By Tony Holler
Feeling good is a performance enhancer. How can you feel good without pharmaceuticals? Coach your athletes to perform as high-octane, well-rested, good-looking, fine-tuned superheroes believing in the power of faith, love, and encouragement.
Here are my five alternatives to performance enhancing drugs.
1. Living Healthy, Organic, Balanced Lives
Teach your athletes about nutrition, hydration, and sleep. Parents spend thousands of dollars on their kids. Before the age of ten, kids here are traveling the country with their baseball, basketball, soccer, and lacrosse teams. The cost of youth sports is staggering.
A parent I know spent $10,000 for one year of outside training. And, in my opinion, the training was counterproductive. The average price of the cars in the student parking lot is probably higher than the average price of cars in the teacher lot.
Nutrition is a performance enhancer. Despite the million-dollar investment in their kids, many parents invest little in nutrition. Kids eat crap every day. Take away pizza, processed foods, drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, and the dollar menu at McDonalds, many kids would starve to death.
Before school, kids blindly eat Pop-Tarts for breakfast. During the time between classes, kids eat fund-raiser candy sold in the hallway. At lunch, it takes them fifteen minutes to wolf down prison food. On the drive home, McDonald’s drive-through beckons.
I encourage everyone to watch Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next. Some countries actually take child nutrition seriously.
We have misplaced priorities. What if we spent less on our kids and made nutrition a priority? What if moms and dads spent some time planning meals and grocery shopping to feed their kids high-octane food? My grandmother made a life preparing well-balanced meals. Food was the centerpiece of family life.
What if coaches taught kids how to eat? Sprint coaches spend 90% of their time planning less than one hour of sprint practice. We should coach the other 23 hours of a sprinter’s life. What if sprinters carried water with them? The simplicity of transitioning from carbonated beverages to water is huge. I compliment every kid I see carrying a water bottle at school.
Kids should sit down and eat a balanced breakfast. Eggs, fruit, whole grain toast, and a glass of milk. Schools should outlaw serving nachos as an entrée. Let’s offer only farm fresh foods prepared by cooks. Let’s only offer fruit, vegetables, beans, grains, and lean protein sources for school lunch. Let’s encourage parents to plan a nutritious sack lunch for their prized kids.
Ninety-nine percent of human evolution featured family dinners. Teach kids to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and to eat food off of a plate instead of out of a box. Make an investment in nutrition. We would never put our kids into dangerous cars, why do allow our kids to fuel their bodies with pizza, fries, candy bars, and sodas?
At the risk of being Captain Obvious, nutrition is not the only failure of modern families. Sleep deprivation among teenagers is a national epidemic. I estimate an alarming number of high school students get five to six hours of sleep a night. Studies show teenagers need 9.25 hours of sleep to perform at their best.
Plainfield North’s school day starts at 7:05 am. Yes, despite all research showing that kids are zombies early in the morning, many school districts structure the school day based on busing costs. Our high schools start at 7:00 am, middle schools at 8:00 am, and elementary schools at 9:00 am. This allows for a smaller fleet of buses and saves our school district more than a million dollars. With our school days beginning at 7:05 am, students would need to be asleep by 9:00 pm and wake at 6:15 am. I don’t believe any of our students are asleep by 9:00 pm.
Sprinters need sleep to reset their nervous systems and recover from high-intensity training. Sprinters are the cats of the athletic world, and cats get fifteen to twenty hours of sleep per day.
“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”–Mahatma Gandhi
Encourage parents to prioritize food, hydration, and sleep. And, as coaches, we need to spend more time coaching the other 23 hours of a sprinter’s day.Encourage parents and athletes to prioritize food, hydration, and sleep. Click To Tweet
2. Body Maintenance
Teach athletes about grooming and looking their best. When you look good, you feel good. I was born a coach’s kid. I’ve watched athletes through a magnifying glass all my life. Observing athletes since I was old enough to make observations, I have learned the following tips.
Showers improve performance. I have no scientific proof, but we don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Before we compete on a Saturday morning, I coach my athletes to take a long hot shower. No one competes well without showering. You’ll have to take my word for it.
Getting a haircut should be a precompetition ritual. NBA players look like they get eighty-two haircuts a year. No one competes well with shaggy asymmetrical hair and two-day stubble. What works for musicians fails for athletes.
I’ve heard of professional football players who get manicures and pedicures. What can we learn from these elite athletes? Clip your nails. I’ve seen male college athletes who shave their legs before a competition. Many NBA players shave their armpits.
Before your athletes compete, have them cut their hair, clip their nails, shave their faces, brush their teeth, and take showers.
3. Faith, Love, and Encouragement
Build a program based on the positive feelings of faith, love, and encouragement. Faith is a performance enhancer. When I speak of faith, I speak of the coach’s faith in his athlete. I speak of the faith team members have in each other. When people believe in you before you perform, you perform well.
Love is also a performance enhancer. The older I’ve become, the more comfortable I am telling my athletes I love them. Love is a powerful drug. To me, love is unconditional. When I tell my athletes I love them, I’m telling them I will love them through thick and thin, through winning and losing. This love allows athletes to race without fear of failure. Fear is also a powerful drug. Love trumps fear.Encourage is possibly my favorite word in coaching. Click To Tweet
Encourage is possibly my favorite word in coaching. Encourage means to give courage. Encouragement is related to faith and love but goes even further. When we combine faith, love, and encouragement, our sprinters will sprint faster.
Many kids live with the opposite of faith, love, and encouragement. Too many kids have adults in their lives who doubt them. Many kids live in the absence of unconditional love. School can be terribly discouraging. I knew of a teacher who was proud that his nickname was “soul-crusher.”
Unloved, doubted, and discouraged athletes are incapable of breakthrough performances.
I’ve developed some science to back up the performance enhancing effects of faith, love, and encouragement.
At Plainfield North, we run thousands of 40’s and 10m flys. We start in November. We typically have about fifty guys in a sprint group. Five years ago, I had an idea. Instead of every runner waiting patiently to run, I had them create gauntlets, forming 40-yard lines on both sides of the lane. They made lots of noise, clapped, and generally raised hell for each runner as they sprinted their 40. The results were amazing.
The average times (six weeks of data) improved from 5.21 to 5.07, a 2.6% improvement. Plus 65% of the runners ran a personal record. The average 10m fly time (automated) improved from 1.27 to 1.23, a 3.3% improvement. And 68% of the runners ran a personal record.
Overall, 96% of the runners ran faster than their average time. See the results here Gauntlet Study 2011.
Coaches have known about faith, love, and encouragement for years. My gauntlet study quantified it.
4. Buy Speed Suits
If you want your sprinters to perform like superheroes, dress them like superheroes. Speed suits matter. The suits may cost $100 each, but a 4×1 school record is priceless.Speed suits may cost $100 each, but a 4x1 school record is priceless. Click To Tweet
My 4×1 this year was expected to be good, but we’d lost our two all-state seniors and had to scramble to find replacements. We went with two guys who had never run a 4×1 in their lives, Hunter Houslet (soccer) and Clay Paysen (lacrosse). We ran 42.23 in April and 41.87 in early May.
I didn’t believe we were capable of running faster. When you run as fast as you can and your handoffs are perfect, how do you improve your time? Speed suits. I found a company in Texas that gave great service, great artwork, and a turnaround time of fewer than four weeks. My contact was Shane at Knockout Sportswear.
Our speed suits turned heads. Some said we looked like superheroes. The first time we wore them, we won the SPC conference 4×1 (pictured above). The second time we wore them, we were at Sectional and ran a school record 41.72. This time ranks 4th in Illinois for the 2016 track season.
Learn how to trigger the parasympathetic state in your athletes with activation, and learn how activation promotes explosive performances. I recently attended the Douglas Heel seminar in Minneapolis hosted by Cal Dietz, University of Minnesota, and my consortium partner, Chris Korfist. I’ve now attended four Douglas Heel level-one seminars and two level-two seminars. I’ve also spent countless hours watching Chris, the Douglas Heel of the U.S., do his magic.
Activation is catching on everywhere. Hundreds of Illinois athletes were activated before the state meet. I personally activated Travis Anderson (coached by my son Alec) who ran 13.59 and 13.71 in the 110 highs (video). Travis is only a junior.
At Sectional, Minooka 4×4 anchor, Matt Dlugopolski, was unsure if he could run the 4×4 due to hamstring tightness and potential injury. Coach Nick Lundin asked me to activate Matt, and he was a new man when he got off the table. Activation helped Matt split 48.2.
I could write a book on miraculous activation stories. I’ve lost count of the number kids unable to sprint who regained pain-free and a full range of motion after one activation session.
Yes, activation can fix a broken sprinter. More important, activation allows the body to function in an explosive way. The sympathetic state (think adrenaline) is an imploded state. The sympathetic state is a state of fear, and we don’t perform well in a state of fear. The body functions best in the parasympathetic state where movement is initiated from zone one (diaphragm, psoas, and glutes).
Last fall, I was training an athlete named Michael Papper. Michael loved how activation made him feel, and his sprint numbers reflected how his body felt. Michael’s 10m fly times (timed with Freelap) were between 1.00 and 1.02 consistently during our first four weeks of training.
In the fifth week of training, Michael ran two 10m flys in 1.04 and 1.05. Michael is obsessively analytical, and sprint numbers can make or break his day. After reassuring him that speed ebbs and flows, Michael asked to be activated again. Ten minutes later, he ran a shocking 0.97. The difference between a 1.04 and a 0.97 is the equivalent of 100m times of 11.40 and 10.70.
The skeptics will point to the lack of science in my discussion of activation, but coaches can’t wait for science. We learn from our experiences and share our findings through storytelling.
The cost for Douglas Heel’s weekend seminar was $950. The two-day event is life changing. If you ever get a chance to attend, jump at it. Here’s the good news. “Sports Activation” can be taught in a couple hours.
Activation will be taught at the Track-Football Consortium III held June 17 and 18. TFC-3 costs $150, and tickets are still available. At the time of writing this article, we have people from fifteen states signed up. The attendees will include track coaches, football coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, chiropractors, personal trainers, athletes, and parents. Oregon’s Jimmy Radcliffe is our keynote speaker.
Chris Korfist will be teaching Activation July 16 in Shelbyville in central Illinois. Click here for information.
I will teach activation three times at the Glazier Track & Field Clinic in Los Angeles Sept 30 to October 2. Glazier has put together an amazing line-up, and you can’t beat the price. Seriously, you can’t beat the price of this clinic. It’s free.