A Week in Heaven
In May of 2015 I experienced a week of Heaven while apprenticing in Phoenix with the amazing staff and athletes at Altis. Unforgettable. Inspiring. Humbling. Educating. Validating. It was a track fan's dream. Most importantly, it was an experience that opened my eyes to the skills the greats have. For one week, I was shown "the way." Among many of the moments I will never forget, I found myself speaking with sprints coach Chidi Enyia. The topic: Jamaican Toe Drag. Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt, two of the fastest athletes in history, both recover their lead block leg so close to the ground that it often creates drag. Some of the best are using this tactic to ensure a quicker second stride and to gain more horizontal favor. The admiring eye wants to think of this as a speed secret that cracks the "basic start" code. However, a biomechanics expert would argue that this technique is more abrasive to the hips and does nothing to properly transition an athlete to a more appropriate vertical strike position. As Chidi and I continued dialogue I asked, "why?" in reference to many athletes and coaches adopting the toe drag technique. Chidi's answer couldn't have been more perfect, "monkey see, monkey do."
Talent and proficiency are not synonymous. We confuse this in the sprint and sport world often. While a certain baseline of work and practice is needed to prepare every collegiate or professional athlete towards success, it is easy for an outsider to jump down the association rabbit hole. We tend to link great athletic feats with perfect technique, impeccable mindset and lifestyle congruence. Put simply, our perceptions are often not the reality. That can be said in reference to coaching as well. I will never forget Mike Boyle's words at Perform Better Chicago 2015. Referencing a quote from Margaret Mead, Boyle reiterated "What coaches say, what coaches do, and what they say they do are entirely different things." I can simply offer this advice, don't trust "it" until you see "it." We often embellish, we often mislead. Always look further and find out for yourself.
From Monkeys to Man
I am often asked by interns and young coaches, "where and who do you get new information from?" My answer is simple, "almost everyone and everywhere." However, obtaining information and choosing to put that into practice requires some critical thinking. As discussed in Part 1 , application is everything in the training and adaptation process. The endless training modalities one can implement brings light to a well known John Maxwell adage , "Methods are many, principals are few. Methods change often, the principals never do." When it comes to acceleration, coaches need an expansive, but deliberate vocabulary. We also need to provide dummy proof and transferable drills to create context. Climbing up your progression ladder through the mastery of reps is crucial. Athletes need to earn the right towards advanced progressions, drills and exercises. While discussing shoulder position and heel recovery may be important, one should first create an environment in which there exists a high level of respect towards skill mastery. Your cues and drills will do nothing without an athletes attentiveness towards every rep.
Exploring the relationship between your dialogue and the outcome of your athletes training is crucial. Put best by Nick Winkelman, Head of Irish Rugby Performance, "what we say matters." Understand that it's not just what we say, it's when, how, and where. Expanding further, it's also of the utmost importance to know when to be silent and identify what not to say. While training is a science, the art arrives in the punctuality of understanding how to effectively dance with your athlete through dialogue. While speed kills, we don't want to be "speed killers."
Case Study: NFL Free Agent/ Former College Football Player
Push > Pop . Cover ground > Bounce Up/Away. Stay low > Rise Up.
Acceleration For the Dummy
-A. "Early Riser"
Possible Symptoms: age, low relative strength levels, technical comprehension --doesn't understand horizontal force/angles, overly quick ground contact time, prefers vertical strike, impatient
-B. "Optimal Sprint"
Key Contributors: Understands the "middle way," strike or contact/angles/position/posture are compatible with the readiness of the athlete. Comprehension meets physical readiness. This athletes rises as they run much like an airplane taking off a runway. This athlete usually has the best front side mechanics. Powerful yet patient.
-C. "Late Riser" or "Drive Phase Monkey"
Possible Symptoms: Married to the barbell, tight anterior chain, anterior chain strength bias, push dominant, coached to think "low man wins" and "drive phase" = optimal acceleration, head down to long, kyphotic/anterior pelvic tilt, no sprinting rhythm (always a pit bull), to aggressive
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Look for my DVD/Book to expand upon this article in the near future.