The Freshman 15

This guest post comes from my good friend Pat Donovan who has worked as a strength and conditioning coach and is currently a pitching/assistant coach at Assumption College in the greater Worcester area. Enjoy!
Going to college can be tough, especially for someone who is playing collegiate athletics. You are pretty much starting over, essentially hitting the reset button to everything you have done in high school. Being back at the bottom of the totem pole, and the new guy on campus. Being away from home, most student athletes will not have any experience about the college life, and how to handle themselves inside and outside of the classroom. As a former student athlete, and now college coach, here are 15 guidelines that will help all the “rookies” give them their best chance to succeed.
#1.  FAMILY, ACADEMICS, AND ATHLETICS
This is how you are going to life your life for at least the next four years of your life.  Family comes before anything! Blood is thicker than water, never forget that! If you do not do well in the classroom, you will not be playing your sport.
#2. GO TO CLASS!!!
I know this might sound ridiculous, but the fact of the matter is that most freshman are ineligible academically is because they do not go to class.  If you don’t go to class you are going to be lost when it comes to test and homework. Showing up is half the grade (believe it or not!). Mommy and Daddy are not here to wake you up, take responsibility for yourself and get to class.
#3. KNOW YOUR PROFESSORS
Introduce yourself to all of your teachers the first week of school. Tell them that you play athletics at the school. Teachers will respect you for it, and most of them will work with you as best they can when classes have to be missed. Some of them are even ex-student/athletes themselves, and this is a great way to build a good relationship, connections, and well as a possible good reference.
#4. ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE
Get into a routine ASAP when you figure out your school and practice/game schedule. Figure out what works best for you, whether it is before or after practice. Get as much accomplished in the offseason academically. Get your GPA as high as possible, because when in-season, you will miss class and might fall behind as a result. Keep that cumulative GPA high!
#5. EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM
I know everyone needs his or her beauty rest, so get to bed early! Take as many early classes as possible. By doing this you will have less of a chance having a conflict with sports and athletics.  It will give you a chance to get more studying done. You will be able to attend more classes, and as a result you should get a better grade in the class. Lets be honest, no one wants to go to class after a tough practice or game.
#6. BE SMART                                                                                            
I mean be smart by having Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Reasonable, Timed goals for yourself academically and athletically.  Challenge yourself to be a better student/athlete.
#7. THE NAME ON THE FRONT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE NAME ON THE BACK OF THE JERSEY
Not only do you represent yourself, you represent your entire team. When someone gets in trouble, the first thing people say is, “Oh yea, he/she plays on that team.” Your team is your second family; treat them like one, since you will be with them 9 out of the 12 months of the year. Your actions have a bigger consequence that you think. Don’t embarrass yourself, your family, and your team by making dumb decisions.
#8. BE A GOOD TEAMMATE! (BROTHER/SISTER)
You were a stud in high school, and were recruited to play at a higher level. Remember, everyone who is playing in college was all-conference, an all-star, etc.… just like you. Coaches will build up your ego to get you to come to the respective school. Now you have to work even harder to beat out the upper classmen that have done it already. Expect to play, but do not be discouraged or surprised when you don’t get as much playing time as you want. Do as much as you can to help the team on the bench, make the team better anyway you can!
#9. TAKE THE STRENGTH PROGRAM SERIOUSLY
The offseason is where most gains are made. In-season is maintaining what you have. The S&C program is going to prepare your body for the upcoming season. The program is designed to make you bigger, faster, and stronger for the respective sport. It is designed to help your body not to break down and help reduce injuries from occurring. It is not designed for you to look good at the beach! Would you rather look good or play good?
#10.  TRAINERS ARE GOOD
Athletic trainers are there to help you. One myth is that going to the trainer makes you a wuss, or that you are weak. This is absolutely couldn’t be farther from the truth. Trainers are there to help take care of your body and to steer you in the right direction of how to get back to 100% and back on the field/court as soon as possible.
#11. BE CONFIDENT, NOT COCKY
It is good to have self -confidence, but people do not like arrogance. If upper classmen, coaches, professors, trainers, or anyone else who has been in your situation before is trying to help you, LET THEM DO IT. Even if you know the answer already let them teach you, be humble and receptive to constructive criticism. Ask questions when you have them, and be a sponge by watching how other people act and carry themselves. Remember, no one likes a smart ass!
#12. TO PARTY, OR NOT TO PARTY?
Parents are not stupid, you are in college with minimum supervision, and you are going to probably see what a Bud Light tastes like.  It is ok to go out with the team and “bond”, and strengthen your relationships with your teammates. However, the longer you are out “bonding” the better the chance something bad is going to happen.  After 2am nothing good is going to happen, whether is be a fight, police coming, or having too much to drink. It is ok to go out and have a good time, but make sure you take care of #1 (yourself), and if you see any of your teammates about to do something stupid, step in and help out. They might be mad at you that night, but they will respect you in the morning.
#13.  SPRING BREAK, WEEKEND TRIPS, ROAD TRIPS
Be smart when you are traveling on the road for games. Chances are there are other teams of the opposite sex that might be staying in the same hotel or complex that you stay at. Some kids might have some urges or feelings to hang out with them. It’s not as publicized in college as it is in the pros, but accusations of rape do occur. This can ruin your team, your career, and life. Also, no one plans to get pregnant while playing college athletics. So just a reminder to men and women’s teams to try to keep those hormones in check and channel it onto the field/court.
#14. GOOD PEOPLE = GOOD THINGS
Surround yourself with good people. You should be smart enough to decipher between people who want to achieve and people who want to be complacent.  Surround yourself with people who are going to challenge you athletically and academically. If you surround yourself with good people, good things will happen. If you surround yourself with “bad” people, you are guilty by association.
#15. NOT EVERYONE GETS A TROPHY
College athletics is not Little League. You are going to have to earn everything you get. No matter how hard you thing you are working, someone on another team is working just as hard, if not, harder than you.  Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard. You only have four years left to play the sport that you love, and it will fly by quicker than you think, so make sure you leave without any regrets.
To all other high school student/athletes that are not looking at colleges yet:
PLAY MORE THAN 1 SPORT IN HIGH SCHOOL!!!
Don’t limit your athleticism, don’t specialize for a specific sport, as a result there is a higher chance that you will have an overuse issue. Coaches want athletes, not A baseball player, or A field hockey player, or A basketball player. They want someone who is well rounded, and as a result they will succeed at the higher level.
Bio
Donovan is a 2008 graduate of the UMass Lowell with a Bachelors degree in Exercise Physiology and Minor in Nutrition(Cum Laude). In his two years at Lowell, he was a two-time First Team All-Northeast-10 Conference Selection, as well as being a two-time First Team All- New England Selection. In his two years he set the program record for saves in a single season and saves in a career.
Prior to Lowell, Donovan played two years at UMass Boston, in which he was named Little East Conference Rookie of the Year and was a two time Little East All-Conference Selection as both a pitcher and outfielder.
Upon completion of his collegiate career, signed to play for the Ottawa Rapidz of the Independent Can-Am Baseball League for the summer of 2008
He coached at Lowell High and Dracut High from 2008-2010. After that he became the pitching coach for Lesley University from 2011-2013. In 2014 he was appointed to pitching coach at Assumption College in 2014, and is still currently coaching the Greyhounds.

Chest Up, Ribs Down

Todays guest post comes from a good friend of mine who is a great Strength & Conditioning coach and on his way to becoming a great physical therapist.  We first met interning for UMass Lowell Sports Performance and continue to run into each other. Enjoy!
A Rib Flare

Having the rib cage in extension, or flared up is disadvantageous for numerous reasons. It is likely to cause excessive extension of the lumbar spine. It masks true shoulder flexion by compensating to achieve the full range of motion. The two diaphragms are not aligned, and therefore inter-abdominal pressure cannot be created as well as it could. It also puts the rectus abdominis and core musculature in a stretched state. Whether a client has an anterior pelvic tilt, back pain, tight hip flexors, a stiff t-spine or other similar issues from compensatory movements I believe it is important, and often overlooked to focus on the rib positioning first before implementing several corrective exercises.

The Problem with Cueing

While walking through most strength and conditioning facilities or gyms you’re bound to hear the cues “ribs down” and “chest up”. The issue is both of these cues cannot be used for the same exercise. Asking someone to put their ribs down and then their chest up will result in them looking very uncomfortable. Try it.

Why do we say ribs down? Many coaches are very cognizant about the rib flare and do not want their clients ribs to flare in any movement pattern. Coaches, trainers, and therapists today are becoming more and more aware of how important breathing is throughout movement as well. Whether we are incorporating diaphragmatic breathing, teaching our clients about tension and breathing or learning about PRI, we all know a rib flare signifies dysfunction. With the ribcage in extension, it is very difficult to contract the core muscles. If you stand up and exaggerate a rib flare and then try to contract your core muscles, or “get tight as if someone is going to punch you in the stomach” your rib flare will immediately disappear. Your core will now be truly braced by contracting the abdominals, the diaphragms are aligned to now incorporate proper breathing and generate inter-abdominal pressure and most importantly the spine (lumbar in particular) is in a neutral position. A rib flare and extension of the spine are the same position. One cannot be done without the other.

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Rib Positioning Through a Squat and Hinge

Many coaches focus on the rib positioning when the client is standing or kneeling. For example, attention is focused here while watching people overhead press especially. When clients are hinging or squatting, suddenly the focus goes directly to how the spine looks and not the ribs. The back becomes the focus because we want our clients to protect themselves from injury. Looking at the back and making sure the spine’s not in flexion and has a “small lorodic curve” is simply not enough. Just because a client’s back looks flat, does not mean that their core can fire and brace properly to pick up a heavy load. The client can be in a good-looking hinge position, the back can be flat and the ribs can be flared. Now their spine will not have the assistance and protection from the core as they complete the deadlift. The focus should be put on having the client drive their ribs down as they exhale, that will automatically take care of putting the spine into proper alignment and then they can create tension AND contract their core to throughout the movement.

Continuing with the hip hinge and deadlift idea, what if the client still has slumped shoulders? I believe we cue our clients to have a big chest with the intention for them to retract their shoulders, the gleno- humeral joint, to take them out of that forward slumped posture. Chest up, and retracting the gleno-humeral joint are very different things. When we retract our gleno- humeral joints, we are able to keep our ribs down and fire our core all at the same time. If we instead cue “shoulders back” or “squeeze your shoulder blades” the clients traps and rhomboids will fire as they jam their scapulas together hard enough to come into spinal extension again.
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Everyone knows the lats need to fire and create tension through a deadlift but I believe, and have witnessed that this has been somewhat forgotten because we are all trying to avoid flexion. The shoulder blades do not need to be squeezed together throughout a deadlift. Teaching the client to fire their lats correctly by squeezing their armpits, drawing their shoulders down, bending/breaking the bar to create tension through the lats, or squeezing their arms against the side of their body will take the client far. Firing the lats correctly will enable the client to keep their ribs down, core firing, shoulder joints retracted, take tension away from the traps, prevent spinal extension and let the scapulas sit and stabilize in their natural position through the movement. A great way to introduce a client their latissimus dorsi is to have them perform a cable row, then cue them to draw their elbow toward their hip as they row. Teach the client how to breathe, how to activate their lats properly, how to eliminate their rib flare and truly contract their core through a hip hinge and squat.

BSMPG: Day 2 Notes

The first lecture was great as it pertained to changing behavior, and I don’t mean seeing a psychologist/psychiatrist.  Some fundamental ideas to consider are to involve the people in goal setting and what activities are going to better the outcome.  Allow failure. Focus on the challenge. Science will help. And something that has been said to me regarding athletic programming since the beginning is “build a plan that starts at the end”.  The data we collect isn’t very predictable, instead it is much more complex than that.  To find the solution–emergence–we must follow the lessons from above and create viable solutions.  This seems like a complex mash of words, but quite simply we need to, as coaches/clinicians, question everything that we do on a daily basis.  Doing this, we can reflect on the basic lessons to create a behavioral change in our athletes/clients.  There is a time and place to try “new ideas” to add to your programs, and that time is early in the novice training cycle.  This way we can decide early what will work and what will create a stagnant environment.
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As promised from the Day 1 write up, collaboration is a great way to create success.  Listening to the Canadien Basketball Performance Team, the main takeaway was clearly that communication between the different fields of study was essential for a fluid environment, as it also eliminated most of the ladder effect which is created in most scenarios.  Nutrition is able to communicate with Strength & Conditioning to let the coach know that player may not be performing as well today because of poor diet choices, this way the S&C coach knows not to absolutely hold the athlete at the same percentile projected for the day.  This is a simple example, however, take away this communication avenue and the S&C coach doesn’t know anything about what is going on with the athlete other than that athlete isn’t able to achieve the same 5 rep percentage that was projected for the training that day.  The coach then believes that it has something to do with program design not meeting the needs for the athlete, and so goes the tailspin (among other reasons).
Finally, to wrap up this event, I was able to see the integration of some “new” tactics into the evaluation process for an initial eval with a patient.  This is something that is difficult in my young therapist mind to do because everything was so concrete in the evaluation process in school.  The follow through of what the information was saying is incomprehensible to some of my peers, however, it works–and there is plenty of research to support it.  When broken down, the body is absolutely assymetrical, and to achieve symmetry would require a new human design.  I digress.  Bottom line, Orthopedics is neuro and neuro is ortho.  One cannot exist without the other, therefore, both need to be considered in treatment.  And so to create optimal motor learning, especially in the beginning a blocked program must be used, rather than throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks.

BSMPG: Day 1 Notes

What a great experience collaborating with experts in the field, learning from some of the most forward thinking professionals, and applying some fundamentals from both a physiology and therapy point of view.  This started off with a bang.
Day 1: The day started off with two awesome keynote lectures that were connected by a great point of stress and stress management.  The human body will ABSOLUTELY always have stress.  And as human beings we will always find a way to cope with that stress or develop pathology.  As humans there are a number of coping factors that will help to alleviate the “negative stress” that we encounter, mainly stress relieving activities like meditation and through friendship and communication, which are pretty safe and positive events that we can partake in.  However, we can teach all the stress relieving/meditation type activities we want to an individual, but the individual must “like” the activity if they’re going to actually use it—what good is yoga if the client/patient finds it tedious and annoying?
How Buster must feel during Pat's season
How Buster must feel during Pat’s season
By evaluating the client/patient, we can see exactly what state of stress the autonomic nervous system is in.  In athletics, basically every powerful movement is an explosive extension patter.  What if the person already lives in extension though (closing down the posterior mediastinum mainly the sympathetic trunk—T1-L1)?
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Do we really want anyone driving into explosive hyperextension?  This is a great point, especially if we consider the huge movement to teach breathing techniques to our athletic population (athlete is anyone who walks really, not just the people you see performing on TV!).  If we as clinicians/performance coaches remember our anatomy, specifically of the diaphragm, we will remember that their exists an asymmetry in the size and shape from side to side.  This is necessary to accommodate the large filter/processor of the liver on the right side and the tremendously vital pump of a heart on the left side.  So, the right side takes on a much more “dome-like” shape while the left is “flattened”.  This makes the right side much more efficient for breathing as it has more potential to drive down during inhalation.  Don’t stop there though, the right side of the diaphragm also has its distal attachments ½ to 1 full lumbar vertebral level lower than the left.  So not only does the right diaphragm become more of the “breathing” portion of the diaphragm, but it also creates an internal torsional component—coupled with the traditional hyperinflated state of most individuals is a disaster waiting to happen.  We will be left with an athlete who is unable to breathe properly, rotate through their trunk, and hangs out with the bulk of their center or mass on their right heel.  Remember when your mother said: “stop making that face or it will stay like that”? That’s basically what the response is in the body, a left anterior tipped innominate (hip bone), an externally rotated left femur with an associated internally rotated right femur, right innominate hiked upwards jacking up the way the sacrum and lumbar spine are supposed to orient themselves creating a super lordotic lumbar spine and a flattened thoracic spine.  All that from not breathing properly, no way!  What do we do about it?  Well, that’s a complex answer that is basically: it depends. Reposition, Retrain, Restore.
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What was also very interesting was how we can change our brain.  Basically, you can teach an old dog new tricks contrary to popular belief.  Experts in any particular field have an ability to create new connections in the brain.  This just confirms what everyone is thinking, we don’t know the brain like we thought we did.  “Ten thousand hours can’t always undo 100 dumb ones”.  This particularly sticks out to me because of how much importance we place on 10,000 hours as being a milestone for an expert in a field of study.  Not only must an individual perform 10,000 hours, but they must choose wisely because it’s so difficult to break already existing connections in the brain.  As a great side note to this point, sleep which makes up approximately 37% of your life, is absolutely important for more than relieving being tired, but also for consolidation of motor learning that occurs throughout the day.
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In the classroom setting, there were some great points being made.  Here there was a case by case approach with the lectures I attended, and it regarded specifically to how high level athletes were corrected in a relatively short period of time (as little as 2 weeks!).  Understanding the biomechanics of a sport that your client/patient takes part in, or simply how people should be moving or breathing in general is a great start.  Collaboration is a key component to the success of any program, but more on that for day 2.