When starting as a young coach, unless you are lucky enough to have a mentor take you under his wing, one possesses tools in lieu of philosophy. As you commit to your trade and obsess over it, principles take form. They, little by little, grow into a philosophy from which are built systems. Why is it so important to have a system? Simply because it allows usage of experience. It is the difference between 20 years experience and 20 times one year experience. A system can be modified, strengthened better than an assortment of “methods”. Athletes who train under my system today benefit from the accumulated experience. May the first athletes to walk through my door forgive me but they did not get the same quality of service that the new ones do . They actively participated in building the system, even though I have always been the primary guinea pig as my aches and pains can remind me.
I remember, back in 1996 in the PE library at McGill University in Montreal, reading an article in the NSCA journal of strength and conditioning. That article, whose author I hope will forgive me for forgetting his name, showed a graph similar to the one below. It said “this is the look of strength".
For some reason that just stayed with me and guided my thinking when navigating through all the influential information I would absorb from different sources in the following years.
Quite simply, the left side of the curve is the eccentric portion of a movement, the decelerating phase. The right one is the concentric phase, acceleration. The quality of the athlete shows in a very steep slope of both phase with high peak in the concentric phase. This means a fast transition from one phase to another. The red curve is a better quality one than the blue one. The right and left side are the target of many a method of force development. However, in my opinion, the most important part is the central one, the transition, yellow on the graph. I owe it to my conversations with Jay Schroeder to understand and stress the concept of position. Position is different from posture even if the two are linked. Posture is the gravity management strategy. Position is the arrangement of body segments allowing efficient action in a given phase of the motion. Every athletic move is composed of a position and an action / intention. The best athletes are those who can maintain proper position under the greatest forces, at the greatest velocities and the for the longest time if necessary. The first lessons in the system are to learn proper position and tensioning the structure in the said position. Different means are used but they are beyond the scope of this discussion. The important thing is to remember that it is an illusion to think that one can teach proper sports technique at high velocity or under duress if the athlete is unable to get into proper position.
One cannot run like Carl Lewis if one cannot achieve such hip extension. It is obvious, yet limitations as such are often seen and not tended to. This fundamental principle is reinforced every step of the system.
The next stage is to give the athlete the ability to get into these positions very quickly with a lot of force without loss of position. Gradually higher forces are used. These forces are necessary to result in greater restitution in the next phase. The ability taught to tension the position taught in the previous stage is thus of the utmost importance. This phase is very often the cause of an impossibility to learn proper sport technique. Proper teaching is transmission of the proper intention to the athlete. The materialization of which is highly dependent on the starting point.
When the athlete owns these aforementioned abilities, comes the time of restitution of the absorbed forces, into the productive phase of movement. That spectacular time that crowd come to watch and cheer, when the body projects itself or and implement. What is the target of most training techniques and methods. This phase completes the “mise en tension -renvoi”, which can be translated into tensionning / of the Dijon French school of thought of Mr Alain Piron, one of my major influences. This phase is characterized by constraints of time and minimum force requirement. Rarely in sports do athletes dispose of unlimited amount of time to generate maximal forces. But if only one thing must be remembered from this whole article, it is that the success of this phase is highly dependent on the proper execution of the previous two.
Within the frame of this general philosophy, all methods, techniques and tools can find a place. It is relevant to all athletic, even non athletic movement from performance to rehab. The differences are to be found in the power, level of velocities and forces and the time available within the context. Decisions are based on the possession of the prerequisites to learn these physical abilities. Methods and tools come in to help acquire these abilities. It becomes then easier to integrate new information when such a conceptual frame is formed. Books and the internet are full of means, tools and methods. What is often lacking is a conceptual frame which allows their relevant use. All of them work within the right context.
Fellow sport coaches, if you might feel that I am sometimes reluctant to answer questions about such and such modality in a short and clear manner, it is not because of my anti social nature. Rather, these answers often presuppose a common knowledge of the context and that most often takes more time than available. Let's get talking a bit more and give you athletes ready to soak up your teaching!