Friday, June 21, 2013


I work with collegiate age athletes for most of the year, but in the summer I have the good fortune to run a summer long training camp where I work with local kids ages 13-18. I love this opportunity because it keeps me connected with the younger athletes and challenges me in different ways than the collegiate athletes. It also keeps me exposed to the broad spectrum of athletic development, and while there are similarities, there are great differences.

I think playing tag scares performance coaches. It does me. The fear is probably two-fold; scary in that some organizational control has been given up, and scary that it carries a greater risk of an injury. Yet paradoxically, there is a plea for young athletes to engage in multiple sports. Just like it might be considered risky for a college level football player to engage in a bit of pick-up basketball in the off-season. I mean, he is on a scholarship!

But the problem is that as much as we (performance 'experts') would like to think so, a strictly organized, specifically structured "long term athletic development" plan hasn't or isn't likely to produce the greats we see in high level sport, alone. I've seen and used some of the agility teaching progressions out there, yet my frustration grows when these more or less controlled movements are rarely seen in true athletic settings. So, what does improve an athletes agility? Or broader yet, what really improves athleticism (in terms of coordinating all the different movements and qualities into one flowing orchestration)? What synthesizes great athletic movement?

It's also probable that too much controlled training does little for reducing the potential for injury. In sports medicine and strength and conditioning, we all feel more comfortable with the controlled environment within training, but is this always good?

Hormesis - at some point athletes have to be exposed.

That's also why practicing and playing sport is part of the injury reduction plan - the perception, cognition, and decision making is part of the exposure necessary. Additionally though, games of tag give athletes another competitive sport (multi-sport athlete), specifically for those that are involved in just one sport at the time... at least for me working under rules and restrictions regarding using certain implements in training. Of course, if an athlete is practicing their sport year round, this becomes an entirely different case, and often the tag games idea is mostly out the window.

A simple game such as tag does things that I can't as a coach. The whole point of tag is evading as quickly as possible with whatever creative move a person can utilize. It creates an environment more like that of team sport. Applying reactive agility in training is becoming more prevalent among coaches thinking, and the cumulative step is to create as much chaos while allowing for creativity in movement strategies. A simple game of tag also provides instant feedback for the athlete as to their success or failures of choosing a particular move strategy (did I 'tag', or  get 'tagged'). While simply performing a reaction drill such as a coach pointing out directional cues doesn't provide the same feedback for achievement of success (unless some sort of timing system is creatively utilized).

Playing area dimensions can be adjusted for specific stimuli, such as a larger or longer space for longer sprint chases. The number of those that are 'it' can be modified to create more or less chaos. At the very least, setting up the playing space and picking the 'its' keeps me feeling "in charge" as the coach.

Tag is simple but a very interesting and dynamical possibility. One that I think holds more potential possibilities than people realize. At least for court or field team sport athletes who rely on great change of direction skills. It's just a matter of being comfortable giving up some control.

I find it hard to explain in words, but I've seen athletes who appear as "slugs" turn into "ninjas" and "whirling dervishes" as soon as they are being chased in a game of tag. What's with that?! What does that mean in regards to the other aspects of my training?! Not to mention the level of engagement that occurs. Athletes really start paying attention. Maybe the cause is the engagement? The quick movements and speeds are impressive. Should I allow this manifestation to occur, or return to my authoritorial dictation of what, when, and how they move?

It's like the polarizing dichotomy that I hear of between using a game-based or skill-based approach in physical education curriculum. Should there be opposition? Train to play, or play to train? I like a nice blend of both. And unfortunately, the game playing is mostly relinquished from the neighborhoods anymore because kids are in lock down in daycares, or by the pull of technology.

For me, tag provides a nice boost in morale and overall intensity, while providing "rapid whole body movements with  a change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus" (Sheppard and Young, 2006.)... with the feedback. Not to mention that it usually causes athletes to smile (genuinely). And this lowers RPE from what I've assessed, and read.

Now, don't go using tag in your training just because I thought it holds some possibilities. I know my athletes, and I deal in my own risks, and I might also be dreaming in Wonderland.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Athletic Compensation

"The best athletes are the best compensators"

Well... maybe we should work at teaching all athletes how to compensate then. Or is that too ironic?


Monday, June 3, 2013

Making Connections

Most of this blog surfaces on things regarding athletic development, but I will diverge a bit...

As with nearly anything in this culture related to health and fitness and sport, human physiology as we know it is very much a deluded study. Deluded, maybe, because of a great ignorance. Ignorance in awareness: Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we the way we are? How do we "fix" afflictions?  Or even, does our current model allow us to fix things, or just patch things up? Where does optimal health, fitness, and well-being begin? What is optimal?

With the explosion of evidence and understanding in areas of study such as human evolution, biology, geology, climatology, anthropology, ecology, botany, oceanography, and so on, the picture is getting clearer... one would hope.

Hopefully, we might see the connection in it all. Yet ironically, because science works so well by isolating and reducing, it is also part of the problem of seeing the 'big' picture. Although, seeing this connection is kind of difficult in a culture that seems to create disconnection. Maybe because we've been able to afford the 'honeymoon' of supersession from the (untainted) natural world, built upon isolation and reduction. But nothing lasts forever.

The "paleo" proponents make a couple connections with regards to exercise and diet. Whether it's the best way of eating, is an argument that can extend for ages, but I do believe it gives the best framework from which to start (I said start, not follow); an evolutionary perspective.

But diet and exercise is a small aspect, and a very limited one. Because we (should) know there are many other contributing factors health and wellness.

Frank Forencich, who has been an excellent voice in connecting all things health for many years now, has discussed the limitations of a singular focus, such as the paleo diet.

Possibly lesser popular (unfortunately) is, Josh Leeger (also a good friend of Frank's). To me, Josh's blog is the best there is in making the connections (along with many other great philosophical insights). And as far as my logic and reason can get me (thus far), one of the most logically rational bloggers on the web. I believe his posts are the closest view of true reality to the questions I asked above. Josh is a great connector, and I really do think you should check out his blog. For those that view the world from an anthropocentrical ivory tower, his posts might be a challenge (which is cool).

Here are few recent posts that work to help connect the reader to a healthier, more sane view than one of isolation and reductionism.

Connect with the Earth – What does THAT mean?

Connecting t(w)o Earth(s)

Blood and mushrooms

My thought is that our incessant attempt to 'decode' human health, fitness, and wellness will ultimately have to go through many of the connected/embedded/holistic panorama of ideas Josh writes about on all this (*arms wide open*) to even get close to optimal (or at the very least, save ourselves from ourselves)... which beautifully takes care of more than just me (you, us, humans).

Alright, that's my big picture, philosophic point for the day. Back to deciphering training volume and intensities.