After the huge success and popularity of the first “Jumps Roundtable” series of articles, SimpliFaster asked Coach Nick Newman to trade his usual answers for questions. Nick interviewed eight accomplished jumps coaches for the second edition of this excellent six-part series.
We will publish one question from the “Jumps Roundtable Edition #2” per day over the next six days. Our first is on the process of working with new athletes with high-level talent and/or world-class performances. Please enjoy, and please share.
Bob Myers: Bob Myers is currently retired, but served as Associate Head Coach at Arizona and was a college dean and athletic director over the past 40 years. He has an M.S. in Kinesiology, specializing in Biomechanics, and a doctorate in education with his dissertation on “A Comparison of Elite Jumps Education Programs of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom Leading to a Level III Jumps Education Program in the United States.” Bob was inducted into five Halls of Fame as an athlete, coach, and athletic director. He has published 31 articles in professional journals around the world and has lectured at over 50 locations throughout the world.
In his 13 years coaching at Arizona, Bob coached four national record holders, five collegiate record holders, and 27 All-Americans in the high jump, triple jump, long jump, javelin, and heptathlon. He is perhaps best known for coaching the University of Arizona women high jumpers to a 1-2-3 finish in the 1985 NCAA Outdoor Championship, where all three jumped over 6’3” (1.91m for second and third, and 1.93m for first) even though two were heptathletes. He also coached Jan Wohlschlag, who was ranked No. 2 in the world in 1989, won four USATF National Championships, and was the World Grand Prix Champion.
Todd Lane: Todd Lane entered his 10th season as a member of LSU’s coaching staff in 2017. The Tigers and Lady Tigers have flourished in eight seasons under Lane’s direction—he has coached 11 NCAA scorers to 35 scoring All-America honors in four different jumping events since joining the LSU coaching staff right before the 2008 season. His student-athletes have also captured six SEC championships and 36 All-SEC honors over the last eight seasons.
Nelio Moura: Nelio Alfano Moura has been a member of national coaching staffs in Brazil since 1990, participating in five Olympic Games, five Pan-American Games, and 17 World Championships (Indoor and Outdoor). Nelio has developed, in partnership with his wife, Tania Fernandes de Paula Moura, more than 60 athletes who qualified to national teams, and he coordinates a talent development program successfully maintained by the São Paulo state government. He is Horizontal Jumps Coach at Esporte Clube Pinheiros, and has a master’s degree in Human Performance from UNIMEP – Piracicaba. At least one of Nelio’s athletes has qualified to each iteration of the Olympic Games since 1988, and he guided two of them to gold medals in Beijing 2008.
Dusty Jonas: Former high jump Olympian, Dusty Jonas, was named a full-time assistant coach on the Nebraska track and field staff on July 12, 2017, after eight years as a volunteer assistant for the Huskers men’s and women’s high jump. Since joining the Huskers program as a volunteer coach in 2010, Dusty has coached nine Big Ten high jump champions and 10 first-team All-Americans. Twelve Huskers have cracked all-time Top 10 high jump charts in his eight seasons. In the 2015 indoor season, Dusty helped then-sprints coach Billy Maxwell coach the Huskers men’s sprints, hurdles, and relays, and that group went on to combine for 46 of the team’s title-winning 127 points at the Big Ten Indoor Championships.
Neil Cornelius: After a torn ankle ligament at 19, Neil started coaching in his free time at the age of 20. One year later, he coached his first National Junior champion in the triple jump (Boipelo Motlhatlhego, 16.07m). By 2011, he had his first 8m jumper (Mpho Maphutha, the youngest South African and the first South African high school athlete to jump over 8m at the age of 18 years). By 2013, Neil has his first national colors by representing South Africa as a team coach for the African Junior Champs. There, his athletes received three medals (long jump: Gold; triple jump: Gold (15.98 CR) and Silver). In 2016, Neil coached Luvo Manyonga to an Olympic Long Jump silver medal (8.37m) and in 2017 to a World Championship Gold (8.48m) and an African/Commonwealth Record (8.65m).
Since Neil first started coaching, his training group has amassed 88 medals (16 medals at various international championships and 72 medals at national championships). He’s currently the head Long Jump/Triple Jump coach for the Tuks Athletic Club (University of Pretoria), as well as the head jumps coach for the Tuks HPC and the Tuks Sport High School.
Kyle Hierholzer: Kyle Hierholzer has most recently worked as the 2017 Lead Jumps/Multis coach and education manager for ALTIS in Phoenix, AZ. During the 2015 and 2016 seasons, he was the co-coach of Jumps/Multis with Dan Pfaff. Over the course of Kyle’s tenure, the group produced podium finishers at the U.S. Indoor Championships, World Indoor Championships, World Outdoor Championships, and Olympic Games, and also a Diamond League Champion. Before joining ALTIS in fall 2014, Kyle worked eight years at Kansas State University. Kyle primarily assisted head coach Cliff Rovelto in the sprints, jumps, and combined events. He also served as the primary coach for the K-State pole vaulters.
Stacey Taurima: Coach Taurima has been the Head of Athletics of the University of Queensland for almost five years, where he has coached senior and collegiate athletes to finals in World Youth, World U20 Championships, Commonwealth Games, and World University Games. He has coached national medalists in both senior men’s and women’s sprints events, and in 2017 coached Liam Adcock and Shemaiah James to Silver and Bronze in the Open Australian Championships, along with Taylor Burns and Daniel Mowen to Gold in the 4x400m. Stacey has coached 16 national champions and 19 international athletes in a five-year period and many professional sporting teams utilize him for his expertise in speed-based programs.
Alex Jebb: Alex Jebb is the Combined Events and Jumps coach for John Hopkins University. In his first two years of coaching there, his athletes have earned six All-American honors, five Academic All-American honors, 15 school records, four championship meet records, and two NCAA Division 3 All-Time Top 10 marks. Alex was honored as the USTFCCCA NCAA Division III Mideast Region Men’s Assistant Coach of the Year for the 2017 indoor season. He graduated from John Hopkins with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering and Applied Mathematics, and from Duke University with a master’s degree in Engineering Management. He is an engineer by day and coach later in the day.
Nick Newman: Professional and collegiate coaches often acquire high-level talent and/or athletes with previous world-class performances in their given events. Describe your process when beginning work with an athlete who has achieved a high level of success under a different training system or philosophy. Do you adapt your system based on information from the athlete’s training history? Or do you introduce them to your own philosophies and methods regardless?
Bob Myers: In working with a new athlete who has already attained a high level of success, communication with the previous school and/or club coach(es) is critical in determining training age, athlete strength and weaknesses, and psychological makeup. In-depth discussions with the athlete, usually begun through the recruiting process, also take center stage in assessing the background of the athlete. Procurement of a varied database of video is also essential in assessing the athlete and formulating the first training year.
Within this process the coach must not only determine physical background, but also psychological makeup, to determine what motivates the athlete, the athlete’s confidence level, cueing background, etc. Additional information is attained through a complete medical, athletic training, and physical therapy assessment, as well as assessment testing for physical levels and psychological and nutritional assessments. Within the initial assessment period for the athlete, the coach should spend a considerable amount of time with the athlete discussing technical, training, psychological, and nutritional philosophies so both know similar terminology and can move forward in building the foundation by which the evaluation results can lead to the new program. So, in short, the new yearly cycle of training is set up to be as individualized as possible (or at least grouping athletes with similar programs), combining input from all the data obtained from the athlete’s history and testing and various other assessments.
Todd Lane: Training age plays a part. The greater the training age, the more middle of the road approach I’ll take. It’s hard to do work within a system that is not your own, so it has to make sense as to why there are certain things happening in an imported system. And the younger the training age (incoming high schooler), the more I’ll introduce my philosophy and methods.When experienced athletes look for my advice, they are looking for change. Click To Tweet
Nelio Moura: Usually, when experienced athletes look for my advice, they are looking for changes, to try the philosophy behind my system. However, these athlete do not arrive as a “blank sheet”—they have a history I have to account for. They probably experienced some degree of success, so have done more right things than wrong things during their development. This is also an opportunity for me to learn. My system is open, and I try to incorporate any and all knowledge that can make it better.
Dusty Jonas: I think any time you get an athlete, it is important to know their training history, injury history, etc. Most of that information should have been learned during the recruiting process in regards to the collegiate system. If an athlete has achieved a high level of success before they get to you, it is clear to me that their coach before was doing something very well, whether it was the type of training, managing injury/rest/nutrition, etc. When possible, I find it helpful to compare and contrast the programs and see where the similarities lie. Other training philosophies can offer an opportunity to learn and advance your knowledge for your coaching toolbox.
Once the similarities and differences are identified, the athlete should be introduced to foreign training concepts or stressors slowly. For example, if an athlete hadn’t done any weight training in high school, it probably isn’t in anyone’s best interest to have them under a massive load in the weight room before learning the desired movement. The same can be said for running or plyometric/multi-jumps volumes.
During the transition from one program to another, communication between the athlete and coach is critical. Regardless of your philosophy, it is important to understand that all athletes have their own unique sets of strengths and weaknesses and are not created equally. Your training should account for this and be adjusted accordingly.
In regard to foreign athletes, most will need some time to adjust to a new school system, language, and culture. This is not unlike first-year American athletes who may be away from the safety net of home for the first time.
Neil Cornelius: Well, you cannot completely disregard an athlete’s coaching history, whether it was of high or low quality. I tend to introduce my new athletes, no matter the skill level, to my methods and ideologies. If an athlete has enjoyed a certain level of success with his old methods it doesn’t necessarily mean those methods are correct or are the best for him, but it does mean that there are at least elements that brought out success.
I usually tend to ease my new athletes into my methods while keeping in mind their old training that brought out success. I’ve never had athletes struggle to adapt to my methods and technique and the vast majority do improve, so I’ve never doubted introducing talented or professional athletes to my way of doing things.
Kyle Hierholzer: I believe this question gets right to the heart of why most coaches get into the coaching profession in the first place, which, in my opinion, is the opportunity to help others. It’s less about philosophies and systems, the latest research, the hippest new book, or growing social media followers. It’s more about leadership. It’s about coming alongside athletes and building relationships of trust, empathy, and accountability.
Keeping that vision in mind, I believe the biggest success factor in the athlete’s transition is the quality of the induction conversations and the thoroughness of the detailed debriefing process utilized prior to the start of training. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the vision statement turns into action points.
The induction process should target global concerns that may be raised by both parties. Topics addressed should include, but are not limited to:
- Assessing and understanding the reasons why the athlete is making a change.
- Protecting the existing training environment and culture…is it a fit?
- Reviewing past coaching situations of the athlete, including successes and failures.
- Identifying trends in behavior or communication styles…do they match?
- Laying out clear expectations of performance from both parties.
- Checking references from as many sources as possible, including previous coaches.
Once the coach and athlete both feel comfortable that these items are satisfactory, then it makes sense to move on to a more detailed debrief that may be more training-philosophy-oriented. This should be a structured process with the coach and athlete going through each section together and sharing thoughts or concerns.
Example sections may include:
- Data from the previous seasons (SB, PB, averages, injuries, trends, etc.).
- Items effective/not effective in the weight room.
- Items effective/not effective on the track.
- Training items enjoyed/not enjoyed in any realm.
- Key therapy inputs.
- Cue systems that have worked/not worked (time in career, time of year, etc.).
- Level of event-specific knowledge.
- Video usage skills, etc.
In this situation, it makes sense to give the athlete the opportunity to freely express their opinions as to why they have excelled in the sport. This will give the coach a great deal of information about what the athlete may be looking for, what they feel may work for them in training design, or maybe even some concerns about what they need to do in their career moving forward. The experience and knowledge of the athlete will normally dictate the level of discussion. Some questions may take more leadership from the coach, and others may simply require the coach to sit back and listen.
After the debrief, you will generally have a solid idea of where that athlete sits from a mindset perspective in relation to the training methodologies that you believe lead to success. Generally, this leads to one of three situations…
- Strongly aligned philosophically, and many indications of compliance with normal training design.
- Strongly misaligned philosophically, and training moving forward would require a massive shift by either coach or athlete in methodology.
- Somewhere in the middle, and moving forward would require compromise to some degree by both parties.
Then it’s time to make a decision as a coach about how much you are willing to compromise based on everything you’ve learned in the initial induction and detailed debrief. It is possible for athletes in all three situations to achieve success over the course of the coach-athlete relationship. The more rigid the coach, the smaller their pool of potential athletes. The more open and flexible the coach, the greater their pool.
It should be noted that not everyone is a good fit, and it’s OK to say no. Sometimes, we may take people that don’t align with us in order to challenge ourselves or because we believe we can make an impact in another area of that athlete’s life. In many instances, we can bring athletes around to our foundational training beliefs through education.
At the end of the day, if the athlete feels safe and if they trust the coach, they will buy into whatever training system the coach feels is best. It is then the responsibility of the coach to maintain that culture and utilize their network and experience to put the athlete into the best possible environment for success. I’m happy to share samples of debriefs with anyone interested.If an athlete trusts the coach, they will buy into any training system the coach thinks is best. Click To Tweet
Stacey Taurima: It depends on the system you’re inheriting the athlete from: professional, collegiate, high school, etc. All have different considerations that need addressing prior to acceptance to ensure ease of transition into your training environment. A more junior athlete with limited training years or an injured athlete may need immediate interventions upon commencement; therefore, flexibility in the decision-making process must occur for athletes to reach their athletic potential.
In my experience, just because an athlete is a higher performing athlete, it doesn’t necessarily mean they understand the requirements to maintain and improve on their current abilities. This education process again requires flexibility and a non-biased approach.
The introduction process of a new athlete can be quick or drawn out over time, depending on the athlete’s history and individual needs. During this process, discussions will take place to educate coaching staff on the athlete’s event knowledge, training understanding, and lifestyle, etc. This will also encompass injury, medical, therapist, and treatment plans.
So, once we’ve established a performance baseline or “player/athlete profile,” we will commence the training process. This process will always be based around athlete’s health and well-being, remembering the athlete is already talented and has demonstrated a high level of skill in their event area previously. We believe that, to understand the athlete’s talent, we must maintain a simple program and focus predominately on the athlete’s dominant qualities.
In the first few weeks for healthy athletes, we don’t generally communicate a lot surrounding the training applications. Pre and post session briefings are always carried out, but generally during the session communication is limited as we like to see how the new athlete interacts with squad members, interprets a task, and problem solves, on the track and in the weight room.
In summary, flexibility in the decision-making process surrounding best practice for the athlete is our current philosophy.
Alex Jebb: While I have not worked with truly elite athletes at this point in my career, I think the process of working with a new athlete is the same as for the situation of a freshman coming in from a high-performing high school program. It is imperative to understand the training background of the athlete and what worked (and didn’t work) for him or her with a previous coach. This understanding should stem from discussions with both the athlete and the former coach and should encompass both the physical and mental backgrounds of the athlete.
I wouldn’t say I change my system for the athletes I coach; rather, I “tailor” my system to their needs. As with every coach, I implement my system because I believe, at the moment, that it is what will work best for my athletes, given all of the various constraints of working within the college setting. I also believe that it is my duty to experiment with the athlete’s training, at least a reasonable amount.I wouldn’t say I change my system for the athletes I coach; rather, I ‘tailor’ it to their needs. Click To Tweet
For example, if someone has had success with a heavy volume of tempo running in the past, then I might experiment with a reduction in volume for a bit to see what kind of response I get—who knows if that success was due to the volume of tempo, or in spite of it. This experimentation is especially true for freshmen, when I know I’ll have three more years with them. I’ll try to isolate what I feel are the two to three biggest question marks in their training history, whether for better or for worse, and then play around with those variables to investigate further.
My two current decathletes are a good illustration of this process of individualization. One is very elastic but also compliant, so we’ve found that he responds very well to heavy eccentrics in the weight room. However, he needs some time to recover from these periods and truly get out of the “hole” that we dig him into. My other decathlete, however, isn’t as gifted in terms of tendon structure, but he is an absolute workhorse when it comes to general training capacity. Thus, I know that he can not only handle high workloads, but more specifically needs heavy volumes of tempo running and speed endurance workouts.
As much as I would like to take credit for being able to just know these differences, it took a process of tinkering, following hunches, and talking to both the athletes and outside sources to eventually figure this out for them.
Tomorrow, we’ll feature the next installment of this Jumps Roundtable Edition #2 series: “Plyometric Training and Teaching.”
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF