Coaches Corner: How to Assess Your Athletes’ Needs Part 2
In part 1 of this article I talked about what you need to look for in assessing your athlete’s performance needs. Coaches are always looking for the best athletes, but you also need to be able to help develop the athletes that you have. The four primary areas that you need to consider while looking at your athletes are: The head, the arms, the torso and the legs. Most athletes will have issues with at least one of these areas. The younger the athletes the more potential for more issues there are, but do not let this make you believe that older athletes will not have any issues.
Once you figure out what is wrong the next step is to correct it. Again if you are qualified as a sports performance coach or have a strength and conditioning certification you can personally take charge of getting your athletes right. If you do not have any of the above, don’t just wing it or follow a book. You will end up doing more harm than good to your athletes. Find a qualified professional that can help you out and get your players right. What I do want to do is give you some simple remedies that can help you address each area of concern. These are things that will help you out if you are in the middle of your season or getting ready for the post-season and time is of the essence.
The Head: The head needs to be considered the steering device of the body. Basically it will navigate which direction you are moving in. This is not to say that you cannot look in one direction and move in another, but problem arise when the head moves too much when running. The simple fix for this is not controlling the head, but controlling the eyes. You want to get your athletes to focus on a spot in the horizon. I usually say to look at the point where the ground and the sky meet (floor and wall if indoors). If they can focus their eyes on this point their heads should stay still. The second fix is again is not with the head per say. A lot of times when an athlete’s head moves around you will notice that they are extremely tight in the neck and shoulders. Get your athletes to relax their necks, drop their shoulders and breathe through every motion and you will see a considerable difference in how they look.
The Arms: This is a bigger problem than most people realize because the only time it becomes and issue is when the athlete looks funny. In truth it is a huge problem and promotes bad movements. The first problem is when the arms cross the body. Just like the head moving from side to side this allows the body to twist while running, causing an inefficient stride pattern. The fix for this is to tell your athletes not to let their hands cross their mid-line (the buttons on a shirt or a neck tie). This allows the arms to move in a straight and symmetrical pattern for more efficiency. The second problem is the arms staying too low. This does not allow the athlete to drive efficiently. To help fix this problem you want to tell your athletes to move their hands from the cheek to the hip. The last problem seen with the arms is athletes moving just the lower arms or basically bending and straightening the elbow. Just like the last problem this does not allow athletes to drive effectively. Proper arm action is generated by the shoulders which allow the body to move more forcefully. Tell your athletes to drive arms down and back forcefully like they are trying to elbow someone behind them. All three tips together will allow your athletes to use their arms efficiently and effectively while they run.
The Torso: Problems with the torso are probably the most visible of the problems listed in this article. I know you have seen that athlete that looks like they are going to fall on their face with every step. Or the athlete that seem to stare up in the sky. Everyone in the world used to talk about Michael Johnson, arguably the best long sprinter of our times because of his upright posture. Different athletes will have different postures, but you do want to keep a few things consistent. Have your athletes run as balanced as possible with a slight lean forward. Also have them try to keep their shoulders square in the direction they are running. Lastly, they need to minimize the unnecessary body movements. One interesting note about correcting torso issues is that fixing other areas of the body will directly affect how the body moves, so you get more bang for the buck.
The Legs: The problems with the legs are probably the most common and widely varying of all the running problems. You can see athletes that don’t bend their knees, kick their legs out to the side or do butt kickers as they run. To fix these problems you need to tell your athletes to think about stepping over the opposite knee on every stride. This will allow them to drive the knee up and build power that they can apply to the ground. The ability to drive the knee up forcefully and then powerfully strike the ground is one of the biggest keys to improving speed. But all of this good work will go for nothing if you do not take care of the most common problem in athletes running wrong, especially younger athletes. To get your athletes to run properly you must get them to stop striking the ground with the whole foot or heel. You need to tell your athletes to land on the balls of their feet, in layman’s terms to hit the ground with the front of their feet. I do have to admit that this is not a simple problem to fix. It takes repeated drills and constant reminders to get athletes to change this issue, but if you remind them often it will help.
Now that you have assessed all the problems and gone through the simple fixes your athletes will be on a better path. I am not saying that they will now become the fastest players on the field or court, but you should be able to notice some differences. To make sure that they are getting the appropriate training you need to send them to a qualified professional. Coaches are in the positions they are in because of what they know about that sport or expertise in a profession. Yes we all know some things about other sports or training, but beyond the very basic information we have to remind ourselves that we do not know it all and getting the help that we need in other areas can only make us better. I hope that you did get something out of this article and decide to take a deeper look at your team and their needs. If you have any questions about this or any other sports performance subject please feel free to contact me. Now let’s go out there and coach these kids to the best of their abilities.