Functional Training Zones

Athletic Development in the “Commercial Market”: The need for Performance AND Longevity

By Guy Massi, SSC, SCS, CFSC, CTBS
Director of Operations, Athletic & Curricular Development
Massi – Machado Strength & Conditioning, LLC

In a time when there appears to be “Performance Facilities” popping up on every other corner, one thing seems to be lost in the translation; Graduated development of the total person (athlete). In an effort to successfully compete in the market, some are often forced to cut to the chase and provide assurance to the paying customer that they will get right to the business of growing gain, despite potentially detracting from other important components of athletic development. (Be it physical or emotional shortcuts) Seasonal, transient or random session-by-session enrollment seems to be the consumer modus of choice, yet effectively translates into only having an athlete for selective periods of time. Subsequently, one often becomes vicariously enjoined to the athlete’s roller coaster ride of the gain, plateau, loss and re-start phenomena associated with this mindset. (If they come back to you at all) In a market inundated with franchise models, sales, specials and often times – unrealistically competitive pricing structures, one is left to conform (to some degree) or fight a difficult, uphill battle until once firmly establishing a discernable market presence. There exists everything from passes that can be purchased and utilized at will over the course of a year, to punch cards with unlimited appearances. All of these dynamics can become very frustrating to well-meaning, well-modeled strength and conditioning coaches, while simultaneously providing others with opportunity to capitalize on the “flexibility demands” of customers. (The market has become quite opportunistic to say the least.) In an era ruled by social media, ideals that drive markets are routinely presented and continuously updated within minutes. We even have our very own and very “separate” social media accounts that provide for individual branding, yet ultimately steer clients back to our primary business. Social media has provided a powerful platform for some great (and not-so-great) strength and performance coaches to begin rallying and forming “camps” prescribed to their own ideals. Additionally you will find some good, and obviously ill-advised examples of strength and conditioning components available for public consumption on mass-market, user posted video sites. Often times, these examples may be mal-interpreted by well intending skills coaches in an effort to bring a version of strength and conditioning to their own gyms and playing fields, while omitting other important facets of our profession. Unfortunately and a majority of the time, persons outside of the profession feel as if they can adequately perform our professions with little more than a will and video access. Yet, I assure you that; it is the furthest thing from the truth!

Now, I certainly do have my industry favorites and despite my time-in-tenure remain increasingly committed to oversight and accountability. I believe that everyone in our industry should have a degree of checks and balances in place. I choose to keep business partners around me, such as a physical therapist and chiropractor that serve as a daily “compass”, should I ever veer in my programming or thought processes. Now that’s not to say that I don’t get unorthodox every once in a while or take the road less traveled, yet these peer accountability partners remain around to insure that I eventually take the appropriate access ramp in order to enter back onto the main highway. Additionally, I have built an ancillary network of physical medicine and orthopedic specialists that serve as yet another layer of peer accountability when I need to bring the “bigger stuff” to the table for examination and review. (I.e. post-operative, return-to-play programs) As for our immediate industry, I’m in frequent contact with my friend and Master Trainer, David Abernethy (co-creator of Tsunami Bar), oftentimes rely upon the input of my valued friend and colleague, Mike Boyle and stay plugged in with leading industry resources such as strengthcoach.com and their podcast with amazing guest speakers. In addition and to broaden my appreciation for “right” I remain in very close contact with Chris Poirier of Perform Better as my advisor of all things industry relevant. I’ve literally had Mike (Boyle) tell me that something was “too complicated” or “not sure what you’re trying to say.” Then again, once in a while he even tells me that things make “complete sense” and that he “totally agrees”. Either way, you know what? All of it is OK! I don’t know everything and I’m not the best on the planet! As a matter of fact, I question myself a lot – and I think that’s what challenges me to get better. I don’t learn something new every day; I learn something new every hour – Thank God! Points being; don’t lose sight of the big picture, provide the best services you can within your limitations and look to other competent colleagues and resources to provide valuable input.

I know it can be tough out there, and we all have to make a living. However, if you are getting involved in athletic development you need to realize that you aren’t just developing for the field of play – rather for life. Lending to the development of contributory members of society should be a large part of your ultimate mission, as most people won’t go on to play professional sports. Rather, most that you encounter will play at a collegiate level, undertake a career other than a professional athlete, then go onto become husbands, dads, wives and mothers. Within their training, you are essentially providing them with a discipline-based program designed with identifiable goals and objectives.   Really, we all become faced with what we would like to do versus what we can actually do within our limitations and market. Never-the-less, every attempt should be made to encourage persons into a model that will provide a certain degree of developmental accountability to both the coach and the client. For example: How in their right mind would a coach want to be responsible for the performance of an athlete that bought a number of “individual sessions” and only comes to a performance class once a month? Not me! I won’t be accountable for that, nor will I place myself in that position. Yet, the market would tell you that securing the dollar and the client is good business. Quite a quandary. Ultimately, the thought process should never be isolated to merely achieving short term performance, rather maintaining an approach that fosters both performance and longevity in all spheres (for your clients and business) should remain a preeminent concern.  If an athlete is only capable of performing at a high level for short periods of time and persistently gets injured and/or continually “checks-out” – what good are all the best intentions? Likewise is the ebb and flow of an industry related business that allows the market to completely dictate an ever changing “mission”. Maintain a discernable degree of mission integrity, and it will eventually get noticed.

Here are some further bullet point elaborations:

Preach a Model of Performance and Longevity

Let people know where you stand up front. Let them know that you appreciate the idea of; persistent, diligent effort – also known as “hard work”. Although you’re the coach, in reality, the athletic development process is a collaborative effort. A collaborative effort between you, the athlete, the skills coach and the family. Also collaborative in the sense that you don’t do the sets, reps or sprints for them, yet strive to promote sound guidance.

Don’t Fall Prey

Don’t fall prey to cookie-cutter, one size fits all, crash courses and short cuts. Make every attempt to adhere to a foundationally sound program model built around proven methodologies. A majority of progressions may be very similar, especially in building sound movement patterns, yet remember to build in specificity of training protocols also. Don’t let mass market fads and cult-like models influence what has proven to be functionally sound programming in an effort to drive business. Don’t take the dangerous short-cuts that are advocated by mass-market platforms. I recommend Mike Boyle’s Certified Functional Strength Coach certification (CFSC) as one on the best, most foundationally sound certification methodologies on the market.

Ethically Educate Your Customers

Don’t attempt to capitalize on the given situation and just tell people what they want to hear. Apprise potential customers as to the realities of your mission and how it compares to other market options. Chris Poirier of Perform Better once told me, “Some people don’t know any better and fall prey to methods that are either antiquated, inefficient or just plain dangerous. Some platforms literally market to the uniformed.” Maintain professional decorum and spend reasonable amounts of time (without going around in time consuming circles) to assure persons of the appropriate approach.

Adhere to Sound Protocols

Don’t compromise sound progression for the sake of inherent or perceived pressure. This can be abundantly present with on-looking parents or skills coaches. If you land a school or team program, tell the coach up front what your intentions are and you’ll save yourself the on-field, on-location awkwardness of having to explain “stripping down” the previous, and oftentimes questionable movement patterns. Assist all to understand that you will “globally” evaluate the patterns in place in order to instill your own sound movement patterns, one-legged progressions or other methods that will appropriately facilitate foundationally sound base protocols and lead to the eventual progression of more complicated movements, volume, intensity or speed. All of this while appreciating the fact that you will need to find an acceptable balance to begin working towards appreciable gains in all spheres.

Don’t State the Obvious

Refrain from disparaging athletes or methods in a given program, especially since they’re only that way because of the previous lack of proper instruction. Maintain professional decorum and just do what you have to do. The coach who has just raised funds or budgeted to acquire your services doesn’t need to hear that his athletes have “horrible hips” or during sprint work looks like “someone in spasmic contractions running from a giant creature in a horror film”. (Real comments I’ve heard) Go in, start the process and get it done right. You can talk about the realities over coffee with your fellow coaches – during which you should remind them; “Don’t state the obvious”.

Be on the Lookout

Physical Fatigue: Are your clients or athletes on training overload? (“Overtraining”) Are they complaining of feeling unusually sore or tight? Not feeling as if they are receiving adequate rest even though they are sleeping through the night? They don’t necessarily have to take even a brief training hiatus, rather perhaps revisit their program and step it back for a bit and concentrate on pre-hab and functional movement progressions for a pre-identified period of time. Take proactive measures to avoid imbalances and looming injury that may occur at particular developmental junctures. Listen to the body (and client) speak without justifying unnecessary layover.

Emotional Fatigue: As defined within our own athletic development model – “Emotional fatigue is a psycho-emotional phenomena which can arise in training athletes and clients that normally stems from the person’s perception of overwhelming performance expectations, and results in a notable compromise to training and/or performance. Although it may be triggered by an isolated and identifiable event, the effects are usually cumulative.” So in reality; It’s literally when performance expectations and emotional reality collides. It can normally be found in athletes and clients who have maintained a protracted, rigorous and often-times unrealistic training regimen in the absence of identifiable recess. One may feel as if they’re not being seen as a person, rather as a number or means to an end. Additionally, they may feel as if they are being segregated from other populations as result of training or sport. (Friends, family, social, other activity, etc.) Expressed or suppressed tell-tale symptoms may include; Loss of interest, Apathetic (marginal training performance), Lateness, Absence, Irritability, Poor diet and rest/sleeping habits, Social recklessness, Sudden loss of confidence and present fear, and a “You don’t understand” or “no one relates” mentality of isolation. Often times they will express that they wish they weren’t an athlete at all and would prefer to be a “N.A.R.P.”  (Non-Athletic Regular Person) Below you will find a list of possible interventions to consider.

Pro-active Interventions:

• Remain sensitive and patrol for the signs
• No when it’s time to give some time off
• Encourage them to get a hobby
• Encourage non-athlete friends and/or spending time with family

Re-active Interventions:

• Have a “pseudo-crisis plan” in place and refer to an appropriate professional when necessary
• Open communication with athlete and family (age appropriate)
• Encourage and support
• Have an eventual re-entry plan in place, should a discernible absence occur

“Mystery Signals” – Are you completely stumped by certain behaviors?

Learning Disability, Differentiated Instruction, Equity & Equality: Okay, so you don’t necessarily have a teaching certification issued by the state, but make no mistake; Coaches are teachers! So what’s up with the mystery behaviors? Do some just seem to zone-out, veer, appear perpetually confused or just completely check-out? Are there impulsive behaviors present that persistently disrupt the environment? No one is saying that you need to be a versed special educator, but you do have to do your research and learn to recognize the signs of learning disabilities that may compromise the development of the athlete or client. Enlist assistance and training from an approved special education provider/trainer in identifying symptoms of various learning disabilities, and formulate a plan to provide productive intervention strategies within your abilities. Learning to adapt to the athlete or client a bit, and tapping into their most effective learning channels will ultimately assist you to hone in on a long term plan that includes the concepts of differentiated learning strategies, equity and equality. (Meaning affording both the same opportunity for, and quality of instruction)  Don’t be afraid to ask – they can always refuse to answer, in which case you can employ intelligent intervention strategies based upon the information and signals provided anyway.

Budget, Staff and Facility

Keep an eye on your budget and how it will affect your ability to hire, purchase necessary equipment and market your services. Be realistic about your operational and facility capacity. Have you already reached critical mass, or do you still have room to grow? What are your proactive strategies to expand business, before you’re bursting at the seams? We’ve all bitten off more than we can chew in an effort to please or grow.

Know Your Place (Allow PT's to be PT's)

We should all assure to incorporate sound pre-hab protocols in all programming as to avoid imbalance and promote positive gain. Yet, when it comes to some issues, we have to recognize our professional (and legal) limitations. We as strength and conditioning coaches find ourselves faced with correcting movement patterns, yet have to be honest and dutiful in turning certain cases over to a physical therapist. Persons in the acute, post-operative phase who seek to take a short cut in order to “get right back into the gym”, normally require the skilled services of a capable PT. Utilize this opportunity for referral to encourage the client and speak with the PT about the return-to-play plan. Once securing the appropriate privacy releases, you will find that the inclusion of a sympathetic PT is absolutely necessary to the process, and will afford you with valuable input and opinion pertaining to the return-to-play, and eventual gross correctives phase of training. Additionally, you will gain the trust of that competent PT as you segue the athlete back into training thru inclusion of isolated protocols that will allow the client to “train around the injury”, while get sympathetic neuro-muscular benefit. (Of course, with the eventual intention of getting things back to balance and symmetry in all spheres) Infusing energy system training will also assist the client to avoid weight gain while promoting mental and emotional balance.

Who’s Taking Care of Coach?

What about you? Are you emotionally or physical compromised? Be your own best walking advertisement and purpose to train and rest appropriately. Lead your team to participate in team training sessions and encourage productive down-times during which you can actually think. Routinely regroup and examine what others might perceive of your operation. Do people think you are overworked, or concerned that you may be too physically or emotionally compromised to meet their training needs?

It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint

I’m literally going to have to read my own article periodically to remind myself of some of the key issues that we’ve covered herein. We all get up and go, and sometimes lose sight of the totality of the circumstances. I believe that in seeking performance and longevity for both your clients and your business, we need to take a lesson from the swordsmiths of the samurai. The metal is super-heated, folded, pounded, reheated, refolded and re-pounded to assure strength and purity. The swordsmith then assures precision through a series of challenges to the metal’s structural integrity. Persistent and productive examination of our own models and methodologies as a means of market accountability assists our growth, fulfillment and knowledge. We have to consistently assure our very own “structural integrity”. We don’t just want to roll athletes and clients off of a “mass-market assembly line”. In reality and as a lesson from the samurai sword and its swordsmith – “Greatness is Forged, not Fabricated

Summary

Finally and keeping all things in perspective, I draw upon the aforementioned thoughts and encourage all of us within this industry to remind ourselves; we should most certainly evolve to some degree with the market, yet not compromise the ideals put in place by science and those who have gone before us. Through the mission of developing contributory members of society who just happen to be athletes, lies the ultimate goal of; Performance and Longevity.



About the Author

Guy Massi is the Director of Operations, Athletic & Curricular Development for Massi-Machado Strength & Conditioning, LLC with three locations in New York, and has been developing clients and athletes for over twenty years. He is also on the Board of Advisors for Tsunami Bar and serves a network affiliate advisory capacity to Haven Physical Therapy, PLLC & Sofos Chiropractic, PC also of New York. Coach Massi is available for speaking engagements, training and workshops by contacting Perform Better or by e-mailing mmscny@gmail.com.  For a complete bio, list of projects and services please visit www.mmscny.com

(May 2016)