Control Freak Lets Go

That his was originally posted to the Nuff Said 6 blog June 22, 2010


When it comes to coaching, I am very particular on what I want done, and how I want it to get done. This past weekend I left all of this in the hands of my kids.


I coach the 18s team, and a large part of that coaching is getting them ready to be on their own when they go away to college in a year or two. This involves coaching, responsibility and accountability, decision making and communication skills, and leadership among other things.


The first day of play on Friday they played pretty roughly, with quite a few communication breakdowns and frustrations, and ended up losing all three matches. After this I was for the large part encouraging towards them. We had a skeleton crew of only 6 players, with 3 players playing out of position. I had them do a human knot drill, to work on their teamwork and communication skills. For this drill they stood in a circle, extended their right hands, and grabbed the hand of the player directly across from them. Then, with their other hand, they grabbed the hand of another player in the group. Then, they had to work together to untangle themselves to form one big circle. Once the accomplished this, the next challenge was to do this without speaking. This helped them to develop, read and interpret body language and alternate forms of communication.


The next day we lost one player and gained 2 players who arrived late due to graduation. Everyone was back to pretty close to their normal position. We won both our games, but had an extremely lackluster performance. Balls were dropping with players standing their looking at them, they were again playing as individuals, not communicating, had a high rate of unforced errors, and were not playing anywhere near their capabilities. Near the end of the day, when they’d look to me to answer questions about positioning or areas of responsibility, or other things that they already knew the answer to I, partly out of my own frustration stopped giving them input and would tell them to figure it out on their own. This was only partly out of frustration because it’s a technique that I’ve used in the past, usually when I’m at my wit’s end, to get them to come together as a team.


The last day of competition, I chose to continue the hands off coaching from the end of the day before. They would be in charge of everything from warm ups, calling timeouts, what to say in the timeouts, service areas, and subs. The only thing that I would contribute would be to decide and turn in the lineup. Even though they were playing as individuals on the court, they were spending all of their off time together, hanging out as a team. They seemed to have great chemistry off the court as a team, it was just a matter of figuring out how to get this to translate to on the court. This is why I figured this tactic would work. I know that they have heard everything that I and the other coach have said to them all season, they just don’t always internalize it right away. If I keep telling them over and over, then they don’t have to internalize it. They’ll just keep looking to me for the answer when they’re more than capable of figuring it out for themselves. This was their chance to step up and feel empowered by what they were capable of both as individuals and as a team.


This was a trial by fire, sink or swim moment for them. They rose to the challenge and performed admirably. They arrived to the gym a half hour before play was scheduled to start. They initially asked me what they should do to warm up. I told them to do whatever it was that they need to get warm. They chose to do a rock, scissors, paper war. This is a drill that involves splitting up into two teams, sprinting around the 3 point line of the basketball court to meet another player, and then having a rock, paper scissors contest to determine who would advance until they’d meet up with another player. They then did a more traditional approach, block transition warm-up, and then played a game of hand soccer, where they could only roll the ball across the floor by hitting it with a hand. Then, finally went into partner passing, setting and pepper.


While I was itching for them to get into more ball control drills right off the bat, I eventually was able to sit back and see the benefit of the drills they chose. These were all drills I had used with them in practice. The rock, paper, scissors war gets them sprinting, develops and reinforces, communication skills, reaction speed, rapid decision making and competitiveness. The hand soccer drill emphasizes a good low ready position, footwork, communication and teamwork. In addition to all this, they were having fun, which is something I was emphasizing for them to do since day 1 of the tournament. When they have fun they play well and when they play well they have fun.


As play began they started off strong. They set the pace of the game, communicated well, and played as a team throughout the whole match, beating the other team pretty decisively. This put them in the Bronze division semi finals. They played a tougher team in this match, but still fought hard and found a way to win in 2 games. In the finals they faced a much tougher team that had a few hard hitters. They played hard the first game but lost. They kept their spirits up and rallied back the second game to win it, and force a third game. I actually got goosebumps while watching a few of the rallies. The third game didn’t end up going their way, but overall they earned the silver medal in the Bronze Division and walked away with so much more. Two of my players emerged as strong leaders. Everyone stayed positive, worked together as a team, fought hard throughout the whole day. As a coach, I can’t really ask for anything more than that.


Posted in Sports, Volleyball

Rugby Sevens

This was originally posted here at the Nuff Said 6 blog on June 9, 2010

Rugby Sevens

Recently I tried out for the Pacific Coast Grizzlies Rugby Sevens Team. The Grizzlies are a select side team meaning that they are made up of the best players from the pacific northwest region, and are one step below the U.S. national team. In fact, quite a few national team members play for the Grizzlies. Since I’ve only been playing rugby for a few months my main goal in attending the tryouts was to learn as much as I could from top notch coaches and players. I learned a ton. The three main lessons I learned were improve my speed, improve my muscular endurance, and lastly, it’s actually really good to be older.

The first thing I learned was an inkling of the kind of crazy conditioning needed to play sevens. After a bit of dynamic warm up exercises we tested our 40 yard dash times running on grass. Mine came in at 5.4 seconds. I’d like to knock at least a good half to a full second off of this time. This seems reasonable to me given my limited to almost non-existent sprint training over the past few years, and just off of a gut feeling that I was running anywhere near as fast as I’m capable of running.

The second lesson learned also dealt with conditioning. As an endurance test, were to run several hundred yard sprints. In college we ran three sets of ten 120 yard sprints, performed on the minute, with the remainder of the minute to recover until the next sprint, with a 3 minute break in between each set of ten. This amounted to over 2 miles of all out sprinting. That was one of the toughest workouts that I have ever done. This one was tougher.

For this workout, we had 18 seconds to sprint 100 yards, and then 42 seconds to jog back to the start. That counted as one. The goal was to complete 10 of those in 10 minutes. I completed 4 1/2 before I missed my time. I recover very quickly when I have a full rest, but the active recovery during the jog back proved to be the toughest part. Ultimately I’d like to be able to do 3×10 of these with a one minute break in between each set. That should cover a sevens championship match with two over time periods.

The third lesson was that it’s actually good to be older. At 34, I was the oldest person trying out by at least 6 years, with most of the other players in their early twenties. Since my main goal of the tryout was to learn, I spent a lot of time asking the coaches questions and for tips on specific techniques, or ways to practice these techniques at home on my own. While standing in line I’d visualize the technique or drill and practice the body mechanics. Afterwards, one of the coaches commented how much he appreciated the questions and positive, proactive attitude, and that no one else had been coming up to them. Not until then did I realize that anything I was doing was out of the ordinary.

It made me think of my experiences as a coach and how much I like it when players take the initiative to do more than what’s asked of them, and how seldom that actually happens. So this then of course brought up the question, “why is that?” Thinking back, this was also true for my parents who were, and friends that are teachers. They all love it when kids would stay behind and ask them for help, but would rarely have kids that would do this.

The answer that came to mind was differences in life experience. When I was younger, I had a lot of practice teaching myself and learning different skills, such as skateboarding, juggling, and unicycling. The best way I found to learn theses skills was through focussed repetitions, gradually progressing in difficulty or complexity. I know what works best for me. Younger kids are still most likely figuring out the best ways for them to learn, if they are even aware that there are different ways to learn.

Secondly, my life experiences competing at a high level, working as a firefighter, coaching, and being involved with RKC program have further cultivated my outlook as a student of sport, and given me some perspective. If I had been the same age as most the other players, or the same age as the kids I coach, in retrospect, I might have felt a little intimidated or uncomfortable going up to one of the coaches and asking for help or clarification, especially in a tryout situation. Here, having all of these previous experiences allowed me to subconsciously identify someone who was eager to teach (as pretty much all us coaches are) and then take full advantage of that. So, for younger players that are looking to advance in your sport, job, schooling or anything else in life, when you come across someone that can help you learn, remember the more effort they see you putting into something, and the more proactive you are, the more they’ll want to help you.

Posted in Fun with Fitness, General, Rugby, Sports

Bretzels and Bent Presses for Your Athletes

This was originally posted to my Dragon Door blog on 04-14-2010

This morning I had the privilege of working with Mark Reifkind. After the RKC II and having some trouble with the bent press on my left side, I really wanted to trouble shoot this movement and figure out how to make it better. The bent press was one of those movements that had previously just seemed awkward and unwieldy to me. It was not until the RKC II when I did manage to perform the exercise on my right side, that I realized how elegant this exercise felt and how beneficial it is.

After the last post, I realized that from volleyball, I’ve taken tens of thousands of swings with my right arm, and only a handful of swings with my left arm, leading to the t-spine immobility issues I’m facing on the left side. Mark mentioned that he tells his clients that play golf to warm up with swings on both sides to help keep their bodies in balance.

Mark used the Bretzel stretch as both a diagnostic and a stretch to improve my t-spine mobility. Predictably, I had more mobility on the right side than the left, but my flexibility did start to improve after a few rounds of the stretch. After some work with the bent press, Mark had me do the Bretzel again, and we found that my mobility had increased further on both sides.

The reason both of these exercises are great for athletes is because so many upper body athletic movements involve rounding forward, whether it’s throwing something, hitting something, or swimming butterfly or freestyle. The Bretzel stretches out these muscles and opens up the rib cage, while the bent press also opens up the rib cage as well as strengthening up the antagonist muscles to help keep the body balanced. While my volleyball kids may not be ready for bent presses yet, you can bet there will be a whole lot of Bretzels in their future.

Posted in Kettlebells, Sports, Volleyball

If You Want to Be A Better Coach, Learn A New Sport

This was originally posted April 12, 2010 in my RKC blog here If You Want to Be a Better Coach

This past weekend I had the incredible opportunity of trying out for the Pacific Coast Grizzlies Rugby Team. The Grizzlies are a select side team meaning, that they are comprised of the best players from the area and include several member’s of the women’s national team. While I am nowhere near this level of play yet, I entered this tryout simply looking to learn as much as possible. What came as a surprise for me is that it turned out to be just as valuable for coaching volleyball as it was for playing rugby.
In volleyball, at times I’ll perform hitting drills with my left hand to try and get a feel for the coordination and learning difficulties that my kids are facing. While this feels physically awkward, mentally I still know what needs to happen, and what the movement patterns should be like. Rugby on the other hand, is both physically and mentally awkward for me.
While I have the strength and speed to hold my own in the sport, it’s still a very steep learning curve. Rugby is unlike any other sport I’ve previously played. In the short scrimmage we held at the end of trials, I spent a lot of the time running back and forth in circles, trying to figure out where I was supposed to be. This gave me a lot of insight into what my players go through and some of the problems they have translating drills in practice into game situations.
In volleyball, I’ve been playing the sport long enough with enough focused intention, to where I’ve reached a “flow state.” My body instinctively performs certain movements and actions, allowing my brain to focus on the bigger picture. For any of you that are in a military or a paramilitary organization, imagine the body as handling all the tactics, how to get things done, leaving the brain free to focus on the strategy, determining what needs to be done.
When the higher ups get involved in the nitty gritty ground level stuff, that’s when operations usually start to get interesting fairly quickly. This is what’s happening for me in rugby right now, and for my players in game situations. So now, when I give them a focused, skill specific drill, I’ll have to figure out a way to immediately follow it up with a faster paced, game type situation employing that skill. This should help them make the connection between practice and games.
Watching the more skilled players gave me a chance to see what this “flow state” looks like in rugby. This gave me an idea of the type of skill level to shoot for and model in my own practice. It also reinforced the importance of me hopping onto the court and playing with the kids. Most of the time while coaching, I like to stand back to see the big picture and coach the kids as best as I can. I have to remember leading by example can be just as, and in some cases even more effective than traditional coaching.
Posted in Fun with Fitness, General

Kettlebell Partner Passing Day 2

This was originally posted April 3, 2010 here KB Partner Passing Day 2

Today Mike swung by the station to hang out with us for a bit. We started off with a review of of the passing drills and progressions we did yesterday. While the two bell drills we did yesterday challenged my peripheral vision and focus, the three and four bell drills today were exponentially more challenging. Still though, once we got into a groove they all felt perfectly natural. One drill he showed me with two bells, one bell two handed toss in the center and another bell one handed toss with on the side, had me doing mental flips as well as flips with the bell. These multiple bell drills are sure to increase my reaction time peripheral vision, and situational awareness.
One of the women on my crew joined us and got her first introduction to partner passing, with the basic two handed pass. She absolutely loved it and couldn’t believe how much fun she had with it.
I can’t wait for tomorrow to learn the freestyle drills.

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Posted in Fun with Fitness, General, Kettlebells

Kettlebell Partner Passing Day 1

This post was originally published April 2, 2010 here
KB Partner Passing Day 1

Today I had the privilege of meeting up with Michael Castrogiovanni to begin to to learn the art of KB partner passing. Mike is an incredible instructor. The progressions were simple, logical and naturally flowed from drill to the next. Again though, as with most things in RKC, simple does not necessarily mean easy.

I found the partner passing drills challenged me in entirely different ways than any other kettlebell training I’ve done before. I’ve been juggling kettlebells for around 4 years now, so I’m fairly used to flipping the bell and operating in 3 dimensions. Adding in a partner, adds more variables, forcing both my muscles and my brain to adapt to various stimuli. The drills we performed trained my adaptability, hand eye coordination, and peripheral vision, especially when we started getting into passing with two bells.

Physically, it was a great work out that’s directly applicable to many sports. The first thing I noticed was how much my obliques were engaged and firing throughout the drills. Next, especially with the double KB drills, I was really surprised how much lateral loading I felt in my glutes and quads. I could immediately see how this has a direct carryover to agility, lateral movements and quick cuts. I can’t wait to continue this training and test it out on the rugby pitch.

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Posted in Fun with Fitness, Kettlebells

American Lung Association Fight for Air Stair Climb

Originally posted March 31, 2010 here Fight for Air Stair Climb Training

This past Saturday I participated in the American Lung Assoiciation’s Fight for Air Stair Climb. This stair climb was for a great cause and gave me a good venue to test the effect my training had on my job performance.

The event  was a hike up 52 stories (1,197 stairs). Around 20 of us performed the climb with full firefighting gear weighing approximately 70 lbs., while breathing air from an SCBA bottle.

In the month or so prior to the event I was pretty tempted to throw on a 60 lb weight vest and SCBA mask and start hard charging the stairs. Attending the RKC II though, led me to want to try a different approach.

All of the instructors at the RKC II did an incredible job of dissecting each of the exercises and explaining the purpose and benefits of the individual components of the exercises. Through this, I began to see how weaknesses in my abs and obliques, and limitations in my thoracic mobility were limiting my overall strength. This, coupled with an unexpected success with the pistol at the cert, made me want to test out a different type of training for this challenge.

The goal of the training this time was to see if I could go “lighter” with the workouts, not beat myself up, and still get good results with the stair climb.

My work schedule is 3 24 hour shifts with 24 hours off in between each shift and 4 days off after a tour of 3 shifts.

My Training Routine
On shift
GTG the following exercises roughly every hour from start of shift at 0800 to around dinner time at 1800
1 pullup focusing on the hollow position
2 pistols each leg w/ a 12 kg bell
3 BUPs each arm with a 16 kg bell

At some point in the shift a routine of various body weight exercises and joint mobility usually lasting about 20-30 min

Getting off shift in the morning
Joint mobility
Viking Warrior Conditioning alternating between the 36:36 snatch protocol with a 12 kg bell, 20 reps and the 15:15 Viking push press with a 16 kg bell, 8 reps.
I borrowed from Enter the Kettlebell and rolled 2-5 dice to determine how many minutes each set would be.

During the 4 day
GTG hollow position hold on back with 8 kg bell overhead for 30 sec

Other activities included swimming focusing more on technique than as a cardio, rock climbing, and rugby practice on average 1-2 times per week each.

The Results
Viking Warrior Conditioning has done wonders for my stamina and recovery rate. My main goal going into this was to have the stamina for my air bottle to last all the way to the top. I finished the stair climb in 20 min 44 sec with 100 psi left over in my air bottle. After about 1-2 min I felt recovered enough where I could have started working and fighting fire if I had to. This time I just chose to grab all my gear and convince the event staff to let me head back down the stairs instead of taking the elevator.

Afterwards, the only soreness has been in my calves. I had expected my back and shoulders to be sore and stiff from this, but instead that my core, shoulders and legs all felt great

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Posted in Fire, Fun with Fitness, Kettlebells, Tactical, Training Programs

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The Nuff Said 6 blog covers everything from event After Action reports and Gear Reviews to random musings on fitness and physical culture.  Check it out here.

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