basketball team

Commitment Dictates Results: Consistency is Key

For the moment, let’s put aside the debates over what to do for training (movements, weights, reps, etc) and consider, arguably, a bigger piece of the puzzle. Perhaps the most important component to a successful training program is consistency – from the ATHLETE. As a coach, one of the biggest barriers to individual and team success that I’ve seen is in regards to commitment and accountability. Athletes often put in work inconsistently, going hard for a few days or weeks, then disappearing due to vacations, club sports, or just plain laziness. Maybe it’s one lift a week, or maybe it’s a full two weeks here and there, or maybe an entire season with no training at all. Either way, a lack of consistency will have MAJOR negative effects on the athlete’s efforts, as well as the team’s success.

In order to understand why consistency matters so much, we first need to understand how training works in the first place. Exercise science is founded on the principle of adaptation behind Hans Selye’s “General Adaptation Syndrome.” At its most basic, it states that the human body will adapt in response to external stress. Physical training is exactly that – stress. Our very muscles are being torn apart, connective tissue stretched to the limit, cells pushed to failure. We are physically traumatizing our bodies, which in turn sparks it to grow back better, stronger. The flip-side of this coin, though, is often ignored. Your gains aren’t guaranteed, and more importantly, they aren’t yours to keep without effort.

By definition, the principle of adaptation also means that “Detraining” is a very real phenomenon. Consistent training results in improved performance, but stopping or significantly reducing training causes a partial or complete reversal of the positive physical adaptations you’ve earned, thus compromising your athletic performance.

Think of your physical gains as a ladder. If you want to reach the top, aka be the biggest, fastest, strongest version of yourself, you’ll need every rung to get there. You cannot reach the 7th rung, for example, without the first 6. It is the principle of progressive overload at work – you must continually encourage incremental change. Progress is a process.

Let’s say you complete every workout for 2 weeks, but then in the 3rd week you miss one or two. No big deal right? You’re going to get right back to it next week. Wrong. You didn’t motivate your body to improve – you hit the first two rungs of the ladder but then skipped the 3rd. At best, you’re stuck on the second rung until you get back to work. Worse, let’s say you miss the entire week as well as the next in favor of a vacation, club sport tourney, or any other commitment. In this instance, you’re not just stuck on the current step, you’ve actually begun falling backwards down the ladder.

Your body adapts to any demand you place upon it quite quickly – and will adapt to a decreased demand just as fast. Research has shown that while maximal strength doesn’t necessarily decrease as quickly during detraining – power, muscular endurance, mobility/flexibility, aerobic and anaerobic conditioning all begin a precipitous backwards slide the moment you break the chain of consistent training.

Performance training is not a “sometimes” thing. It is not seasonal. Nor is it something you can do only when you feel like it, and still expect to see results. If you want to be a better athlete, or if as coaches we want to help kids reach their true potential, we have to commit to a continuous training regimen. Off-season, in-season, good days and bad days – we must constantly work in order to stay at our best. It takes a lot of consistent work to see progress – but it only takes a few missteps to see decline. If you want to see real results, commit yourself!

PLEASE NOTE: While consistency is required and hugely important, it does not cancel out the need for proper recovery (read our article on that here). It is your effort and commitment that must be consistent, not necessarily your intensity or volume. Balance is ever the key!

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The Squat: Range of Motion Before Weight

One of the biggest issues we see on a regular basis is athletes sacrificing depth and form during the back squat in favor of loading up the bar with heavy weight.

By shutting down the range of motion to just a partial squat, athletes are minimizing many of the intended benefits that can come from improving baseline strength. First, they eliminate one of the biggest athletic advantages there is – movement. They are completely neglecting one of the most foundational movements in life, let alone athletics. For our money, an athlete will see far greater results perfecting an air squat than working with heavy partial squats. Especially at their age – they need to establish good habits or it will hold their progress back in the future, poor movement begets strength plateaus. Second, they are wasting their time. Sure, partial squats can play a role in a good performance training program, but not as a Core Strength lift. They are literally performing less work (work is a product of force and the distance traveled) in any given set. Those sets are crucial for increasing time under tension and metabolic stress which are responsible for all of those things you’re working towards: muscle hypertrophy, strength gain, conditioning, etc.

Worse, it’s during these misguided attempts that we see the “ugliest” reps – you know the ones we’re talking about: knees driving down and in, the chest dropping forward, bar rolling towards the head, lower back and neck compensating for poor form. This is where injury happens, it’s just common sense. You’re at a far greater likelihood of failure and injury when the weight on the bar is something with which you could never perform a full rep.

It’s our job, as coaches and teachers, to make sure we are holding athletes accountable. Make sure they know the benefits of perfecting their movement first, reinforce good habits, and set them up for success!

Medicine Ball Workout

Testing Fitness

A staple of both education and fitness, testing is a unique animal when it comes to teaching physical education. Many people have differing opinions on whether or not your physical ability should have any bearing on your grade. Regardless of whether or not you associate grades with physical results, though, testing can be a very useful tool in your fitness curriculum if done the right way.

Why?

As we have stated many times before, here at PLT4M we are firm believers in the power of competition. Competing with one’s self is the essence of testing. Seeing progress is an enormous motivator. Problem is, often, the greatest deterrent to effort is a lack of belief in one’s own ability at the start. Luckily, when it comes to fitness, the greatest strides are made at the beginning. Thus, when someone uncomfortable with physicality is coached well, they can see results immediately. Picture the athlete that fully believes they are incapable of doing a push up – with proper scaling options and coaching cues, he or she will be performing perfect reps in minutes. Such improvement in ability through scaling progressions, growing strength capacity, or physical motor through hard work is a wonderful incentive for further effort.

Just as important, keeping data and seeing hard proof of results is the ultimate reinforcement of healthy behavior. When students begin to associate effort with results, you have taught them the ultimate lesson: they are the master of their own bodies and long term health. That lesson is the whole reason we teach fitness in the first place.

How?

Many common physical education tools and/or approaches track student performance against “national standards”. Personally, we philosophically disagree with this approach towards student evaluation. Instead, we believe in measuring personal progress.

Imagine this: Student A has never done ANYTHING related to fitness in his or her life. Before your class, test results would place them in the lowest percentile across the board, essentially being told they are unhealthy and unable. Right off the bat, you’re likely to lose this student emotionally. You are reinforcing a negative perception of self potential. Even if you get Student A to work in class for 15 weeks, doing their best to master the movements, work hard and get better, the results in the post-test could still place them in a low percentile compared to the national “standard”. What good is this? The lesson internalized here is that even with hard work, they will be at the bottom. The opposite is equally true. If you have another student who begins at the top of all tests, he or she will have little motivation to improve. They will believe that there is no need to work, they have already reached their potential. Both scenarios work against our overall mission of motivation and improvement.

What we need to recognize, and celebrate, is that any student is a far cry from where he started. They have moved up scaling progressions, maybe even getting their first strict movements. They have increased physical capacity, and seen real progress. They put in the effort and were rewarded by becoming fitter. We should recognize this improvement. Such will motivate them to continue to strive for progress going forward. In our fitness programs here at PLT4M, we test often, and measure personal progress through absolute values and percentage changes depending on the activity and curriculum. We want to show students their capacity for change.

Whether or not you include test results in your grading is up to you. But, we strongly recommend testing as a measure for students to better see the correlation between work and progress. It’s not just about where you are now, but how far you have come.

WinningMentality

Winning the Mental Game: Control vs. Concern

About the Author

Part of team PLT4M, Coach Max is a former collegiate football player and competitive Crossfitter who has spent the last 6 years training athletes at the high school, college, and professional level. Max currently heads up all things movement and technique at PLT4M, as well as owning & running Crossfit Tilt, home of PLT4M headquarters, in Waltham, MA.

Circle of Control vs. Circle of Concern

What are your athletes talking about on the bus to an away game?

The weather? How it’s so cold, they don’t know how they’ll grip the ball?

The other team? The running back who trucks linebackers and has defensive backs bouncing off of him?

The next game they’ll play? How if they win this game they have a chance to make it to the playoffs?

If you’ve ever been on the bus and heard chatter like this you know exactly what we’re talking about. You can prepare your athletes for everything on the field, but if you’re not coaching up their mental game, you are flirting with disaster.

In order to be successful, your athletes need to spend their limited focus and energy on certain things, while avoiding others. How do we help them determine which is which? We can do so by instilling in them a concept known as “The Circles of Control and Concern”. What we do, essentially, is place the myriad of things on an athlete’s mind into one of two camps. The first houses all of the things that an athlete can actually control. The second takes all of those things that are a waste of mental energy in that they cannot be changed, and thus are not worth the time. Let’s take a look at some simple examples:

CONTROL

  1. Effort – Are they giving their best effort that day? This applies to all aspects of their game. Are they giving their best effort in practice, during film, and during the day in class.
  2. Nutrition – Are they fueling their bodies properly? This means your athletes are eating real foods and staying away from junk (this can be found in almost all of the vending machines around campus).
  3. Hydration – Are they drinking water during the day? How much and when should they hydrate? They should drink when they’re thirsty and stop when they feel quenched. Should they be drinking sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade? No. Those drinks are filled with sugar and will adversely affect their effort, nutrition, and sleep.
  4. Sleep – Are your athletes sleeping 8+ hours a night? If the answer is no they may need help managing their homework schedule or possibly cut TV/Phone/Internet out of their nighttime ritual.
  5. Tough Mindset – Do your athletes embrace discomfort? Do they find value in hard work? Are they junkyard dogs? A junkyard dog is an athlete that thrives when things get hard. Train your athletes to love the feeling of being out of breath and uncomfortable. If you can instill this mindset in your athletes they will truly be unbeatable.

CONCERN

  1. Weather – For outdoor sports teams you will always hear at least a handful of your athletes complaining about how cold it is or how the rain is ruining field conditions.
  2. Competition – The other team has a player that is unstoppable. As the week goes on and you get closer and closer to game day this athlete is now a giant that eats kids for breakfast and washes them down with an entire pond.
  3. Teammates – Competition between teammates can be good. It can bring out the best in your athletes. But, it can also have your athletes focusing on their teammates more than they are focusing on their own effort.
  4. The Future – This is when your athletes are looking past the task at hand and thinking about “what if” situations.

We know that if our athletes focus on their Circle of Control instead of their Circle of Concern they will be more successful. This means that not only will they be more successful, but your team will be more successful. The tricky part is how do we help our athletes focus on Control vs Concern?

It’s simple, really. It’s like anything else that you do when coaching your athletes. Repetition, reinforcement, and leading by example.

  1. Repetition – We, as coaches, need to repeat things over and over again if we expect our athletes to develop good habits. Always keep in mind that practice makes habit, not perfect. We need them to develop good habits not perfection. Set your expectations and STICK TO THEM! The moment you accept exceptions, your athletes will expect them.
  2. Reinforcement – Praise your athletes when you see them focusing on their Circle of Control. Let the know you noticed them eating an apple before practice instead of a bag of Skittles. Make sure they are aware of when they are doing things the right way. Positive reinforcement is more powerful than punishment.
  3. Leading by Example – Your athletes are always watching. They look to you for guidance even when they’re not asking for it. If they see you complaining about the rain on Friday night or eating donuts before practice, they will think that behavior is ok. Be the best leader you can be and watch your athletes follow suit.

Coach your athletes the way you want them to play. Teach them the importance of focusing on the things they can control and pushing aside the things they cannot. Instill in them the mindset of a junkyard dog. If you do these things, success and longevity in your program is not far behind.