Thursday, December 1, 2016

Living and Learning Dec. 1, 2016

"It's easy to see how hatred lies at the root of much of human misery, but what we seem to find difficult is accepting that we cannot end hatred by hating.  Hating those who hate may feel cathartic and even righteous, but it brings us no closer to the solution to what is a very deep problem."  "In this world, hostility is never appeased by hostility: only in the absence of hatred does hatred cease."  Only love and compassion for others can end hostility and hatred.  We can never transform an enemy into a friend with hate."

"When we see deeply into the life of those we're inclined to despise, we can recognize that whatever vile acts they may commit do not completely express all that they are.  We can understand that their hatred and greed arise from fear, self-centeredness, ignorance, and misunderstanding,--the very things that afflict all of us from time-to-time."

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Embrace the Grind!

Grinding, I've seen this term thrown around for quite a while.  I've found that this is a difficult term to accurately define, but it's a process that wrestlers understand.  I'm not saying other sports don't understand, but it's impossible to have wrestled and not experienced the grind.  And if you're lucky enough to participate at any elite level in the sport of wrestling, you have to love the grind.  It's about being uncomfortable;  being uncomfortable physically, but more importantly being uncomfortable mentally.  To embrace the grind means putting yourself in a place where the only tool you have that brings you back is the trust you have in yourself, no one else, yourself.

The term "Embrace the Grind" was coined and trademarked in 2007 by my friend and fellow OSU wrestling alum Mike DiSabato.   It should come as no surprise that Mike was able to put into words the raw emotional pathos of the sport.  He won the Big Ten’s Medal of Honor, an award given each year to a graduating athlete who demonstrates academic and athletic excellence.  He had the ability to translate raw emotion into words.  This is very difficult to do.   No doubt, that growing up, DiSabato was a grind.  With the families success in the sport, they understood and embraced the grind.

 I see this word used by coaches and trainers, and typically what I see is the manifestation of the physical nature of the grind.  This concerns me and until now I've struggled to accurately define what the grind is at its core.  For Fathers Day this year, my wife and daughter bought me a copy of "Above the Line" by Urban Meyer.  In chapter 4, "Relentless Effort," Coach Meyer provided me with valuable insight.

The last lines on page 90 read, "The key is that his training strategy must be applied consistently and with conviction.  Conviction is the depth of belief, consistency is the duration of it."  Coach Meyer is speaking of the impact his indispensable protege, Mickey Marotti, has on the program, and this is one of his directives.  Farther on page 91, Coach Meyers goes on to state,
"Success is cumulative and progressive. It is the result of what you do every day."  Here is a key point!  "Both successful and unsuccessful people take daily action.  The difference is that successful people take action Above the Line.  They step up and act with intention, purpose, and skill."  For Every goal you are pursuing a process is involved.  There is a pathway you must follow.  To achieve your goals you must commit to the process with daily Above the Line behavior.  Not just once or twice, but repeatedly over time.  Success is achieved by focused and sustained action."  "Goal clarity is essential, but so is process clarity.  For every goal you set, be exceptionally clear about the process  necessary to achieve the desired outcome. By acting Above the Line consistently over time you can accomplish the almost anything."

Deep Thinking

"When things aren't going right, the most important thing you can do is slow down, go deep, and figure out why.  It is very easy in the world we live in to get so caught up in the tyranny of urgent that we don't make time to think."  This is what I see in many coaches.  When I was teaching, I would ask my class, "If you were hired today to be a head coach in your sport, what would your first practice look like?"  After some consideration and thought, the unanimous response was "It would look a lot like your first practice the last season you competed."  That's human nature, we do what we know and we know what we've done.  My next question to the student was "didn't you tell me sometime last week that you thought your coach was an idiot?"  Why would you choose to duplicate that experience?

On page 191 Urban talks about a what he learned from Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.  "Thinking about problems, challenges, new ways of doing things and creativity is one of the hardest things you will ever do.  It also brings you the finest results."

Grinding for grinding's sake,  doing so without a goal, something that can be measured, may actually be driving you from your objective, not closer to it.   Grinding, without goals and process is an extension of "Both successful and unsuccessful people taking daily action."  Being able to draw a line, to establish an expectation, to be able to measure the change, being able to tune your process is where you find success.  Work without goals and process is just taking action, Are you grinding, or being ground?

As I said earlier, grinding is both physical and mental.  As a coach and a leader we have to be willing to grind ourselves.  Ask questions, does everything we ask of our athletes have a purpose, process, a measure?  Are we measuring and are we getting the desired effect?   If you can document the effect, great, march on!  But if you're not measuring, or if there is no evidence of change, then stop and be willing to grind yourself.  Grind in your thinking.  Go deep, do the same things mentally that you ask of your athletes physically.  Go into places you're not comfortable, be willing to put yourself in a place where the only tool you have that brings you back is the trust you have in yourself, no one else, yourself.

Embrace the Grind, but do so with intention, process and goals!


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Performance Begins with Awareness

There's an abundance of advice, both good and bad, out in the ether regarding training and tips for improving your performance.  And today we have a whole set of tools that we can use to better guide our training.  But for any technique, program, or tool to be effective, we have to have an awareness of our weaknesses in order to be able to change and improve.

A 2014 study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning, Thigpen et.al studied the hydration profile and sweat loss perception of male and female division II basketball players.  The authors studied the hydration status of the players as they arrived for practice and the hydration profiles of the athletes during practice.  What the study shower was "the majority of ...collegiate basketball players report to practice in a state of hypohydration (dehydrated) and have poor ability to estimate sweat loss."

The cost in performance due to dehydration is well documented.  Beginning at 1.1% dehydration, Hoffman et al. demonstrated a 16.5% drop in jumping power during 30sec. tests.  At a 2.5% dehydration level, Bosco et al. demonstrated a 5.3% drop in muscular strength.  The data is clear, dehydration affects performance, strength, power, high-intensity endurance, and cardiac output.  But, if you don't know you're dehydrated, how can you know just how strong you could have been?

In order to get the most out of your training, develop a hydration strategy.  Know that most people will lose at least 2 liters of water a day just being alive.  That has to be replaced.  If you drink coffee or other diuretics your basic water needs increase.  Develop a practice of weighing yourself before and after training sessions.  Athletes that estimate water loss through sweat greatly underestimate their level of dehydration.  Show up for training fully hydrated, even hyperhydrated.  Begin by drinking one half to one liter of water 1 to 2 hours before practice.  Remember that in the Thigpen study, a majority, 2 out of 3 players showed up to train dehydrated!  Actively replace fluids during practice and in competition.  If you leave this to chance, you will become dehydrated and you will loose capacity to perform.  Make hydration a part of your performance strategy. After practice, get lost fluids into your system as quickly as possible.

Hydrus Performance Concentrate is designed to get fluids into your system faster and works to prevent fatigue!  Hydrus re-hydrates at a rate up to 8 times better than other oral re-hydration solutions.  On game day there is one factor that you control that if neglected will drain you and leave you wondering where all that hard work went.  Get a hydration strategy in your game plan, and make Hydrus part of your program.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Dear Mr. Dad, You missed your chance to be a dad!

I had the pleasure of attending a grade 3-6 recreation league wrestling match between Granville and Watkins Memorial last night with my wife.  We live in Granville and my wife teaches in the Watkins school district.  We knew many of the kids competing.  I left practice at Ohio State where I get to work with a world champion, 4 time NCAA champion and many others that I anticipate being in the finals in Madison Square Garden this year, it was refreshing to go see the sport at it's seed stage.  Besides seeing some really cute kids win and lose, an observation of a parent really disturbed me.  Enough to write this.

Early in the duel meet a young boy walked out to what  I think this could have been his first match, if not he didn't have 5 under his belt yet.  He was excited, and I noticed his father helping him to prepare and sending him out.  The match started and the young boy was thrown directly to his back.  Now be clear, this happened to at least 10 kids that night, this is rec wrestling.   His father yelled to get off his back loudly, to no avail, tonight's match ended in a rather quick pin.  This is where Mr. Dad, you missed an opportunity.  The young wrestler was upset.  When he walked to you he was not greeted with love and understanding, he was given a reaction of disgust.  You didn't want to console  or process the match, you pushed him towards his team mates and tossed his t-shirt at him.  It was obvious that you were disappointed and had higher expectations for your son.  

So, Mr. Dad, I hope you get to read this because I don't want you to miss out on anymore opportunities.  These opportunities come quickly and will pass amazingly fast.  My daughter began her athletic carrier the same as your son in Granville Rec wrestling, and lost in much the same way.  But the difference is that when she returned to her mother and I, there was no doubt in her mind that win or lose, we would never be disappointed with the outcome of an event.  Our love is for her and her willingness to explore beyond her boundaries.  Losses are opportunities to coach and parent. As my daughter has grown, without-a-doubt, the greatest privilege I have is watching my child practice and compete.  There is nothing I enjoy more.  The season in 8th grade when I was afforded the privilege to coach her and her friends, priceless.  As a coach, your athletes have to know you love them, regardless of outcome.  My daughter is leaving next year to attend a D1 school and compete athletically.  I'm confident, had I greeted her in the same manner as you greeted your son, she wouldn't be in sport today.

Another point of reference, I was privileged to compete at a D1 school in wrestling and was quite successful there.  The experience has defined my life.  But, my athletic career didn't start out like gang busters.  I didn't win my first varsity match until my junior year in high school.  In fact, I cried every day in practice as a freshman.  But while the experience on the mat may have been disappointing, I knew regardless of the outcome, I was loved, my parents knew losing was part of the growth process, and I knew that I was loved.  One time during my senior year in high school as I finished my warm up, to look up to the end of the gym to see my dad standing there in dirty Carhartt's covered in coal dust.  My parents worked opposite shifts in order to see that one of them was home with us at all times.  My dad was a coal miner and it would have been easy for him to miss my match, he was working.  But my dad would schedule his lunch break so he could drive to the school, slip in to see me wrestle, and then go to work and finish his shift.  I learned my love and true understanding of sport from the love of my mother and father.  I lost a lot, but my dad never missed a chance to be a dad.  Mr. Dad, you still have a chance.

I'm attending the funeral of my college coach this week.  It's been a difficult time reflecting on our relationship.  But as I reflect and as I think, I want to pass along another story.  As I said earlier, I was quite successful as a wrestler in college, eventually qualifying for the national tournament my senior year.  I was the only wrestler on my team to qualify that year.  My coach didn't attend the nationals with me.  He choose to stay home and see his son compete in the state high school tournament.  I was quite salty about this for quite a while after.   It wasn't until I had my own child and began to watch her compete.  I can't imagine missing one of my daughters events.  But what dawned on me was that my coach was missing most his own kids events while coaching us.  What I've come to understand is that he was giving me more that his own sons and daughter.  He made a huge personal sacrifice for me and my teammates.  I was privileged to have great role models in parents and coaches.  The value of being that father who nurtures your son through life has nothing to do with the number of wins and losses.  It has everything to do with how you respond!  Please don't miss this opportunity again.  It's priceless!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Slaying the 3-headed Monster: Weight cut, fatigue and dehydration.


In my last post I addressed the challenge of keeping key metabolic hormones in check during your weight-cutting period.  This blog segment focuses on taking down your hidden competitor: Fatigue. And more specifically, how dehydration empowers fatigue, pushing much of the progress and improvement you’ve trained for completely out of reach.

Sport scientists define fatigue as a decrement in the force output of a muscle.  Psychologists see fatigue as a ‘sensation’ of tiredness.  And physiologists define fatigue as the failure of a specific physiological system. Consider that exercise is terminated at exhaustion—and not at a point of fatigue.  It is widely accepted that fatigue is a safety mechanism that has evolved to prevent injury or death by means of overreaching.  But regardless of how you define it, fatigue is something we all fight with; and regardless of physical and mental preparation, fatigue will always be present.

What causes fatigue?

There are many things that can cause fatigue, not the least of which is engaging in a work event that is beyond your capacity.  This type of fatigue is caused by our body’s inability to deliver the necessary oxygen or nutrients in the blood to the working muscles.  This is why we train: To increase that capacity.  But even if we have trained to, and have the ability to do the necessary work, other factors can creep in and block our ability to accomplish our goals.  Hydration levels have a direct impact on the blood volume and contribute to success and failure rates.

Researchers have identified fatigue mechanisms that originate in the neuromuscular system.  These seem to be protective systems in the body that can originate as high as the brain in the central nervous system.  Research has shown that in some athletes this level of fatigue can limit work output by up to 32%.  Researchers are not clear on all of the factors that contribute to this “central governor” fatigue model, but some that have been clearly shown are an imbalance in electrolyte concentrations, and the brain perception of a lack of fuel.  The ability to replace key electrolytes and, in-turn, draw water into the blood plasma, is an important part of strategic rehydration.  

Research suggests that sweeter isn’t necessarily better.  In fact, scientists have shown that just sensation of sweetness in the mouth—not glucose itself—will dampen the fatigue effect.  In various studies, athletes were asked to “swish the fluid around in the mouth, then spit it out.” Those athletes saw an increase in performance versus those who merely drank water.  Other studies using sugar have also shown that more is not really “more.” Athletes consuming concentrations as low as 2% have had similar exercise times to failure as those consuming 18% concentrations.  In another interesting study, athletes were given glucose through an IV; those athletes saw no improvement in performance over water alone.  This is an area that needs more research, but for now, be confident that a little sweetness goes a long way.


Our brains monitor hydration levels closely.  Because the brain interprets dehydration as stress, it triggers a drop in performance.  Too much dehydration triggers production of stress hormones.  The brain will limit the number of muscle fibers you can recruit.  Remember, a drop in total body water causes a drop in blood plasma volume, which limits the body’s ability to deliver nutrients to the muscles.   We see this in combat sports like boxing and wrestling and it’s been documented in sports as diverse as triathlons.  Many times hydration is a consideration of safety.   Dehydration can lead to cramping, exhaustion and even death due to heat stroke.  But long before we get to the point of illness, dehydration is contributing to fatigue and limiting performance.  The takeaway: Be sure to harvest all the hard work you’ve done leading up to your event by keeping the opponent of fatigue on the bench.  Stay hydrated!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Cutting Weight in Wrestling: A Tale of Two Hormones.

Wrestling is hard! It is perhaps the most difficult sport for which to prepare: Wrestling requires athletes to be both strong and fast with great endurance; to possess the flexibility of a gymnast and the ability to prepare technically and tactically for all opponents. Great wrestlers aren’t just well rounded; they must be exceptional at all physical and mental aspects of their game. To make it even harder, the process of cutting weight adds a challenge and stress to wrestling that most other athletes never experience.

In order to be prepared, wrestling has no off season. As soon as the competitive season ends, preparation for the next begins. The off season is dominated by strength and conditioning work. Wrestlers building their bodies, increasing strength and muscle mass to prepare the largest body possible to enter into their weight class. A huge price is paid for every ounce of muscle--wrestlers can’t afford to give that away with poor weight cutting practices. It’s important to understand, that when weight is cut properly, the wrestler can gain a competitive advantage. But done wrong, hours of hard work go down the drain.

Cutting weight correctly gives a wrestler an advantage. It involves two elements: (1)stripping out as much fat as possible and (2) wrestling lean, with short-term dehydration to accomplish the rest.

In order to strip or use body fat, athletes must understand the role of the hormone insulin. Insulin is the dominant hormone involved in fat storage or usage. When insulin is low, stored fat can be used for fuel. When insulin is high, the body will not release fat for fuel, it will simply try to store more fat. The key to lowering insulin is lowering the glycemic index of the food and fluid you consume. If you’re a wrestler cutting weight, you should eliminate refined sugar products from your diet. Drinking sugar-based products (including popular sport drinks and protein bars) is completely counter productive. Not only is the sugar creating a strong insulin response, it passes through the stomach quickly providing no appetite satiation. Being hungry and burning up your valuable protein stores is no way to cut weight and win.

Many wrestlers can successfully dehydrate for short periods of time (less than 24 hours), rehydrating following weigh-in with no remarkable impact on performance. The key, though, is to keep the dehydration period as short as possible. When you dehydrate for longer periods, you body produces another hormone called vasopressin. Vasopressin causes the kidneys to restrict water loss. Your body views this as stress and will not only restrict water loss through urine and sweat, but will also begin to regulate the amount of energy your can produce, causing fatigue and sluggish performance. Being fully hydrated at the time of competition is important. It’s also important to be fully hydrated throughout your training.

Hydrus Performance Hydration Concentrate hits the two things wrestlers need to be lean and fully hydrated at the time of competition. Hydrus has no sugar! No sugar means no insulin response from Hydrus and you stay in fat burning mode longer. When you’ve made weight and it’s time to re-hydrate, Hydrus’ exclusive NanosomeTM Technology provides higher electrolyte and water absorption—"5x and up to 8x more effective"*—than traditional hydration products. That means more water to the cells and your back to full strength at match time.

Bad weight cutting causes you to lose muscle and lose energy. For optimum performance and weight management, the key is to eat a diet high in lean proteins and good fats with low glycemic index carbohydrates which means no sugar.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Cost of Coach's Bad Communication

As athletes, we invest our soles and, according to researchers, on the average of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve excellence.  As high school coaches we trade time with our families and leave part of ourselves preparing our athletes.  As college coaches we pay our bills with the vocation, but our investments in the athletes begin to climb financially too.  As professional coaches, our organizational investment in our athletes is beyond belief.  This article very elegantly addresses how all of those investments can be vaporized with a single athlete/coach mis/mal-communication.  I've excerpted several portions of the article Coaching communication issues with elite female athletes: Two Norwegian case studies  Kristiansen  2012  Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.  This is an important read for any coach.

"An important aspect of the coach-elite athlete relationship is to produce enhanced performance and success in elite competitions."

"while communication may seem to be working well from the coach's perspective....athletes often disagree.  It is the perceived ineffective communication that may become a major source of strain for elite athletes."

"Coaching is more than talking....it is 'a set of strategies designed to increase a coach's ability to influence the behavior of others more effectively."

"A good coach must be able to see each athlete as a unique persona and adapt his/her performance enhancement system to each athlete's particular needs."

"Part of the demand placed on the athletes was the expectation that they would become '24-hour-athletes."  "They went from 'deliberate play' to 'deliberate practice' in one ..jump."

"It was all about 'you follow the routine or you are out of the team.'  They would not accept my views...I was labeled difficult and unwilling to work hard."

"finding the right training strategies is very demanding."

"A good coach is characterized by the understanding that "different athletes require different things from their coaches at different points in their careers."

"Having several coaches may negatively affect communication if the roles are unclear within the teams..."

"Different coaches did not seem to talk together about the total training load."

The athletes "perceived that they were the problem and not their interpretation of the training load to which they were assigned:  the more they asked, the less they were listened to and they then become difficult "problem athletes'"

"their experiences are not unique.  There is documented evidence that a lack of knowledge and awareness of risky strategies may be detrimental to the long-term development of athletes."

"It was quite clear...that they experienced demotivation when they perceived that they were failing to achieve the training load criteria of the coaches.  And when their performance also deteriorated, then this was even more demotivational.  In the motivational literature, it is recommended that for long-term development and persistence, athletes should have internal criteria of success."

"A mindful organization will notice novel events quickly, such as when an athlete is struggling with recovery.  NGBs should have routines that will lead to critical self-reflection, learning, and action.  In the sport context, the ability to differentiate between being tired and being in the early stages of burnout may be analyzed by these principles."

"The opposite of being mindful is being mindless.  The is a behavior characterized by being rule and routine governed and on autopilot.  Hence, to treat all athletes the same way may be considered a mindless behavior."