Video edited by Joe Babbino
On Friday evening, I walked out to the turf fields of the Magnuson Sports Complex for Tim Morrill’s Women’s Speed and Agility Clinics and immediately assumed I had gone to the wrong place. Every quadrant of the synthetic turf was occupied by Seattle United, the premier youth soccer club of our hooligan-heavy city. Kids ranging from just-learned-to-walk to just-learned-to-drive ran drills as their anxious, peering parents lined up along the perimeter of the fields and watched coaches with various European accents shuffle their future stars through and around complicated cone formations. Hoping to see a tell-tale flash of white plastic on the horizon, I walked from one field to the next with no success.
At this point, Gwen Ambler found me wandering and directed me to the far corner of the far field at the farthest end of the complex, where I found Tim and a small group of women starting their Self-Myofascial Release exercises (no, I did not know what that meant).
In hindsight, my brief transition from observing the small city of soccer players to observing this sparse community of female Ultimate players served as a telling introduction to the purpose behind Tim’s uniquely focused training. For a person who wants to play soccer (or football or basketball or volleyball), the resources he or she can draw upon to learn and excel at that sport are nearly limitless. Leagues, camps, funding in the form of sponsorships or scholarships, skills-based training programs, and professional-grade coaches are all available from elementary school to college and beyond. For Ultimate players, these offerings, though they exist at certain levels and are being cultivated in specific areas of the country, are sporadic at best. Obviously, Ultimate is still growing and these things will develop in time, but we’ve reached a point in the evolution of our sport where we can see specific shortcomings holding us back.
Enter Tim Morrill.
Now it’s possible some of you have heard of Tim. Morrill Performance has been doing single-weekend consulting with Elite Club teams on the East Coast, including Brute Squad, Slow White, Ironside, Machine, Ring of Fire, and Phoenix, and was the strength coach for Northern Iowa Ammunition for 2 years. He now trains TUFTS consistently, and will start working with teams from his new training base in Boston. Of course, his most infamous affiliation is with the Florida men’s team and, more specifically, Brodie Smith, whose viral popularity boosted Tim’s internet exposure significantly. Riot’s exposure to Morrill Performance came about largely as a result of Keely Dinse #22’s one-on-one training with Tim. We also had a vested interest in injury prevention given the number of sidelined teammates at the end of our 2011 season.
With Keely and Hana Kawai wrangling field and gym space (special shout out to Allison at Sand Point Gym for the use of her facilities), Tim set up 8 clinics for the weekend, starting Friday with Women’s Speed and Agility. This, as I describe above, is where I came in. Since I was only observing this particular session, I prepared to settle back for a refresher course on things I already knew. My own awareness of Tim’s work was minimal, and I expected something along the lines of “run through these cones and I’ll time you.” I was very wrong.
While some of the concepts Tim covered were familiar (foam rollers, stretching, plyos, agility, etc.), he had the uncanny ability to take those topics, open them up, and peel back the layers, revealing a wealth of valuable, injury-reducing, body-strengthening information that had been lingering beneath the surface. It was like I had been going to Disneyland and only riding the teacups. Or watching Titanic, but only the first half. Or reading Harry Potter, and then stopping after Book 1. Pretty unfortunate, really.
While we only had a couple hours to delve into Self-Myofascial Release (which I explain more thoroughly below), Flexibility, Mobility, Jumping Mechanics/Plyos, Speed, Agility, and Conditioning, Tim managed to introduce basic concepts of each while also emphasizing Ultimate-specific movements within those topics. In addition to explaining how, he was also very good at explaining why. For example, with jumping mechanics, he had the group find the movements that made them uncomfortable – jumping off the right leg, going up with the left hand – and practice those movements with short, simple approaches in order to create symmetry. He explained that when one side of your body is dominant, not only are you limiting the type of plays you can make in a game, you’re also increasing the likelihood of injury. That was one of his major points: Asymmetry breeds injury, and we play a very asymmetrical sport.
The women of this group were a good mix of club and league players, and responded positively to the clinic. At the end of the night, I couldn’t help but notice how the group stayed engaged the entire time and was eager to ask questions even as we were wrapping up. Petra Kowalski, a member of Seattle Underground, had this to say:
“Tim’s clinic on Friday night was really great. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but (even though I was skeptical as I always am with other trainers at first) I kept an open mind and was pleasantly surprised. Tim’s clinic was organized and interesting. His methods and techniques are all clearly founded in research based principles – and that’s key. But it was great to see those ideas taught in a new/different style… It was particularly great to hear him talk about the importance of starting with the basics and working up to training ultimate-like movements and patterns to improve performance and prevent injury.”
In an ill-concealed attempt to hoard Tim’s time, Riot scheduled two 3-hour clinics on both Saturday and Sunday morning. The first 3-hour session was Speed & Agility and focused on much of the same material that Tim had gone over the previous night with a good amount of variation and, most importantly, more time. In a testament to the depth of Tim’s knowledge and energy, the session never dragged.
Tim started us off with Self Myofascial Release (basically, the poor man’s deep tissue massage), handing out his weapon of choice for this portion of the workout: lacrosse balls. As we rolled around on the ground, Tim told us to go “hunting” for trouble spots and demonstrated movements that targeted areas in need of mobility. To illustrate the effectiveness of SMR, Tim first had us raise our arms straight above our heads, palms in. Depending on your mobility, your hands will rest somewhere above or slightly behind your head. Tim then had us lie on our backs with the lacrosse ball beneath one shoulder, then bridge up so that it really dug into the area between the neck and shoulder. After raising and lowering the arm on that side for about half a minute, he had us sit up and test our mobility again. For me, the SMR added 2-3 inches to my reach. Having had rotator cuff issues at the end of our club season, the simple act of raising and lowering my arm as the lacrosse ball worked into those muscles also helped break up scar tissue in and around the shoulder that I hadn’t been aware of. I went out and bought a lacrosse ball that evening.
Next, we moved onto flexibility and mobility. As with any team, individual capabilities will vary greatly in these areas. You’ll have people who can’t touch their toes, and people who can touch the back of their heads with their foot while standing on one leg. But the point is not to be the most flexible Ultimate team in the world. The point is making individual progress so that the likelihood of injury is decreased. So if you can’t put your forehead to your shins while standing up straight, it’s okay! When stretching, “Get to know your body. Hunt and explore.” For me, stretching has always been a semi-mindless routine (that I’m not very good at), but having a goal to concentrate on during those stretches – for example, hitting the frontside, backside, inside, and outside of your 4 hip “quadrants” – helped sharpen my focus.
After thoroughly warming up our bodies inside, we headed out onto the turf for jumping mechanics and plyos, linear speed mechanics, and multi-directional speed and agility. I guarantee that most Club Ultimate teams have developed some form of track workout that focuses on these things. Tim, however, developed his program with only Ultimate in mind. With every exercise, he was able to articulate why these things are important, how they apply to Ultimate, and how they prevent injury. Again, he proved to be an invaluable resource as we hit him up with questions before, during, and after the session.
On Saturday afternoon and night, Tim held clinics for Youth, Sockeye, and Men’s Strength & Power. Some video of those sessions are below.
Sockeye’s Frank Devin Barich added his thoughts about the clinics:
Seattle Sockeye got a great opportunity to learn about the Ultimate specific, training program developed by Tim Morill a few weeks ago. I “Frank” Devin Barich and several teammates showed up at the field complex excited to meet Tim and figure out how his systems could help us for the 2012 season. Myo-fascial release (rolling on a hard rubber ball/piece of foam/log) started the evening. Grimacing with pleasure we transitioned to a specific set of stretches designed to open our hips front to back and side to side, whoa. If you have not started to test your flexibility for the season, do it tonight, 30 mins no questions. Having full mobility in your hips is the first step to allowing your bodies fullest potential when strengthening and conditioning.
Moving towards a more dynamic set Tim had the Fish practice correct body positioning from a stand still (lean into it), on a three step jump approach (jump straight up), and through a set of ladder steps (low body, head up, drive). The motions/practice starts were familiar as Sockeye focuses on many of the same tenants; the approach was high energy and detailed something that can be lost when you have players helping players learn about their bodies while practicing for themselves.
Our strength session was a study in refinement, Tim set out to build the right body position so each lift would bring maximum gains. From Standing lunge, to pull ups, to sumo squats, the Fish were told to keep the chin in and full body flex. Do not underestimate the intensity of a 45 minute lift, if you are truly working 100% in each lift your body will thank you with sweat and fatigue in no time at all. We were told to focus during lifting, no slow walking to the water fountain, no 5 minute chats with friends, get in get out and get on with your training.
Having chatted with several teammates I have come to the conclusion that a trainer with the right tools is a great opportunity for any team. Tim was able to bring a focused approach to different exercises that no doubt we thought we knew in and out. There is always room for more focus, room to re-set and get a lift done right. If you are interested in the Tim’s time, don’t hesitate to email him, this guy will give you honest answers and quality time (as much as he can spare). Sockeye would like to thank all of Riot and Keeley Dinse in particular for setting up this great opportunity for Seattle Ultimate.
Sunday morning was Riot’s Strength & Power session.
It was interesting to see fantastic Ultimate players finding their weaknesses in a gym setting. In Seattle in particular, we have players who grew up playing Ultimate, but missed out on strength training that is often introduced in high school or college with sports like track, basketball, and soccer. For some, this simply led to unconventional running forms (just watch one of our games, you’ll find them). For others, it led to injury and the habit of building on dysfunction. So when Tim points out that “Ultimate players need to start thinking of themselves as athletes and train accordingly,” it resonates.
To kick off the session, Tim introduced us to Power exercises. We started with “Cleans,” a pretty technical lift that involves all the things my body just doesn’t want to do: front squatting, deadlifting, and jumping under a bar as it falls on my clavicle. Even though I didn’t master the Clean in that session, it did give me real goals to work toward in subsequent sessions, namely front squatting, deadlifting, and learning how to jump under a bar as it falls on my clavicle (or “form”). After this exciting introduction, we moved onto more manageable kettle ball swings and dumbbell snatches.
As we explored other categories (Hip Dominant, Knee Dominant, Pushing/Pulling, etc.), Tim gave us a veritable arsenal of exercises, each emphasizing some of his main points in the weight room: engage your gluts, stay away from back-loaded exercises, stretch your hips, keep your joints mobile, keep your body under tension while you lift, and hip hinge!
Tim also took time to address the current biggest fear of female athletes: the ACL tear. Wrecker of Teams, Destroyer of Seasons, Bane of Athletic Careers! And nigh on impossible to predict. Though ACL injuries happen to a variety of body types in a variety of ways, Tim suggested focusing on knee stability for prevention. ACL tears “happen on deceleration in a chaotic environment. Therefore, we must train deceleration in a controlled environment.” So, single leg exercises are now your best friend, ladies. Try for force absorption with single leg jumps and bounds (forward, lateral, medial), and aim for stability with loaded exercises – single leg deadlifts and single leg squats.
With our session coming to a close, we reviewed movement from the day before and squeezed in questions. Throughout the morning, Tim had somehow maintained the same level of energy and enthusiasm that he had brought at the beginning of the weekend, and was still going strong. He was absolutely a priceless resource for our team. In speaking with attendees of the other clinics that weekend, there was no shortage of praise for the sessions Tim put together.
I’ve tried to do justice to the amount of information packed into these clinics, and the passion and love Tim has for what he does, but I know this write-up is wholly inadequate. Morrill Performance is really something you should experience for yourself. Look it up.
Sockeye’s Dave Bestock raps at the clinics about hip dominance: