As coaches, we all know about the myriad problems we’ll encounter in the course of trying to make our athletes better. These problems are generated by everyone our players come into contact with on a daily basis. From their parents, to their friends, to the ubiquitous “guys on message boards,” our kids are bombarded with stuff that’s not coming from us. From where I’m standing, there are two major problems with this:

1. We don’t know where this information is coming from. In fact, we don’t even know what the information is in the first place. How many high school coaches have kids coming up to them, every single day, with questions like, “Coach, if I take too much creatine, does that mean it’s easier to get my girl pregnant?”

2. Of all the information they’re hearing, we don’t know what our kids are actually retaining. What do they remember more? When we tell them how much protein they need to eat and how much sleep they need to get? Or do they remember when “Willie at the gym” tells them they need to swallow a bottle of niacin before doing preacher curls so their veins pop out more?

There’s no way of knowing what’s absorbed and what’s not, because kids are hard to read, even if you’ve been doing this for a while. They can regurgitate just about anything back to you if you ask them to, but do they understand why what you’ve told them is the right thing to do? Or is it more glamorous for them to think about what the jacked up ex-con down the street told them about how reverse curl strip sets made him the king of the cell block for the past eight years?

Last season, I was helping one of my receivers prepare for a local “combine” event, where numerous college football coaches would be in attendance. The kid was totally dedicated to the process of getting himself ready for the various combine events, so I did what I could to help him out. Every chance we had, we’d go out to the field and work on the various things I thought could improve his performance.

Now, I’ve spend a lot of time researching this stuff. I’m a big Charlie Francis advocate, and I’ve used his work – and the work of several other combine experts – to come up with a philosophy of what I think works for these events. I wouldn’t call myself a “combine expert” by any stretch of the imagination, but how hard is it to figure out what works for a series of bullshit agility drills? Pay attention to what the high achievers are doing at the combine, figure it out biomechanically, then do some research on sprint performance from the plethora of brilliant work on the subject done by Charlie Francis and others, and you’ve got a pretty good handle on how to coach combine events – especially if you’re already paying attention to proper programming. Learn the biomechanics and figure out what fits where, and you’ve already more qualified than 99.8% of the “speed camp” guys out there.

Before anyone gets pissed off at me, I’m not saying this is easy. My only point here is to say that if you have a good grounding in the “important” aspects of training – how to effectively make athletes better – it’s not much of a leap to prepare them for success in a relatively simple set of drills. I’m digressing here, though, because the main idea is that you HAVE to know SOMETHING, because most coaches know next to NOTHING, at least in terms of training.

A major part of this is learning how to properly coach a sprint start for the 40. Since most of these events are hand-timed, I teach my guys to start with their “up” hand at their hip, rather than the “cool” way of holding it straight up in the air. I worked extensively with this particular player on learning an effective start for him – down to filming it from a variety of angles and doing a Dr. Yessis style frame-by-frame advance to see what could be coached better. In a few weeks, we’d actually shaved two or three tenths off his time through technique work alone.

Until, that is, the school’s track coach caught on to what we were doing and decided to add his two cents to the process.

Now, our school’s track coach is not a “real” track coach. He’s a teacher who inherited the job by default about ten years ago. He never competed in the sport at any level, doesn’t research anything, doesn’t go to seminars or network with other coaches, and essentially doesn’t give a shit about anything but collecting his $5K in coaching money and going home. He’s a fat guy with a whistle.

I’m not Tom Tellez, but I know more than this slapdick. Trust me on that one.

So after doing all this work with this kid – and seeing results – I go outside one day and see him doing starts with his “up” hand in the air, under the supervision of the track coach. I let this go on until the coach went back inside, then I went up and asked the kid what was going on.

“He told me to come out here with him.”

“Why?” I asked.

“He said he saw you coaching me on the start and that you were doing it wrong.”

“That’s really interesting. How would he know that? Does he strike you as a guy who knows what he’s doing?”

“Not really, Coach,” he replied.

“Why did he tell you to have your hand up in the air like that?”

“He said it would help me drive out of the start faster.”

“Did he ask you what you were training for?” I asked.

“No, but I told him it was for the Combine.”

“Okay, did he ask you whether the 40 was hand-timed or electronic timed?”

“No,” he replied.

“Did he ask you if they used a touch pad on the start?”


“Do you know why that’s important?” I asked.

“No, why?”

“Well, I’d teach you the same start no matter what, but since this Combine is hand-timed, it’s really important that you make sure you’re not starting with your hand in the air like that. They’re going to start timing you on first movement, and I’d rather have that first movement be you going forward than your arm coming down. You can lose a tenth of a second or more just because of that.”

“Oh, shit,” he said.

“Watch your mouth.”

“Sorry, Coach.”

“Ah, I don’t care,” I said. “There’s a lot of other reasons why I wouldn’t have you do it that way, but that’s the only one you really need to know for now. You want the timer to start when you’re actually moving forward. When your hand is up like that, your first move is gonna be to drive it back down, so the timer’s going to start when you’re standing still.”

I’m not telling this story to claim that disagreeing with me makes you a bad guy. My theory on the sprint start may be completely absurd. If it is, then so be it. If, however, you’re an uninformed territory-marking jackass whose only argument for involving yourself is, “I’m the track coach and you’re not,” you ARE a bad guy, at least with regard to doing what’s best for the school’s athletes.

Trouble is, this happens every day to every athlete in America – and probably the entire world. Who knows what the hell else this kid’s been hearing on a regular basis from everyone around him? Like I said, I’m not trying to set myself up as the be all/end all of training, but I can guarantee you I’m in the top 1% of anyone THIS particular kid knows. The flip side of this is that I’m only in his ear 1% of the time.

As high school coaches, this is something we have to think about, for the sake of the kids we coach and for the betterment of our own careers:

Who are our kids listening to, and what are they taking away?