Without question the most controversial subject in sports today is concussion risk and awareness. This is particularly true for youth sports. Lots of information is already in the mainstream regarding the effects of concussions, its direct sports related causes, and the preventive measures that are already in use and in development. For readers who are physical educators or coaches I imagine that you are already very familiar with this topic and knowledgeable about the effects and causes of sports related concussions. My commentary here will focus on my experiences and current opinions regarding the measures we are now seeing in sports.
Over my fifty plus years in sports, from my playing days and throughout my coaching and administrative years, I’ve witnessed concussions in several sports. As a high school basketball player I saw one of my teammates get undercut while rebounding and hitting the back of his head on the floor with a such huge boom that the packed crowd went deathly silent. When I was young basketball coach, one of my players collided with another player while going for a loose ball. Our player was immediately knocked out and suffered a short burst of convulsions while on the floor. As a soccer coach I witnessed the worst concussion incident in my entire career. One of our players, while going up into the air to head a ball backwards, collided heads with an opposing player trying to head the ball forward. Our player immediately went to the ground and began convulsing. It was a most horrible site indeed, but happily the player recovered nicely.
I coached football for more than twenty years and we likely had players receive concussions, but I really can’t recall one of our players experiencing a serious concussion. I strongly believe that the reason for this is that we taught both tackling and blocking with the shoulder and strongly urged players to keep their head up when tackling or making any kind of contact with opponents.
This article is a third installment on successful principles of coaching young athletes. The previous two articles focused on effective coaching of fitness and conditioning and skills and strategies (click on hyperlink to view these articles).
Throughout my coaching and teaching career, I’ve seen many very knowledgeable and experienced coaches not succeed as expected. Their shortfall was not a lack of knowledge or even their passion for their chosen sport. It was in their failure to create an environment for their athletes that was worthy of their time and effort.
Last April (2015) I authored an article, “Principles and Axioms for Effective Coaching of Fitness and Conditioning.” This article is a second installment of coaching axioms regarding the teaching of skills and technique. The objective of this article is to share some of these basic principles for teaching motor skills, with the ulterior motive of making you think deeply about how you are coaching your particular sport. I consider the below axioms to be self-evident and, quite frankly, common sense. Furthermore, they follow well-researched and professionally accepted methods of teaching sports skills.
These axioms are all about getting the most out of your teaching and having your athletes learn their skills better, faster, and with greater retention. Like last year’s article, they are presented to you axiomatically so that you can see and relate to them in simple terms.
“The more times an athlete does a skill, the better he or she will be at it”
This axiom was first taught to me by one of my college physical education professors. Simply put, “The more you do it, the better you will be at it.” This is even true if one learns a skill with slightly incorrect technique. An athlete who incorrectly performs a skill such as shooting a basketball or hitting a golf ball will become adequately competent at this skill if he has practiced it thousands of times. You see this all the time at the middle and high school levels.
Marc Norcross from Oregon State University recently led a research team to examine how many head basketball and soccer coaches in Oregon were using an injury prevention routine within their programs (“Factors influencing high school coaches’ adoption of injury prevention programs“).
They discovered that only about one-fifth were using such a program and that only about half of these were using the program exactly as designed. Their findings, published online in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, concluded that injury prevention programs were not being widely used in these Oregon high schools. Specifically, the authors suggested that more comprehensive coach education was needed to address the shortcomings of why coaches are not embracing designed injury prevention programs (IPP).
Knowing that we have used a professionally designed injury prevention program in the Greenville South Carolina County Schools (Click here to see this program in detail) for four years, the Oregon State study fascinated me because we experienced the very same issues in getting all of our coaches to embrace our IPP. The Oregon State study found that coaches did not feel professionally-designed injury prevention programs fitted into their normal coaching practices, nor did they see how the programs were any better than what they were already doing as part of a warm-up routine. The Oregon authors reported that coaches felt these specialized injury prevention exercises were not compatible with their needs and the actual IPP routine too difficult or complex for use in their coaching environment.
There are many basic principles to follow when teaching sports skills, strategies, and fitness for athletic competition. In this article I’m going to share a few of these basic principles. It’s a review of what must happen when you coach if you want your athletes to be able to perform effectively as individuals and as team members. Over the years, these principles have served successful coaches and athletes well and are effective in all sports programs. My experience is that many highly successful coaches employ them daily in their coaching without even thinking about them. Such coaches are so passionate about young people and their sport and are teaching with such high intensity, they never take the time to consider the actual principles that serve as the foundation for the way they teach.
The principles I want to focus on relate to getting the most out of your athletes in the area of conditioning and fitness training. These principles of coaching fitness training are presented to you with the hope that you can recognize the coaching concept more clearly. Newer coaches can then use them intentionally and coach more authentically. I’m also going to share key concepts in getting athletes more engaged in their training regimens.
One of the most important of all reasons why we have sports programs is to provide young people and adults with avenues to improve and maintain physical fitness. It’s not just for the sports they play but also for a lifetime of active living. Fitness conditioning involves three major principles: overload, progression and specificity. Any coach in any sport who conditions for fitness should be very aware of how all three of these principles work together to produce effective results. A warning to all coaches: it is critical that when conditioning young people in progressive resistance training (PRT) one should never employ one of these three principles without knowing about and implementing in concert the other two principles.