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HMMR Podcast Episode 173: The limiting factor (with Jérome Simian)

Coaches often focus on what they can add to an athlete, but elite performance is often about removing barriers. If you can remove a limiting factor, you might unlock a new level of performance. This is the approach Jérome Simian used as strength and conditioning coach for the new decathlon world record holder Kevin Mayer. On this week’s podcast, Simian explains his approach to analyzing athletes, creating a plan, and improving performance. Read more

Ashton Eaton, the shot put, and individualization

Ashton Eaton may be the world record holder in the decathlon, but when you watched him throw shot put that was not the image that came to mind. To start with the implement always looked a size too big for him. He also adopted an unorthodox technique in which he started with his other foot and then shuffled across the ring in his tennis shoes. Watch him take a few throws and you are reminded more of a masters thrower at a neighborhood track meet than the world’s best athlete. Read more

GAINcast Episode 47: The Art of Coaching (with Harry Marra)

Recently Ashton Eaton announced his retirement. During his career he took the decathlon to new levels and it was coach Harry Marra who helped guide him there. In order to break down 10 complex events, Marra has become a master of communication and the art of coaching. On this week’s episode he joins us to discuss the art of coaching, the decathlon, and more. Read more

HMMR Podcast Episode 84: Going Out On Top

A rush of athletes announce their retirement after every Olympics. For many, the reason to go is because they want to go out on top. Is that the right reason? On this week’s episode Nick and I discuss retirement and also look back on Ashton Eaton’s career. Read more

Get Rid of the Decathlon? If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Break It

Four years ago I left my hotel room to head for the London Olympic stadium. We got an early start to navigate the public transportation, security queues, and ticket lines. We still got to our seats an hour before the competition started, but I felt like we were late as the stadium was already packed. It was immediately clear they were not there to see the men’s hammer throw qualification like I was. Neither were they there to watch the steeplechase qualifying round. They were there to see one person: Jessica Ennis. The people in front of us brought their five-year-old daughter to witness the spectacle and her scream nearly blew out my eardrums once Ennis started the competition with a national record in the hurdles. The event’s power to draw in fans was on full display in London. The multi-events are a two-day test to crown the world’s greatest athletes and fans stand in awe of the diverse skill-set the top athletes possess. Therefore it was a bit odd when I learned that a new proposal from European Athletics would get rid of the heptathlon and decathlon forever in favor of newer formats. Read more

Lessons Learned from Beijing: Less Is More

Ashton Eaton’s tremendous world record performance in the Decathlon just underscores how important that less is more. Less is more is almost a mantra for he and his coach Harry Marra. They live it every day! Seldom are any of their workouts over one hour. The workouts are on point and focused, no fluff, no nice to do fillers that make you tired and add undue training stress. It reminds me of one of my simple training rules – No one workout can make an athlete but one workout that is too much too soon can spell disaster and ruin an athlete. Focus on the process rep-by-rep, set-by-set, run-by-run, throw-by-throw and jump-by-jump. Recognize it takes time and that training accumulates from session to session, day to day, week to week, month to month and year to year.  The temptation is to do more, but the risk is not worth the return. One less throw or jump that is quality is preferable to one more that is sloppy. Read more

The Quiet Coach

Good coaching is not about yelling and inspiring as much as it is about teaching. Take John Wooden as an example. Photo by AP.

Good coaching is more about teaching than it is about fiery speeches. Take John Wooden as an example. Photo by AP.

Tennis was one of the first sports I played and it remains one of my favorites to watch on television. A unique aspect of tennis is that while coaches are involved intimately in training, often on a one-on-one basis, they have no role at the match. With the exception of some recent rule changes in women’s tennis, it is frowned upon to even look at the coach’s box during a match and communication is forbidden. Watching the ebbs and flows of a five-set grand slam final as athletes must cope alone with the momentum changes and building pressure produces some of the best drama in sports. The tennis coaches may not get much recognition but they are some of the best coaches in the world since they prepare their athletes to do this battle alone.

Talking with coach Harry Marra last week has gotten me to think more about coaching theory. Many of the topics Marra talked about concerned how to improve communication between athlete and coach. Coaches must know their sport, and the great coaches are those that can best convey it to their athletes. The great coaches will have athletes that are not just physical specimens, but also students and active learners. During a competition they are not on their heels waiting for a sideline instruction from their coach; they are proactively deciding their next move because their coach equipped them to learn for themselves.
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Training Talk With Harry Marra (Part 2)

eaton_full

Last week I began a discussion with Harry Marra, the coach of world decathlon record holder Ashton Eaton. In part one, we discussed the art of coaching. Marra wrote a detailed essay on the topic last year and was able to share his thoughts on how to improve the core of the coaching relationship: the communication between athlete and coach. In part two, we discuss the difficulties of training for a complex event like the decathlon. Incorporating technical advice in ten events, as well as finding a place for important concepts like specificity of training and transference can be quite difficult. Through the utmost focus and the careful selection of planning of exercises (especially the versatile use of medicine balls), Marra has been able to find that balance in the training of Eaton and his fiance Brianne Theisen.

If you want to hear more on these topics, I am partnering with the United School of Sports to bring coach Marra to Zurich for an evening of talking about coaching and training. The event will take place on Tuesday, May 28th.


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Training Talk With Harry Marra (Part 1)

Harry Marra MugDespite serving as the US national decathlon team coach for a decade and coaching six men over 8,000 points, Harry Marra was a relatively unknown outside of the insulated world of multi-events when he was hired by the University of Oregon before the 2010 season. He was hired with one purpose: to guide a talented 21-year-old decathlete named Ashton Eaton. Ashton had already qualified for the national team at the 2009 World Championships, but he needed continued development in several events in order to compete with the world’s best.

In three seasons working with Marra, Eaton set the NCAA record, won the Bowerman award, improved the world indoor heptathlon record three times, broke the world decathlon record, and claimed Olympic gold in London. And his fiance, Canadian Brianne Theisen, has also improved tremendously under Marra placing eleventh in the Olympics and moving up to second all-time in Canada. After being named the USATF national coach of the year in 2012, few people will overlook coach Marra again. Eaton and Thiesen have only competed in individual events so far in 2013, but they have done well. Eaton has posted new bests in the shot put, javelin, 200 meters, and 400 meters. Thiesen in shot put and 200m. Both will compete in their first multi-event of the year at the famous Götzis Hypomeeting in Austria next month.

I am proud to be partnering with the United School of Sports to bring coach Marra to Zurich for an evening of talking about coaching and training. The event will take place on Tuesday, May 28th. Coach Marra also took the time to sit down and begin talking about these topics. In part one below we begin by talking about the art of coaching and finding the right way to communicate with an athlete, something I have talked about both last year and this year. Part two, which will be posted later in the week, will dive into a little of the complexities of training for technique and specificity in a sport with ten different events.


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