Developing a Successful Training System – Part I

When it comes to developing a training system, most of the effort (and consequently, the research) is aimed towards program design and exercise prescription. Exercise A has the greatest endocrine response in Study X and Exercise B reduces the likelihood of Common Injury Z, so they need to be in our program! Now, I’m not saying either of these are bad ideas, quite the contrary in fact, I think they belong in a training system, but they are merely pieces of the puzzle. With these next two posts, I will show some other pieces that combine to form a successful training system. Today, we will be covering 6 “Need to Have” aspects, and tomorrow I will go over 6 “Need to Avoid” pitfalls.
Need to Have
#1 Need to Have: Positive Energy – People feed off their surroundings, and if your athletes walk into their workout/practice and their COACH is dragging or pissy about being there, why would they bring their best effort? This isn’t something that can be hit or miss, you need to bring it EVERY day, be the one lifting your athletes out of whatever funk they’re in and get the best possible effort they have for that day. They’re going to be tired, sore, hungover, upset about their loved one, worried about school, or have any one of a million distractions, but when they walk through that door, it’s your job to get them in the right mindset. It’s more than just being over-caffeinated optimist (let’s be honest, no one wants a coach who fawns about how glorious the morning frost is), good music, competition between the athletes and against their previous bests are excellent ways to increase the energy.  Keep it light and fun, but don’t cross the line into accepting complacency. Your athletes need to enjoy their training, training partners, coaches, and training environment in order to put forth their best effort.
#2 Need to Have: An Identity – Quick, what is your training philosophy? Describe your principles and how you use them to help your athletes improve. If you can’t answer this, it’s important you figure it out and quick. Athletes have thousands of options for training or competing, and your identity is what will lead them to you and believe in your system. New research, methods, and devices bombard the industry on a near daily basis, but it is important to filter this and suit it to fit your system, not the other way around. There are three principles to my training philosophy –
o   Everything has a purpose – have a reason for everything we do and be able to explain it to the athletes.
o   Injured athletes can’t perform – prehabilitation and maximizing an athlete’s ability to move are a top priority. Don’t prepare them for a day or a season, but for their career and time after it.
o   Training is a means to an end, not an end itself – I’m not interested in my athletes being the best lifters, I want them to be the best players in their sport. How we train reflects that, that’s why I personally prefer the title Sports Performance Coach over Strength & Conditioning Coach (it’s my version of how annoyed an ATC gets when called a trainer). I am preparing athletes to perform in their sport, not just increasing their strength and conditioning levels.
Whatever you do with your athletes, do it to the best of your abilities and stay true to your beliefs. Methods will change over time (mine sure have), but you can stay true to your goal of helping athletes succeed.
#3 Need to Have: A Thorough Assessment – It’s difficult to know what an athlete needs to improve, or how far they’ve progressed, without a proper initial assessment. I am fortunate to be working with a terrific group of physical therapists and ATCs at Fischer Sports, as well as with the Houston Astros organization, who provide a very thorough assessment, addressing any deficits or weaknesses an athlete may have. Without this information, the risk of injury drastically increases and an athlete’s development is going to suffer.
#4 Need to Have: A Proper Warm-Up – This should go without saying, but some people still go about this the wrong way in my mind. The body needs to be warmed up and prepared to train or be effective during activity. Think of a diesel truck – sure you CAN turn the key and go, but if you want a good life out of the engine, you need to let it warm up a bit. Get the body moving, use full range of motions to mobilize joints in a controlled manner, raise the core temperature, and prepare the CNS.
#5 Need to Have: An Occasional “Gut Check” – For athletes, there will come a time when they can’t go on, yet they will NEED to in order to succeed (look no farther than Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals). The body can handle much more than we dare imagine, but the wrong mindset (such as allowing “can’t” to enter your thoughts) can derail all of what an athlete has worked for. Athletes should train harder than they play so when that time comes, they won’t think they can persevere, but rather KNOW they can. The best way of doing this is to simply crush them (safely, of course) mentally and physically for a day or week of training. The goal is to shatter preconceived notions of our limitations and find a deeper strength to attack, attack, and attack again even when the pain and fatigue is unbearable. Give every ounce you have, and then keep going because sometimes, your best won’t be good enough, so you’ll need to exceed it and succeed in doing what’s necessary.
#6 Need to Have: Adequate Recovery – This is a good time to mention that the workouts discussed above should not be a regular occurrence, just a reminder to the athlete that their limits are more mental than physical (and help get through them). Gains are made after the workout, not during, and it’s necessary to recognize the importance of proper recovery. Nutrition, sleep, soft tissue therapy, and rest (from training or between training sessions) all play integral roles in an athlete’s development. Failing to address these in a training system is a quick and easy way to achieve overtraining or injure athletes. Be sure your athletes are aware of the importance of the 20+ hours each day they AREN’T training.
Athletes can achieve gains from a variety of training protocols, some more effective than others, but these are six additional needs to developing a successful training system. Far too many coaches fail to address all six, and their athletes suffer for it. Tomorrow, I will cover 6 things you “Need to Avoid” in order to develop a successful training system.
If you feel I missed something, or if I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, please feel free to contact me.
All the best,
Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW

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