: They are absurdly dismissive. The result is that, like the broken car, they fail to get anywhere: They fail to learn something they could have learned.


GAIN Apprentorship

Gambetta Athletic Improvement Network (GAIN) Apprentorship

Coaching athletic development from design to implementation

The GAIN Apprentorship program is a special educational experience for professionals who desire to follow the functional path. The inspiration for this program derives from my experience with the European Sport School format, and the direct learning opportunities I had early in my career. The program builds on the weekend and one-day seminars, which are often valuable experiences, but can only scratch the surface of training topics due to time and facility constraints. The Apprentorship blends theory and practice in a five-day coaching school with a small teacher-to-student ratio. You will share with other professionals to learn in an atmosphere designed to raise the level of expertise of all those attending—including the mentors.

The initial coaching school is just the beginning. In the year following the school, there will be webcasts and web meetings to foster continued growth and interaction. At the conclusion of one cycle of the full program, we will have a “Meeting of the Minds”— a symposium style gathering of those who have participated in the Apprentorship featuring presentations from recognized experts and graduates of the program.

Our first Apprentorship school will be June 26 - July 1, 2008 in Sunrise, Florida, at the KICS International Holiday Inn Sports Complex. The second school will be December 4 - 9, 2008 at the same site. It is open to sport coaches, conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, chiropractors and doctors. Apply now, to be one of the twenty accepted to each school.

For more information go to www.gambetta.com/pdf/ApprentorshipOverview.pdf or for an application go to www.gambetta.com/pdf/ApprentorshipAp.doc Feel free to write me at gstscoach@gmail.com or call me at 941-379-3455 if you have other questions.



I want to make sure that people do not get the impression that stretching is not important. Stretching as a means to improve functional flexibility is very important. It is a separate training unit. Stretching is not warm-up! I think at various times in my career I have tended to ignore this vital component. My exposure to Kelvin Giles and his ideas and his subsequent influence on Dean Benton have convinced of its importance. The key is to evaluate each athlete to determine their individual flexibility needs and then address them individually. I saw this done very efficiently last year with the Brisbane Broncos. The players bought into and did a very good job because they were working toward specific goals of improving their flexibility competencies. It was interesting to see their flexibility scores in relation to performance measures and see the improvement in both. Generally with today’s athletes in the populations I am working with the emphasis needs to be on the hip, psoas and calves. I am trying to do a better job of doing this post workout with my volleyball players and to give homework stretching to do on their own. I do think it is important that flexibility be put in context. It is important to not get carried away and attack joint integrity. It is important to have different flexibility tools in your tool box and know how to use them and when to apply them. It is also important to remember that strength and flexibility are closely related. I have seen good range of motion increases as the athletes got stronger and were better able to control their movements.

Aging and Training

As I get older the whole area of exercise and aging interests me even more. Last Thursday’s New York Times had a very good article on the subject.



Some key points in the article and what I have seen with my experience:

Intensity – This is true at any age, more is not better. Shorter more intense workouts also seem to fit with my lifestyle.

Consistency – Another one that is true at any age, but I find that if I miss a series of workouts now it is harder to get back into it.

Strength Train - Definitely more important as you age. Consistent strength training with variety particularly appeals to me.

Flexibility – Another must, especially work in the hip girdle area and the calves.

Old Injuries & Improper training from your younger days haunt you – In so many ways you reap what you sow. I know that the niggling injuries that I used to ignore and train through now are bigger and keep me from training.

There is no doubt that exercise is the key to having a quality of life. I am not sure I have to compete in order to motivate me to train, for me training is a lifestyle and it is a daily opportunity to test myself in different ways and to keep experimenting. We are going to learn more about aging as our population gets older. Every time I go swimming I am inspired by the masters swim group that trains at the pool, several of them are in their eighties, it is neat to see how enthusiastic they approach their training.


Put warm back in warm-up

In my opinion warm-up is one of the most important components of training. It is something you must before each training session. It is a precious time period that has a very specific objective of preparing the body for the subsequent demand of the training of the training session. Warm-up is the bridge from their normal daily activities to the training session. It must be thoroughly planned, just as the training session is planned. If you don’t think warm-up is important start adding up the time spend in warm-up, 10 to 20 minutes a session multiplied by the number of training days, represents a significant time commitment. If for no other reason than this it is important how much a warm-up can contribute to overall fitness in the course of a training year. It is a given that warm-up must raise core temperature and elevate heart rate. This is quite easily accomplished with an active and dynamic warm-up. For me warm-up is another key coaching opportunity. It is a time to analyze basic movements, to teach and reinforce good patterns and as previously mentioned accrue a cumulative training effect. Warm-up must address the common injuries and the stress area in the sport. I also take into consideration time constraints, space constraints and number of coaches available to help. Competition warm-up is not always the same as training warm-up, you must also have a warm-up routine for the bench player in the game and another warm-up for halftime of a game before the second half. Stretching is not warm-up, although some active stretching should be done in the later third of warm-up. Rolling around on foam roller is not warm-up. Wallowing around on a physioball is not warm-up. Get up and get moving. Get the nervous system stimulated; get ready for the training session. In today’s world warm-up looks a little like physical education class because this is the time to address fundamental movements that prepare them for specific sport movements. The cooldown is the place in the session to place static stretches and use of foam rollers. That is the time when I want a calming effect.

Yes these are my opinions, but they are grounded in best practice and sound sports science research. I have been using these concepts in warm-up with athletes in both individual and team sports for 35 plus years. I tried the static stretching route when I first started coaching. I did not like what I saw, but I give it a full shot for three years before going back to an active dynamic warm-up. I am a coach not a personal trainer, I do not have make my clients happy by chatting with them for ten minutes while they stretch, I have to get my athletes ready in the time alloted. Once again I implore you to think.

Super Bowl

Last night I made the mistake of watching the Super Bowl from start to finish, I had not done that for at least 25 years. Now I know why, somewhere stuck strategically between ads there was a game. If there was ever any doubt about professional sport as entertainment not sport this settled it for me. I will take soccer or rugby any day – nonstop action. One ad did catch me eye though, it was for the NFL fit kids. Quite ironic. The NFL needs to take a close look at its own fitness and health standards before passing that onto kids. I also learned that you need to eat bananas at half time to prevent cramping. Just a small tidbit of high tech sports medicine information from the NFL. I could not help but reflect the Rugby matches that I saw in Australia where the majority of the players played 80 minutes, never saw cramping. It would be fun to watch some of these NFL guys play 60 minutes. Randy Moss ran 75 yards on a pass pattern near the end of the game and he was gassed. They would need tons of bananas.


Kevin McGill on Specialization

This is Kevin McGill’s response to my post on specialization, a little different viewpoint.

One of the most famous progressions in track history is the development of Igor Nikulin, from age 6 to 21. His father had been in the Olympics, and of course, taught the little guy the basics with a very light hammer. (It is the same with Koji Murofushi) No one in the US knows exactly what the father had little Igor do. I doubt it was 100% hammer, but...the goal was to prepare him to throw in competitions each year, from a young age. When Nikulin came to the US to compete as a 17 year old, he was throwing a 16 lb hammer far in excess of what he AR was in the high school 12 lb. hammer. Hopefully, little Igor was not forced into doing throwing at such a young age. He competed until he was past 35, so he wasn't bored with the hammer.

The Finns will start the javelin very early, but many of their top young throwers were also XC skiers. The javelin coaches there have long believed this was good javelin training. When I went there in 1993, the young throwers under 15 were better technically than any of the US elite throwers of the day.

It seems that specialization can be a cultural phenomenon. When there is an acceptance of this, maybe there is also the lack of forced activity, so common in the US. I have seen young children forced into soccer...and they cry on the sidelines. I don't think soccer is the answer for each kid, but better parental control is. In the US, there is such an emphasis on excelling at a young age...even soccer can be ridiculous at age 8. Around here, parents have been ejected from youth games because of yelling, and carrying on. When we were in El Salvador several years back, the ONLY sport or activity available to any kid was soccer.

In Kenya, prior to this recent mess, we all recall the films of the young kids running back and forth to school, sometimes 10 miles each way. Talk about specialization. In areas where you simply don't have money to develop full programs, you are lucky to have the ability to specialize in something...or else you do nothing. In parts of the world, it is soccer...or drugs, or just watching TV.

So, I would not put specialization in the category of evil, but rather the adults who overemphasize participation, when kids really are not ready. It is also a very competitive world we live in, and many stories of successful athletes like Eli Manning...who certainly spent a lot more time throwing a football, than anything else.

That is how I see it.


Burn with Vern

Six or seven years ago I did a year long consultation with North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Illinois to help them with their athletic program and physical education program. Patrick McHugh, the athletic director and track coach keeps in touch with me on a regular basis. He sent me this cartoon drawn by two of his athletes who were wondering who this guy Vern was. They keep me hearing my name in the context of their “Burn with Vern” circuit workouts. Hope to meet them sometime; it brought back fond memories of a real neat year. Thank you Peter and Cindy for the cartoon.


Early Specialization

There was an interesting story in Tuesdays USA Today about Wes Welker Wide Receiver for the New England Patriots. He is undersized 5-9 185 and slow by NFL standards, but he is very good athlete. Guess what sport he played as a youth, yep that un-American sport of soccer. His college coach attributes a good degree of his success to the body control and footwork he learned in soccer. When you think about it really is not that remarkable. It is just another example of building a broad foundation of athletic development. The evidence is overwhelming is favor of building a good base of athletic movement skill, this is just one more prominent example. Why do coaches want kids to specialize earlier and do nothing but sport. Wouldn’t it be better to make the goal creating the best athlete possible by giving them a full toolbox of athletic skills, rather than locking them into a narrow range of movements? Athletically you have to earn your right to progress to the next level by learning the athletic alphabet and the multiplication tables, a sound foundation in athletic literacy so to speak. There is another dimension to early specialization that everyone seems to be ignoring, injuries. Not so much the injuries the injuries that occur when participating and training in youth sport, but the injuries that occur later because of the one dimensional movement patterns these athletes develop by doing years of the same movements. When they have to do something outside their skill set they get hurt. A good foundation of athletic literacy will armor them against these types of injuries. There are so many dimensions to the problem of early specialization that it would a book to address them all. Suffice to say that say that early specialization leads to early stagnation.