Jan 29, 2015
Shifting Gears: Game Ready

petertwist-head.jpgBy Peter Twist

In today’s performance training landscape, improved speed is a common goal. However, to get the most out of their speed, athletes must also learn how to stop. Here, the author explains teaching athletes to put on the BRAKES.

Team rosters are finalized, exhibition games over, pre-season complete. Coaches and players shift their focus to in-season practices and games to establish clear player roles, expectations, and most notably–team tactics. Many players and parents anxiously wait to learn what players are chosen to play on the first line and who will win the esteemed specialty roles on the team.

For many coaches, the selection comes down to choosing players who are “game ready.” Players aspiring to win extra playing time must invest in quality sport conditioning to gain a competitive edge over teammates. For strength and conditioning coaches, the job is to give athletes the opportunity and guidance to improve their physical skills

In sports today, speed has never had more value to coaches, players and parents. Teammates, coaches and spectators all enjoy the excitement of watching a player evade the opposition, break into open space and create a scoring chance. Straight ahead speed must be combined with other explosive ingredients for one-on-one success in most sports. First step quickness, multi-directional movement skills, agility, deceleration, reaction skills and high intensity energy output all contribute to game-ready attributes.

Certain players are genetically blessed with the ability to start fast, but those athletes who can quickly start and stop, move in multiple directions explosively and anticipate the opponent, win the starting roles on many teams. The execution of these complex agility skills requires aggressive braking, fast direction change and acceleration into the next critical open space opportunity. Deceleration and direction change expose more player strengths and weaknesses where races to loose balls or pucks can be won or lost and game-breaking plays created.

Aggressive Braking Skills

While parents search for faster foot speed with speed camps, the true secret to quickness lies in aggressive braking skills. Effectively trained stopping mechanics can instantly harness explosive power and translate it in an opposite direction. Poorly trained deceleration skills can lead to injury as the untrained player attempts to absorb great amounts of force. Many players lose energy in direction change, which leads to a critical delay in the read and react response, giving the opponent a distinct advantage. On the defensive side, the goal is to close the gap and take away space and excellent deceleration skills make one-on-one containment easy using reactive agility and good positioning.

A Progressive Approach to Training Deceleration

I use the BRAKES training concept to teach and train outstanding decelerations skills. BRAKES stands for:

Balance Reaction Agility K(Q)uickness Explosive speed Eccentric Strength

Balance training using unstable surfaces can teach athletes to retain body control in challenging and unpredictable situations similar to game demands. Players then repeat fundamental patterns to improve movement skill efficiency producing general athleticism, and improving body control. Movements progress from slow, deliberate actions that require conscious thought to high-speed automatic agility patterns done at game speed. Building and repeating movement patterns develops a fast mind to muscle connection creating “smart muscles” that quickly comply with the brain’s commands.

Once well rehearsed in a conditioning environment, multi-directional movements become intuitive and can be executed using coach’s cues to initiate a direction change forcing players into high pressure decision making. Remember, coaches look for speed to establish key team roles, but first step quickness combined with accurate positioning defines exceptional from average in the team hierarchy.

Training multi-directional, aggressive braking skills teaches players to safely manage fast stops, make quick transitions and be in position to score or shut down the opposition in make or break situations. Players who are game ready physically and mentally definitely earn the extra game time.

Peter Twist, 11-year NHL Conditioning Coach, is President of Twist Conditioning Inc., which provides franchised Sport Conditioning Centres, Smart Muscle™ Hockey training products and home study coach education. www.twistconditioning.com

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