Musings from the Coach's Desk

TAGS: by the coach for the coach, education, training athletes, strength and conditioning, coaching, success, dynamic effort, max effort

elitefts™ Sunday Edition

Every morning at about 4:30 a.m., I walk my dogs one and a half miles around my neighborhood (on weekends, I sleep in until 5:00 a.m.). When walking, I listen to podcasts or books on my phone, catch the BBC or just think without listening to anything. With all this thinking time, I tend to get my mind wrapped around a topic and it won’t leave me. It haunts me on the dark streets of my hood (it's a tough neighborhood...the Bentley dealer recently shut down). In order to exercise my demons and let these thoughts out so that the world can see the inner workings of Todd Hamer's mind, I've decided to just give you a list of these deep thoughts. Yes, they all relate to training or coaching. Well, they eventually get there...

1. Eat more than one marshmallow.

If you don't know the marshmallow experiment, shame on you. Now that I've insulted you (I hope not), I'll give you the rundown. The marshmallow experiment was done in the 1960s and 1970s at Stanford. It's important because it showed that delayed gratification leads to much greater success. The researchers gave young kids a marshmallow and then told them that if they waited five minutes without eating the marshmallow, they would be given a second marshmallow. The children were then followed in life and it was found that the delayed gratification group (the kids who waited for the second marshmallow) were more successful. You may ask, as I did, how did the researchers define success? They used SAT scores, BMI (yes, I'm off the charts' too) and marks in school to determine success.

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Why is this important to us? We live with delayed gratification. If you work with a basketball team that will play thirty games and your star player plays every minute of every game, that star player will have played 1200 minutes of basketball in a year. This is only twenty hours of his game. According to the NCAA rules, we have twenty hours with our athletes. This includes training, lifting, conditioning, practice, film and a multitude of other activities. So in one week, your star player has spent the same amount of time preparing for basketball as he will play basketball all season. If you can teach him about delaying gratification, how much easier will it be to convince him to train harder? Work harder and the marshmallows at the end are that much bigger. Do more work and the marshmallows grow in quantity and quality!

2. If your athlete does it, it’s wrong.

I know this is a harsh statement, but hear me out. Most of our athletes show up very green, and most of the time, they have been told how great they are throughout their careers. Additionally, most high school athletes have never truly worked hard. They think they have, but test the work capacity of most freshmen and you'll find that it's lacking. With this in mind, tell your young staff to do the opposite of what the athletes do. If the athletes sleep in, they must get up early. If the athletes eat poorly, they must eat better. If the athletes want to party, they should study. I hope you see where I'm going with this.

The point is do the opposite and educate your young staff as to which is the right way to live. Most 18-year-olds think they know something. As I’ve learned by 38, they don't and neither do I. But I know a little more than yesterday.

3. Educate those around you without insulting them.

After my first two points, this seems hard to do. Let’s go back to our freshman. A freshman male lacrosse player comes to the weight room for the first time. He thinks that he worked hard in high school. His team won states and he was the captain of that team. Also, he was the strongest and fastest dude around in high school. Your job is to get him working hard and doing things better than he has ever done them. If you tell him that he has never worked hard, eight out of ten times, he will shut down. We must build relationships. Let that young man see that he is behind the upperclassmen.

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One way that I do this is through education. When an athlete arrives and tells me that he knows a lift, I say, "OK, let me see you perform that lift." Then I educate him. The great thing about using this method is that on a rare occasion, you get an athlete who isn't that bad at the lift. Twice this year, lacrosse athletes (one male and one female) shocked me with their technique. When this occurs, I'll ask them who they trained with in high school. Sometimes the answer is someone I know, and when it isn’t, I Google that person, contact him or her, and thank him or her for teaching the athlete something useful.

This rule holds true with staff members. Young staff members will tend to hold their first boss as the gold standard. Let them see what you do so that they can see why you're different than their previous boss. All my staff at one point or another worked for Cam Davidson at Penn State University. Cam is a good friend and I respect him immensely, but I do things differently than he does. I have to explain and educate my staff as to why I do it my way while still trying to steal anything and everything that Cam does.

4. You will be frustrated and, if you aren't, you aren't successful.

All successful people are frustrated. I lose sleep at least once a week due to work. This may be a little unhealthy, but it’s the price I'm willing to pay to try to be the best I can at what I do. Whenever I go to a conference and I hear a coach say that every athlete at school X does it this way and no one cheats, I tend to quit listening. The fact is we all work with a wide variety of athletes who are very diverse. Dealing with 18- to 23-year-old kids from every walk of life means that you'll have mature athletes, immature athletes, liars, honest kids, kids who drink too much (or worse), kids who pray every minute of every day and every other type of kid you can imagine. Running the gamut of individuals like we do, someone will cheat you a rep while another kid will run through the wall for you. Admit this to yourself, get frustrated and change the kid who doesn’t want to buy in. Then when you get everyone on board and all is well...here come some new freshman. Reread all the points above.

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5. Humans never have and never will improve linearly.

I love history. I can't go a day without thinking about how we came to be and where we're heading. When I read history, I try to think about how what I'm reading looked to those living it and then how it affected the next generation and what they saw. It’s a sociological, psychological trip that will never end. Just like with training, I've learned that the deeper we dig, the more we see how humans go through highs and lows. Sometimes humans screwed up and left us with the dark ages in Europe. At other times, humans stepped up and educated the masses. On a side note, I believe that we're experiencing a drop in innovation (feel free to tell me that I’m clueless) right now. We're much more tech savvy, but who is working on a cure for Alzheimer's disease or a solution for pollution? Why are we still building and driving cars the way that Henry Ford did? I digress...

With all this said, our athletes will have great micro/mesocycles as well as poor micro/mesocycles. They will also have off days for no reason other than they don’t feel good (even if HRV says go train). Knowing this, be an artist. Adjust when an athlete is down and crank it up when the athlete is up. Ride the wave sometimes and let’s see how great these athletes can be.

6. Eighty percent is awesome 90 percent of the time.

As we all know, when anything becomes the new trend, people jump on it and either love it or hate it. When Louie became more popular, people started jumping on the Westside bandwagon and training dynamic effort one day and max effort the next. Many people, including me, did this for years. While the classic Westside Barbell approach has some great ideas and has made many people much stronger, there is one big weakness—the lack of 80 percent training. It's a mistake I made in my own training as well.

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Dynamic effort days are spent at 60 percent and max effort days are spent at 90–110 percent if we follow Prilipen's chart. This is good and it makes sense, but I'm here to fight for the lonely 80 percent. Over the last few years, I've spent more time doing modified max effort work and trying to never, or rarely, miss a rep. With this in mind, 80 percent is a great starting point for this type of training. When using 80 percent, we rarely lose technique, yet we still learn to strain.

With my athletes, the lift doesn’t become just the body trying to survive the lift. The lift actual means something and is done as a quality rep. When an athlete does a 100 percent bench (especially younger athletes), the body only wants to survive and will do anything it takes to get the lift. This includes using the sternum as a trampoline, short repping the movement or flaring so hard that the bar is pressed over the eyes. When the athlete uses 80 percent, he can actually work on technique and try to put force into the bar. So while 80 percent may not cure cancer, it will help the athlete and the coach improve.

I hope these points gave you some things to think about while you walk your dogs at 4:30 in the morning.

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