How Constraints Make You a Better Coach

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Coaching is easy when everything is on a roll. You just get in a groove and click it off. It’s magical and easy.

However, when things are going well, we always fall trap to what I call default mode thinking. We do what we have always done and continue to do so. In our minds eye, there's no reason to change, everything is going well, so why not keep riding the wave. We fall into this never ending pattern of assigning the same styles of workout, in the same way, without considering any other option.

But where innovation truly happens is when we are faced with an issue that pushes us far outside this comfort zone. When athletes or situations put constraints around us, we are forced to find another path that isn’t the comfortable well-worn one.

While we like to think about how grand life would be if we had it all figured out and had no stress, the reality is that without stress we wouldn't grow. The same holds true for coaching.

The most difficult athletes and situations offer the best opportunity for growth.


Why our attention to times is killing our sport

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A few weeks ago, a race video swept the internet, and media, by storm. There were segments on TV morning shows, Facebook posts by Good Morning America, and tweets galore all about one race.

Was it an Olympic final or a world record? Nope. How about a particularly fast race? Maybe a high school or college record? Not close.

Instead it was at an Irish Collegiate meet where the winning 4x400 relay team ran 4:02, and not to take away from these young ladies, a time that is very unremarkable in the grand scheme of things. Even taking into consideration Phil Healy's remarkable anchor leg, a 54 second split, it still is a split time that is seen every weekend at every major college meet across the country.

In other words, the times were not spectacular, but the race was.

Which brings me to point number one: we are killing our sport by focusing on times.

Understanding interest:
Why did this particular race capture the world's attention, and not many of the stellar relay races from say Penn Relays where we saw women running 4x400's 30+ seconds faster?

Drama and announcing.

Episode 33: False Positives and Inaccurate Negatives

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In this episode of the Magness and Marcus Podcast we discuss False Positive and Inaccurate Negatives. What are they? A false positive is when we have a great race or great series of workouts that doesn't translate over to sustained performance. On the flip side, an inaccurate negative is when an athlete goes through a rough patch, but when it comes to race day, they put the pieces together and have a strong performance.

As humans, we have a deep need for closure. We want simple explanations for every good or bad thing that happens. So when a race goes well, or poorly, we strive to figure it out. Coaches go into a deep dive to assess every detail that could have led to such an outcome, while athletes go over the race in their mind to see what went right/wrong. The problem is that occasionally, things go right or wrong for no known (or easily explainable) reason. In situations like this, we often come up with false reasons or get led astray by a single data point.

We have a tendency to look at training from a mathematical/scientific viewpoint. If the athlete can do X in a workout then that should translate to Y performance in a race. It's the reason why so many milers across the globe perform the tried and true 8-10x400 with 1 minute rest. They are trying to ascertain what kind of shape they are in. In the sports world, we call this concept transfer. How well do workouts transfer into performance.

Throughout this podcast we discuss the idea of transfer, how it occurs, what to do when 'transfer' doesn't seem to occur. We discuss what to do after a breakthrough performance and what to do after a disaster of a race. In this episode you'll learn how to make assessments on whether to dig deeper or to call it a "fluke" performance and move on to the next one.

We hope you enjoy this podcast, if you are a regular listener, venture over to iTunes and rate it for us. It helps us to be able to keep delivering this content to you guys regularly!


Steve and Jon
@stevemagness
@jmarpdx




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Episode 32- Running Mechanics and a Scientific Approach to Training

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 Running form is one of the hot button topics in the world of distance coaches. We debate, often with speed/power coaches, on where they fit into the program. How important are mechanics for a distance runner? How do we change them? Should we change them?

These are the questions that wer tackle in this episode. We offer a balanced view of how much importance to assign on running mechanics work and how to incorporate it into a training program. Tackling on when to work on mechanics fresh versus going against the common wisdom and practicing “falling apart mechanics.”

When it comes to making changes, we discuss how it’s about conceptualizing and overemphasize.  Step one is to get athletes to conceptualize the mechanical changes that you are after, making sure they understand what they are actually doing versus what you want them to do. Our running form is so ingrained in us that, even if from the outside it looks horrible, it feels normal to that athlete. Because of this, we need to start by having understand what they are actually doing. Often this involves showing an athlete on film so that they can visually conceptualize, or taking their shoes off to change the internal feedback.

As always, we take a few tangents along the way and discuss the topic of what is a scientific approach to training. We often think the scientific approach is some systematic beautifully written master plan.  It often entails isolating systems where we might work on VO2max one day and Lactate Threshold the next, with very little intermixing of ‘systems.’ It’s our view that this is a wrong interpretation of what a scientific approach is. We choose this isolationist approach as coaches because it’s the easy path. It’s much simpler to assign a isolated workout and check off that box, then to step back and think about creating a workout that accomplishes the goals you’ve set for your athlete.

What a scientific approach actually entails is simple: Observation and finding out what works and what doesn’t. It’s not some fancy, systematic plan.

We hope you enjoy this podcast, if you are a regular listener, venture over to iTunes and rate it for us. It helps us to be able to keep delivering this content to you guys regularly!


Steve and Jon
@stevemagness
@jmarpdx


Resources Mentioned:
Vern Gambetta and Gary Winkler Podcast- HMMR media


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Why Rabbiting works- It’s not all about drafting.

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“Turn your brain off and go for a ride.”

Every coach has that go to phrase that they repeat in the moments before the athlete heads to the line awaiting the start of the race. It might be a reminder to de-stress (“relax”) or perhaps a confidence booster (“Remember all the work you’ve put in”) or maybe even some sort of technical insight (“Make a move with a lap to go”). Regardless, we all have our favorite phrases to offer as advice in those last few precious moments.

In big races, mine is the aforementioned brain related phrase. My college kids have heard it so much that they know it’s coming before my lips begin to move. The reason is simple, in big races where we are trying to run fast, such as Stanford, I want them to take advantage of the conditions and simply latch on to the rabbit, pack, or leader for a while. In essence, I’m telling them “the race is going to go fast, just go for a ride.”

If we delve deeper into the meaning behind my default saying, it’s to convey a simple message. For the first part of the race, I want them to be mostly disengaged. Follow who they need to follow, click off the rhythm that they know they need to and let their body take over. Don’t overthink anything, don’t freak out about a split being a second too fast or too slow, just go for a ride. The only thing they need to worry about is staying on the ‘train’ and closing gaps if they occur.  Only during the more difficult periods of the race do I want them to flip the switch and become fully engaged.

You might notice, that I haven’t mentioned the common explanation for why “sitting” on a rabbit or competitor works; drafting. It’s not that I doubt the couple percent savings in energy expenditure that research seems to tout, it’s that I don’t think that is the reason why rabbits work.

It’s not (entirely) about the draft.

Newsletter- Turn Nerves and Anxiety into Triumph

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When I first got into coaching, I would read every book imaginable on the subject. I started with the classic training texts like LydiardCoe, and Wilt, before venturing into the latest science and physiology from Brooks or Costill. As someone who was known for reading the picture books of the assigned classics in English class, the fact that I was reading anything at all shocked my parents.

Everything I picked up, whether it was a book or article, was specific. It all was contained within a small circle centered on running. As I developed and desired more information, I began to venture out. I picked up books on how the best rowers, swimmers, and cyclists trained. While it might have been about different sports, the theme remained; it was about training.

As the years went by, my search for understanding kept growing. At first it was to non-endurance sports, then to science fields not specific to sport, and finally to esoteric topics such as philosophy. At each level, as I branched out, I noticed I would bring ideas back that would directly impact my coaching. Instead of getting further away from my goal of being a better coach, I was getting closer. As I branched out, I was able to step back and notice similarities that I couldn’t before because I was zoomed so far in that nothing but running was clear.

This pattern certainly isn’t unique to myself. As I’ve been fortunate to interact with experts in a variety of field, it seems this pattern from specific to branching outwards is a common theme on the path towards hopeful mastery. So it wasn’t surprising when around 2 years ago, I had a conversation with Brad Stulberg about the similarities that top performers in their field had.

It’s this thought that launched our latest joint book project to explore what these underlying principles and similarities are. As we undertook the journey together to write a book, it opened up doors that we could only have imagined before. By simply opening with “we’re writing a book” we were able to talk to some amazing musicians, artists, scholars, and, of course, athletes from around the world. Beyond that, we got to travel to places where people were doing fascinating work on performance, and to talk to cutting edge scientists first hand.

This post isn’t about that book however, as more will come as we get closer to publication date. Instead, it’s about an idea. Brad and I have notebooks full of innovative ideas and concepts that we’ve accrued from talking to people who are way smarter than us. We spent hundreds of hours pouring through research and making notes that include hundreds of pages of writing. We’ve condensed a lot of it into our next book, but there was too much leftover on the cutting room floor that was too valuable to simply let die.

One of the reasons we both put out so much information is because we feel strongly about helping people achieve their goals, whatever they may be. We struggle with the same problems that everyone else does, and it seems selfish when you come across an answer and don’t spread it.

What we’ve done then is put together a newsletter that will be delivered to you every other Thursday. Our goal is to provide you with a short one-page email designed to give you actionable information. Every issue, we’ll condense down lessons learned about an interesting performance-enhancing concept and teach you how to apply it to your own life.  It’s short, simple, actionable, and packed with research-backed information.

Our first newsletter is about a concept that we’re all familiar with, stress and anxiety. It can be the number one performance killer, or, if we frame it right, the number one performance enhancer. This issue is all about

Please check it out, and if you like it, consider signing up to have it delivered to you every other week. I won’t be posting these on this blog, it’s a separate entry, so make sure to sign up and share with your friends.

Enjoy!


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Episode 31- Developing Team Culture: Are you Athlete or Coach centered?

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In this episode of the Magness & Marcus Podcast, we talk about building Culture. While we are trained as coaches to emphasize the physiology and doc us on workout design, what separates programs that thrive and last is often the intangible dynamic of culture. In this episode, we go through our experiences in developing culture in high school, college, and the professional world.

There are a couple of themes that emerge when looking at culture. We start with the simplest and most important, actually caring about the athlete. The number one factor is demonstrating that as a coach you actually give a $hit about them as a person, not just as an athlete. It's about getting to know why they are in the sport, what drives them, and their goals outside of running. From there, it's about deciding whether you want to have an athlete centered or a coach centered program.

In a coach centered program, the coach is the dictator or sets the tone. This style of coaching often gives the appearance of a disciplined and well oiled machine. It's popular to try and copy this method and is a favorite of football coaches everywhere. Jon and I both feel that what this actually creates is artificial discipline and fake "toughness". True toughness isn't about putting on the facade at practice or in controlled environments. It's not about appearing to be extremely disciplined and 'tough' in situations that don't matter. It's about when the gun goes off or the whistle blows, having the ability to execute in the way that you've practiced under the elements of stress the competition brings. Another downfall of the dictatorship type style is that it leads to athletes only being motivated or disciplined because of fear of the consequences. On the other hand, an athlete centered approach is all about working towards the athlete being intrinsically motivated.  They aren't reliant on others to know how and when to get the job done.

Which brings us to our final point made in the podcast, autonomy. We should work towards giving athletes autonomy, creating independent, not dependent athletes. When people are given autonomy and empowered to take control of their own work and results, you create a culture where motivation and discipline become second nature.

We hope you enjoy this podcast, if you are a regular listener, venture over to iTunes and rate it for us. It helps us to be able to keep delivering this content to you guys regularly!


Steve and Jon
@stevemagness
@jmarpdx



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