Sunday, December 26, 2010

Big Rocks for the Sand and Water

This is starting out as a thought that I have hoped would help to communicate my criticism of some within the industry without coming off as a "hater":

I have written previously, relying heavily on what I have learned from Dan Pfaff, on the integrity of a system and/or training method. If they are integral then they can be expanded or compressed to accurately reflect the preparatory and/or competitive needs of the athlete.

As far as time management goes hopefully many have already heard the story of "the Big Rocks" (to my knowledge popularized primarily by Stephen Covey; linked and shared below at the bottom of this post). Well here's the rub for me on the application of this story: the jar itself contains its big rocks and items of less importance (sand, gravel, water, etc) but two things jump out at me:

1-The jar itself cannot be filled without an appropriate balance of all of the requisite elements.
2-Every item within the jar has its own big rocks within its unique structure.

Filling the Jar
Big rocks alone leave space in the jar and no matter how hard you try you cannot fill in the gaps with large rocks alone. Many of us suffer from proximity bias where we hold a specific belief or training method too closely to our core and that bias reduces the effectiveness of our coaching and programming because it does not allow us to see the big picture.

As an admitted speed/power junkie I suffer from this bias as much as anyone but our discipline as educators must trump that thinking. The disciplined way to do this is to plan the work and then work that plan. Given the option most coaches would prefer to spend more time teaching power cleans and sprints than hip mobility and correct breathing. However we have to be convinced that good training requires that focus and work and if we are convinced we have to find an appropriate time to fill in the gaps.

With enough competitive coaching experience we draw more of an appreciation for this as our athletes not only perform at a high percentage of their capacity but also maintain that performance more effectively when we find harmony in the training program. An easy way to think of this harmony, to me, is to consider the items in the jar as directly associated with a specific bio-motor ability:

Big Rocks = Speed, Strength - In combination, depending on the specific contribution of each, these function as a specific power ability
Gravel and Sand = Stamina (Work Capacity)
Water = Skill, Suppleness (Mobility) - As bio-motor abilities go skill and suppleness should be present and, as Bruce Lee would put it, "flow" through all other bio-motor abilities as necessary.

The Big Rocks of Water
The easiest way to communicate that each item in the jar contains its own big rocks is to look at the structure of water: h2o. Without the appropriate amount of hydrogen and oxygen we no longer have water. Essentially if we know what our water's big rock should look like but we cannot break down its structure to see its own balance of rock, gravel, sand, and water, then we cannot effectively use that rock in our structure.

In communication with my colleague Carson Boddicker, after Carson wrote a fantastic blog on the trigger mechanism of the ankle/foot in the stretch-shortening cycle, I asked Carson, "what do you do with your athletes when that doesn't happen?" If we know that the big rock of that mechanism is an appropriate level of stiffness and optimal functioning of the ankle, and by extension the sub-talar joint, and we do not see this occurring with our athletes in training then what do you do as a coach?

From an experience standpoint we should all be very well aware that we cannot simply tell the athlete to make that happen as if they have any focus at all they are already trying (in volleyball I tell players often it's as if coaches and parents sometimes think they are trying to make errors on the court). We have to understand that good programming will allow for training to continue through that session, and the program, whether it is in a group or individual training with a focus on improving the function of that mechanism as well as training content that gives that focus direction: appropriate mobility work and low- to high- intensity progressions of unilateral and bilaterally focused jumping, hopping, skipping, and running in multiple planes (We can break the mobility work down further by distinguishing between the isolated, integrated, and functional movement needs of the athlete as communicated by Charlie Weingroff in his "Training = Rehab, Rehab =Training" DVD product. This will often necessitate communication with a qualified PT and/or soft-tissue therapist).

When it comes to successful coaching and athlete development I often see the necessary focus for excellence in performance drift as we are sometimes overconfident in our current working knowledge and only true experts can see exactly what is missing. I have seen Olympic lifting technique that is leaving hundreds of watts on the bar and jump performance far beneath the athlete's potential being repeated over and over only conditioning a sub-maximal capacity. Poor Olympic lifting and jump performance is especially significant if we consider the volume of these repetitions being performed sub-maximally. The most common way to spot this shortcoming is to see that there is no integrity to loading changes being made in the athlete's lifting performance (they are stuck at 70-kilos for the season or haven't seen a vertical jump improvement since W. was in office). Similar shortcomings (missing sand, gravel, and water especially) can be found in all aspects of programming, depending on the coach's background, and I can assure you that there is not an UNIMPORTANT part of your program so be comprehensive.

These inadequacies in system and technique are often what will keep our athletes off the medal podium so I assure you overlooking these things should be unacceptable. I can tell you that if there is not excellence in the training and physical preparation then it does not happen in their performance.

Das Big Rocks
"A while back we read about an expert on the subject of time management. One day, this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I'm sure those students will never forget. After we share it with you, we hope you'll never forget it either.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over achievers, he said, "Okay, time for a quiz." Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. He produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is the jar full?" Everyone in the class said, "Yes." Then he asked, "Really?" He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?" By this time, the class was on to him. "Probably not," one of them answered. "Good!" he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in, and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar full?"

"No!" the class shouted. Once again he said, "Good!" Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!" "No!" the speaker replied. "That is not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."

What are the 'Big Rocks' in your life? A project that YOU want to accomplish? Time with your loved ones? Your faith, your education, your finances? A cause? Teaching or mentoring others? Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you'll never get them in at all. So, take time to reflect on this short story. Ask yourself this question: What are the 'big rocks' in my life? Family or business? And remember to put those in your jar first."