As a coach, influencing the athleticism in your team can be difficult if you only see your players a few times per week for a few months of the year. I hope these tips help you take advantage of the time you have with your team and think outside the box about how to help your athletes outside of practice.
1. Movement Fundamentals
As a coach you can help your players develop and practice good movement fundamentals. Movement fundamentals education is a natural part of a dynamic warm-up. This type of simple (but important!) movement education is about giving the body different movement challenges and allowing the athlete to explore how their bodies work. If you’re not yet doing a dynamic warm-up as part of your team practice, you can use this relatively simple warm-up as a place to start. If you’re already doing a dynamic warm-up, congrats!
Think about adding more complex variations of mobility drills. As athletes advance, their warm-ups can advance as well to include more complex exercises that challenge an athlete’s proprioception and increase movement skill and coordination.
For example, all warm-ups should include a lunge variation. Likely you’ve done the traditional lunge and twist. To make things slightly more challenging, try backward lunges instructing athletes to move gracefully from one lunge directly into the other. It is surprising how much doing a familiar exercise backwards changes the proprioceptive demand by taking away the athlete’s vision. Or try a this lunge variation to incorporate thoracic mobility into the exercise.
2. Educational Opportunities
Many ultimate players are not well educated as athletes. It’s likely that most of your players could use improvement in running form, cutting mechanics, and strength training fundamentals. Why not organize some opportunities to focus on and learn these things?
Unfortunately, I get the most requests for clinics when the ultimate season is well under way. This is the most logistically easy time for teams to gather for clinics, but not the time that will reap the most benefit.
One of the main problems I’ve faced in trying to work with teams is that by the time they seek me out, the best opportunities for training have already passed. Real changes in running form take reps, focus, and time. The best time to develop strength and power is in the off season. By the time a team has solidified the roster, it’s time to focus on sport specific work like throwing and perfecting the team’s defensive strategy.
Consider organizing educational opportunities for players and prospective players in the off season or early pre-season. Just a two hour clinic to help with the basics of strength training could have a big impact on a team your team’s overall injury rate deep into the season. A focused speed and agility clinic early in the season can ensure your athletes understand the proper purpose and execution of speed and agility drills you might do in practice, thus helping you all get better results.
I hate to tell you this, but as a coach or player, you likely do not have the expertise to create a long term training program for your athletes. If you want to create and run an occasional workout, that’s fine. If you are a mostly recreational team just trying to get in decent shape, you’ll likely be alright. But if you consider yourself to be a serious team trying to get close to the athletic potential of your players, you are very likely to overtrain your athletes if you try to create your own program.
I have yet to see a coach or teammate create a training program that’s not challenging enough for their team. I have seen countless cases of teams plagued with overuse injuries that could have been easily avoided with a more prudent approach to training. What good is an in shape athlete if they’re injured 3 weeks before the main tournament of the year?
There is no shame in outsourcing. Even as a strength and conditioning coach, I outsource and refer out all the time. My expertise is in helping healthy athletes train for athletic performance. I do not have the expertise to help athletes with injury issues so I don’t even try. To do so would be irresponsible.
Likewise as a coach, you know a lot about ultimate. But you haven’t been educated in how to create a training program that lasts several months or more.
I realize that as a provider of training programs, I have a conflict of interest in giving advice to outsource. But I honestly don’t care where you get your training programs from as long as you’re getting them somewhere. I want elite ultimate players to take themselves seriously as athletes. That means training with a well organized program. And that means getting professional help. For professionals within the ultimate community, there are many choices (Tim Morrill, Ren Caldwell, Jules Murray, Alan Janzen, Jean-Philippe Riopel, Jorge Dulcé to name just a few). If you want to find someone local, make sure they have a degree in Exercise Science, Kinesiology, or an NSCA-CSCS certification for an indication that they have at least been exposed to the fundamentals of strength and conditioning science.
I hope these ideas help you think about how to make the most of the time you have with your team and exert influence over the athletic development of your players even when you’re not with them.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can help your team develop athleticism, I encourage you to listen to my talk at the upcoming Ultimate Results Coaching Academy Conference. My presentation will be titled How to Use Team Warm Ups to Develop Athletic Movement Quality.