Speed is a highly sought after commodity in athletics. Sports fans and journalists marvel at the speed of gifted athletes. Coaches and athletes at all levels seek to increase their speed. Clearly, a high premium is placed on speed, and speed is an important component in maximizing performance. Loren Seagrave, Chief Performance Officer with Velocity Sports and coach of a number of successful sprinters, recommends that all training be conducted in a “speed context,” even endurance training. So, the important questions are: What is it? And how do I develop it?
One of the most useful ways of breaking down and understanding speed that I’ve discovered was developed by martial artist, Bruce Lee. Through research in many forms of movement disciplines, he developed his own philosophies and training methods. These methods incorporated elements from many martial schools, both Eastern and Western. Lee broke the broad category of speed into five types: Perceptual Speed (PcS), Mental Speed (MS), Initiation Speed (IS), Performance Speed (PfS), and Alteration Speed (AS).
Using this lens to view an individual’s performance, training and development allows us to illuminate areas of where performance/speed can be enhanced. I call this model SpeedFrame Performance Analysis Framework. Through the training and development of each type of speed in the model, an individual can become faster, more efficient, more effective, and therefore perform at a much higher level. As you will see, each type of speed influences the others and any deficiency in one area will have a negative effect on the overall speed. An individual’s speed is the sum total of each of these types of speed.
SPEED = PcS + MS + IS + PfS + AS
In the following sections, we will briefly examine each type of speed and its implications for improved performance.
Types of Speed
1. Perceptual Speed
“Quickness of eye to see openings and to discourage the opponent, confusing him and slowing him down.”
The final outcome of a particular action is determined by the initial analysis of the field of competition and an understanding where the opportunities lie. An incorrect analysis will cascade throughout the course of an action resulting in decreased speed and less than ideal or even disastrous results. It is therefore essential to have vision, informed experience and instinct, with perhaps an emphasis on the later, in designing training and competition plans.
This also has implications for learning specific motor skills. The time it takes to learn proper techniques can be reduced by utilizing skill development strategies that increase the perceptual speed of the athlete. Properly taught skill drills increase the Kinesthesia or Proprioception abilities of the athlete which allow him to “feel” or perceive the correct movements.
2. Mental Speed
“Quickness of mind to select the right move to frustrate and counter the opponent.”
At this point, one is beginning to transition in to strategy and tactics. There is still a good deal of analysis to complete at this step as there are many ways to act. The opportunities lie with those who are able to select the best method of achieving a desired goal. If this decision is not correct or it takes too long, the field of competition may have changed so completely that the initial assessment is irrelevant.
All sports involve strategy, tactics, and planning. Athletes in individual events – running, swimming, etc… typically have a race plan in place prior to taking the starting line. Coaches and athletes in team sports devise plays and formations to achieve advantage and in many cases to disguise intent.
3. Initiation Speed
“Economical starting from the right posture and with the correct mental attitude.”
Knowing the right move to make will do you no good unless you are in a position to execute that move. This requires having the right people in the right places at the right time. If you are not able to position yourself or your team correctly and efficiently, your chances of success are diminished.
The second part of initiation speed is critical, perhaps the most critical – you must begin having the “correct mental attitude.” Athletes must “buy-in.” Belief is crucial. Action without conviction is empty – meaningless.
4. Performance Speed
“Quickness of movement in carrying the chosen move into effect. Involves actual muscle contraction speed.”
This is the act itself. This is where skills, developed through training and experience, are employed. Skills developed to the point of pure action without thought or training are most efficient at this stage. If they are not, then your performance will be slowed as thought interferes with act. This is where many athletes spend the majority of their time training, but this only one component of speed and performance improvement.
5. Alteration Speed
“The ability to change direction midstream. Involves balance and inertia.”
This is the point at which one evaluates the performance and its effects and makes adjustments accordingly. It is in some ways a return to the beginning of the cycle. The types of speed are not separate or discrete. They flow continuously, one into the next. If one does not have balance when attempting to change direction, you will fall. Likewise, if one’s inertia exceeds the capacity to balance, the change will fail.
This is only a brief introduction to how the SpeedFrame model can be utilized to analyze athletic performance and make decisions regarding training and development. In addition to athletic performance analysis, SpeedFrame can be used in other contexts: Organizational analysis, education, usability testing to name a few. Daniel Coyle has a post with similar thoughts regarding performance speed – How to Build Better Reflexes: Forget Speed and Focus on Information.
About fifteen years ago I wrote a short story called Option Paralysis. In the story a young couple goes to a restaurant for a meal at one of the typical mid-level chains. They are seated and given menus. Amid the chaos of all the ‘stuff’ in the restaurant and the pages of menu items from which to choose, the man’s frustrated decision paralysis causes him to spontaneously combust.
In his article NON COGITO, ERGO SUM, Ian Leslie discusses how “thinking too much” is a big reason athletes at all levels, elite and amateur, struggle at pivotal moments in competition. He gives the following example from tennis:
“It was the fifth set of a semi-final at last year’s US Open. After four hours of epic tennis, Roger Federer needed one more point to see off his young challenger, Novak Djokovic. As Federer prepared to serve, the crowd roared in anticipation. At the other end, Djokovic nodded, as if in acceptance of his fate.
Federer served fast and deep to Djokovi’s right. Seconds later he found himself stranded, uncomprehending, in mid-court. Djokovic had returned his serve with a loose-limbed forehand of such lethal precision that Federer couldn’t get near it. The nonchalance of Djokovic’s stroke thrilled the crowd. John McEnroe called it ‘one of the all-time great shots.’
Djokovic won the game, set, match and tournament. At his press conference, Federer was a study in quiet fury. It was tough, he said, to lose because of a ‘lucky shot.’ Some players do that, he continued: ‘Down 5-2 in the third, they just start slapping shots How can you play a shot like that on match point?’
Asked the same question, Djokovic smiled. ‘Yeah, I tend to do that on match points. It kinda works.’
Prior to making his serve, it seems apparent Federer had run through every possible serve placement option he could come up with and had settled on the one he knew Djokovic could not return. When Djokovic did the “impossible” and returned the serve, Federer was paralyzed and spontaneously combusted, at least to a certain extent.
According to Leslie, the resource Federer really needed was “unthinking.” Unthinking is “the ability to apply years of learning at the crucial moment by removing your thinking self from the equation.” I think Leslie is on the right track, but “unthinking” is a limited term conceptually and unfortunately a very strange concept for Western minds. Eastern philosophy, particularly Taoism, has a this concept built in. That being the idea of Wu Wei.
Wu wei is one of Taoism’s most important concepts and captures the concept of unthinking much more completely. Wu wei is sometimes translated as “non-doing or “non-action.” A better way to think of it, however, is as a paradoxical “Action of non-action.” Wu wei refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. It is a kind of “going with the flow” that is characterized by great ease and awake-ness, in which – without even trying – we’re able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise.
Wu Wei (Unthinking) could be characterized as the evolution of an athlete or artist makes when they move from proficient mastery to what I will call responsive or creative mastery. To achieve this level of mastery requires, as Leslie notes, “years of learning” and training which yields the ability to respond swiftly, precisely, almost magically, as any competitive or creative situation requires. Bruce Lee described this level of mastery this way:
“And you have to train. You have to keep your reflexes so that when you want it…it’s there! When you want to move, you are moving and when you move you are determined to move. Not taking one inch, not anything less than that! If I want to punch, I’m going to do it man, and I’m going to do it! So that is the type of thing you have to train yourself into it; to become one with it. You think….(snaps his fingers) ….it is”
Finally, Leslie touches on what is probably the most important aspect of unthinking, “We live in age of self-reflection, analysing every aspect of our work, micro-commentating on our own lives online, reading articles urging us to ponder what makes us happy. Much of this may be worthwhile, but we also need to put thinking in its place. Djokovic’s return was both the culmination of his life’s effort and an expression of careless joy.”
The pure joy of purposeful, responsive movement. Enjoyment of the moment, regardless of the outcome.
Creativity, not Constraint. Freedom, not Paralysis.
As Djokovic notes, “It kinda works.”
This is not about being a champion; it is about the process of being an athlete, the things that it takes to get into the game. Over the past few weeks I have been going through files and looking at old workouts and training programs. That is what got me thinking about the process of being an athlete. Looking back on my years of coaching and my time as a collegiate and post collegiate athlete and even back to my high school days there are clearly things that go into being an athlete. These are things you must do and have before you can think about being the best, before winning games or races. Some are attributes and some are actions. They are basic, fundamental and foundational.
Being an athlete is special; you are part of a brotherhood that pursues excellence for it’s own rewards. The medals, trophies and yes even the money are not what drives the athlete. What drives the athlete is that in every training session and in every competition you do your best. You give your best effort.
Being an athlete is not about talent, sure that is part of it, but it is really about potential. It is continually striving to reach your potential. To me that is where the satisfaction of being an athlete comes from, it is an inner satisfaction. Being an athlete is maximizing your potential, using your talent.
Being an athlete does not mean public proclamations about your dedication and desire, it is to quiet inner drive and determination. It is focus on the task at hand, accomplishing that task and then methodically moving on.
Being an athlete is certainly not comfortable physically, psychologically and emotionally. It is taking that extra step, paying closer attention to detail doing that workout when everyone else is taking the day off. It is constantly pushing the envelope of your abilities.
Being an athlete is not something you do it is something you are. It is not a two-hour a day proposition it is a 24 hour commitment.
Being an athlete is about setting goals and goal achievement. The goals must be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound. Goals are only words or numbers, you must have a plan to achieve the goals and then execute the plan.
Being an athlete is a mindset. It is a willingness to risk and constantly test your abilities, to try new techniques and training methods. It means being coachable.
Being an athlete is about having athletic intelligence. Knowing yourself and your body. Comparing you not to others but to you. It is constantly reminding yourself that you are the master of your athletic destiny. Remember that if it is to be it up to you, not the coach, the parents or fans.
Never take for granted being an athlete. It is very special. You get to test yourself and constantly reach higher, faster and stronger to be the best you can be. Enjoy the process.
One of the coolest pieces of sports performance technology I’ve seen is being developed by Sean Hutchison at Ikkos. Ikkos training uses the concepts of neuroplasticity to help athletes greatly accelerate the skill acquisition process.
I’ve seen this in action with [iX3]sports athletes. It’s pretty amazing stuff. You can learn more about Ikkos training check out the video below featuring [iX3]sports pro, Charlie Houchin:
One of the by-products of this type of training, high levels of skill development may also be help athletes more consistently achieve what sports psychologists call Flow.
Flow as described by Sally Adee in her New Scientist article, Zap your brain into the zone: Fast track to pure focus, “involves a Zen-like feeling of intense concentration, with time seeming to stop as you focus completely on the activity in hand. The experience crops up repeatedly when experts describe what it feels like to be at the top of their game, and with years of practice it becomes second nature to enter that state. Yet you don’t have to be a pro to experience it – some people report the same ability to focus at a far earlier stage in their training, suggesting they are more naturally predisposed to the flow state than others. This effortless concentration should speed up progress, while the joyful feelings that come with the flow state should help take the sting out of further practice, setting such people up for future success, says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Claremont Graduate University in California.”
What researchers are starting to discover is that a high-level of skill acquisition is directly related to the flow state and they are using what is being called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to reduce training time and trigger the flow state.
Adee describes her experience with tDCS and Flow:
“That is why I’m now allowing Michael Weisend, who works at the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to hook my brain up to what’s essentially a 9-volt battery. He sticks the anode – the positive pole of the battery – to my temple, and the cathode to my left arm. “You’re going to feel a slight tingle,” he says, and warns me that if I remove an electrode and break the connection, the voltage passing through my brain will blind me for a good few seconds.
Weisend, who is working on a US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program to accelerate learning, has been using this form of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to cut the time it takes to train snipers. From the electrodes, a 2-milliamp current will run through the part of my brain associated with object recognition – an important skill when visually combing a scene for assailants.
This debate will only be resolved with much more research. For now, I’m intrigued about what I’ll experience as I ask Weisend to turn on the current. Initially, there is a slight tingle, and suddenly my mouth tastes like I’ve just licked the inside of an aluminum can. I don’t notice any other effect. I simply begin to take out attacker after attacker. As twenty of them run at me brandishing their guns, I calmly line up my rifle, take a moment to breathe deeply, and pick off the closest one, before tranquilly assessing my next target.
In what seems like next to no time, I hear a voice call out, ‘Okay, that’s it.’ The lights come up in the simulation room and one of the assistants at Advanced Brain Monitoring, a young woman just out of university, tentatively enters the darkened room.
In the sudden quiet amid the bodies around me, I was really expecting more assailants, and I’m a bit disappointed when the team begins to remove my electrodes. I look up and wonder if someone wound the clocks forward. Inexplicably, 20 minutes have just passed. ‘How many did I get?’ I ask the assistant.
She looks at me quizzically. ‘All of them.’”
I’ve seen Ikkos in action and it works. The ability to cut time off of the 10,000 rule and increase frequency and intensity of the flow state experienced during peak performance is a very powerful combination.
One of my strongest beliefs is that our dreams underscore, become the foundation, of our reality. In his manifesto on education, Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth Godin comments on dreams:
Dreams are difficult to build and easy to destroy
By their nature, dreams are evanescent. They flicker long before they shine brightly. And when they’re flickering, it’s not particularly difficult for a parent or a teacher or a gang of peers to snuff them out.
Creating dreams is more difficult. They’re often related to where we grow up, who our parents are, and whether or not the right person enters our life.
Settling for the not-particularly uplifting dream of a boring, steady job is’t helpful. Dreaming of being picked – picked to be on TV or picked to play on a team or picked to be lucky – isn’t helpful either. We waste our time and the time of our students when we set them up with pipe dreams that don’t empower them to adapt (or better yet, lead) when the world doesn’t work out as they hope.
The dreams we need are self-reliant dreams. We need dreams based not on what is but on what might be. We need students who can learn how to learn, who can discover how to push themselves and are generous enough and honest enough to engage with the outside world to make those dreams happen.
I think we’re doing a great job of destroying dreams at the very same time the dreams we do hold onto aren’t nearly bold enough.
As a coach, one of the toughest and best parts of the experience for me is discovering how to help an athlete discover they are capable of much more than they know, and then enable them to make the effort required to take their dreams for reality.
I came across this site, Writing Athletes, while scanning Daniel Coyle’s blog, The Talent Code. Writing Athletes is the site coach and author, Richard Kent, uses to promote his book, Writing on the Bus.
Kent argues that the act of writing will help athletes, coaches, and teams improve performance. He cites a number of highly successful athletes including Wimbledon Champion Serena Williams, Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, and US ski racer David Chamberlain who all use writing as a tool to improve their performance. His book is a way to give teams and athletes a way to organize their writing and focus it on performance improvement.
I am a firm believer in the writing process as a way to focus thought and analyze objectives and outcomes. I think that it is possible to use writing in a less structured way than Kent lays out in his book, but if you are looking for templates, ideas, and additional information regarding the impact of writing on performance improvement, this is a great place to start.
From Seth Godin’s blog:
That’s a question you hear a lot. “Was it worth it?”
Not certain what either “it” refers to, but generally we’re saying, “was the destination worth the journey? Was the effort worth the reward?”
The thing about effort is that effort is its own reward if you allow it to be.
So the answer can always be “yes” if you let it.
The title above is part of a quote from Samuel Beckett that writer Jonah Lehrer uses to concluded his article in Wired Online, Why Do Some People Learn Faster? Lehrer is another in a long string of writer-researchers who are becoming increasingly interested in the ground-breaking work of Mindset author Carol Dweck.
I first learned about Dweck’s work in the psychology of learning approximately two years ago. Since that time, I am continually running across folks in many fields who have been influenced and are continually being influenced by her research. From business, to education, to athletics, a new group of emerging thought leaders are referencing and embedding her work in their practices to improve performance.
I can not recommend it highly enough. Buy it. Borrow it. Just get your hands on a copy and read it.
Below are some excerpts from Lehrer’s article:
“The physicist Niels Bohr once defined an expert as ‘a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.’ Bohr’s quip summarizes one of the essential lessons of learning, which is that people learn how to get it right by getting it wrong again and again. Education isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t magic. Education is the wisdom wrung from failure.”
“A new study, forthcoming in Psychological Science, and led by Jason Moser at Michigan State University, expands on this important concept. The question at the heart of the paper is simple: Why are some people so much more effective at learning from their mistakes? After all, everybody screws up. The important part is what happens next. Do we ignore the mistake, brushing it aside for the sake of our self-confidence? Or do we investigate the error, seeking to learn from the snafu?”
“The Moser experiment is premised on the fact that there are two distinct reactions to mistakes, both of which can be reliably detected using electroenchephalography, or EEG. The first reaction is called error-related negativity (ERN). It appears about 50 milliseconds after a screw-up and is believed to originate in the anterior cingulate cortex, a chunk of tissue that helps monitor behavior, anticipate rewards and regulate attention. This neural reaction is mostly involuntary, the inevitable response to any screw-up.”
“The second signal, which is known as error positivity (Pe), arrives anywhere between 100-500 milliseconds after the mistake and is associated with awareness. It occurs when we pay attention to the error, dwelling on the disappointing result. In recent years, numerous studies have shown that subjects learn more effectively when their brains demonstrate two properties: 1) a larger ERN signal, suggesting a bigger initial response to the mistake and 2) a more consistent Pe signal, which means that they are probably paying attention to the error, and thus trying to learn from it.”
“In this new paper, Moser et al. extends this research by looking at how beliefs about learning shape these mostly involuntary error-related signals in the brain, both of which appear in less than half a second. More specifically, the scientists applied a dichotomy first proposed by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford. In her influential research, Dweck distinguishes between people with a fixed mindset: they tend to agree with statements such as – “You have a certain amount of intelligence and cannot do much to change it” – and those with a growth mindset, who believe that we can get better at almost anything, provided we invest the necessary time and energy. While people with a fixed mindset see mistakes as a dismal failure – a sign that we aren’t talented enough for the task in question – those with a growth mindset see mistakes as an essential precursor of knowledge, the engine of education.”
“The problem with praising kids for their innate intelligence the “smart” compliment is that it misrepresents the psychological reality of education. It encourages kids to avoid the most useful kind of learning activities, which is when we learn from our mistakes. Because unless we experience the unpleasant symptoms of being wrong that surge of Pe activity a few hundred milliseconds after the error, directing our attention to the very thing we like to ignore the mind will never revise its models. We’ll keep on making the same mistakes, forsaking self-improvement for the sake of self-confidence. Samuel Beckett had the right attitude: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’”
Taylor Branch in The Atlantic has an in-depth look a the business of college athletics, The Shame of College Sports, looking at who benefits, and who suffers. He does a great job of highlighting the hypocrisy behind the business of the NCAA and the sham of “amateurism.”
“I’m not hiding,” Sonny Vaccaro told a closed hearing at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 2001. “We want to put our materials on the bodies of your athletes, and the best way to do that is buy your school. Or buy your coach.”
Vaccaro’s audience, the members of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, bristled. These were eminent reformers – among them the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, two former heads of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and several university presidents and chancellors. The Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that takes an interest in college athletics as part of its concern with civic life, had tasked them with saving college sports from runaway commercialism as embodied by the likes of Vaccaro, who, since signing his pioneering shoe contract with Michael Jordan in 1984, had built sponsorship empires successively at Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. Not all the members could hide their scorn for the “sneaker pimp” of schoolyard hustle, who boasted of writing checks for millions to everybody in higher education.
“Why,” asked Bryce Jordan, the president emeritus of Penn State, “should a university be an advertising medium for your industry?”
Vaccaro did not blink. “They shouldn’t, sir,” he replied. “You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them. You can be very moral and righteous in asking me that question, sir,” Vaccaro added with irrepressible good cheer, “but there’s not one of you in this room that’s going to turn down any of our money. You’re going to take it. I can only offer it.”
William Friday, a former president of North Carolina’s university system, still winces at the memory. “Boy, the silence that fell in that room,” he recalled recently. “I never will forget it” Friday, who founded and co-chaired two of the three Knight Foundation sports initiatives over the past 20 years, called Vaccaro “the worst of all” the witnesses ever to come before the panel.
But what Vaccaro said in 2001 was true then, and it’s true now: corporations offer money so they can profit from the glory of college athletes, and the universities grab it.
Read it all.