Strength and conditioning coach, Daniel Martinez, recently talked to a roundtable of seven coaches and trainers from four different countries about several sports science topics. This is the sixth and final post in this series of Sports Science Roundtable articles.
Daniel Martinez: Can you give an example of a dialogue or training process that has made a difference in the performance of either a specific team or individual?
Cory Innes: Being in the training environment and the IAPs gives the perfect opportunity for this. An example would be an athlete whose long sprint performance was limited by their speed. Biomechanical analysis showed force production was compromised by an inability to get into a certain position and redirect force. Testing showed a weakness in over-yielding and lack of eccentric force applied appropriately, so between an eccentric-focused block and technical training around this position, we improved speed significantly, which coincided with an increase in long sprint performance. There are many examples of this easily obtained by being in the field and not guessing at what you are trying to improve.
Cory Kennedy: In sport, the outcomes are so complex that I cringe when we try to imply too much impact from a final result. We have been fortunate to help impact some great performances, but even though we don’t like to admit it, likely the same amount of disappointments. With that said, I believe that the system we have built in-house to collect and analyze data (CMJ, IMTP, and various sport specific tests) has had an immense impact on how we do our job.
Being able to toggle between acute (daily and weekly) and long-term changes (month by month over years, in some cases) gives us great perspective on achieving proper tapers or adjusting training if we are in an extended period of stagnation. Being able to reflect on our training regularly with objective measures is humbling, but extremely important for us. We are very transparent with the athletes on this data, so as we do achieve personal bests and the taper lines up, there is a large impact on their confidence as well. This might be more important than the physiology; we just don’t know it yet.
An example could lie in the development of a speed-based athlete (maybe field sports). Looking closely at the progression of splits on timing gates, jump height/distance, underlying reactive qualities inside a jump, and overall strength parameters, allows us to tease out our training direction. If speed is stagnating or slowing its progress and strength is decreasing, we can likely use more strength-speed focused methods to continue our work. If strength is high, and speed is lagging, we can be very specific with mostly unloaded high-velocity movements.
Some people might read this and say it sounds obvious, but how often do you overlay a year’s worth of data for an athlete on these various physical qualities to see how they are interacting? This is the basis of our process, which we believe informs our best decision-making.
Devan McConnell: The biggest example of significant influence was several years ago, as we were just beginning to utilize an HR system. I had a hunch that the way we structured our week, and especially the day before games, was not conducive to high readiness on game day. In a nutshell, the “traditional approach” seemed to result in slow, lethargic starts. However, when we occasionally broke ranks and deviated from this path, our players seemed to respond positively.
Without data, the idea I had put forth didn’t hold much water, and certainly didn’t result in any long-term changes to strategic planning. However, once I could show objective data regarding workloads, readiness scores, and wins/losses relative to the two approaches to structuring practice throughout the week, we made an immediate change to our approach. Not only did this result in performance improvements, but it was the catalyst to really getting great buy-in from the coaching staff, as there was now direct relevance between my data and what they really cared about.
Mike Boykin: While it’s rarely just one specific conversation that leads to continuous long-term improvement, we take reflective conversations, or debriefs, seriously. All the athletes here have a fairly extensive training age, and with that comes a certain set of epigenetic factors that have to be taken into account. In conjunction with their training history, each athlete has had numerous coaches, various beliefs about how they should train (whether these assertions are correct, incorrect, or somewhere in the grey scale between, is beside the point here), and certain lenses through which they view the world around them.
Upon arrival, or at the start of each year, lead coaches and the athletes they work with sit down and review previous years’ performances, conduct personal and environmental assessments, and build strategies to obtain success moving forward. These are usually (although not with every athlete) multi-layered analyses with simple, yet difficult, questions. Clear communication between the coach and athlete, as well as communal objectives, are crucial for long-term success. These initial conversations are followed up with more targeted and specific debriefs as the year goes on, to help clarify micro-objectives and review current training and lifestyle factors.
With our indoor season finishing up, the past month’s competitions have served as a useful barometer for where each athlete is on the actualization of certain abilities. For one athlete, our general goals throughout fall and winter were to stabilize overall health, build communication levels, and learn to love the sport again. From a training-specific standpoint, returning to previous form in training (the past couple of years had seen a drop-off in certain abilities) was a priority before specific performance metrics became the sole focus.
Consistent debriefs, use of the daily monitoring app, blood work, and days missed due to injury all showed that many of our health and wellness factors were progressing steadily in the right direction. However, we had yet to see performance improvements to go with these. After a careful examination of loading parameters for certain abilities critical in the 200m and 400m, we made an adjustment in the volume, intensity, and density of speed, speed endurance, special endurance, and intensive tempo in the training. While there is still plenty of work to do, the improvement within the last three weeks has been promising.If you listen to the athlete long enough, they will eventually give you the answer. Click To Tweet
Art Horne, a close friend and mentor of mine, told me years ago that, if you listen to the athlete long enough, they will eventually give you the answer. The past three years of my career have shown this to be true time and time again.
Nate Brookreson: The relationship that exists between our strength and conditioning staff and our swimming and diving staff has made a tremendous difference in the success of that team. They place absolute trust in our training process because it is constantly shared, justified, and rationalized, and it is results driven. The swim and dive staff has a detailed macro/meso/micro cycle process that they detail to our staff, which we then complement in training.
We monitor neuromuscular fatigue through the testing of countermovement vertical jumps and look at decrement over the course of the season and how it matches up to more demanding training cycles. We will then monitor bar speeds in Olympic lifts, ground contact times on depth jumps, and vertical jump characteristics, and we enter late-season strength-speed and speed-strength blocks and provide this information to the staff so they can make changes as they see fit in the pool. We then meet daily as we enter our peaking phases for championship events, to discuss our key performers in detail and make sure we are seeing similar results in the pool and in training.
Patrick Ward: I think good examples here probably circle back to some of the wearable tracking technologies and their utilization during return to play processes. I work closely with our team physical therapist to build out training drills that impose certain physiological loads on the players returning from injury, so that we are more certain that we are preparing them for the demands that they will face in practice and during the game. Building positional and player profiles that are specific to ergonomic needs and demands has helped with a lot of this planning, and has made a positive impact in the process.
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