The Little Things

As I have mentioned before, it is difficult to watch your own children go through sports. While my daughter seems to have navigated her way through her career, after some difficult times, my son is on a different path. His concerns aren’t so much coaching, but how to be an athlete. It’s not so much that the actual athletic ability is lacking, but it’s all the other things that go along with being an athlete. Our students have become so compartmentalized these days that they think being an athlete is as easy as turning on your computer and playing Fortnite for what seems like forever and I’m turning off the computer and going on to something else. Athletes today do not understand that being an athlete is a full-time job that requires commitments and is more than just showing up at a practice or game or tournament. Watching him get ready to play either before the game, the morning of, or the night before is painful because the games are compartmentalized to him. And when things don’t come out well he doesn’t understand why. He doesn’t see that it’s a sum game. Maybe it’s because they play so many games that one really doesn’t matter from the other. Thanks club sports. To try to help athletes understand the sum game, I stole this concept from Dr. Shawn Allen of the Gait Guys, where he set up categories for his patients to commit to. So when they show up at the office and asks them did they do their homework or exercises, they can tell him I was a bronze, silver or a gold patient. I want to apply this concept to the modern athlete so they have standards that they can strive for and when they come up short of their expectations they can look back and see if they were a bronze, silver, or gold athlete. A better way to explain this concept is to call them “the little things.”

           The categories are created based on me watching my son go through his first varsity season in volleyball. He is a freshman and does not have a lot of knowledge about how to get ready for games and what it takes to achieve the goals that he wants to achieve. This blog will attempt to create a system that he and a lot of other high school athletes can use to better prepare themselves for their careers. I am spelling out the little things.

           I’ve created four categories for the athletes to rank themselves.  I think the four are all-encompassing and will cover just about every aspect outside of their gameplay. The four categories are rest, workouts, diet and pre-practice pre-competition preparation.

But, before we delve into the groups, I think it is important for today’s athletes to have a clear and specific goal. Not goals. Identify one aspect of your game and focus solely on that goal. Far too often athletes have many goals and strive to reach all of them and fail on a regular basis. Their effort is scattered and they can’t figure out why what they are doing isn’t working. For example, if your goal is to run faster, working out 8-12 times a week will not help you accomplish your goal. Upper body workouts, aerobic base, and MMA training are included in that workout grouping. Fooling yourself into thinking it’s an upper day will on take you one step back. Look at the impact on the body as a whole. How did all of those workouts impact you hormonally or from a recovery standpoint. Did your body ever have time to adjust to all of the mixed signals? That is why it is important to understand that reaching goals will always demand that you sacrifice many different aspects of your life. This could range from workouts you really like to do, to “screen time”, to sleep and diet. In education we do great lip service to goal setting and then let our student/athletes wander aimlessly in their hopeful path towards accomplishment without guiding them over hurdles and through rough spots.

           Once the goal is accomplished, look to see the change and then set another goal. Often times, a well-set goal will cause other changes and a previous goal may no longer be an issue. For example, in developing speed, we like to fix one aspect of form whether it is lateral chain development, ankle/foot development, etc. and when we accomplish that goal, we will see a change in max speed. From there, we can determine if max speed is something that should be the next goal or something else, like a first step or power development. You can also have an master goal with subgoals as well.

           Once they have established the goals, the following are the “little things” that go into achieving the goal. Most student-athletes forget that lots of little things add up to a big thing.

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Rest

Rest is the most important “little thing” athletes can do. Without it, athletes will never progress. I could write an entire blog just on what it does but I think we all know. The “little things” of rest will be difficult to accomplish for the gold standard.

Gold-

Going to bed before 10 with 8+ hours of sleep a night

            Scheduled
wake-up on a daily basis

            No
electronics in the bedroom

            No
screen time after sun goes down or with blue blocking glasses

            No
sunglasses

            Morning
sun time on torso

           RPR belly-breaths before sleep

A constant sleep cycle that corresponds to circadian rhythms is key. The blue screens for electronic disrupt not only circadian rhythms but also hormone responses (melatonin). Electronics in bedroom that are not shut down also elicit waves that disrupt sleep or rest. No sunglasses ensure lots of Vitamin D. Sun on the torso improves dopamine. RPR belly breaths in bed ensure a parasympathetic sleep. The further down the medal stand, the more all of these processes are disrupted and prevent positive growth.

Silver-

Going to bed before midnight all week

            3-4
nights of 8 hours of sleep and bed at 10

            Screens
off before 10

            Some
sun exposure

Bronze-

6-8 hours of sleep

            Sporadic
and scattered bed times and wake-ups

            Binge
sleeping

            Screens
past 11

            Eating
late night

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Diet

The hard part here is knowing that diet is
incredibly individualistic. So, if I can’t get to the athlete to make it to my
diet person (Dr.Kerry Heitkotter), I will give some broad strokes. A great
guide is Cal Dietz’s nutritional guide.(http://store.xlathlete.com/product-p/youthnutrition.htm) He breaks down meals based on time intervals for practice and
games and gives great options if you have to eat out or even fast food. It is
by far the most useful diet guide I have encountered.

Gold-

Protein- red meat, fish

Carbs- fruit and vegetables

Fats- nuts, avocado, meat and oils

A mixture of foods

Nothing microwaved or packaged

Proper timing of nutrients

2-3 cheats

First, we shop on the outer rim of the grocery store. Try to get as fresh as possible. I like lots of red meat for its carnosine and its impact on the mitochondria. Most athletes don’t get enough red meat because their mom read it was bad in People magazine. Try to rotate foods so your body gets its nutrients in a variety of delivery systems. And microwaving dehydrates and kills just about all of the “live” nutrients in your food. An occasional cheat-meal is OK. Life is not fun if you can’t eat bad food. It gives the athlete a target in between the healthy meals.

Silver-

Protein- chicken, dairy

Carbs-starches

Fat- dairy

4-5 cheats

Some processed

It is good to rotate in some of the silver
selections but they should not be a staple. Too much dairy can inflame a
system. The body will deal with inflammation of the gut before it allows for
recovery.

Bronze-

Protein- whey, pre-made drinks

Carbs- packaged goods

Fats- peanut butter, processed fat

Less than 3 meals

Skipped breakfasts

Lots of packaged, microwaved food

I know I will get in trouble for this but I am not a fan of whey. It is not that I think whey is bad. It can be great if the quality is high and the use is moderate. But I see athletes whole dietary regime is based on poor quality whey that is mixed with lots of other bad ingredients, like high-fructose corn syrup. High quality whey, by itself, tastes bad. Even with a healthy flavor, it still is not great. So, I would be cautious if your “protein drink” tastes great. For a good alternative, try fish, hemp, or pea protein for a change up and see what your body responds to best.

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Pre-practice/pre-competition/in between events

This topic, in my opinion, leaves room for lots of improvement. Some things are as basic as proper clothing, healthy eating, and good posture.

Gold-

Meal timing

Proper clothes and equipment

Full warm-up

Great posture pre and during

Belly breathing

Self-talk

For morning practices or games wake up an hour before event

I’ve seen on more than one occasion that athletes don’t eat before practice, before a game, or even in between events. We need to remember that food is fuel, and to ask our body to perform at high levels without any kind of fuel will lead to poor results. Some athletes think that a small snack with a Gatorade will suffice, but they will come out short at the end of their event.

Clothing is an issue as well, especially if you are an outdoor sport. In most cases, it is a male athlete who thinks it is much warmer out than it is. 45 degrees is not appropriate shorts weather. Athletes need to remember that the role of a calorie is to keep the body warm. The body doesn’t care about how well it performs if the body is cold. The main goal is to keep the brain, heart and organs warm and it will give up other things in order to do so which includes restricting blood flow to the extremities where blood will cool and limit performance. To help this situation, we warm-up. I have also seen many athletes go through poor warm ups, ranging from moving around a little bit or even just bouncing some and think that that will suffice to get the body ready to go. Of course I’m a full proponent of using RPR for the warm-up. The warmer it gets outside the less concerned I am with a warm-up. On days where it is warmer than 80 degrees, I’m not as concerned about how much they warm up. But I’m cooler days or even cool gyms, trying to get that body warm so it doesn’t consume energy trying to keep the body warm is important.  If adrenaline is a factor, I’m not as concerned with a warm-up as well.

Also bringing the proper
equipment to your practice. Showing up at track practice without spikes is like
showing up at a football practice without a helmet. It is usually an indicator
that you really don’t care much about your sport.

             I put belly breathing and self-talk all in the same category. Both can dictate how well your body performs at a very basic level. There’s research to show that body position alone can change testosterone levels. Mixed with self-talk, we will become very “tough” mentally. Add some RPR belly-breaths and the athlete will be in a superior performance state.

Silver-

Some clothes

A pre-snack from vending machine

A short warm-up

Minimal self-talk

Some posture awareness

Some breaths

Wake up less than 60 minutes before

Bronze-

No food

Dressed improperly

Moved some for unfocused warm-up

Hands in pockets/poor body posture

Just woke up and went to practice

At RPR, we have been looking into the impact of poor posture and poor performance. We have  been taking pictures of teams that are losing and showing how their posture changes as well as their distance between each player.

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Workouts

This topic has become a pet peeve of mine. Our Athletes, with the best intentions, are doing too much. I currently have some athletes that work out between 8 and 12 times a week  but can’t understand why they aren’t getting better. The fallacy of more is better often leads to not getting better at all. Some athletes have multiple coaches: team coach , speed coach, strength coach, etc. They are all doing what they know how to do the best. But, they never look at the sum of what the athlete is doing. This will often lead athletes down a path to failure. None of them are willing to give in and blame another coach for the failure. As the old saying goes there are too many chefs in the kitchen.

Athletes need to keep journals of where they are at and how much they are doing. This prevents repeating the same weight and set schemes for “auxiliary” exercises. It’s even good to write down how long you’ve worked out for. Working out for more than an hour usually takes you into a hormonal state where you are getting less return for your work. Speaking of exercises. Dan Fichter it’s come up with a very unique program of exercise selection for his athletes. Dan has found a way to allow athletes to pick from a selection of exercises that from a neural standpoint seems to work well for them. You can learn more about that at the next TFC in June.

Gold-

Follow exactly what you and your coach had planned… stick to goal-driven workout

Use appropriate exercises for your neural state (Fichter workout)

Keep a journal

Used metronome to time iso/eccentric holds

Kept workouts under an hour

Silver-

Follow some of the program

Recorded some of the exercises

Added some of your own exercises, workouts or
days

Bronze-

“Lifted”

Did mostly what you felt like doing

Unplanned workout

Exercised way too much throughout the week… too many sessions

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Hopefully this has been a helpful guide. Feel free to share with me some other ideas that you would use for the little things.

Chris Korfist

Showing 2 comments
  • George
    Reply

    Thanks for this, Chris – I love it.

    At age 77 and a former athlete (ultramarathon slogger) who sold his car and now rides a bike I found it pretty much agrees with my experiences.

    We tend to be SO linear and rational about training. Measurebators, fact-chasers, pixel-squeakies. It took me 20 painful years to realize that I had a built-in, absolutely reliable self-regulating monitor that could tell me how far and how fast to train.

    The body tells us when we’re sick by making us feel bad. While we’re exercising it tells us what it can do by sending subtle signals of harmony or disharmony when we go too hard, too easy, or just right.

    During my career, I had terrible, melt-down long runs that I finished feeling absolutely wonderful, by lowering my pace to the “harmony zone” that felt just right. I finished in limp-home mode, feeling great.

    I think that for young people a coach who can spot the signals that indicate too much or too little is a genuine gold-plated blessing. Most if not all kids are way too amygdala-driven to be capable of the kind of strict self-discipline that produces happy, successful training.

    Bill Bowerman monitored his runners every day and if their heart rate was high or their demeanor was droopy he’d send them to the showers. He let Pre run hard much more than Kenny Moore because Pre’s body could handle it and recover quickly, while Moore thrived by doing just one very hard workout every two weeks – the rest of the time he ran well within himself.

    Again, Arthur Lydiard’s training guideline was irreducibly simple: finish every run feeling “pleasantly tired.” I suspect that too many coaches put the emphasis on “hard” and not often enough on “pleasantly.”

    • Monty
      Reply

      Enjoyed reading this but it is youth sports and most parents didn’t prepare like this when they were 10-15 years old. So these concepts may seem over the top.

      Monty.

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