By: Ben Crooksten
The strength and conditioning landscape today is increasingly varied and there’s an ongoing battle of opinions on the “right” and “wrong” way to get athletes to perform.
At the university level, we see S&C paradigms being repurposed, repackaged, and resold. We see separate camps being created and alliances being drawn. Should we take an energy systems approach? Periodization: Should it be pendulum wave or sequential? 18 week macros to mirror the transitions of school year or smaller, more neatly tied cycles to ebbs and flow with the sport season?
In the high school training world, approaches and systems are even more widespread and inconsistent. We hear everything…
“We do some CrossFit stuff…Our defensive coordinator got our program from _(insert respected local university here)__…We use BFS, it’s kinda working,’ it’s ok I guess…”
With all the variance that exists, it might be hard to recognize the shared qualities of the top teams and programs. However, what we know is that regardless of theoretical approach, training resources on hand, or a coach’s personal pedigree there are common factors that unite the strongest training environments.
These common training behaviors are the the principles of deliberate practice.
Embracing the principles of deliberate practice guarantees our athletes will discover their potential. In fact, by applying these principles to our approach, we know exactly where our athletes are in their progression every step of the way.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, deliberate practice denies the claims that the differences between expert performers and normal or average performers reflect a long and extended period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.
Thus, how “expert” an athlete will become in their training and performance has more to do with how that athlete trains and less to do with how much that athlete trains. Thus, training is not merely a volume game. It is a series of very specific, thoughtful, and targeted activities that add up to an intended result.
Standing on the shoulders of Ericsson and Coyle, whose recent works have made this concept main stream, the Train Heroic system was engineered on the philosophies, experiences, and expert techniques of master strength and conditioning coaches. Every feature, function, and benefit of our system is crafted to extend the ability of a coach to manage their athletes’ performance and optimize the return on their efforts in their training.
4 Phases of Training Using a Deliberate Practice Loop
To map the journey of deliberate practice for our athletes, we focus on an axis which highlights four elements:
1. Set Goals
2. Provide Expert Instruction
3. Utilize Structured Training
4. Give Immediate Feedback
Athletes start in the center of these axes and go round and round in a “virtuous cycle” en route to achieving both their goals and maximal potential. Train Heroic coach Stephane Rochet refers to this repetitive journey as “greasing the grove,” in The Talent Code,Daniel Coyle refers to it as “wrapping the Myelin.”
The more times athletes set a clear goal, learn from targeted instruction, practice structured training, and receive immediate feedback, the more they move outward on the axes towards acquiring expertise and optimal performance.
Deliberate Practice Training: How Can You Apply It?
1. Set Goals
While coaches and athletes tend to be pretty good about setting goals for their seasons, things tend to get murky when they enter the weight room.
To be clear, the goal in the weight room can’t just be “to get stronger.” Like our seasonal goals, we need specific objectives that are measurable with clear success/failure metrics. The reason we do this is so we can see how and if the efforts we’re putting into our training are paying dividends.
We can’t wait until the first game of the year to learn whether or not all the time and sweat we logged under a squat rack was worthwhile. We need to know and we need to know now. This knowledge of progress starts with setting a destination and then establishing milestones along the way so we can determine if we’re veering astray.
To make this goal setting maximally effective, our team should set a few collective goals and each athlete should make personal training benchmarks they’re shooting for on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis.
2. Expert Instruction
Once our team and athletes have performance goals, we need to provide them with top-tier, targeted instruction required to reach that goal. A critical piece of breaking through sticking points and plateaus is making this instruction targeted to the task at hand and communicated in terms athletes understand. It’s providing effective and efficient coaching cues in the heat of the moment so athletes can adjust on the fly.
Further, this expert instruction should not be relegated to the 50 minutes you have in the weight room. Athletes should be able to access it all day long and wherever they’re at. We want them to be plugged into their training instead of being plugged into Facebook or other online distractions.
Whether you’re an expert coach at the Division-1 level or a young high school coach looking to bridge a gap in knowledge, Train Heroic provides the tools to push messaging, video content, and articles direct to your athletes smartphones, tablets, or inbox so they can access that vital knowledge wherever they are.
3. Structured Training
Strength and conditioning isn’t performance by osmosis. We cannot simply spend time in the weight room and acquire maximal performance. At some point in the time we spend there, some radical efforts are going to have to go down. We’re going to have to be tactical. We’re going to have to be intense. We need structure in place that is specifically engineered to deliver us to our goals.
If your staff has one, great! Make sure it is managed and measured so you can see the efficacy of its results and efficiency of it’s output. Let’s make sure it’s actually driving toward the goals we set above and getting us there in a hurry.
If you’re in need of world class programming and the accompanying coach to relay the daily instruction, Train Heroic provides an amazing coaching value where your team can get the program, movement instruction, and workout cues you need from our top Division-1 coaches.
4. Immediate Feedback
Immediate feedback is the last phase in this virtuous cycle that moves our athletes outward on the spectrum toward become more evolved in their strength and conditioning and it is HUGELY important.
There are a TON of values to providing immediate feedback (many of which we’ll cover in the subsequent posts), but perhaps the biggest one is that this feedback allows the athlete to understand where they are and where they need to go.
This takes a couple forms:
A) Historical/Relative Performance
Athletes need to be able to see how they are performing relative to how they performed previously. By seeing how much they have improved/declined, athletes are instantly bought in to their training and reinvested in their efforts. We must not forget, training is TOUGH. Intrinsically, it is not as rewarding as playing a game. For young athletes, it is not always obvious if we’re winning or losing. By having relative performance feedback at their fingertips, athletes are able to see how their daily workouts are making them better. It buoys their spirits to continue to work hard and set new and loftier goals.
B) Comparative Performance
By nature humans are comparative beings. We naturally want to see how we stack up and where we fit in. Comparative feedback takes advantage of this instinctual urge by saying, “this is how you did compared to your peer today.” By comparing athletes on a day-to-day basis, we’re able to push athletes along, establish new concepts of possibility, and create intensity.
A critical piece of either of these forms of feedback is that they need to be IMMEDIATE. Waiting eight weeks to finish a strength cycle and retest sabotages our athletes’ ability to buy-in on a daily basis. Young athletes are not naturally self-determined. We cannot assume they’ll wait and wait, continually providing 100% commitment and effort without seeing the payoff. By showing athletes daily progress and their performance relative to their peers, athletes are given the theoretical carrot at the end of the stick that keeps them engaged in training cycles that can often feel torturous and grinding.
This is where Train Heroic shines. We make collecting the data of your athletes effortless and processing that data into meaningful analytics a breeze. We save you, the coach, tons of work and get your athletes to see the value in the work they’re putting in daily.
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