written by Chris Weiss
Earlier this year I sat on the couch thoroughly engrossed in the NCAA women’s lacrosse championship. It was an absolutely brilliant game with both teams fighting back and forth and then, with 31 seconds left in the third sudden death overtime, UNC freshman Sammy Jo Tracy scored the deciding goal in what was the longest NCAA lacrosse championship game of all time. Oh yeah, and it also happened to be UNC’s first ever championship. Not a bad way to end your freshman year, right?!
Wildly celebrating in the stands that night was Sophie McCoy. Sophie recently graduated from Tower Hill School and, at the end of this summer, is headed down to UNC to play lacrosse. I told her the other day, “Sammy Jo put a heck of a lot of pressure on you new freshman!” But for Sophie, there’s no pressure because she’s as ready physically to face the challenge of college sports as she can ever be.
I started training Sophie over a year ago with the idea that we needed to prep her “athletic engine” as much as possible for her senior year of high school, and more importantly for the start of what I predict will be a great career at UNC. She came to me with three years of solid high school competition under her belt and a great deal of athleticism, but even so, no matter how good you might be there are always ways to become better.
So, with that in mind, I began my training program working on the foundational elements of athleticism: performance balance, integrated strength, and athletic movement. Through appropriate programming, each of these elements were used to improve overall athletic ability. I adhere to an open architecture system that layers these three elements together, along with overload variables and proper progression, which allowed me to continually challenge Sophie to solve the puzzle of complex skills, drills and exercises.
My goal was to find ways to maximize Sophie’s potential (by enhancing her strengths and developing her weaknesses) and ultimately improve performance. We used just about every inch of space and piece of equipment HAC had to offer: TRX, rip trainers, medicine balls, kettlebells, ropes, hurdles, boxes, the Personal Training Studio, Small Group Personal Train room and, as of recently, even the pool! What is important to note, however, is that while we had fun and used a lot of interesting pieces of equipment, there was always a clear purpose to what I had her do.
Making her understand that the quality of skill, execution, and movement had to be developed prior to intensity and complexity being increased was of upmost importance to ensure her safety. Too often exercises or exercise programs are thrown together simply for the sake of hard work. This increases the risk of injury and can actually be harmful to the athletes development. Always explaining the purpose of an exercise allowed Sophie to not only know why we were doing something but how it could be applied on the athletic field.
Sophie’s program began with simple exercises and with little intensity. Gradually, as movements were mastered, I added overload variables – simple tweaks – that made the exercise far more challenging without having to change the actual exercise. Once those variables were mastered, I would increase the complexity of the exercise by layering on another element. So in some cases, what started as a balance exercise ended as a balance exercise interlaced with strength and movement. This is how our process worked. Start simple and build. Once mastered, move on, start simply with another exercise and build. The cycle is infinite and the objective is long term progression. Sprinkled throughout her program were challenges. These challenges were a fun way to keep things interesting while at the same time allowing us to make sure she was moving in the right direction. I’m sure she’ll love to tell you about the “furious 40!”
Although she was challenged, I never pushed unnecessarily and that’s because you can’t train with game level intensity all the time. Doing so will only lead to burnout, or worse, injury. So, Sophie’s routines were always regulated to include various levels of intensity and volume:
High volume = low intensity
high intensity = low volume.
Sports are a collection of wild and chaotic moments. The ability to read and react within that environment with a quick, strong and accurate response is often the difference between good and great athletes. Sophie’s dedication and commitment to improving her “athletic engine” will ensure that she will be great rather than good.