As a native of St. Louis, Missouri, Andrea Hayden received her undergraduate degree in exercise science from Missouri Baptist University and earned a master’s degree in human performance while a graduate assistant at Lindenwood University. Andrea worked as an S&C coach for USA Hockey development camps and completed internships at EXOS in San Diego and at the University of Louisville. She is entering her third season with the Minnesota Twins as their Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach. She is the first female in the MLB to hold this position.
Freelap USA: Learning about other sports is a great way to expand the movement knowledge of a performance coach. How did water polo help you understand more about overhead sports with regard to biomechanics?
Andrea Hayden: I always encourage strength coaches to work with as many sports as possible. I was fortunate to work with a variety of different ones, from ice hockey to synchronized swimming to basketball. Each one provided me with more understanding of movement quality, performance development, and needs/demands.
Secondary to learning the physical variables is the way you are required to adapt to the culture of those teams and sports, including the personal backgrounds of where individual athletes come from (Latin American vs. European vs. American athletes). It is the harmony of knowing what value you can bring while also blending into the established environment. I find myself pulling from those experiences now when working with baseball players, because human movement precedes sport-specific training.
Because of that, when working with overhead sports I have seen the demands of the skill and have been able to correct or enhance movement for efficiency and longevity. When we think about overhead athletes, we probably think shoulder, but having a global perspective on how the whole chain works together is essential. What is happening with the lower body, pelvic control, rib positioning, and rotational capability, in turn, contributes to the shoulder’s function. Working with different sports, levels, and athletes will help you build a well-rounded philosophy when it comes to biomechanics, communication, and integration of the two.
Freelap USA: Sometimes the digital world hyper-connects the wrong things and disconnects the important human elements. How can coaches learn to trust their senses, engage better with athletes, and not be hopelessly dependent on wellness questionnaires? While it may be good to monitor, it really is important to make sure the data is truly honest and not gamed to make team coaches happy.
Andrea Hayden: I do enjoy and appreciate data, if it’s fitting and appropriate. “Metrics that matter” must be the focus when it comes to collecting data. It must be pertinent and valuable for building the program, as it is a driver in decision-making. And just because it can be measured doesn’t mean it needs to be.
We need to be mindful of how emotions drive performance, and the ever-changing nature of an athlete’s effort. Data will never be able to capture all the complexities of human nature. How we can harness and utilize emotional observation is just as important as collecting equitable evidence.How we can harness and utilize emotional observation is just as important as collecting equitable evidence, says @AHaydenStrength. Click To Tweet
A quote I lean into when thinking about these two realms of art and science is: “In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels.” Balancing between the two is the sweet spot of athlete monitoring—the subjective and objective components. Both are a skill and need dedication to develop and grow.
A practical action step: If you are out of tune with your own emotions, you will be poor at reading them in other people. Spending time to dive into knowing yourself, your emotions, and the things that trigger you will result in you seeing those things in other people. And when you see it, you will know how to manage it, harness it, and champion it.
We can never forget that athletes are competitors, and they will compete to be the best. We tend to incorrectly use questionnaires. There is always a hidden “correct answer” even when we state there is no wrong/right, and we just want feedback. The athlete will find it and put the answer that gives them the advantage, even if it’s inaccurate. Relationship building through trust, communication, and commitment will enable the athlete to openly express themselves, allowing you to gain insight, which sets the stage for strong outcomes.
Freelap USA: Sleep is a big talking point with all sports, especially with sports that play on different continents. Since routines are essential for athletes, how do you balance the evidence and practice if you are a college strength coach trying to appease a high-level program with rest and the need to study? If sleep quality is the only resource when sleep duration is compromised, what do you do to maximize rest when naps are not available?
Andrea Hayden: I have more recently understood the value for my players to have routines, especially centered around sleep and recovery. Everyone knows baseball is a long season, with 162 games and a travel schedule that keeps you on the go. There is limited consistency, making it challenging to find a routine—two night games followed by a day game and a getaway day to a new time zone to start a new series. The demand is high and at times too overwhelming to settle into a groove.
The demands on a college athlete can be similar in fashion. We understand that stress is stress, whether you are flying into a new city at 1:30 a.m. or are in the middle of finals week while balancing games and practices. Sleep deprivation is accumulative and non-recoverable. It impacts our decision-making, our reaction time, and our emotional state.Just as our training programs should be individualized, so should our routines for sleep and recovery. Our job is to help each player learn what works best for them, says @AHaydenStrength. Click To Tweet
And just as our training programs should be individualized, so should our routines for sleep and recovery. Our job is to help each player learn what works best for them, whether that is daily naps, turning off technology at a certain time, consistently waking up at the same time, utilizing recovery modalities, etc. Helping the athletes learn themselves and what they need to feel at their best is a part of our job that isn’t highlighted enough.
As Brandon Marcello says, “Sleep is not recovery, it is pre-covery!” And our responsibility is to enhance the performance and durability of our athletes. This has to come from the open mindset of: “What does the athlete need to do to feel good and ready?”
I hope by now we understand that a 60-minute lift three to four times a week isn’t the design of our job. Valuing a microdosing, autoregulating, autonomic environment that maximizes the abilities and performance of our athletes is our agenda. It is also important to utilize mental health professionals and dietitians/nutritionists, as well as educational support staff and tutors in the collegiate setting to help with our knowledge of the athletes. Getting involvement from all these disciplines helps paint a full picture, and with that type of athlete-centric approach, there will be great benefits to recovery and readiness.
Freelap USA: Ice hockey skating has some general performance qualities similar to the acceleration of land-based sports. When evaluating speed, how do you look at general power and skill with athletes? What do you look for in helping athletes with early and short acceleration?
Andrea Hayden: Though you can find crossover between skating and sprinting, I do not believe there is sport-specific training, but rather athlete-specific training. You must start with looking at the entirety of an athlete, what are their limitations, restrictions, and abilities. A weak movement pattern would have an impact on an athlete’s general power and skill regardless if they played hockey, basketball, or baseball.
With assessment, you can identify any compensatory movement patterns. In order to be efficient, the brain will find the path of least resistance to accomplish the skill/task in an alternate pattern. Once you see and know those things, you can start building and correcting the necessary components for enhancement. When it comes to speed and acceleration, we know there needs to be a base of strength and power, as well as adequate movement quality.
For example, can they get into hip extension, are they strong enough to get there, and are they powerful enough to do it repetitively. Body awareness and body positioning are also a high-priority component, as well as looking at asymmetries. Elite athletes are inherently asymmetrical and often need that asymmetry in order to perform. It is up to the practitioner to establish bandwidths for each athlete that they will live in and take action when trends deviate either way. Looking at those elements and progressing them simultaneously is a priority for developing speed and acceleration.
Freelap USA: Can you share how you benefited from your master’s degree? Often, people look to add letters to their name for resume experience, but you have had some excellent learning opportunities from your time at Lindenwood. Anything in particular?
Andrea Hayden: I take a lot of pride in my education and am grateful for the experiences I had during those years. They were pivotal times in my growth and development as a strength coach. The opportunities to work alongside other great coaches, GA’s, and interns, and learn from some of the best during my internships, are moments in my life that I will never take for granted.
Though the master’s degree provided value for my career, it was really the graduate assistantship and the opportunity to learn and network during that time that I benefited from the most. I spent many hours reaching out to coaches, meeting people around the field, and leaning on other’s experiences. I am where I am today because people took risks on me, they put their name on me, and gave me a chance to step in. I take pride in wearing their names on my back, like a jersey, and representing them everywhere I go.Though I recommend higher education, I also encourage finding sound mentors, building a solid network, and jumping on any chance to volunteer, says @AHaydenStrength. Click To Tweet
Lindenwood is a place that challenged me and enabled me to expand my understanding in the most practical way. The hands-on experience of working with so many sports and teams was invaluable—a giant lab of trial and error to evolve in. Though I recommend higher education, I also encourage finding sound mentors, building a solid network, and jumping on any chance to volunteer. Participation in those things will set you into motion.
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