Monday, November 18, 2013

Committed To The Conversation

These days it seems far too many administrators and coaches at the high school and club volleyball level are intent on discussing parent and player behavior without the knowledge of either of those parties. They are willing to say things behind closed doors and between themselves that they will never say or openly admit to saying to parents and/or their daughter/athlete. This is not only common to social media like facebook and twitter (where people openly write things they would never allow themselves to say to another person directly); but common to much of our communication as a whole. One club director from my area commonly confronts issues with a player's development by saying, "Well she is not getting playing time so they will just throw some money at it." Meaning that if they want to address the issue they will pay for extra coaching, training, and support or it is their problem. That is not the way I look at it nor is it the way that any real professional in any field looks at it.

1: If you are responsible for the development of an athlete then you have to provide the coaching and the dialogue that supports that development. To discipline yourself as a coach I personally believe that you have to assume that you have no other support or resources outside of the time and energy you spend with each athlete (excluding time needed to address dysfunction related to pain). You obviously have to account for outside work they are doing when developing their training program but I have never counted on any work that I cannot personally observe as something that I know will aid in their development. One of my most significant mentor's Michael Boyle says, "If the athletes you coach cannot perform either you cannot coach, or you will not coach, and either one of those is a problem."
2: You can never make decisions about someone else's behavior without their knowledge and insight. This is an assumption and a mistake. Instead openly share your thoughts and concerns with them and even though the response you get will not always be positive you will take a big step forward in better understanding what kind of barriers you face in helping teach someone to do their best.
3: Because a parent and/or player is not necessarily doing their job doesn't mean you don't have a responsibility to do yours. I tell parents and players often that I am committed to making the correction, and to having the conversation, so I am NEVER GOING TO STOP. If they are not attentive to their task and its performance then we address it as necessary but I never check out as a coach because they seemingly don't care or are disinterested in the work. In using this approach for years now I can honestly say that I have only ever had one kid outright reject my feedback in the beginning (she rolled her eyes at me and shut down further after we addressed it). But even she slowly grew to trust me and eventually worked harder and became a more responsible athlete in her training and development.

I tell people that with coaches, parents, kids I coach, and with my own kids I am "committed to the conversation" required to help them achieve their best. If there is an issue I will be honest and discuss it as openly as I possibly can. This is not always an easy thing to do. But the alternative of me accepting the fact that there is a problem in the dynamic of my relationship with someone and I do not have the courage to address it is, for me, simply unacceptable at this stage in my life. I AM NEVER GOING TO STOP! 

If others within high school and club volleyball would openly admit to some of the problems that we have involving coaching expectations/behavior, helicopter parenting, inappropriate communication, and other issues common not only to volleyball but to our culture in the United States across the board I believe we could take significant steps toward improving the expectations everyone would have about their participation in high school and club volleyball. Instead the dynamic tends to be more tit-for-tat and transactional; thereby reducing the opportunity for great coaching to be transformational for all those involved (for more on transactional coaching versus transformational coaching I encourage people to read "InsideOut Coaching" by Joe Ehrmann).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Scot Morrison was kind enough to post live twitter updates from my friend Patrick Ward's seminar performed at Drive495 this past weekend.  Here is the page. How awesome is technology?!

Certain things really jumped out at me from following the feed:

1-I have said before, when discussing Dan Pfaff's work previously, that sometimes an expert's mastery of a topic can give us more confidence in our own knowledge of the material than we probably should have. Patrick clearly has that ability. Yes knowledge on any given topic discussed within Patrick's seminar was probably able to be fully grasped by the audience there. But I say that the amount of time spent applying this knowledge and the ability to make effective decisions in both the planning and adjustment processes is what will take significantly greater time in our development as coaches and, by extension, the development of our clients and/or athletes. Again Patrick is on another level when it comes to this ability.

Many of the points discussed will have a majority of the audience members at Patrick's seminar, or at any other educational event, saying to themselves, "There is no way I can apply this model (or technique) in my practice." At the clinic I recently put on at Rise Volleyball Academy a key point that I make consistently through my presentation is that there is not an unimportant part of your program and if you accept that then our job really is to reconcile the difference between ineffective practice, effective practice, and BEST practice. I will continue to count on Patrick as an effective guide for doing so.

2-Because of my current coaching environment I have some pretty severe restrictions on things ranging from schedule availability to equipment/space limitations and more. It seems that this is always the case! My situation is not special or unique and most coaches and trainers would complain about the same thing with completely different problems (Public vs. Private Practice, Small Group/Individual vs. Large Teams/Groups). The idea of opening up a new facility soon and reducing these restrictions really gets me excited. But that doesn't mean that for what I am able to do and with what I am able to do it with that I cannot be doing the best job that I can do right now. If I sat down with Patrick and went over the restrictions that I have there is no doubt in my mind that Patrick would not just sit there feeling sorry for me. Instead he would do his best to help me focus on what it is that I can and should be doing to make the training environment work better for me and for the athletes that I coach. Reconciling these differences will essentially help to bring us closer to nailing our hedgehog concept (assuming that the work we are already doing we are both passionate about and effective at).


So the real lesson for us here is we have to be capable of reducing the noise in order to get our signal to come through loud and clear. If we've never been moved by a sign that what we are doing is making a major difference in the lives and the training of those in our care then we have some major adjustments to make. If we have been moved in such a way then it becomes that much more important to us to work as hard as we can to continue to GET BETTER!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


I am slow in getting to this but I wanted to be very clear in my thinking when I wrote this review.  I followed Doctor Hartman's program FORTIS for my last training block leading into an Olympic Weightlifting competition. The e-book was $19 and the programming and rationale was excellent.  If nothing else I would encourage other strength coaches, sport performance coaches, personal trainers, and general training enthusiasts to purchase it to get an excellent summary of block training periodization and a practical application of its use.  Even with a streamlined concentration that is the sport of Olympic Weightlifting it is very easy to see how programming in this way can be simply modified to benefit athletes and coaches from other sports.  As Dr. Anatoli Bondarchuk is fond of saying, "There is no Russian system or American system. There is rational and irrational." The rationale you will find in the FORTIS program is excellent.

To the specifics of the program it is clear that the primary target of FORTIS is strength development. You will squat and squat often. You will squat at the beginning of the training session and at the end of the training session. If the squat is a limiting factor for your Weightlifting performance FORTIS will absolutely help you to improve upon it. My front squat went from a 152K single (334-pounds) just prior to the program to a 150K double (330-pounds) and on my back squat I went from 170K to 178K for a single (missing on 182K on a poorly timed max day; I will get this soon). The rest of my training progressed very smoothly and the main thing I noticed was the same level lifts across a broad intensity range were subjectively "easier" to perform and recover from. In my final max day I worked up to a 110K snatch (+5K from prior to the program) and missed 114K overhead 4 times; after snatching so aggressively I managed to clean up to 135K but missed the jerk (+7K from where I was prior to the program; I have been working more on my jerk as well so I knew this was an issue going into that day).

When it came to final preparation for competition it would be really unfair to compare my results from there (full disclosure: I bombed) as I encountered a schedule interruption that prior to beginning the program I had not anticipated: I was invited to attend a Nike SPARQ event in Portland, Oregon and this was something that with my career in mind I could not pass up (especially in consideration of my relative mediocrity in Weightlifting). The Nike SPARQ Conference was awesome but in the week just before the competition I was only able to lift once in the time I was there.  For a review of this event check out the write-up Jeff Cubos did on the event. I was finally able to meet Jeff at the event as well as meeting other heavyweights including Don Saladino (Owner of Drive495), Jimmy Yuan (Owner of Warrior Restoration), Aaron Coutts (sport scientist from Australia), Mark McLaughlin (OmegaWave expert and sport performance coach), Nate Brookreson (formerly head s&c coach at Eastern Washington University and now Director of Olympic Sports at the University of Memphis), Ben Shear (Athletic Edge),Walter Norton (Nike; Institute of Performance and Fitness), Robert Butler (Research Genius and FMS expert), Mira Kwon (Nike; StrongFirst Instructor), Michael Gervais (Sport Psych expert), and many, many others.  I also met Frank Dick! Even got to spend some quality time with three Nike guys, all-time greats, and friends Patrick Ward, Dewey Nielsen, and Charlie Weingroff. Meeting Walter Norton was especially awesome because I can still remember watching the VHS video on 'Lateral Speed and Change of Direction' from Coach Michael Boyle and Walter.  After first reading 'Functional Training for Sports' and seeing that video things really accelerated in my development as a coach so I will always be grateful to those two guys! I have since spent a lot of time with Coach Boyle but as I said this was the first time I got to meet Walter and I still remember Coach B saying that Walter was the best coach he had ever worked with. What a compliment!

The programming was in no way, sharpe, or form easy and my competition lifts didn't just blow up the same way my squat did but that is because I am still continuing to grow as a weightlifter (in the slow progression I have grown used to in balancing my roles as a father, coach, and weightlifter/athlete). The limitations of this specific program were reflective of my own and that is why this stuff takes continual attention to progression across the developmental spectrum!

To expand in the discussion of the limitations I experienced on the performance of the snatch, clean, and jerk variations throughout my development rather than ignore the limitations I have seen, felt, or been told I have developed I have instead attacked them head on. Upon beginning this program I had just started to change my start position, again, for the snatch and clean and these changes take time to stick (especially when performing maximum lifts). If I had to say one thing I felt specifically it is that if you tend to squat more as a "back dominant" back squatter then don't be surprised when you can't hold position well on the snatch but especially on the clean when loading is absolutely maximal. In order to make the progress with the squatting I definitely felt myself driving more from my back than from my hips and legs so that is something I have been addressing currently and will be part of my continued growth.

All in all Dr. Hartman's FORTIS program is excellent and my summer has been inspiring and time well spent.



Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Olympic Weightlifting for the Speed and Power Athlete

Never posted this here...

Olympic weightlifting, and the performance of Olympic weightlifting exercises that support the development of both “power” and specific lifting improvements, are critical pieces to the athlete development process.  Depending on how strictly we view bio-motor development (communicated by Frank Dick, and before him Dietrich Harre, as the 5 S’s of Speed, Strength, Skill, Stamina [Work Capacity], and Suppleness [Mobility]) the Olympic lifts can help to focus development on all of these abilities if the work is concentrated properly.  Therefore Olympic weightlifting techniques can be used consistently through the athlete’s training year and help to balance development and drive competitive performance further if appropriate planning is in place.   

In working to transfer development that occurs with Olympic weightlifting to sports performance coaches and athletes should understand that there is integrity to the execution of these skills and programming that if damaged can destroy any potential gains.  The beauty of this integrity is that it translates directly to the concentration required for maximal efforts in other speed-power activities.  The effective development of power for sport also requires that speed-power athletes specifically train an appropriate balance of these power abilities (which themselves fall in the speed to strength spectrum of bio-motor development):  Ballistic/Plyometric Ability, Speed-Strength, and Strength-Speed.

Ballistic/Plyometric Ability (Speed as the Dominant Bio-Motor Ability)

Activities involving maximal speed and often trained primarily at bodyweight to light loads that still allow for maximal velocity.  Depending on the competitiveness of the athletes these abilities should often be primarily trained through the sporting movements, for specific skill development purposes and to prevent pattern overload or interference, outside of the specific preparatory period just before the sporting season (where sporting demands are typically reduced).  For skill development purposes in our EVP program we often train activities that stress technical development but are sub-maximal in intensity and can therefore be categorized more appropriately as drilling (for more on this topic see the EVP blog post ‘Vertical Jump Methodology’ which is itself an excerpt from a larger article on Vertical Jump Development for Volleyball Athletes).

Speed-Strength (Speed as the Dominant Bio-Motor Ability)

Activities involving sub-maximal and light loads that still allow for great acceleration and speed.  Often categorized in the scientific literature as 10-30% of maximum I think this categorization needs more work as what we really want to see is a high percentage of speed is still achieved.  With that said my categorization of speed-strength involves light loads that stress speed and acceleration from postures that have energetic and/or mechanical specificity, effectively helping to teach “drive” and “burst” specific to the needs of the sporting movement (75 or 85 to 95% of maximum speed and power).  Most often these activities should not include movements where there is active deceleration in the range of motion (dynamic effort bench pressing or squats, etc).

Strength-Speed (Strength and Speed as the Dominant Bio-Motor Abilities)

Strength-Speed should utilize activities that involve moderate to maximal loads, again stressing a broader range in percentages for developmental versus competitive athletes, that still allow for speed and acceleration to occur consistent with the mechanical needs of the athlete.  Consistent with the thinking behind ballistic and speed-strength development in my mind I believe we are not looking at a specific percentage as much as we are looking to produce maximal power at a load consistent with the athlete’s best efforts (this has been communicated as the Load-Velocity curve by Dr. Loren Chiu).  In Olympic weightlifting we sometimes get away with a maximum lift that is a less than perfect technical effort.  So training using that effort as the 100% intensity that guides our future programming does not necessarily make for a great training plan.  A simple way to communicate this is performance should be execution focused and based on maximal performance for the training phase or individual session, and not based on percentages from a session or phase that may be inconsistent with our athlete’s current form.  This training is based largely on observation and specific tools can help this process (for our program this includes the tendo unit, vertec, and just jump mat). 
Within the Strength-Speed power category is where a majority of our Olympic weightlifting training should occur.  Strength-Speed serves as an effective outlet for much of the training year for the following reasons:
  • Strength-Speed helps to effectively bridge the gap between Maximum Strength and Speed-Strength development.  With larger gaps between Speed-Strength and Maximum Strength we will see a reduction in the athlete’s ability to consistently produce great training efforts.  Also without effective Strength-Speed performance we will have a hard time producing further Speed-Strength improvements as that capacity is maxed out at its current level (as the strength demonstrated in Speed-Strength efforts is a reflection of the strength developed via Strength-Speed because of the relationship to speed).
  • Strength-Speed is an excellent way to maintain a high percentage of Maximum Strength through longer competitive seasons.  With our volleyball athletes we emphasize not over-developing Maximum Strength levels that cannot be managed because we lack the training time and frequency necessary to sustain these efforts through very long competitive periods.  We do however stress that we should be able to express a high percentage of this strength in our Strength-Speed movements (often a Power Clean or Hang Power Clean) and this in itself functions as a medium intensity Maximum Strength day that allows for decreased soreness or stiffness versus performance of squat and lunge movements.  So during the competitive period we essentially load a Strength-Speed movement with either a vertical or horizontal push-pull upper body day and we consolidate the high eccentric stress days (squatting and lunging movements, either hip or knee dominant) to one of the two weekly sessions most of our collegiate athletes perform.        
Developing Mastery Long-Term

Mastery in the execution of Olympic weightlifting methodology helps teach the psychological mindset necessary to develop speed and power in sprint and jump performance if we can communicate the specific technical requirements of these activities.  Simply put, and beyond everything else discussed thus far in this piece, Olympic weightlifting can communicate the importance of creating a strong athletic posture and base and help teach athletes to move effectively from that posture creating great “burst”.  My background in Olympic weightlifting, specifically my training directly under Ursula Garza, USA Weightlifting Senior International Coach, and having the opportunity to train with great lifters like Chad Vaughn, 2-time Olympian and 6-time National Champion, has greatly improved my abilities to communicate this as a performance coach for a speed-power sport (volleyball).  I would communicate to coaches and athletes that the athlete that has mastery of the execution of the Olympic lifts, from their warm-up to maximum efforts, makes for an athlete who has greater physical competency and improved trainability for speed-strength and ballistic/plyometric activities.  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Have you had enough crazy?

It has grown tiresome that we now have so many experts talking about early specialization and the detrimental effects it has on performance.  I have talked about INFLUENCE in recent blog posts and it is very clear that with the population we are discussing (sport parents, coaches, and young athletes) we do not have very much.

In my experience, including the fact that I also often have limited influence as many sport parents, coaches, and athletes that would not listen to me if I chose to have this discussion, there are practical realities we have to address:

- With sport coaches as a whole often we are just injecting more crazy into the equation.  As it is often hard to find qualified experts and coaches in any field, let alone finding them in one specific area, it is very hard to find such organizations and individuals at the youth level.  Often you are just swapping out the crazy, specialization driven focus of one sport for another and that is just not right.  "Well, Jane, your shoulder seems to be doing better since you took that break from volleyball but the excessive running you are performing during conditioning for your soccer season means your knees are now shot."

- Competition focused periods (most sport seasons) followed by another competition focused period is not a good plan.  We find that many youth athletes are physically unprepared for the demands expected of them.  This is just in consideration of the sport as it is played at their level and not in consideration of actual physical preparation where we would want to see improvements in posture, movement, and conditioning for the sport.

 Within the volleyball world where I do a majority of my work I can count the number of coaches, in our area, that I would trust with my kids on one hand.  If I also take into consideration the management of the entire long-term athlete development process that number is reduced to zero.  This is not a knock on those coaches except to say that it takes more than one sport, and one coach, to develop a good, healthy athlete.  Why can't we instead focus on developing physical education and long-term athlete development plans to vary the variables in development of the single-sport athlete instead of an often unrealistic plan of depending on another competitively focused sport to do so? We arbitrarily create these distinctions where we believe there is some magical formula used in another sport that helps to develop a great athlete when there is nothing magical there is simply sufficient variation in the tactics and physical work performed (energetics, mechanics, and coordination). 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


It is funny to look back on things, after what is still very much a relatively short career, and see things with much greater clarity. Looking back the thing that I am most satisfied with is the fact that I listened to those people who cared enough to offer their advice and that I can now say that I am capable of taking full responsibility for the direction that my career has gone.  I will admit to being as frustrated then as many of you are now with the “state of the industry”.  When we all share a similar notion of what we believe to be our advanced thinking and knowledge of, in this case, human performance it will drive us all absolutely mad that things are done in a way that is contrary to what we believe to be the right way.  The purpose of this piece is to remind everyone of the hard work it actually takes to make a difference in the world and in our careers.

My brother is a Special Agent for the US Government and my best friend works in the same capacity for another Government Agency.  I help people jump higher and run faster.  I say this to people often as a joke but the reality is if this is what I believed my job was I would not be a coach. One of the first kids that I ever coached is now in Medical School.  I started with her when she was in 8th grade and worked with her all the way through college.  A lot of the best kids I have coached were not mentioned in the profiles that I have used to promote my coaching business.  This was a mistake. If I didn’t believe that I was making a difference in their lives and that that difference would be felt in so much more than their training and physical performance than I would not be a coach. 

There are people in our business who think they are better than others because of where they work and who they work with. This is wrong but it does nothing to change the responsibility you must have for what you are doing right now with the job you have. I saw one Sports Performance Director, from a major Division I program, basically laugh off another Strength and Conditioning Coach because he hadn’t heard of the school that coach was from. I have seen both of these individuals coach and I will tell you that the Strength Coach from the No Name University is making a greater difference than the Director who chose to “big time” him. It is not the opportunity itself but what we do with the opportunity that matters. I fully admire the people who are taking advantage of their opportunities. This is not to say that the Sports Performance Director I mentioned is doing no good.  But perhaps at some point in a surely long and illustrious career this person lost sight of the difference they were fully capable of making.     

The frustrations most feel when reading from “Internet Strength Coaches” and personal trainers is, for the most part, very much unnecessary.  There will always be inaccurate and misguided information.  In this day and age this is more common than ever. The fact is that while many will be misled, and end up misinformed, from this information this is as critical of a step as any for a professional: the ability to sift through the nonsense. Further I will tell you that while most of this writing will make many think and consider the material it often does very little to change or influence practice, especially amongst the well informed in the field. Using one such example, from someone who has been very important to my career, with Coach Boyle and the difference he is capable of making. Coach Boyle has the ability to perform a seminar, write an article or blog post, or even have a conversation with someone and he can inspire change in coaching practice around the world (often at a very high level). The same cannot be said for the greatest of Internet Charlatans.  They write an article or blog post, it is well spoken of and shared amongst their fans, and then it is often forgotten in search of the next big thing.  The experts in our field stopped looking for these fantastical solutions long ago.    

This level of influence does not just fall into our laps the second we decide we are capable of providing it. Like all things of any value it takes time and trust to earn the privilege. So every time someone asks, “Well the football team should really change how they train according to my advice but they won’t listen to me.  What do I do?” I know that they have not gained the amount of influence they need to have in order to inspire change on such a large scale.  Nothing to be mad about there is just more work to be done. Try making a difference with one football player or coach who will listen and go from there.  The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
If one hopes to gain more influence and inspire change successfully allow me to share some of what I believe has helped me to do the same (it is up to you, not me, to decide whether the difference I am capable of making has any value for you):
First and foremost no matter what our intentions are it is from our actual behavior that our influence will be felt. In the documentary “Finding Joe”, about famed mythologist Joseph Campbell, Deepak Chopra shares the thinking that if we use our minds to help others we will change their minds, if we use our hearts we will change their hearts, but if we use our lives to change others we will change lives. One of my favorite poems, that I learned of from John Wooden, shares this same sentiment:

"No written word, no spoken plea
Can teach our youth what they should be,
Nor all the books on all the shelves.
It's what the teachers are themselves."
- Anonymous

-        I often choose to vocalize my beliefs with coaches I have managed and the kids that I coach in order to sell them on the idea that we are all fully capable of steering our own ship. I read to the people I am responsible for and share thoughts or ideas that I believe will help us all continue our journey in a positive direction (some of my favorites are from Dan Millman, Viktor Frankl, Og Mandino, W. Timothy Gallwey, Steven Pressfield, John Wooden, and Anthony Robbins).  Admittedly sharing these thoughts and beliefs does nothing if my behavior does not match up so I work very hard to live my beliefs.

-        One thought that ties to this thinking of living your beliefs, and resonates well with others, is a solutions-focused therapy technique taken from the book “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath. I have learned to change the specific phrasing of the question in order to fully engage the kids I coach but I ask them, “What would happen if a miracle happened tonight and you woke up to find that you are the person, and athlete, you believe you are capable of being?  What is the first sign that you have that you are different?” I then encourage these kids to not wait any longer to behave and act in a way that is more consistent with the behavior of that person. 

The influence we have on others is one of the greatest responsibilities we will ever encounter.  We cannot be inhibited or scared from sharing our deepest beliefs and our greatest enthusiasms. We must also do our best to make sure we are fully prepared to handle this responsibility. We will gain the ability to have greater influence on others when we take full responsibility for ourselves.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley