by Derek Hansen
Article originally appeared on:Runningmechanics.com
I had the fortune and pleasure of working closely with and learning from Charlie Francis for a period of approximately ten years prior to his passing. As a young track athlete in the 1970s and 1980s in Canada, I was guided by many of the ideas taught by Gerard Mach and his protégé coaches such as Charlie. In fact, one of my youth coaches kept in close contact with one of Charlie’s athletes during the 1980’s and relayed training concepts to us on a weekly basis. In many ways, I was experiencing an early education in Charlie’s approach to training that has stayed with me until this day. Not a day goes by when I am not reminded by some of the training principles Charlie passed on and how it impacts how I teach my athletes, my assistant coaches, interns and even my own children.
As Al Vermeil has always stated, Charlie Francis’ brilliance was in his simplicity of application for effective results. “Simple application, complex explanation,” Al would always tell me. If coaches need to resort to long lectures and explanations for “why” they are doing “what” they are doing, there is something wrong. The eight points below demonstrate Charlie’s assertion that none of this is “Rocket Science” – if anything it is pure common sense.
1. Cast a Wide Net
Charlie was adamant that when identifying future talent it is always best to have the largest pool of athletes from which to select. He discussed his own experiences in track and field and how he was given a large group of young athletes to coach. “I started with 30 kids. How was I to know which ones would be Olympians and World Record Holders?” He never made himself out to be an expert in talent identification. However, he understood that while early identification of talent was something that everyone wanted to do, some of the real superstars would develop later on and it was his job to keep them around long enough so that they could mature into top performers.
The problem with many current development models that incorporate early specialization is that they can be exclusionary, separating the high level groups from the others. Charlie realized that while success can breed success, it could also breed contempt, apathy and a false sense of entitlement and security – which could lead to problems in the long run. When I had the opportunity to work with Charlie, I remember one occasion where he had a pretty mixed bag of athletes: one world record holder, one Olympic gold medalist, one master’s athlete and a few national class athletes. Part way through the workout, a middle-aged Ben Johnson showed up and did a few explosive starts out of the blocks like he had stepped out of a time machine, not missing a beat. That was quite a day and quite the training group. Yet everyone still received the individual time they needed and the mood of the training group was extremely positive.
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Derek M. Hansen is a sports performance consultant based out of Vancouver, B.C., Canada. He currently works as the Director of Athletic Performance at Simon Fraser University. He has worked extensively with coaches and athletes from all levels of high performance including the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, CFL and the NCAA. His involvement with Olympic athletes, coaches and teams includes sports such as Track and Field, Speed Skating, Softball, Bobsleigh and Field Hockey, with many of these athletes having won Olympic medals and achieved world record performances.
Derek’s specific areas of expertise include speed development, electrical muscle stimulation for performance, tapering and recovery, and hamstring rehabilitation. Two significant influences in the development of his approach have been Charlie Francis and Al Vermeil. Derek worked closely with Coach Francis from 2001 to 2010, providing coaching to elite athletes and developing Charlie’s educational materials for on-line presentation and seminar delivery. Coach Vermeil has also been a steady source of mentorship to Derek from 2002 to the present day, providing insight into all areas of athlete performance.
When not coaching, Derek is a course conductor with the Canadian National Coaching Certification Program in the areas of Physical Preparation, Recovery & Regeneration and Sport Biomechanics. He has developed a broad series of electrical muscle stimulation protocols for Globus Sport and Health Technologies, known as the SpeedCoach, that integrates EMS programming with conventional training to enhance speed performance. Derek also runs a highly successful Strength and Conditioning apprenticeship program that places young coaches in jobs all over the world.