Progression or Paralysis: My Experience With Putting Coaching Back Into Coaching

As a Strength and Conditioning Coach, there is something that you must realize very quickly. YOUR ATHLETES DO NOT CARE ABOUT STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING QUITE LIKE YOU DO!!! They do not think about training when they leave your facility, they have no clue why they warm-up with single instead of double leg hip bridges, they could care less about what a Cook squat is and will never recognize it on their card unless you remind them. You can spend a phase RDL to shrugging them all you want, but if you do not let them experience what it feels like to attack a bar, drop underneath it, and press it up, then your time will have been wasted. Why? Because athletes do not understand the concepts that we, as coaches, understand. I understand that A-Skips, B-Skips, M-Skips and Z-Skips can begin to instill the mechanistic concepts of sprinting. But why then, when my athlete goes to steal a base, does he look like the wacky, wavy, inflatable tube man?

I began my career trying to implement every trick I learned from my undergrad, grad, and internship experiences. Trust me, I have investigated the gambit of stars in this industry, and have nothing but respect for each of them. I learned that not every exercise, progression, and assessment need be applied to your team’s program. I found out very quickly that there are certain auxiliary exercises that are a valuable use of your athletes’ time, and others that are not. The reason is simple; many exercises that are utilized to correct movement patterns or form on a certain exercise are very coaching intensive. If you are utilizing your A2 and A3 exercises for mobilization work in between sets of front squat, with 40 athletes, then you will probably get the majority of athletes rushing through them.

We must understand that progressing most athletes can happen very quickly. I believe this for one reason: COACHING. I consistently tell my athletes prior to a training session that, on this particular day, we may not be able to attain perfection, but we will strive for it while performing every single rep. As a coach, I do not accept anything less. For instance, I believe that if we choose to squat, we will squat to depth. When I see an athlete miss his or her depth, it is addressed immediately and corrected. I will use my ability as a coach to evaluate if this is due to a limitation, faulty technique, laziness, or just a pure misunderstanding of the exercise. Most of the time this correction can take place in a matter of seconds. I do not need to take that athlete off the squat and KB goblet squat them for the next 4 weeks. I simply coached him or her and it lead to a near-perfect deep squat.

There are countless ways to progress athletes, taking them step by step through parts of the subsequent whole movement. But I’ll tell you this, when you finally say, “Alright, go ahead and perform the whole movement with weight on the bar”, more often than not that athlete will not perform how you thought. If you want your athletes to be good at something, have them do it over and over and over again. While they do it, you are there to coach and coach and coach some more. If you have 50 athletes in the room, you find a way to watch and coach every one of them.

Here are 5 things I myself have done a better job of after my first 2 years in the industry:

1. Map out your progressions prior to implementing them into your year plan

Performing this task may shed some light on what is needed and not needed. You hear it more and more now in S&C. Reduce your exercise library as much as you can (and in certain cases, your progression/corrective exercises). You know what the finish line looks like, now lets get there in the least amount of steps. Of course, this is determined by individual needs, but that deserves the attention of its own blog post to inevitably come later!!

 2. Decide what your expectations will be for each exercise

Exercises can be performed multiple ways. Right, wrong, or stupid, figure out what YOU want to get out of each exercise and how you believe it will be achieved. If you believe that a DB supported row should be performed with a solid base of support, flat back, retracted scap, and without a jerking motion, then make that decision.

 3. Situate exercises in a manner that allows you to give attention to all coaching intensive exercises

I utilize a lot of my time devoted to warm-up to perform many of my progression or corrective type exercises. Whether that is related to FMS scores, as a pre-cursor to have success in a subsequent movement, etc., it allows me to oversee the group as a whole, while also being able to control the tempo at which the exercises are performed. If combining several exercises together during the lifting portion of the training session, I will make sure not to combine 2 exercises that need my full attention.

 4. Coach every athlete like your hair is on fire!

Practical experience plays a role in how well this can be done. Put it this way, if you want to use olympic lifts, you should be able to get your freshmen to perform them pretty proficiently within 2 weeks. You already have your efficient, intelligent progression in place and the athlete knows what is expected. Now its time to hash out a few ugly reps, have that athlete feel out what is right and wrong (guided minimally by your progression and maximally by your coaching), point out the good and the bad, and end with a resounding “NOW YOU HAVE IT!!!”

 5. Accept nothing less than attempting perfection

ALWAYS be coaching and addressing right and wrong. When your athletes come back from Christmas break after leaving their winter program in their dorm rooms and they forget what a lateral lunge is, you will simply have to coach, coach, coach. There is an art to it. Know that there are times to take that athlete aside and use your knowledge to set them into the right position. Know that there are other times when that athlete looks terrible and the response needs to be “FIGURE IT OUT!!!!”.

Remember we are coaches, not magicians. All those great auxiliary exercises will not magically turn your athletes into the best at squat, med ball throw, pull-up, 5-10-5, clean, standing long jump, plank, or snatch. Progressions are there to be used when needed. After that, its all about the coaching.

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