A New Thought for an Old School

Posted by Tom Barry

A New Thought for an Old School


Optimal Physical Capacities

Over the past five years a rapid shift of our focus occurred from mainstream procedures, which dictated how professional athlete development is implemented.

 It is fair to say our outlook was never mainstream from the beginning, but we knew there were huge flaws in what was considered the “norm” for athletic assessment and training.

The trajectory of pro sports injury rates and costs prove this belief as they are high, very high and continue to trend in the wrong direction.

In 2017 the NFL had 551 on injury reserve costing around $347,144,782. In 2017 NBA 348 players injured costing $599,565,632, (Spotrac, 2017). These numbers do not include the money expended to “fix” or “rehab” said injuries; nor account for the lost production for both the organization and the playing career of the athlete.

We have sadly witnessed this firsthand with professional athletes that we work with, and usually, we were saddled with the uphill task of restoring capacity after the injury has occurred. Time after time severe breakdowns in communication feedback loops, or complete lack of, has led to multiple athletic injuries. The more accomplished the athlete, the worse the communication breakdown.

Why has our approach been hugely successful when the standard norm is obviously not? How are we taking injured athletes, avoiding surgeries, and developing their capacities to a higher level not even obtained in their “peak” condition?

It took a while to properly articulate the uniqueness of our process. It was not new technology, it was not a new training system, and it was not just repeated luck. It was an all-encompassing thought process that at its root had a defined objective;

‘Skill acquisition is NOT our business; CULTIVATING PHYSICAL CAPACITIES that enable the individual to acquire their skill is our business.’

The thought process was evoked by cross referencing from authors that are experts in their fields. Thankfully, we were able to shelf our egos and bias in order to learn from those who have spent the time in the trenches of research and practical application. At the very least we were smart enough to heed to their advice and avoid repeated mistakes.

Over the next few months we will be exploring each area in great detail from three points of view. One from an internal capacity (Therapist), one from an external capacity (Strength Coach), and finally an article illustrating how internal and external capacities work together. The following content is aimed to generate a conversation about your current thought process. 

Embracing Chaos

As strength coaches, we must alter our perception of the sports our athletes play and in turn the way we prepare them for its demands. Embracing and understanding the fundamentals of chaos theory is the key to unlocking optimal physical capacity.

(Connolly, 2017) states that an optimally trained athlete has a significantly higher reserve of physical and mental capacity to deal with the unknown random actions of a game (Chaos) in comparison to a suboptimal trained athlete.

Why is this?

 A subpar trained athlete has to wastefully expend energy on the tasks we know exist (Order).

It is our job to train the athletes capacity to walk the line between order and chaos (Optimal Training) or in other words to physically prepare an athlete to be the best when they find themselves in the most chaotic situation possible. This third dimension of optimal training is referred to as consciousness (Peterson, 2017)

(Gleick, 1988) writes in great detail about the butterfly effect in which something that may seem so small (Micro) and insignificant can ultimately lead to a substantial sequential effect (Macro) later on.

 When you remove the comfy roses tinted glasses of linear thought you begin to see the beauty of chaos and its hierarchy. 

This is the itch, the question, the unknown thought at the back of your head but you could just never put your finger on it. Understanding chaos is a leap forward in truly mastering physical training systems.

Avoid the Groove

 It is a trap to think you can fix nonlinear problems with linear solutions. The above is one of the many reasons linear periodization is a sub-par choice for any coach. A reductive training approach will work for an uncomplicated task, but, as we are aware playing professional sports at a high level requires a high competency in executing complex tasks efficiently. 

The first encounter of the term Groove training came from Dan Di Pasqua of the Melbourne Storm. Dan is one the brightest minds in professional strength coaching and has a wealth of experience that would behoove one to study from.

Linear systems can only yield linear (Grooved) results. Once an athlete trains into a groove state any stress occurred outside this safety zone increases the risk of injury, and its degree, tremendously due to lack of physical capacity. So how do you increase capacity?

Well, that leads to the most hotly debated question between sports science, strength coaches, and the highly decorated social media strength personality. What system of training should one use?

The answer is simple, it is the one that works. It is a system that requires relative minimal effort but yields maximum results.

However a simple answer can lead to a complex question. Such as, can you correctly define the parameters of what the individual relative minimal effort is to obtain desired results?

To date, the most effective system of training for chaotic tasks is evolution. Sadly, that takes too long to have an acute effect on the athletes we train.

However, even with our own bias, we find the Westside conjugate method to be the foundation of choice.

Why?

Simply because its dynamic.

Be Dynamic

Having a fluid (Dynamic) training system is critical. The Conjugate System that Louie Simmons has pioneered for the modern-day strength coach is possibly one of the most objectively focused, misunderstood, and pertinent data-driven systems of training there is. 

Every week we know how strong our athletes are. Every week we know how fast our athletes are. Every week we know precisely what areas of weakness need to improve upon, (Simmons, 2005). So at a minimum, 52 times a year there is a checks and balances approach to optimal athletic training based on objective data.

At any time, we can alter the program (moving the spotlight) to eliminate any weakness found. We can listen to personal feedback from an external coach, turn this into an objective task and build the required capacity to give the athlete the best chance at defined goals.

 Whatever your approach maybe to training it can only be as successful as the data you base it upon. So take caution at the start because missing one minor piece can have major consequences.

Assessment

‘You can’t take the effect and make it the cause.’ - The White Stripes

The art of assessment is slowly and steadily decreasing to make way for the fast pace, instant gratification, and informed social culture we live within. We immediately jump to conclusion on why this happened, or this injury occurred because of… Or the dreaded, to relieve this pain you MUST have surgery.

An athlete is sprinting and cuts left to avoid an obstacle. POP, they Rupture their ACL. Is this just bad luck? Is the ruptured ACL the effect of poor training? Alternatively, could it be possible that this athlete has not had a functioning hip socket for years, has been training intensively with this lack of capacity and has been merely an injury ticking time bomb?

 If that is the case and surgery happens, history will end up repeating itself, and they will be deemed “unlucky” or “plagued” with knee injuries. Treating an effect is not treating the cause. The micro dictates the macro.

Remember we live in a world where subjective data (opinions, posts, tweets) is the dictator. Stay objective. You must show well chosen factual data and use this to create a rationale for protocol design.

Subjective athletic data + External subjective analysis = High System Error Probability

Objective athletic data + External subjective analysis = Low System Error Probability

Finally, work with a COMPETENT FR manual therapist and assess from the joint outward. Create an environment that autoregulates to provide optimal growth. Listen and Learn from athletes.

Remember we live in a world where subjective data (opinions, posts, tweets) is the dictator. Stay objective. You must show well chosen factual data and use this to create a rationale for protocol design.

Subjective athletic data + External subjective analysis = High System Error Probability

Objective athletic data + External subjective analysis = Low System Error Probability

Finally, work with a COMPETENT FR manual therapist and assess from the joint outward.  Create an environment that autoregulates to provide optimal growth. 

Listen and Learn from athletes.

Culture

Watching and learning hands-on from Louie Simmons, listening, reading and meeting such authors and coaches such as Charlie Francis, Dr. Stuart McGill, Steven Yee, Dan Pfaff, Marcus Marinelli, and many others have derived many fundamental similarities. One such fundamental is they all know more about the athletes they train and work with than the athletes may know themselves.

How?

They observe and listen to everything said and done. Every conversation yields valuable knowledge to them no matter how trivial it may seem.

Did you know that every training day Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell buys breakfast for all Westside athletes, visiting coaches, or anyone that is going to be a part of the given days training. It allows everyone to interact and create a close-knit community (Tribe). 

Sometimes this creates a unified point of view, other times, alpha mindsets will fight tooth and nail for what they believe is correct even though common consensuses states otherwise. Which inevitably starts a debate that generates an accurate answer. This culture leads to one desired mindset, to be the best. An environment like this quickly identifies any cracks in their armor and more so than not it tends to be psychological than physiological.

“Don't have a million dollar body and a 10 cent mindset” (Louie Simmons)

Mental Capacity

Becoming  ANTIFRAGILE - (Taleb 2012)

 How do they cope with stress? If an athlete who has an issue with performance-related stress or they play within an incredibly stressful environment, has this addressed this within their training?

Weakness is a weakness, and it must be addressed. Thus, It Needs to Be Trained.

Structuring training sessions with initial and incremental microdoses of stressors (Chaos) is vital. It may seem random to the athlete but they are strategically placed in the workout to increase their tolerance to it. 

When tolerance increases so do the stressors. This will increases the confidence of the athlete as they have established prerequisites of mental capacity for chaotic problem-solving. The ability to get through a variable intensity workout, to not quit from a workout designed for an athlete to push the self-imposed boundaries, and to break personal records all accumulate for external positive outcomes.

 Never underestimate the increase in mental capacity gained from correct training systems. Confidence is confidence, it is contagious, so much so that it will spill over into sports performance.

Don't Overestimate Self-knowledge

 It is common to hear the phrases 'you do not know, what you do not know' or 'you are blind to your blindness.  Have you ever asked, what does this mean?

 Too many coaches do not broaden their scope of research or training. Attend one of the many strength coaches shows in America where the same recycled information is dressed up, presented and digested as the latest and greatest. The same holds true for sports science. It is continually developing and has many new, fantastic software and data tracking availability. Sadly injury rates are still too high regardless of how good technology is.

Sports Science technology is limited by the interpretation of the end user of which is usually a strength coach. So, if a strength coach does not broaden their scope and understand the difference between signal and noise regarding data and technology for the betterment of athletes why spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on something that will not last or make the coach better at their art.

Don't let unnecessary data dictate training. Most non weight room data should be used as an periodic review to aid with assessment. It should never be used as the sole driving force for protocol creation.

Understand lots, but Master one's craft

A head strength coach must have an understanding of a wide range of fields allowing them to identify potential areas of weakness that need to be improved upon. Don’t mistake this observation for mastery. Let bias and ego subside and utilize the help from masters in the relevant field as it will provide a threefold positive effect. 

One, the athlete is immediately receiving valid inputs to solve a potential problems/weakness. Two, vast amounts of time have saved of which a head coach can put towards their strengths. Three, an increase in self-education, (and your athletes), by just having someone smarter than you take the lead.

Some areas of enormous educational benefit to make outside the linear scope  are the following;

  • Military strategy and tactics
  • Japanese and Chinese Philosophy  
  • Lean management systems
  • Complexity science
  • Human behavioral biology
  • System Dynamics

Hopefully these eight simple points will provoke a small change of thought that will lead to big outcomes.

Tom Barry

 

Cited Material

Connolly, F. (2017). Game Changer. Las Vegas.

Gleick, J. (1988). Chaos, making a new science. London: Penguin.

Peterson, J. B. (2018). 12 Rules For Life. Toronto: Random House.

Simmons, L. (2005). Book of Methods. Fond Du Lac: Westside4Athletes.

Taleb, N. (2012). Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder. New York: Random House.

https://annualreport.playsmartplaysafe.com/files/NFL-2017_Health-and-Safety-Report.pdf

http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/injured-reserve/2017/

http://www.spotrac.com/nba/injured-reserve/2017/

About the author

Tom Barry is the GM at Westside Barbell and is Louie's right hand man. Outside of  Westside and alongside John Quint they run a highly successful private consulting company dedicated to athletic betterment.

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