It’s no secret that college prices are growing at an alarming rate. With this increased financial burden, many parents are looking for athletic scholarships and grants to hack away at the hefty higher-ed fee. In no particular order, I’ve compiled a list of attributes that college coaches love, that will help get you noticed for the next level.
Just what are these guys looking for?
Sulker or smiler? Moper or motivator? High fives or head hangs? Body language is so incredibly important because it’s such a noticeable feature of your game. Are you the first or last guy over to the huddle? Are you sitting on the bench while everyone is gathered around the coach? Are you excited for your teammates when they do well, or are you sullen and withdrawn wishing you were in there instead?
Don’t let negative energy seep in and alter your performance.
For some coaches, poor body language can instantly eliminate you from their recruiting efforts. Legendary North Carolina coach, Dean Smith, has one of the greatest body language related quotes I’ve ever heard. Smith said, “I would never recruit a player who yells at his teammates, disrespected his high school coach, or scores 33 points a game and his team goes 10-10.” Sure you can be a high school stud, pile up individual accolades, and get some looks from schools. But, most coaches would rather take a shot on a guy that’s a little less athletically blessed that happens to be a tremendous teammate over a freak with the body language of eyeore in a rainstorm.
Tough to see the field when you can’t even see the classroom. Admirable academic exploits expand the pool of schools you are eligible to attend. A coach is going to really have to dig you if you are sporting a 2.0 and shabby SATs. Good grades usually mean good habits. And coaches want players who are going to bring good habits into their program. Smart athletes make the guys at the top look good too. I’m sure most coaches would like to say our average team GPA is 3.5 instead of 2.5. Hammer the academics and the sports offers can come easier.
Rhodes Scholar, ACC defensive rookie of the year, NFL vet, and neurosurgeon resident at Harvard. Myron Rolle was coveted by college scouts.
Athletes win games. Coaches strategize, motivate, and pull the marionette strings, but ultimately the Jimmys and Joes trump the X’s and O’s. The best college coaches usually get the best athletes. Don’t believe me? Check the scout.com or ESPN150 for football, basketball, and baseball. Alabama in football, Kentucky in men’s hoops, UConn on the women’s side, and Florida and LSU in baseball, have all had the top recruiting classes for close to a decade now. And what do they have in common? Incredible on field/court results. Most of these players have jaw dropping physical qualities that coaches covet. “Have gun, will travel.” “Have 4.5 speed and a 40 inch vertical, will get a scholarship offer.” This isn’t exclusive to the highest level of sports either. Check out the top performers in Division 2 and 3 and they also have some outstanding athletes. Division 3 juggernauts Mount Union and Wisconsin Whitewater seem to get a guy into a NFL training camp each year. And where do those two squads usually end up? Well 9 of the last 12 finals had both teams playing each other. And two of the other three finals had one of those squads playing in it. Both teams have “some guys” so to speak. Which brings me to my next point.
Looking for some speed!
Easy way to get noticed? Win a state title! A squad that gets bounced in the first round of sectionals won’t draw the interest of a team that goes deep in the playoffs and competes for a state championship. Coaches like winners and where do you find them? At the end of the state playoff bracket. I try to get to the state basketball finals in Glens Falls, and every year there are high level college coaches there to see what the best of the Empire State has to offer. If they are out to see a five star prospect on a team that you are playing, and you have a lockdown game against him, you just might find yourself with another offer or two on the table. The farther you go, the more interest will follow.
Win a championship and get seen by more coaches.
Make a Hudl Account
Old man alert 🚨! Back in my day I had to borrow bulky VHS tapes from my coach, bring them to our school’s technology room, and painstakingly transfer my highlights from multiple games onto one cassette. After making sure that the guitar solo from Van Halen’s Dreams synced up perfectly with a big touchdown pass, I then had to go and mail several of these tapes out to coaches that had expressed some interest. I also had to do this uphill both ways in the snow. Just kidding on the last part.
I don’t care what anyone says. Dreams is still the greatest sports highlight song ever.
Today it is so easy to edit, sync up music, and get a hyperlink out that coaches can literally look at on their phones. An eye catching highlight film on Hudl or whatever service you use, can be the difference in a coach telling his colleagues, “You gotta see this kid!” Or “Who?”
A great service to use to get your name out there.
Be the guy that they know about. Make a wow worthy highlight film and have the recruiters come a courtin’.
Of course there are other things you can do as a player to get noticed. But, master these five and chances are you will find yourself suiting up on a college team and enjoying the remarkable bond that comes from being an NCAA athlete.
You hear it referred to on ESPN, discussed by Little League dads across the country, and questioned by physical prep coaches in every sport. Like many of these fitness buzz terms (core, cardio) there’s more sizzle than steak, and what gets sold as “sport specific” may not be specific in the slightest. I have a hired gun joining me in today’s post, my good friend and exceptional coach, Chris Gray, of Ignition APG in Cincinnati, Ohio. We will share our experiences with this term, what we think it means, and how it applies to athletes at different levels.
So, is anyone gonna look deeper at this term or what?
My thoughts first. The catalyst for me in regard to this conversation stems from my clientele, which is mostly high school athletes. These athletes generally possess a low training base, are in need of a lot of general physical preparation and basic movement skills. It is this same client base that I receive requests for sport specific training from. Cue nails on a chalkboard. Also enter that classic angel/devil on the shoulder dynamic first seen in the Shepard of Hermas.
The angel side wants to keep it moving and tell the person what they want to hear. “Oh totally. We can do basketball specific strength training.”
You say little Johnny needs sport specific? Here we go again.
Flip to the other side and Satan on my scapula is immediately whispering, “What do they MEAN sport specific training?” Me? I always pick the devil’s side. Sure it may cost me a sale here or there, but I can sleep soundly at night knowing that I’m not just regurgitating nonsense. Seriously, what does sport specific training even mean? I’ve been doing this (training/lifting/athleting) for most of my life and professionally for close to a decade, and I still have a tough time trying to honestly answer that question. The folks that ask me for this service can’t really answer it either. When I ask what sport specific is they usually say, “Oh you know, like lifting and stuff.”
This happens way more than it should.
Well, lifting ain’t exactly specific to any one sport. Neither is running. There is no such thing as a basketball squat, a softball sprint, or a football crunch. I think for clarity’s sake we need to do a better job of defining what these things are, and how they can help the athletes we train.
First and foremost, a solid base of general athletic prep is essential in keeping athletes healthy, happy, and progressing positively. Squatting, lunging, flexing, extending, twisting, pushing, pulling, rotating, anti-rotating, running, stopping, cutting, and jumping are just SOME of the basic things an athlete needs to do well. The athletes that do them well seem to have an easier time picking up multiple sports skills. Bill Gates would tell you in computer terms-the general physical hardware enhances the acquisition of sport specific software.
Hardware helps software folks.
I’ve referenced this study in a previous blog but it bares repeating here. David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, examined a study done in 1978 by the German Tennis Federation on the most talented 8 to 12 year old tennis players. Epstein writes, “Of 106 kids, 98 eventually made it to the professional level, 10 rose to the top 100 players in the world, and a few climbed all the way to the top 10. Each year for five years, the scientists gauged the children first on tennis specific skills and then on measures of general athleticism… The tests of general athleticism- for example, a thirty-meter sprint and start-and-stop agility drills- influenced which children would acquire the tennis-specific skills most rapidly.” He concludes, “Over the five years of the study, the kids who were better all-around athletes were better at acquiring tennis-specific skills… superior hardware was speeding the download of tennis-skill software.”
For me, that’s a smoking gun that is hard to deny. The greater general physical preparation (GPP) helps supplement the specialized physical preparation (SPP). On what scale? That’s hard to determine. Like most things, this is context based and dependent on the ability level of the athlete in question. The higher the level, the less time should be focused on the GPP side of the coin. Most elite level athletes have already mastered the basics and need more specialized measures to help enhance performance.
Here’s a real world example. Squatting alone isn’t going to fix DeAndre Jordan’s broken free throws. He’s 6’11, 260 pounds with a 30.5″ vertical. Very big, very strong, moves well, and jumps reasonably high. Another inch or two on his vertical might aid in blocks or rebounds, but it won’t dramatically change his ability to shoot the ball. For that, more SPP is warranted. (Or a hypnotist, or a voodoo shaman. The guy has a 43% career free throw rate. Who even knows at this point.)
Squatting isn’t fixing this form.
That isn’t to say professional athletes can’t benefit from GPP also. A well balanced physical preparation program can clean up motor patterns, and get the top guys moving and feeling better, which in turn helps in the psychological component of sports performance.
Here is my best answer to what true sport specific training is, beyond you know, just playing your sport. For starters, you should read Anatoliy Bondarchuk’s Transfer of Training in Sports. Widely thought of as the greatest Olympic coach ever, Bondarchuk’s seminal work contains definitions of various exercises and how they fit in the general to specific continuum.
Though, you may need to read it twice because it is DENSE. From there, see if the exercise fits the principal of dynamic correspondence. For example, knee drives help with running, medial hip rotation exercises aid in throwing, and visual drills help you track objects better. If the exercise fits the principle, congratulations! It is a sport specific movement or exercise. If not, that’s okay too, just don’t sell it like it is!
From general preparation to specialized developmental exercises. This book has it all.
Mic drop, over to Coach Gray.
Chris Gray is a Senior Performance Specialist at Ignition APG in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has worked at 5 different universities at the collegiate level, as well as spent time working in the NFL, and with high schools. He can be reached at email@example.com or you can follow him on instagram @wgray70, twitter @CoachGray70
His thoughts are as follows:
MAKE SOME NOISE… and in the famous words of DJ Kool, “Let me clear my throat.”
GPP versus SPP
This has the makings of an epic Rocky fight that has been building for a number of years. It is a constant debate among coaches, parents, administrators, and professionals across all levels. Cue up some epic GPP and Sport Specific training montages.
Rocky went for some long strolls on the beach. Must be some serious high level boxing specific training right there.
Conversations usually start out like this…
“Coach, I want to do some more sport specific training.”
No matter what corner of the “sports performance” field you find yourself in, there is no doubt in my mind you have heard these phrases or used them yourself. Having coached at the collegiate level, trained NFL athletes, and now overseeing countless number of high school athletes, my response to this statement is always changing.
In the strength and conditioning world this has become a growing issue of debate.
Let’s get ready to rumble
“Fighting out of the blue corner” (in my best Michael Buffer voice) you will have your hard core purists that will argue tooth and nail that no one is in here having Tommy do a single arm DB overhead press while dribbling a basketball in the other. We are strength training. Working on aerobic capacity. TSpine. Flexibility. Original Strength (OS). Jumping. Landing. Hell, you get the point.
The movement purists will all cheer together, “MOVE WELL, MOVE OFTEN, MOVE WEIGHT.”
At the end of the day we are incorporating some progressive training principles while loading movements. That’s it. The belief is that we are training the holistic athlete and that we must treat them as an athlete before we take into account sport specificity.
“MOVE WELL, MOVE OFTEN, MOVE WEIGHT.”
If you can’t execute this order effectively you are putting the athlete in a car with bad breaks, with an alignment that’s slightly off, with a gas tank that’s half full. Sure you can go places, but the reality is that while this issue might not come out in the wash immediately, you are not setting this athlete up for the long term. Their return on investment will never be as great as it could be. This is ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT for athletes with a low “training age” (middle and high schoolers).
It’s like the old Stanford University “Marshmallow Test” (about delayed gratification). Would you rather have one marshmallow now or two in fifteen minutes? Those kids would stare at the marshmallow, cover their eyes, pull their hair, or even kick the desk. Frankly, if you jump into loading an athlete before they are ready, you will have the purists pulling their hair out and stomping their feet. But the reality is, in every sense of the analogy, two marshmallows are always better than one… even with the wait.
Delayed gratification is a struggle when you want it now.
For ALL of the athletes I work with, GPP is always part of the program- professionals to middle and high school. This includes those fundamental movements (hinge, push, pull, squat, carry and rotate) that we do, not just in our athletic endeavors, but also IN LIFE. Sure we all want Sally to be able to turn on a 60 mph rise ball sending it 240 feet to dead center, but helping her move better in life is equally important. The way I think about it with my younger athletes is like this.
We all watch the channel and the shows to see what Tiffany does with the drapes or the carpet in the living room. Did Greg really put a big screen TV in his “man cave”? I cant believe they went with the tile back splash. So chic.
Tarek has to make sure the foundation is solid before Christina can spiff the place up
We all want to design rooms and floors and rush through the build. If your foundation is crap, chances are no amount of paint, wallpaper, or granite countertops can take your eyes away from the massive crack in your floor. The same goes for younger athletes. It’s important to spend time building the foundation before you start adding too much sport specificity.
Out of the “red corner” come the “trailblazers” of the modern fitness trend that is “Sport Specific Training”. These new guru’s scoff at Yessis, Boyle, Cressey and others, knowing that pushing the athlete in the deep end with an anchor tied to their feet and without those coveted “Nemo” floaties will force them to learn to swim immediately.
Okay Okay. This last part is a bit far fetched.
“If you balance on this thingy, while patting your head and rubbing your belly, muscle hypertrophy will be through the roof”)
The reality is what? Sport specific training is TRAINING SKILL SETS FOR THAT SPORT. That’s how I’ve always viewed it. It’s the running, jumping, swinging, striking, catching, throwing portion.
Can you execute specific lifts, mirror movements that are specific to that sport? SURE. What about speed and agility drills. HECK YES. With all athletes I work with, we work on some skills or movement patterns that are particular to that individual sport. With the tennis folk, chronic issues revolve around the wrist, elbow shoulder (serving and swinging) as well as the ankle, knee, hip (3 planes of movement acceleration and deceleration.) Do I spend time strengthening muscles associated with those areas? Yup. Do I spend time training and working on ROM as to increase ligament and joint integrity to those areas? Yup. Do we work hand eye coordination? Yup. All of these things will add value to the athlete and the demands on their sport.
With all of this being said… I want to REFRAME the request everyone makes from….
“Coach, I want to do some more sport specific training”
“Coach, how much sport specific training is right for me?”
For my NFL vets that I work with, their training age is so much greater than that of a high school freshman. They have much more time under a bar and working on fundamental movements where now their focus needs to be a bit more of applicable sport specific training. They need the granite countertop in the kitchen, the stainless steel appliances and hardwood floors. Their house has been built over time. While they still upkeep the foundation we turn the focus to more sport specific.
In the end it comes down to how well the foundation is built and that dictates how much sport specific training is needed, athlete by athlete.
Like many coaches I find myself giving out various technique cues throughout a session. Intrinsic prompts like, “Push through your glutes,” and extrinsic reminders such as, “Run away from the line.” If you can think of it, I’ve probably said it to the athletes I train. Recently, I was speaking with an athlete about the importance of joint stiffness in the ankles when running. He heard me say stiff and immediately commented, “I thought being stiff was a bad thing?” I replied, “Well, it depends… and I think I need to blog about this.” Based on the context, stiffness can be either a bad quality, or an extremely important factor in moving athletically.
When most people think of “stiff” or “tight” in regard to athleticism it’s usually spun in a negative connotation. The best runners and jumpers are usually lithe, supple, and graceful. Their movements are fluid, their limbs are stretchy, and the last word you would use to describe them would be stiff.
The world’s fastest man looking pretty limber here
Or would it? Take a closer look at what their legs do on contact before that powerful jump, effortless cut, or dynamic sprint. There isn’t a ton of give through their leg on touch down, especially in their lower limb (foot and ankle). The foot violently hits the ground, barely yields, and then rockets the athlete on to the next movement.
People hear stiff and immediately associate it with a malady or hindrance to performance. In the NBA being labeled a stiff conjures up images of Gheorghe Muresan and Manute Bol, both giants who could barely tie their shoes without looking like they might pull something. This super inflexible, tin man look is classified as stiffness as a physical feature. We don’t want that. Being able to move your joints through a full range of motion is critically important in getting strong and staying healthy. But what we do want is resilient, robust joints that can propel the body explosively. This would be stiffness as an ability.
Stiffness as a physical feature
Stiffness as an ability
In a perfect world we would have a blend of mobility and flexibility as a physical feature, and positional joint stiffness as an ability. If you have both you could twist like Barishnakov and jump like Lebron. Your body could use that stiffness when needed, and still be able to stretch, bend, and get into athletic positions.
Still not sold on this stiffness thing? Try this analogy I use when communicating this concept to my athletes. Think of a fully inflated basketball. The outside texture doesn’t have any give to it. You squeeze it, and it doesn’t collapse under the force of your hands. Now think of a half inflated basketball. A slight push will distort the ball easily. There’s no push back or stiffness to the ball itself. Now, which one bounces higher? The inflated one of course! The balls ability to not collapse on itself and bounce high is exactly the sort of quality we want out of our athletes. Their leg hits the ground, they stay solid and stiff, and they bounce on to that next step or jump.
Below I have listed three easy things you can do to help increase your own lower leg stiffness:
So if someone ever calls you stiff hopefully you shoot back “Yea I have great foot and ankle stiffness as an ability.” before you fly by em on the field ;).
- Standing and seated calf raises- A often overlooked exercise, the standing (gastroc) and seated (soleus) calf raises work your toes, feet, ankles, and both calf muscles in ways you don’t get out of bigger compound movements. The ability for these lower leg muscles to resist force is critical in delivering a blow into the ground when running or jumping.
- Run Shoe-less- Keep it primal and work those feet the way they were intended. But, be conscious of the surface. Cavemen didn’t have blacktop to contend with while chasing the wily antelope on the African Savannah. I would make a point of running shoe-less on field turf or softer grass. Those surfaces are much friendlier on the body than flying up and down the pavement sans shoes. The beauty of running shoe-less is that it can almost instantly fix up any heel striking issues, and the lack of cushioning from shoes requires the whole foot, ankle, and achillies to adapt to the stressors of running free footed. The more robust the foot and ankle become, the springier you will be once that adaptation takes place.
- Jump or better yet, land- Jumping is a fantastic way to develop full body power, coordination, and reactivity. But it’s the landing that really can provide positive adaptations in the lower limb and beyond. On every landing in a jump your foot can either hit the ground stay solid and jump again (think of the basketball analogy) or it can collapse on itself and lose the ability to use that descending force. The higher the fall, the greater the force. That’s a big reason why many coaches love altitude drops and depth jumps. Both exercises introduce impacts on the body you cant get with traditional barbell exercises alone.
depth jumps are a great option for developing foot and ankle stiffness
For athletes, it’s probably somewhere between these two 😉
As the field of strength and conditioning expands and grows it has become abundantly clear that there is a lot more to improving athletes than just slapping a couple more pounds on their squat or bench press. Long accepted views on certain exercises are being questioned. The church of squatting ass to grass for speed development is spawning some heretics who are gaining a following; conditioning models are being examined more closely (I’m talking to you long slow distance for baseball and softball advocates); and many athletes are figuring out that being in a relaxed, recovered state improves performance instead of just grinding yourself into dust daily.
One of the biggest questions left that has many coaches doubting their very existence is how strong is strong enough. Scary…the word strength is in the job description! Surely more strength is always better! For years I figured that if I could squat 600 or 700 pounds that I would be a better athlete, capable of dominating whatever sport I chose. Then I met a guy who actually squatted 1,000 who told me I was sorely mistaken for thinking that way. Talk about deflating. But, it was a good lesson into max strength not being the end all and be all to performance. In order to squat that type of weight I might have had to put on 100 pounds, which would have totally changed the way I moved on the field. More max strength in my situation might have turned a tall lean outside linebacker who moved well, into a fat offensive tackle that couldn’t get out of his own way.
Mac’s strength went up but speed waaay down
Movement skills in sports reign supreme. Moving with a frame that makes sense for your position is the holy grail of athletics. Running, jumping, cutting and throwing are all actual things you do in competition. Doing them well involves a blend of both general and specific physical qualities. Chasing weight room numbers and overlooking running cutting and sport skills is missing a big part of what it is to perform at a high level.
This isn’t black and white either. A nice heavy front squat or a max effort overhead press still are impressive and may have some carry over to performance on the field or court. But like all things, there is a level of diminishing returns with certain exercises and athletic improvements. Don’t get me wrong, general strength still matters. An athlete that can barely control and move their own body, let alone perform a loaded exercise USUALLY will have a tough time finding some playing time. We don’t want weak-you can’t shoot a cannonball out of a canoe.
Sure there are outliers in sport that defy this model. There is a great video that has been circulating the internet featuring Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis just getting his tail whipped by his strength coach. In it, he looks like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Howling, convulsing and sweating with the culprit being some basic body weight squats and lunges. So there’s one guy that breaks the mold. Albeit he’s a 7’3″ highly skilled hooper who can shoot it from 30′ feet. But, it’s cool to see that he STILL realizes that he has to get stronger to improve his game.” The NBA is a grown man’s league. Strength still matters. Even if you are a Unicorn from Latvia with a frame to skill set ratio never seen before.
The big guy putting in work
So how strong is strong enough? I guess it depends on the age of the athlete (13 vs 23), the gender (male vs female), the level of competition (JV vs Pro), what is required of the sport (hockey vs soccer) and the standard height and weight for the position (point guard vs center).
If you are trying to play lineman in college football and weigh 190, you simply don’t have the weight required for that position. It’s just a reality. This doesn’t just apply to the gridiron. If a track athlete doesn’t have enough relative body strength to hold their body in certain critical running positions they will never run as well as they can. If you are gassed after running a 12 minute mile I’m guessing it’s going to be tough to play midfield for the US national soccer team.
One thing I try to ask any kid I work with is what do you think YOU need to work on. Unfortunately, height is a tough one to change. But weight, strength, speed, jumping and cutting are all trainable features. I have a college running back I work with who bench presses over 400 pounds. For him, benching 450 might not be the difference between shaking a linebacker or not. His general strength is so high that he can devote more time to running and moving that strong frame. Conversely, I have several new younger female athletes that can’t squat half of their own body weight. For them, prioritizing their strength might be of more importance at this stage in the game.
Overall, “how strong is strong enough” is a tough question to answer completely as it is very context specific. I’d say shift back to a 30,000 foot view and see just what the athlete can control. If they stack up strength wise with their peers, I’d say continue strength training but don’t obsess over it. Mix in a healthy dose of sprinting, moving, recovering, all of which together should lead to improved performance and more time succeeding in your sport.
The summer can be a great time to lounge on the lake, work on your tan, or read a new book. For athletes, I think it’s a tremendous opportunity to take your physical preparation up a notch. In no particular order, here are some points worth considering when planning out these upcoming months.
These two got after it from June through August.
Sprint more. Jog less.
It’s 2017. Cars will soon be driving themselves, you can 3D print a house, and by some feat of black magic, I can now get delivery from Amazon on Sundays. But, the most incredible thing I’ve seen recently is that athletes are still attempting to get faster by jogging. Now, I don’t hate jogging inherently. For some populations it can be a fun and rewarding sort of thing. But, for athletes trying to actually get faster? Please God, no. I’d rather hear a tape recording of Fran Drescher laughing for an hour than listen to another athlete tell me they are jogging to get faster.
Sprinting is a beautiful thing. It’s Neuro-muscularly dense with highly choreographed limb movements, and at the highest levels both graceful and violent. Jogging? Sorry, there ain’t a ton of grace and violence required to slog out a 10 min mile. I deal in getting kids faster, not slower. Here’s what gets me about the jogging stuff. If I want to train my body to be really fast, why would I do that by going really slow? Sprint! Sprint with a purpose. Sprint well. Video yourself sprinting and see what you need to work on. Speed kills. Don’t kill speed by jogging the life out of it this summer.
Practice Your Sport
This is mainly a dig at football players, but this premise can easily be extended into other sports realms as well. As a former slightly above average college football player, I have actually lived it. In my playing days I set up shop in the weight room all summer long.
One year I worked at a camp from June to August and didn’t have access to a car. So I’d bike every day after work to a gym to get mah swellz on. Five to eight hours a week on biceps and triceps, zero hours a week on backpedaling and pass rushing. Well-intentioned for sure and my arms looked great, but misguided none the less.
Now, I always work something sporting into my athletes’ warm ups prior to the weight work. Route trees for wide outs, medicine ball suplexes for wrestlers, or defensive slides for hoopers. I will find some exercises that transfer to competition and will aid the athlete in their sport of choice.
Take an Active Role
While I want to avoid throwing TOO much information at my charges to avoid a paralysis by analysis issue, I think most of the “best” athletes I’ve trained don’t just take everything I say for granted. They question, try to find out more, and if possible I point them in that direction. There is tremendous value in learning something new. Read a book or talk to someone who has been around the water cooler for more than a week. The “why” behind the “what” should be a feature your trainer can explain in some sort of detail.
There’s one very successful college athlete that I haven’t worked out in years, yet I still text frequently with training talk. The kid does his homework and then some. He reads, listens to podcasts, experiments on himself. It’s pretty cool watching from the sidelines and seeing the work he is putting into his craft. You need to take ownership. The information is out there. Find some reputable sources and don’t just blindly follow one idea or philosophy.
Find a body weight that works for you, your sport, and your position
I’m talking to you 150 pound linemen and 125 pound pitchers. Force = mass x acceleration, right? It’s tough to deliver a blow or throw something really fast if you are having trouble filling out a medium sized t-shirt. At 16 or 17 a 190 pound left tackle might work for the high school level. Or maybe, you’ve got some good junk that transcends your slighter frame in the schoolboy ranks.
180 in high school might be a little thin for a college linebacker (that’s me ha!)
Also not the prototypical look for a goalie
But, eventually you are going to have to get large enough for the level you are playing at. Sure there are outliers, smaller guys in the professional ranks. But those are generally the types of players with off the charts athleticism. Look at the level you are trying to play at and see where you stack up with your size, athleticism, and skill set. Target what you need to improve and attack it.
Strength Train with a Purpose
I love 1×20, I also love 5,3,1 and believe it or not, I have seen good results from 5×5. You know what I like the best though? Trying really hard. While methods are important, the effort and application will trump the program nearly every time. The pursuit of getting better with every workout is a fundamental part of all of this.
There are smart ways to train. There also isn’t a magic bean. Realize that effort and working smart are your best friends on this odyssey. Two focused days a week beats five half-assed sessions every time. More is not better, better is better. Train, recover, and reap the benefits.
Measure Your Progress
Feeling like you are stronger or are jumping higher is a nice thing. But wouldn’t you want to know it too? Find a strength or athletic measurable that makes sense for your sport, test it, then retest after several weeks. If you have gotten better continue what you are doing. If not, get back to the drawing board.
145 pounds touching 10’10” to 160 pounds touching over 11’4″
I first met Jeff Moyer of DC Sports Training during double sessions of our freshman year of football at Hartwick College. We were both too tall, too skinny and too naive to even know that we looked like human popsicles. Both of us played early, became pals and worked out together through our time in school.
I like to think I have been exposed to a variety of different training philosophy’s through the years. From circuits and Olympic style splits in college to power lifting influenced methods to 1×20, I have a pretty solid grasp of what is out there in terms of improving young athletes. Jeff makes me look as green as my father in laws lawn. He has picked Louie Simmons (godfather of modern power lifting) brain at Westside Barbell, written for major sports performance publications (elitefts, CVASPS), skypes with arguably the greatest strength coach ever (Anatoliy Bondarchuk) corresponds with arguably the greatest track coach ever (Henk Kraaijenhof) is a protoge of sports biomechanist Dr. Michael Yessis and still finds time to bust my chops when I do something questionable with one of my athletes ;).
You may have heard the phrase “leave no stone unturned” in seeking knowledge. Jeff will figuratively blow up a mountain to make some more stones to turn over. I think the guy has read more books in the past year than most will in a lifetime. Recently, he has sunk his teeth into the field of sports vision and is doing some pretty incredible stuff with his athletes. Since this sub genre of sports performance is still new to many coaches, parents and athletes I thought it would be cool if I could get him to sit down and answer a few questions on the topic.
Brian– Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
Jeff– I am the owner of a training facility called Dynamic Correspondence Sports Training, that is located in Pittsburgh PA.
B– You hear the term sports vision thrown around a lot, what does this phrase mean to you?
The eyes do a lot!
J– The term “sports vision training” to me is synonymous with term “strength and conditioning.” Both resemble only a part of what we do and what an athlete needs and what we do as coaches. Vision is about the input side of how an athlete perceives whats going on. To me what “sports vision” really is about, is understanding the athletes input side and how it affects the athletes output. Their movements and actions on the field / court. We aren’t necessarily trying to just improve the athletes visual skills, but rather teach them how to better use the ones they already have.
B-You have a lot of fun looking toys that you use with your athletes for their vision training. Would you mind explaining a little about what they are and why you use them?
J-The toys that we have are just tools in the toolbox. They all serve a purpose but not all of them will fix every issue that an athlete needs. Its important to state that because a lot of these technology companies claim that they can do everything. The fact of the matter is they are all just tools. But if you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Visual training tools at DC training
So depending on what we are trying to work on, will use our FitLights as a visual stimulus to work on eye-hand, eye-foot reaction & coordination. We will also use the lights as a visual stimuli for motor learning if we are trying to work on some technical drills. We will also use the lights along with some numbered charts & or a ping pong machine to work on visual information process, reaction, identification and eye-hand coordination.
B– Can visual work be done daily? When would you recommend scheduling it in a training session and why?
J– It can! What is great about doing “visual work” is that it is not taxing on the athletes nervous system. So its great to do daily, while recovering from games/practice/training. Recovering from injury.
B– What are some common visual issues with many athletes?
J– Insufficient binocularity. Which means the inability for the athletes to focus and receive information from both eyes in order to create a 3D objects which in turn helps with depth perception (the ability to perceive the world in three-dimensions and to be able to determine distance and speed between objects).
Also the ability to control their eyes while they are thinking. Conscious thinking can effect eye control. You see this in a lot of athletes that either look up, down, or around while they are thinking. Some even go “consciously blind” while they are thinking. This means that they visual block out the information they are looking at to concentrate on whatever they are thinking about. For instance: how many of you have ever read a few pages of a book, but then forgot everything that you just read because you were mentally thinking about something else?
B– Can visual issues like tracking the ball be fixed? How?
J– Yes and no. Depends on the issues as to why they are having trouble tracking the ball. They can certainly be improved upon.
A lot of times parents / coaches will tell an athlete to focus on the ball, but that doesn’t always improve tracking skills. So we can teach the athlete how to focus better.
B– Can you share any visual success stories you have had with your athletes?
J– All of our high school baseball and softball players average batting average is over 500. On base percentage of 800.
B– Dr. Harrison and Slow The Game Down has been around for the better part of 40 years. With Coastal Carolina using their products and winning the College World Series last season do you think more folks will start trying their methods?
J– I believe that with everything that is going on with concussions in sports that vision – perception and action are going to be the avenues that coaches will begin to start looking for to improve their athletes performances. Also, if people just take a second to look at the results that Dr. Harrison and Slow the Game Down has had throughout the years…I mean their results speak for themselves.
In game focus from an unlikely champion
Who doesn’t? Team sports reward players that can get up a couple more inches than their opponents. Rebounds in hoop, headers in soccer, even robbing homers in baseball, all come easier if you have some prolific “bunnies.”
Goalies need hops too
I’ve been fortunate to work with some vertically gifted athletes through the years. Touch the top of the square, sub 6′ and dunking, kangaroo-esque type of kids. I got to thinking, what makes these athletes springier than their gravity challenged peers?
Is there some magic bean or secret program that allowed them to soar like Icarus through the heavens? Well, don’t hold your breath, because there isn’t. But, there are some athletic qualities and considerations that I think jumping athletes should be aware of, and if improved can have even the most ground bound baller jumping better.
In no particular order I have listed several qualities that I think can help add inches to anyone’s bounce.
This is a huge metric in the NBA combine and for good reason. Lean muscle tissue can contract and produce force and generate movement. Adipose (fat) tissue cannot. There are exceptions to the rule, but it’s rare to see someone with over 20 percent body fat flying around like a snow leopard.
Snow leopards…lean and bouncy
I think most would agree that we need our brain, internal organs, and bones to live. So yeah, we HAVE to carry that weight. But the extra fat we carry around might not help us from a performance perspective.
Activate and Use Zone 1 (diaphragm, psoas, glute)
This feature is still fairly new to me, but has totally changed my world and views on performance. Think of it as getting your body to fire on all cylinders. Now you might have a V-8 engine and are a pretty solid athlete without even giving pause to think about this stuff. But, what if your body was only firing on 5 or 6 valves? You’d be missing out on some serious horsepower, no?
The activation or wake up drills I’ve learned can help you harness your full potential. If you can begin to fire out from zone one, a host of other qualities improve. People I have activated zone one on claim to be sleeping better, experience less pain, feel “bouncier,” balanced and lighter on their feet.
Zone one activated
I myself have never been a tremendous jumper, probably slightly above average through my playing days. I’m 6’6″ so dunking wasn’t too big of an issue. As I began strength and athletic training in college I found myself jumping slightly higher, but wasn’t pulling off any Vince Carter type of dunks.
As I got into my thirties I reached a point where I was like, “I’m not sure I can still dunk 😂.” I resigned myself to saying, “those days are done.” Right or wrong, when you hit that 3-0 milestone athleticism tends to fade at a pretty rapid rate. After I learned the activation drills I feel “twitchy” again. My knees don’t hurt and I feel like I’m driving out from my hips the way you’re supposed to. It’s like I’m in college again.
At 35 I even dunked with two hands in khakis and dress shoes the other day. Crazy stuff! If I had only known about activating zone one when I was playing. I can’t go back and do it all over, but I can teach it to today’s athletes and have them learn and apply it at an earlier age.
Positional Isometric Strength
Most people would agree that you need to be relatively strong to jump well. You can’t shoot a cannon ball out of a canoe. So we squat, dead lift, lunge, and do all those great exercises in hopes of getting better at jumping and running. And it works… to a degree.
I’ve written before about the SAID principle and how important it is in attacking specific physical qualities. It works here too. Positional isometric strength simply means in this instance getting stronger in the position you jump out of. It’s not a full squat. It’s not even a half squat. In many cases, it’s a quarter or eighth of a squat. I know many dogmatic gym fiends that would find that concept akin to spitting on a picture of Arnold, but in order to get better out of that jumping position let’s strengthen that jumping position!
I want an athlete that when he descends down to jump and hits that isometric contraction at the bottom loses no energy at moment of takeoff, and just flies out of the hole towards the heavens. Watch any great jumper and you will see that when they rip down towards the ground they look like a rock in that bottom position. No energy is wasted.
Think of it this way- what bounces higher? A deflated or an inflated ball? An inflated ball is more stable and rigid when it hits the ground, and therefore bounces higher. More strength and stability at the bottom of your jump equals a higher bounce!
People in the strength and conditioning field always seem to be talking about triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips. It’s the “show” portion of most athletic movements. Jumping up, jumping out, and sprinting powerfully all owe their “wow” factor to a forceful contraction of those extensor muscles.
For good reason too! Powerful glutes, hamstrings, and calves are critical to explosive athletic movements. But folks often times overlook the “load” portion of the load and explode- the triple flexion. The faster and more dynamic the ankles, knees, and hips can bend, the more forceful the triple extension can be. It’s the reason a counter movement jump will always test better than a jump without a counter movement.
Think of that inflated ball we were talking about earlier. If you just casually drop it, the height of the bounce off of the floor will be pedestrian. But if you really chuck it at the ground, it will soar towards the sky. The same thing works for jumping athletes. The more aggressively you approach the jump, the greater potential there is to explode up off of the ground.
Aggressive triple flexion creates dynamic triple extension
Extensive to Intensive Jumps
Introduce your jumping program slowly. Don’t put the cart before the horse. Many folks will try to throw depth jumps in day one because they are considered to be the magic jumping exercise. I think depth jumps are great, but I’d say wait until you have built up a solid foundation of jumping ability before adding depth jumps into the arsenal.
How long do you wait? It depends, but rule of thumb is when plateaus are hit then change the stimulus. Extensive jumps are usually lower in intensity and done for multiple reps. Intensive jumps on the other hand are usually lower rep and more forceful in nature. Intensive jumps are “shock jumps” if you will. Transitioning from extensive to intensive jumps will adequately prepare the body for the increased stress, avoiding injury and jumping higher in the process.
Above the square is a great marker for any hooper
While this list isn’t exhaustive, hopefully it can give you or your young athlete a better understanding of things to consider in your attempts to jump higher.
That is the question.
Billy Shakespeare’s seminal soliloquy from Hamlet questioned the very existence of man himself. I recently learned a thought provoking concept that had me questioning how I train my athletes. Exploding versus imploding has changed how I view human movement from a performance, injury prevention, and force distribution perspective. Simply put, it’s a game changer. One that can help Danish princes to local athletes, and anyone in between.
Ole Billy S, pondering explosion versus implosion no doubt
You’ve probably heard the coaching cues before: explode off the line, explode through your hips, or explode off the ground. It’s an innate part of being a powerful athlete- driving out not in. Funny, not once through my years around sports have I ever heard a coach exclaim, “Implode into yourself on that throw Johnson!” Or “When you see that ball move I want you to cave like the Tacoma narrows bridge!” It’s counter intuitive to what one would want to achieve in sports. But, chances are your own muscle firing patterns might mirror this imploding sequence.
How you ask? Well it all comes down to zones of activation, breathing, and a special little muscle called the psoas. A little back story for this tale is necessary. I have the privilege of having a close friend who is one of the best trainers in the country. I played college football with Jeff Moyer of D.C. Sports Training and he has transformed himself into a sports training savant. 90 percent of the ideas and concepts I mull over and try in the gym and field stem from something I’ve been exposed to by Moyer.
Through Moyer’s various connections in the industry, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with some world class coaches. Recently, I had the chance to meet Moyer in Rochester where we met with Performance Coach Dan Fichter, owner of Wanna Get Fast, in Pittsford, New York. Fichter is also the head football coach at Irondequoit High School, and won Rochester Coach of the Year in 2014. He’s also one of the top running experts in the country and Fichter’s track teams have won six section five titles in eight years. He has spoken at the Nike Indoor Nationals and various podcasts throughout the interwebs. Fichter is also responsible for bringing Douglas Heel, creator of Be Activated, over to the United States from South Africa five years ago. Be Activated is a neurolymphatic driven system of compensation resets and “wake up” drills that was initially designed for physical therapists and medical practitioners. Since then, some of the language has been changed and RPR (Reflexive Performance Reset) was created for the performance side of the industry. RPR is the official performance provider of Douglas’ Be Activated teachings. Dan is also looking to integrate more neurology into the RPR system. I had the opportunity to take a RPR course earlier this year and was blown away. I wanted to know more. I figured who better to learn from than the guy that actually brought Douglas over to the states.
So, back to the question at hand. Exploding versus imploding. This picture is important in understanding the implosion vs explosion concept.
Muscle action and movement is most optimal when generated from zone one and driven proximally to distally. The big players in zone one are the diaphragm, psoas, and glutes. The diaphragm controls breathing, fibers from the psoas tie into the diaphragm, and the glute is the reciprocal muscle to the psoas.
Explosion driving out proximal to distal. Implosion driving up distal to proximal
What does this all mean? Well for one, breathing can effect every joint action in your body. The crazy thing about that concept is that most people breath in an inefficient manner. Breathing poorly can generate a host of other issues throughout the body. The psoas, in theory, should be the major hip flexor in the body. But life, training, and other stressors can actually generate hip flexion in other zones. It is quite possible that your quad can drive hip flexion (zone two), or even crazier your shins (tib anterior, zone three) can do it. So, what we have is an implosion pattern with muscle force driving up (distally to proximally) instead of out.
Up instead of out can lead to injuries because the body is handling force in a poor pattern. It also can lead to hindrance in performance because the body isn’t working in an efficient manner. How do we determine this? We test, activate, and reset the system to be more efficient. Look into contacting the fine folks at RPR or Be Activated or a certified coach in the systems to find out more.
Though Michael Scott left the exciting world of paper products in 2011 on the irreverent mocumentary, “The Office”, his impact in quotables and memes is still being felt today. Namely, his catch phrase, “That’s what she said.” How does this wizard of Wilkes-Barre relate to the world of athletic performance? Good question. It all comes down to perhaps the most important concept in physical preparation- the S.A.I.D. principle.
This acronym stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. In layman’s terms, if you want to get better at X, do X. If you want to get better at Y, do Y. Training in essence is the interplay between stress and adaptation. This hypothetical stressor could target any number of physical changes. Language, motor learning, muscle growth, the applications are nearly limitless. Want to speak Portuguese? Move to Rio and immerse yourself in the language. Want bigger shoulders? Move your scaps in all planes against resistance. Want to see a two-seam fastball better? Train your depth perception and play around with higher velocity pitches. It almost seems too easy. Surely you need a double-secret program with principles only a Soviet sports scientist could decipher.
With a concept that simple, why do so many people train in ways that don’t sync up to their athletic goals? I’ve seen fatigue promoted over development, underweight athletes eating like birds “trying” to put on weight, and football linemen living in the weight room but never doing a pass pro set all summer. Of all these head scratchers, the one that gets my goat the most is the athlete who knows they need to get faster, yet for whatever reason decides that they don’t need to sprint. Even more eyebrow raising, is when that athlete decides to jog or do solely aerobic work for speed development. That’s like trying to learn Portuguese in Shanghai. It’s counter-intuitive, backward, and sadly a big part of what many athletes do today.
That’s where the S.A.I.D. principle can serve as a checks and balances for any athlete. If a baseball player somehow finds himself doing heavy strength work in the sagital plane and zero rotational or power based exercises in the frontal plane, he should ask his coach, “Is this S.A.I.D.?” And adjust accordingly. If a 400 meter track athlete is hitting 800’s and 200’s but nothing in the world of 400’s, he should ask himself, “Is this S.A.I.D.?” Or, if a basketball player is hammering trunk stability exercises, but doing no jump work, she should look at her program and wonder, “Is this S.A.I.D.?”
Hopefully you don’t train the way Michael Scott speaks.
Now, it’s perfectly fine to go off the path a bit for novelty, fun, or team building. Training should be an enjoyable experience and need not be a hyper structured, over-analyzed, misery march. But, you still have to make sure what you are doing makes sense for your sport.
Surely there are nuances to each program and sport in respect to the context of the athlete. Those different scenarios could be 100 different articles for 100 different athletes. But, the main point is to make sure what you are doing makes sense in terms of getting better. I’ve been there. My training approach for football during my teen years was: never squat, do barbell curls until I couldn’t feel my arms, and eat like Ghandi on a hunger strike. So yeah, I followed my fair share of questionable methods. I want others to learn from my foibles. Have a plan, be sure it follows the S.A.I.D. principle, and attack it relentlessly.
It really doesn’t
I usually run my blogging ideas past my darling wife, Renee, before actually putting any keystrokes down on wordpress. She’s a lovely, encouraging sort of person, and typically thinks whatever I write is worthy of a Pulitzer. But, when I told her I was considering writing an article about a goblet squat, she snickered and proceeded to roast me a bit. “Goblet squats? What’s next an article on blinking or taking a nap?” Yes, this seemingly mundane exercise isn’t sexy, innovative, or mind blowing by any stretch. But, what it lacks in flash it makes up for in safety and effectiveness. It is also a great progression in a squat series, and can be a tough task for those looking for a mental or physical challenge.
While I appreciate the camaraderie of a hard team lift, I’ll take the spinal position to the right thank you very much.
One of my favorite games to play with any new client is what I like to call “The Goblet Challenge.” In getting to know each athlete, I ask about their training and injury history, goals for their sport, and if they think Lil Yachty is a better rapper than Tupac.
If they are a high school kid who has previously trained, I’ll ask them how much they squat. Usually they will respond with a number in the 300s or 400s. I’ll respond, “Wow that’s awesome,” and then proceed to show them what a five second negative goblet squat should look like. From there, I’ll have them hit a couple increasing warm up sets and let them pick their own weight. But, with a catch- you have to give me at least 20 reps. This is where it gets interesting. Usually around rep seven they forget what a five second negative looks like, and start dive-bombing to the ground. I’ll then say, “Let me count for you,” and the slowest 1…….2…….3…….4……..5 you’ve ever heard creeps out of my grinning mouth.
If they were overzealous in their weight selection, they often start convulsing around 10-15 reps. “Gotta know your body. Listen to your warm up sets,” I’ll matter of factly state. If their spine starts looking like a question mark in a rainstorm, I’ll stop the set short. But otherwise, I’m looking for that 20 reps one way or another.
Bryce Harper’s contract is worth 400 million. He might want to invest in someone who cares about his spine.
If the 20th rep has slowed to a crawl I’ll have the athlete stop. If not, time to book your ticket to 25 or 30 town. Since I’m not a complete sadist, I’ll usually stop everyone around 30 reps. Then I’ll have them look down at the dumbbell they just used. What happens is the guy that told me they squatted 365 just got humbled by a 50 pound dumbbell. Head scratcher for sure.
Here’s my point- just because you put a weight on your back doesn’t mean you actually even “squatted” it, or that you squatted it well. Maximal effort squatting should be used sparingly, tactfully, and not at all with most high school kids. The juice isn’t really worth the squeeze in my opinion. You greatly increase the risk of injury, reinforce poor motor patterns, and set kids up for psychological roadblocks when they invariably stall. I goblet kids till they literally can’t hold the dumbbell anymore. Then we will front or back squat while applying the technique they learned from that easier goblet method.
Progression is huge in squatting well.
At the end of the day, strength is general. For the high school athlete, slower, more controlled, high rep work is a better option for developing strength than squirming under a weight they can’t handle. If you can take a 120 pound dumbbell and goblet squat it well for a 5 second negative set of 20, you are a strong human and I don’t really need to know what your one rep max is. For me, running, jumping, throwing, catching, and cutting are more telling of what an athlete is capable of athletically. If you can max squat with proper form, then great. If not, keep the reps high, keep the tempo slow, and earn the right to lift heavy. And remember, a squat is just one piece of athletic development, it ain’t the whole puzzle.
Max effort? If you look like Ronnie in his prime go for it, if not maybe lighten the load a bit