Course Notes: The Elite Speed Seminar

I just finished up the Elite Speed Seminar at what has become my home away from home, Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training. The presenters were Lee Taft and Nick Winkelman, and I learned a great deal in an area that I am weak in. Here are the notes and quotes.

Multi-Directional Speed Tools That Make Change – Lee Taft

Lee talked about 5 qualities to train that separate great from good athletes.

  1. Performing well under urgency, as sympathetic states change how we move.
  2. Reactivity – These are reacting to finite reactions, such as a gun going off in a sprint.
  3. Random reaction – This uses the stretch-shortening cycle more frequently by foot repositioning. Think a shortstop.
  4. Tactics – Reacting to fakes and deception.
  5. Mistake Recovery – Training to recover from worst case scenarios.
Some mistakes you just can’t recover from no matter how hard you train.

Here were Lee’s recommendations for program design.

  1. Skill acquisition – The ability to control desired movements. This portion can be trained by either skill components (3-4 exercises), skill itself (1-3 exercises), or linking skills (shuffle to sprint).
  2. Force application – Performing the desired movement patterns with increased force or resistance.
  3. Random reactive training – Challenge movements under a random setting, but make sure the above 2 components are rock solid first.

Here were Lee’s recommendations to progress to reactive training

Acceleration → deceleration → Change of direction One direction reaction → Multi-direction reaction.

Some great cues that Lee used

  • Stay in the tunnel.
  • Arms long and strong.
  • Tear the paper – Get in the athletic position, load the big toes, and try to rip the floor apart.
  • Stop in front of a person.
I bet Lee has torn so much paper in his day.
I bet Lee has torn so much paper in his day.

Here were my favorite Lee quotes.

  • “Train reality.”
  • “The biggest component of developing multi-directional speed is being able to re-accelerate.”
  • “Do the most important things often.”
  • “We don’t teach pivoting. Open hips and retreat.”

Reactive Agility – Nick Winkelman

The first thing Nick did in his presentation is define agility, which he says is the ability to change direction and react; the ability to quickly make a decision. Both of these qualities therefore must be tested.

Capture

To test change of direction, many of your traditional tests such as 5-10-5, T test, L acceleration, can be utilized. The important thing to understand is that you only need to utilize one of these tests because they are all looking at the same thing. You want to pick one that best captures the movement you are looking for.

Before testing reactive agility, we must first discuss reaction time’s two phases. First is the latency phase, which is the time between receiving stimulus and the appearance of EMG in relevant muscles. The second key and trainable phase is response phase, which is the time from EMG appearance to motor action. The response phase is predominantly what we test, and the ability of one to respond to relevant cues is what separates the good from the great.

The big test that Nick used was the reactive agility test (RAT), which I will demonstrate in this video below.

What is nice about the RAT unlike your traditional agility tests is that we can look at asymmetries in both movement, decision-making, and accuracy.  Moreover, he presented a lot of good research in support of the test.

With the RAT, you can also group athletes into how fast one moves and reacts based on ability to change direction and react. This bucketing allows you to train athletes based on necessary qualities. Here are the categories:

Fast Change of direction Slow change of direction
Fast decision-making Fast mover/thinker (elite) Fast thinker/slow mover
Slow decision-making Fast mover/slow thinker Slow mover/thinker

Nick showed us several different  drills utilizing the Fusion Sports Smartspeed light system to train these qualities. For most, this system is likely not in the cards to utilize. But as long as you apply the above principles, you can add a reactive component to most any activity.

Here were some other interesting tidbits from this presentation.

  • Human delay before you become aware of things is 300-500 ms.
  • Reaction time is subconscious
  • We react fastest to auditory cues, next to tactile, slowest to visual.
  • Post-injury strength returns in 6 months, whereas rate of force development takes up to 1 year.

The Science of Coaching: Applying Theory in Practice – Nick Winkelman

First, Nick talked about the classic Fitts and Posner three stages of motor learning, which are as follows:

Coginitive → associative → autonomy

Each stage requires different coaching styles. Generally, earlier stages require more feedback than later stages. You also want to transition toward having the athlete/patient describe what was done right in an activity.

It is also important to maximize context, as this helps facilitate better memory. The athlete retains and progresses more when they know rational why, how the activity felt, and what needs to be done next. Telling stories and using sticky phrases is also very helpful.

Nick also discussed attention regarding how it is the filter for all information. Understand that we all have similar attention span, it is just that some activities require more attention than others. This is most evident comparing a novice and expert performing the same activity. The activity is old hat for the expert, thus requiring less focus to perform. The novice, on the other hand, is just learning the activity and must pay greater attention when performing.

Attention-Spans-and-Web-Video

Transitioning these principles to coaching, Nick designed a framework for coaching that involved practice design at the foundation, followed by instruction and feedback.

Practice Design

First, let’s discuss practice design. The goal of practice design is to optimize learning and retention. The way this goal occurs is by both varying movements and context as well as interfering with the context. You want to have your athletes struggle and have bad days in practice. If this part does not occur, then we go into autopilot and learning is not facilitated.

Contextual interference also occurs by performing practice in either a blocked, serial, or random fashion. Many people tend to think that random is the way to go for motor learning, but it really depends on multiple factors:

  1. Age
  2. Skill level
  3. Complexity.

Generally, the younger the age, the lower one’s skill, and the more complex the activity, the more block practice should be utilize. As these qualities hit the other end of the spectrum, random practice becomes more desirable.

 

Instruction

The biggest takeaway from this portion was that most people over-coach. Generally 1-2 positive focus cues are needed at the most to build awareness. You also want to start and finish instructions with what you want versus don’t want.

When it comes to cueing, externals are key. By external cues, I mean that attention should be focused on the desired outcome as opposed to the internal process. Let’s take a pushup for example. An internal cue might be “pull your shoulder blades together, and then straighten your arms.” Whereas an external cue might be “rip the ground apart, then push the ground away from you.” When utilizing external cues, less attention span for the cue itself is required, therefore allowing for automatic motor processes to occur.

It is also beneficial to watch others perform activities. This change occurs due to mirror neurons which are present in the brain’s motor cortices. Benefits can be achieved by watching both experts and novices; experts by seeing the activity done correctly, novices for improving problem solving.

Feedback

Nick listed two types of feedback.

  1. Knowledge of results – Information about the outcome (quantitative) [E.g. You ran 4.5 in the 40.]
  2. Knowledge of performance – Information about movement characteristics that led to the outcome (qualitative). [E.g. drive your knees more during the first 5 yds.]

In terms of feedback quantity, it can be detrimental to give too much feedback unless that feedback is external.  The problems with too much feedback include coach dependence, less self-independnece, people becoming practice champions because there is no retainment, and paralysis by analysis. If we relate quantity to motor learning stages, less feedback should be given the further along they are. Research demonstrates that cognitive stages should get feedback 100% of the time, and associative stages 33% of the time. Research also states that athletes want feedback only 8-10% of the time and only if it was the right movement/activity.

My favorite lines from this presentation:

  • Art is when we don’t understand how something is.
  • Movement efficiency is the opposite of learning. It is okay to make errors.
  • Shoot for 60-70% success and 30-40% failure.
  • Visual memories last better.
  • “Movement needs a goal” [On external cues]
  • Don’t tell athletes things they already know.
  • Use noises to reinforce movements (BOOM, SNAP).

Overall, the course was excellent and one of my favorites for the year. Learn as much from these guys as possible.

Batman was doing external cues WAY before it was cool in the strength and conditioning realm.
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