We use a lot of coaching language with team sports athletes. Most of the team sports athletes that contact NK Fitness want to improve their movement and game speed. Improved movement efficiency will allow an athlete to conserve energy during matches, therefore having more energy as opponents fatigue in the latter stages of each half. They will also be able to out manouvre opponents in congested areas and ‘one on ones’. Improved acceleration and speed provide a more competitive edge when it comes to ‘one on ones’ and 50:50 balls. Essentially, speed burns the opposition in team sports. However, it’s important to recognise that it isn’t just about accelerating – sports speed also includes slowing down (deceleration), change of direction and even using contact with opponents to your advantage.
I was recently working with a young female footballer attached to Oxford United FC. The sessions focus heavily upon improving explosive power with resistance training as well as change of direction technique. One training method that can develop both of these performance aspects is plyometrics. In this example I wanted the athlete to bound from left to right for distance, before quickly shuffling to the start position. Developing this explosive 180 degree change of direction will enable the player to control her stops better, change direction back towards where she came from, and achieve greater separation when evading opponents. Plyometrics, utilises something referred to as the stretch shortening cycle – a combination of elastic elements of the muscles and connective tissue along with a neural stimulus for the muscles to contract. Does the athlete need to know this? In short, NO!
After an initial demonstration of the movement, I identified the key movement characteristics. Foot positions, body angles and directions of movement. After that I placed it into very simple coaching language, “Get as far as you can and then comes straight back” and “Do it as fast as possible”. The very best strength and conditioning coaches make the most complex movements and drills look easy. They are able to explain what they want the athlete to achieve in simple terms.
Being too complex with an athlete can simply serve to confuse them. When it comes to developing speed and agility, simplicity of instruction is critical. Athletes need to be able to focus their efforts on rapid force production – this can be hindered if they are overwhelmed by highly technical information. In short, produce lots of force and do it as quickly as you can, is a good rule of thumb.
Face validity for the athlete
Athletes must understand how strength and conditioning drills will benefit them in their sport. At the very basic level S&C activities must have what we call a good level of ‘face validity’. Does the drill make sense? Does it appear to relate to movements and characteristics of performance? Using simple coaching language can help an athlete assess its validity. Does it look like the sport? Sports scientists require tests and activities to have more than just face validity. They need to know that activities are reliable in their impact upon athletes. The strength and conditioning coach will select their activities using high levels of scientific rigour. By the time it gets to the athlete though, this scientific rigour needs to be simplified down to the bare bones of execution.
To summarise, using the wrong terminology can create confusion for the athlete and dilute the coach athlete relationship. At NK Fitness we pride ourselves on applying a sports science approach to our strength and conditioning work with young and professional level athletes. Whether your son / daughter simply wishes to become more active or a budding sports star please feel free to contact us to see how we can help them realise their goals.