As a sports coach, you’re always a part of the action. You can work with athletes of all ages and levels, from youth sports to professional sports, and have a significant impact on their athletic careers especially when the coach has years of diverse experience. Even as a newer coach, just thirty days in, you quickly learn some things work and some things don’t. Some problems take time to solve, yet some solutions are simple.
That’s why, over the years, I’ve learned to keep it simple when working with youth athletes. Likewise, I keep it simple when working with coaches and parents, like yourself, because I want you to have confidence that you can do this; you can assist in youth athletes’ success.
Last week, I talked about ‘Why You Need a Bag of Tricks’ that entailed orthodox speed training tools you don’t use everyday that produce results. This week, I want to talk about the metaphorical bag of tricks that involve different methods that can help you in coaching. Consider these ‘coaching hacks’.
A hack is basically doing something via an easier way even though the conventional way may still work. Oftentimes, a hack is considered a time-saver and even budget-friendly.
The coaching hacks I want to discuss fit the above definition as they don’t require extra spending on equipment like cables or hand weights. Although, the caveat is hand-me-down or donated equipment; you must be careful with used equipment like cables and remember to put safety first.
A hack can be so simple it might also be considered common sense. One example that comes to mind are coaches taking time during the start of a session to untangle a ladder. Kids are standing around waiting while a coach tries to detangle. I agree it is important to keep the ladder untangled. A severely wound-up ladder ends up becoming shorter which negatively impacts the quality of the training. The hack here is simply storing the ladder properly each and every day, so that it's ready to be utilized every time. Show the youth so they may take pride and ownership in the tools they utilize.
Not every hack is equipment-related. Here are two coaching hacks that can help your athletes run faster without using anything but your words. Both are great for beginners of any age who are still trying to master the basics. The great thing about these hacks is the immediate impact they can make.
The first one can be utilized with as big of a group as you’ve got. No matter how many kids, just instruct them to stand in place with enough space where they can’t touch their neighbor.
FIRST STEP: Instruct them to get as tall as they can. Don’t give any other instruction. Don’t tell them to lean. Don’t tell them to balance. Don’t tell them to not balance. Let them do what they do “naturally.”
What should happen is they get on their tip-toes. What you’ll notice is most kids will be able to balance. Some may manage to stay in place, others will fall and take a couple steps forward. It likely won’t be uniform among the group.
SECOND STEP: Now, you’ll add a little instruction when you instruct them to get as tall as possible and to let the body do what comes natural. Then, add “Don’t balance!” Now, you should see the group uniformly “fall” forward. Have them reset and repeat at least two more times. You can also add the instruction, “stay neutral."
This hack is about getting the athlete to NOT do something. Most kids learn how to run naturally, but they don’t naturally learn how to run correctly. To run fast, you need to run tall with a forward lean. However, some kids tilt at the hips thinking that is how they lean. Some may tilt their head. The lean comes from being off the heels and taking a tall posture forward. Everything else, including the head, stays neutral.
The drill that directly relates to this is the Falling Starts drill. This is a drill that works great on a 0-10 Theme day. The only difference from the hack is that the Falling Starts drill includes recovering from the “fall” and accelerating at least five yards. You can also specify to the kids that they need to alternate which foot leads.
The second hack can also be done with as big of a group as you’ve got by simply standing in place with space. It’s also a dual hack – two things are taught with this one.
FIRST STEP: Have them stand still and relax in a neutral posture. Literally, just stand still and relax.
SECOND STEP: Now, have them look down at their hands. What they should notice is their thumbs and fingers slightly curled. You can then have them bend their elbows, but the hand - and the point - is the same.
The first learned objective is the proper posture of the hand for running. The hand, when relaxed, isn’t balled up into a fist. It isn’t rigid for a karate chop. This is how you want to hold the hand as you run. The main reason you don’t want a tight hand? Tightness travels. A tight hand leads to tight shoulders and tight shoulders impact the arm swing. You also don’t want an open hand as it can lead to the arm swing opening up too much on the back swing, leading to slower recovery time.
The coaching cue you can use to reinforce this is to “carry the egg, but don’t break it.”. They don’t want to squeeze so much they would break an egg, but they also shouldn’t have their hand so open an egg would fall out. As they are running, you can shorten the cue to “carry the egg.” If you want, the tools you can integrate are an expo marker or a golf ball - a tennis ball is too big.
THIRD STEP: The second part of this hack is to instruct your athletes to rock back and forth and let their arms do what comes natural. What should happen is their arms as they come forward should meet in the middle of the apex in front.
The second learned objective is the path of the arm swing. When kids run, they sometimes run like a rock ‘em sock ‘em robot. Not only do they let the arm swing stay out, they might let their hands go too high.
Sometimes you’ll hear “cheek to cheek.” The reference is to a lower posterior cheek and a higher anterior cheek. This is close, and it may work for some kids, but the athlete’s hand shouldn’t get so close to their face that they can rock or sock themselves.
A proper arm swing with proper neutral posture helps a fast arm swing. A fast arm swing leads to faster turnover with the legs because the legs copy the arms. It’s one of the reasons we do the Fast Arms drill. The Fast Arms drill is a great drill on a 0-30 Theme day.