If you are an S&C coach like I am, you most likely come from a strength training and sport science dominant background, where Physiology and Biomechanics have been at the forefront. There isn’t anything wrong with this, but it does have a role in creating some of the hurdles for coaches to become comfortable coaching COD and agility.
In the gym, we have clear technical models which are stable from rep to rep. A technical model designed based upon where we want to direct stress and what adaptation we want (as well as other things). We can learn these technical models and take a linear, progressive overload approach to achieving our desired adaptations. This is supported by lots of good quality research and evidence. Simple(ish!).
But this doesn’t transfer well to COD and agility development.
Too much time in this comfortable area creates three expectations, which eventually become hurdles or barriers to coaching COD and agility development.
1) Linear Progression
2) Technical Models
Remember these work great in out gym based strength development. But in COD, we aren’t always trying to stimulate the body to achieve the same adaptations as in the gym. We are more commonly challenging the body to coordinate and apply its force in multiple situations to achieve a task.
We may have a desired training outcome not of physiological adaptation as such, but of developing movement skills of step characteristics, force application, or rapid postural organisation. But most of these outcomes remove the need of a linear progression model, as skill acquisition often doesn’t often work like that. Athletes can have a moment of learning which transforms how they execute a movement. This can happen very rapidly, even after a period where there hasn’t been much improvement. In skill acquisition, sometimes something just ‘clicks’. In contrast to traditional linear overload of physical structures, there simply needs to be a progressive overload of stress with time for adaptation.
As mentioned, one of the most important things in COD and agility development is challenging athletes to move and apply force in different situations. Because of this need for varying conditions, some of the comfort we find in our ‘right and wrong’ technical models also diminishes. The lack of technique certainty and the ineffectiveness of our regular linear progressions is frustrating, compounded by seeing people perform who break the ‘rules’, but are still more effective than everyone else. This isn’t me saying there aren’t any COD related technical models, as there are. But we need to look at what is happening in more depth in order to understand what our expectations should be. In short we need to understand what components of the movement actions are important and what components aren’t, that way we can help ensure that our coaching and analysis is actually transferring to performance.
The strength training equivalent of the changing situations of COD can be compared to performing a set of squats but with a change in stance and load placement on every rep. If that happens our technical model would have to have some deeper understanding. Rather than a very long list of points that we want to be followed, that list would need to be much shorter to make it applicable across different variations. I’ll expand on this in another post, but in this squat example, my opinion would be that as long as the feet remain flat for stability, there is control over the knees in the frontal plane and control over the proximal structures of the body (pelvis and lumbar spine), there isn’t much else to worry about (other than safety considerations with how the load is held). This is where we get into what would be termed attractors and fluctuators in Dynamical Systems Theory. But as I said, I’ll expand on this another time.
Research into COD and agility is much harder to carry out and even harder to transfer than strength training. Subsequently, it doesn’t solve our problems or answer our questions as quickly. For example…
3D motion capture is looking at a particular moment in time, usually in a very sterile environment. Important and useful, but limited.
Time motion analysis studies rarely quantify the angles we turn and how fast we complete them. GPS until recently has been a barrier.
Motor learning tasks more frequently use finite finger tapping and juggling tasks than complex, high demand movements such as COD (although there are some good examples).
Performance studies commonly simply measure time to get from one point to another, which isn’t often why agility is used in the first place.
I could go on. And I haven’t even added perception and decision making in here. This isn’t a moan or a dig at any of that research. It all has an important role and moves the needle forwards, just unfortunately very slowly! But there isn’t any getting around that.
This is an extremely challenging puzzle, and no discipline, person or group are going to solve it on their own. We need to communicate, challenge each other and slowly piece things together as the research will never publish ‘the answer’.
In order for most coaches to move forwards in the immediate future, there are a few things I recommend…
Embrace some uncertainty, it’s not as risky as you think. Afterall, competition isn’t tidy and controllable.
Focus on understanding skill acquisition rather than our more traditional physiological changes. We want players to be adaptable but with sound foundations, not consistently ‘perfect’.
Be critical of what you read (including this) and synthesise information. This is a HUGE multi-disciplinary challenge, and you’ll need to develop your own lens by taking what makes sense to you and discarding what doesn’t. Make notes, ask questions and develop your own system.
One way of summarising this and outlining how it forms a strong part of my philosophy: I simply appreciate that we need to treat skills differently to how we treat capacities. We know lots and are comfortable with capacities, but we are less comfortable with skills.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rich is the founder of Strength Coach Curriculums and an S&C coach who specialised in multi-directional speed. He runs the S&C provision for Bristol Flyers Basketball and consults with clubs across the globe while also leading the MSc programme at the University of South Wales