Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Retrospective Training Lesson: Specificity

How much smarter am I really getting? I mean, I make a living being an athletic development coach, and spend a good majority my time reading, studying and corresponding with coaches about it, but when I think retrospectively, I wonder, 'has all this abstract study, deluded my understanding gained from my direct empirical experiences, especially those experiences I had before I possessed all this so-called training knowledge?'

Let me tell you a little story...

As far back as I can recall, I've had an affinity for trying to develop my physical abilities. And not just mine, I even tried to train my dog when I was 10 years old; making her run with a small log I tied to her... anyway...

When I was younger, I got to be a fairly decent jumper (at least I thought, by my standards), not because I was endowed with great genetics (sorry Mom and Dad), but because I liked to jump. A lot.

I remember my neighbor had a Jordan Jammer, and I'd wait by the phone for the call to come over and play. My neighbor was older and taller (I was about 6 or 7 at the time), so we'd have the rim set to the top height (7 feet, if i remember right; maybe it didn't even adjust lower), forcing me to really have to work to display my Jordan-esque moves.  I remember many hours of this, in his basement during the winter, and in the backyard during the nicer months.
A few years later my family moved to our newly built house outside of the small town we had lived (closer to our farm), and the cool thing was, a living room with vaulted ceiling (over 10 ft at the peak, which became a later goal of jumping and touching). The room was quite large and the one end was open into the dining room, which was not vaulted and had an eight foot ceiling. It made for a very nice imaginary, makeshift basketball backboard. I used it to go up and slap after making two-handed lay-ups, blocking my younger brother's shots by pinning them against this 'backboard', or just slamming the ball into the wall, with one of my many thunderous dunks (I thought I was Shawn Kemp, among other NBA stars). This would be a daily thing, every time I entered or left the room, but especially when I was watching NBA basketball on T.V. - dunks at commercial breaks, dunks during fouls and free throws, a full blown dunk contests at halftime.
My mother was plenty upset with me about the dirty hand prints on the beige wall. Thankfully she didn't put the kabosh on it though, or maybe it was my total disregard. Either way, the jumping went on. (I am sure it was a bit of a relief to my mom, and the house, after my younger brother and I grew up and moved out. We used that room as a stadium/arena of all sorts.)

Then in the 8th grade, I remember a kid a year older than me, who was able to jump and touch the "box" part of the rim (the spring loaded component) on a basketball hoop. This upset me. This kid could get higher than I could. Now my jumping got serious. So, I spent the next few weeks using my plastic, water-filled 5lbs. dumbbells and practiced repeated double-leg jumps in my bedroom. I jumped continuously as high as I could with those dumbbells, trying to hit my head on the 8 foot high ceiling (literally, that was my goal). I was probably about 5'8 at the time. The beauty of this jump training, by default, was that I did it in my bedroom where I didn't have much space, so I had to be be sure to jump and land with care: working on both my jumping and landing ability with accuracy.

Within a few weeks, I wasn't just hitting my goal of touching that orange box, I was touching the rim! Getting the rim - now that was an attainment: a measuring stick for the kids in high school. I thought I was cool. Thankfully not so cool where I quit.

As I went throughout my athletic career (high school and college sports), my jumping slowly, but progressively made more improvements, to the point where I was dunking (barely, but it was), at 5'10 (and a 1/2, I argue) - of no particular fashion or authority of the NBA greats I emulated in my early days, but I could do it.

Fast-forward to today...

Now, I sit and beat my head against the keyboard, trying to devise the world's best training program: concocting methods, to elicit, among other things, tremendous jumping ability - heavy strength training, plyos, mobility, etc. Yet, in my ignorance, as a kid, I skipped what might be, the superfluous stuff, and got to the point. I jumped. And jumped some more. Then I added a small amount of resistance (10 pounds to be exact) and jumped. Then I jumped more, this time 'aiming' for different objectives (the different ceilings in my house, the orange box, the rim, dunking...). I jumped off 2 legs, off 1 leg, reaching for the rim with my right hand, reaching with my left hand. Coming at the basket from this angle, and that... In the end, it was specificity at it's purest.

Jumping high did not start out as my goal. It was something that was a fun part of what I did. As time past, and I got older, there were aspects of jumping high that became a goal. For this, I used (maybe not the most effective way, but it's a hard press to find much more effective methods) jumping with weights. Surely, I didn't know it at the time, but by default, the resistance was just the right amount to stay in the right location of the force-velocity curve: 5 lbs. dumbbells maintaining the precise blend of coordinated force and velocity found in jumping. Dumbbells of such meager mass that I often scoff today... but not everything is so, and sometimes improvements take just the right 'nudge'.

The last thing I'd like to finish up this lesson with is, sociology and jumping. The ability to do something well certainly has a genetic component, but social influence is often the catapult to put potential into action. The saying "white men can't jump" is because, often times, socially, the white kids didn't have any social pressures to jump high. Many were not, are not motivated to jump because it doesn't bring with it any apparent increase in respect or achievement.

As Daniel Coyle has written many times in his book "The Talent Code" and his blog, it takes that 'spark' to get the fire going, and then the timing of the right 'fuel' to keep it going along way. Mine was my neighbor friend, Michael Jordan and the NBA high-flyers, a cool living room, and a pair of measly five pound dumbbells.



Dad said...

I think I can still find hand prints on the ceiling. Time to paint. Or not.

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Actually, after more thought, it was Joel.

Josh Leeger said...


What drives intention? Persistence? "Practice?"

Passion! Desire! The inner fire!

Without that inner drive, nothing is possible. With it, most things are.

The body adapts specifically to "imposed demand," but also adapts to intention, persistence, and achievement of higher levels of ability.

A forgotten adaptation...