I spoke in our last blog about the restrictions requiring me as a coach to be more creative and having to adapt the way we have approached training at a high level under restrictions. So I thought I would dive into this topic and elaborate on this more.  There are two main areas in which we have been forced to be more creative. The first is with lack of access to equipment (typically no access to gym equipment) and the other is in how we teach skills when we are not together in the day to day coaching environment. 

The lay of the land is that the athletes can train in their own environment (at the moment it is within a 5km radius in Victoria). Fortunately most do have access to somewhere to run so training has not had to cease entirely, however it does look a little different. When this all started last year and we were forced into training independently, I remember scratching my head and thinking this is not going to work. But the realisation that it wasn’t going to be over any time soon, we needed to starting thinking laterally to come up with solutions with what we did have. 

Teaching skills remotely

The area that I know that I struggled with and continue to struggle with at times is not being able to coach in real time. I love being on the track and working with my athletes, making adjustments, engaging and working through sessions with them, trying to make changes and establish inputs for change. When you are not there this becomes a much more difficult process. Initially I didn’t change the structure and training exercises excessively, but I quickly realised it is difficult to teach when you don’t have eyes on the training in real time. We needed to adopt a different strategy to make skill changes without real time feedback.

  1. Skill Variability
    1. After reviewing our training, it became apparent that in order to teach skills we needed to provide exercises that forced the athletes to think about how to execute the skills under variable conditions. This type of training in motor learning has been popular for a long time, it is considered constraints based training. We have used some of these tasks consistently in the past, but it became very apparent that in order to teach skills when you are not there, the need to put obstacles in place that ask the athletes to find solutions to problems was going to be a better way to teach than to instruct them directly with cueing. What this looks like is different for different athletes but for instance for our group has used different weighted sled runs for acceleration development, the use of weighted vest for foot contact understanding, changes in surfaces, use of drills into and out of runs and use of markers for shortening or elongating stride lengths in different aspects of their runs. This isn’t to say that we haven’t used these in the past, but it has become apparent that inputs of variability in how you execute a skill provides opportunity for the athlete to feel and understand different ways to execute movements. This is important for many reasons but particularly it provides them with multiple paths to a solution. And when you are not there to give feedback in real time, this enhances the athletes understanding of their skills. 
  2. Providing pre training plans
    1. Given the need for the athletes to understand the key outcomes to focus on leading into sessions, I have been providing athletes with a basic note on what the key elements that are foci for the session, providing cues, areas of emphasis and the opportunity to prepare for the session prior to training. Some athletes find it very helpful and I am sure some of them probably don’t even read plan, but at a minimum it provides them with an idea of how to approach the session and gives them some of the cues that I would likely have given them throughout the session. This has forced me to think about what the priority is with the messages that I send them, trying to provide one to three key things to work on for the entire session. 
  3. Video review and debrief
    1. Like many coaches I am having to do a significant amount of coaching remotely. This has meant a significant amount of video review, whether that be in real time or after the session. This has allowed the athletes to receive feedback in a similar manner to what they would when coaching in person. Although much of this is not different it has forced me to think about how to convey messages that enact some change in performance when you cannot use demonstration and non verbal skills. I have found providing video examples from different athletes demonstrating the type of movement patterns, race models and drills provides the opportunity for learning that we may not have had if we were together in normal training environment. 

Exercise selection.

The second major area that has adapted and has required significant creativity has been the selection of exercises based on not having access to equipment, and in particular access to gym equipment. Initially I felt that we would be at a big loss without this equipment, but it made me question my assumptions and biases. It made me spend significant time researching how to develop strength and power without these items and develop a greater appreciation for alternative systems of capacity development. 

Key changes

  1. In order to develop strength in this climate required maximizing on limited resources. With this in mind the shift in use of contraction types, contraction speeds and use of different loading schemes.
    1. For instance with limited equipment there is still opportunity to perform maximal isometric tasks with immovable objects such as a desk, wall, or car. These provide a maxima stimulus that has the capability of maintaining or increasing maximum output of force without requiring gym equipment
  2. Similarly a focus on power development across the preseason increased the development of understanding around velocity based resistance training. On many occasions athletes who did have home gym equipment, only had small amounts of equipment. For this reason there was a shift from absolute loads to the speed at which resistance loads could be moved. 
  3. There was also a shift towards developing some of the strength and power features that you would typically get in the gym, into exercises that could be completed outdoors. This included much heavier sled pulls than we had used previously. Increased use of plyometric loading and variations of jump exercises or medball exercises has allowed for much of the power training to be converted to outdoor activities compared to the previous training that we would have completed in the gym. 

With all of this in mind the shift in the training programs has given us a significantly bigger set of exercises to select from in our program design and I truly feel this experience, whilst confronting initially has led me to be a better and less rigid coach.