Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group, LLC Blog

Understanding Research Basics = Great Coaching Practice

Posted by Guest Blogger on Tue, May 18, 2010 @ 09:05 AM

It is very rare that one can get sound training in any of the sport sciences without having to take at least one research methods class.  Perhaps it is human nature or some sort of cultural creation, but too often such a class is seen as a requirement to pass rather than a true asset to someone that will work in the “real world” of sports.  Unwittingly, this limits the sport-scientist/coach from truly reaching excellence.  It leads to a poor consumer of science and one that is poor in execution of focused player development plans.  With this in mind, there are 5 basic research ideas that I have found important to quality sport science practice:

1.  Research is not about proving yourself right.  

Too often young researchers decided that study findings that contradict a study’s hypothesis are a bad thing.  This is absolutely wrong.  If the study was well designed and well thought out, these findings are valuable.  Open mindedness and healthy skepticism is required when looking at all data.  There are risks to viewing one’s self as “right” too quickly (i.e. imagine implementing a training plan that seems to make sense, but in reality only leads to injured athletes).  Similarly, there are risks to dismissing findings that are not in support of a hypothesis without sufficient thought (i.e. the nuances to the solutions to many of life’s complex questions can lie in the contradictions).

Understanding these concepts extends beyond naïve graduate students, but to the public as a whole.  It was surprising to stumble upon the following quote from Bill James, the Red Sox’s famed sabermatrician, “Random data proves nothing and that it cannot be used as proof of nothingness.  Why?  Because whenever you do a study, if your study completely fails you will get random data.  Therefore, when you get random data, all you may conclude is that your study failed.”  He is getting at something with this quote, but the willingness to suggest a failed study because of unclear data is shortsighted.

Research is about keeping an open mind and gaining information through well regulated examination.

2.  Manipulate only one variable at a time if you want precise understanding of the impacts of coaching interventions.  

Coaching approaches and philosophies can change quickly.  There is nothing wrong with this, however if performances dramatically decrease or increase it will be tough to determine what the cause of these costs or benefits were.  Single-subject research design tells that during research only add a single new variable at a time and then watch things for a while.  If the outcome being examined changes in any significant manner, you can say it was most likely due to the variable that you recently added.  Differently if you add two or more variables at a time you are left confused as to what actually led to change in behavior.

This concept can be clearly seen in the coaching of Michael Boyle.  While he might have a bit of a “shock and awe” style to his writing and presentations, his coaching is quite disciplined.  It is always impressive to hear him in his talks about refining the strength and conditioning programs of athletes and how he religiously adheres to the “manipulate one variable at a time” principle.  A sports medicine colleague commented to me the other day, “Heck, if Mike added bananas into an athlete’s diet, he wouldn’t mess with anything else for a few weeks until he determined if the banana eating had any significant impact.”  The question for those working in athletics is, “Can you stay this disciplined when refining your player development programs?”

3.  Establish your “baseline” before you change the game plan. 

This concept is closely related to #2.  Human beings (at least Westerners) tend to be an impatient population.  When something does not appear to be going right we push for changing something… anything.  Back to considering single subject research, prior to initiating any interventions have a substantial baseline period.  Highs and lows of behavior may just be artifact early on rather than the “truth.”  Giving actions and performances a fair test of time truly allows someone to see “what is what.”
A good example of this is the baseball player calculating his batting average after the first two games of the season.  It is likely that the average is quite high or quite low at this time – and likely a false measure of the player’s goodness.  After 20 games or so, it would appear that things begin to come into focus.  The batter that begins to make swing changes and panics after the second game certainly lacks 20/20 vision for his current status as a batter.  It takes a bit of time to establish a baseline, but it’s worth it because it creates a true foundation off of which one can be coached and learn.

4.  Appreciate the normal curve.  

“Outliers” has become a hot term with the publication of Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book.  This being said, focusing on them can sometimes get us into a bit of trouble.  Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I learned early on in my career was from Bob Dallis, currently the Dartmouth College women’s tennis coach.  After I concluded a workshop that went o.k. but seemed to miss a few of the players, Bob pulled me aside and said, “Think about the normal curve when considering how and if you reached a team.”  What he meant by this was that there are likely to be outliers.  A small section of every group will love what you say regardless of what you say.  Conversely there is likely to be a small section of the group that will not appreciate your efforts regardless of how good they are.  The job of a good educator is to make sure to get the middle to attend, learn, and embrace the ideas being shared.  Trying too hard to sway the negative outliers leads to a failure to attend sufficiently to others.  Also, basking in the glow of the positive outliers only build the teacher’s ego and does little for the students.  In a lot of ways, you can measure the quality of your work by the growth of the “normal” athletes in front of you.

5.  Embrace evidence-based practice.  

“Evidence-based” is a hot term these days… yet it is an old idea.  If one considers it closely, it simply means being an effective and ethical practitioner of your craft.  Part of such quality practice is having the stomach and patience to read primary research and quality reviews of up to date study in the sport sciences.  Appreciating recent publications in referred journals can help one refine his craft.  The common criticism of this concept is that such sources are too slow to publish about the current trends in sport science, knowledge moves too fast for them to keep up.  This is a cop out and at times can lead to reckless practice (not to mention a waste of an athlete’s valuable training time).

It is true that sometimes coaches and practitioners “in the trenches” are ahead of the scientists.  This does not mean one should abandon evidence-based practice.  In actuality, the wise practitioner realizes that this is an opportunity to create evidence by being thoughtful, focused, and organized in coaching practices.  Evidence-based is about both learning from quality practice that has preceded and objectively creating evidence off of which to make educated coaching decisions when relevant studies do not seem to exist.  This being said, I have found that too few people give a fair crack at the first step of quality practice:  taking a good look at the literature and understanding the nuances of everything read leads to great practices on and around the playing field.  If you want to be able to build great athletes lay a solid foundation by using scientific evidence.

Did you pay attention in your research methods class?  In many regards it was about making good professional decisions and making athletes great…

Dr. Adam Naylor, AASP-CC. is the Director of the Boston University Athletic Enhancement Center (  He has serves as a mental conditioning and player development resource for players at all stages of their sports career.  More reflections on player development and sport psychology can be found at and Dr. Naylor can be reached at and followed on Twitter @ahnaylor.

Topics: basketball performance, basketball resources, basketball training programs, sports phychology, womens basketball, performance testing, mental training, sports performance

Female Basketball Players Need to Get Strong

Posted by Guest Blogger on Mon, Mar 22, 2010 @ 21:03 PM

It’s simple, female basketball players need to get strong!

It’s not uncommon to hear the following from players after a long competitive season, “Coach, what can I do to...”

1.    Jump higher?
2.    Improve my jump shot?
3.    Play better defense? (defensive stance)
4.    Run faster?
5.    Move quicker?
6.    Etc., Etc., Etc.

My response is usually, “Get stronger!”

Likewise, coaches often approach me stating, “We need to..?

1.    Get more athletic!
2.    Play better defense! (defensive stance)
3.    Run faster!
4.    Move quicker!
5.    Get in better condition!
6.    Etc., Etc., Etc.

My response is usually, “Coach, let’s continue to get stronger!”

Let’s be honest, today’s athletes are consistently looking for a quick fix.  Most want to get better at playing their sport but very few are willing to do the things that can really improve their game. When a player asks me what they can do to improve their athleticism, I simply tell them to get stronger. Of course, a well-designed training program is going to include soft tissue work, mobility work, core work, speed work, plyometrics, explosive training, corrective exercises, and other forms of training to enhance athleticism. However, for the purpose of this article, I want to talk about the importance of building pure strength.

I work with the women’s basketball team at the University of Wisconsin and every off-season my goal is to get our team stronger than the previous year. Why? Because if there is one physical attribute that a female basketball player needs more than any other it’s strength. On the other hand, I am still amazed that some basketball coaches continue to underestimate the importance of strength. 

I was talking with a strength coach who was frustrated at his head coach because she wants her players to run during the post-season.  The reason; “We need to get in better condition”.  I do not profess to have all the answers but why do players need to be in “basketball” shape in April, May or June for that matter?  Official basketball practice does not start until mid-October.  I’ll be honest; I am not a fan of players running or conditioning in the post-season. I believe the post-season is a time to heal from the long competitive season and for preparing your athletes for off-season training. The last thing basketball players need in the off-season is pre-season style conditioning.  However, basketball players do need lots of strength work and this especially holds true for female athletes. 

The myths surrounding females and strength training are quite disturbing and in some cases have negatively impacted our ability to train women despite the tremendous amount of research on the topic. These myths include:

1.    Women can’t get strong
2.    Strength training will make women look bulky and masculine
3.    Women should avoid high-intensity training or high-load training
4.    Women should train differently than men
5.    Women only need to do cardio and if they decide to lift weights, they should be very light.

As strength and conditioning professionals, it is imperative that we educate our coaches and athletes on the benefits of strength training, particularly when dealing with female athletes. This is extremely important when we are introduced to new recruits (freshmen) with limited strength training experiences.
Some people will argue what exactly is strength? Is a female capable of performing a 20-rep squat at 60 percent of their one-rep max a form of strength? Or is a female capable of squatting 1.5 times her bodyweight a form of strength?  I would say both scenarios are examples of strength (strength endurance versus maximal strength). 

However, the basis of this article is to discuss maximal strength development of which female athletes don’t do enough of. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of movement and function and I don’t see the world through the hole of a 45-pound plate (a great article posted previously on this blog). However, it’s okay to challenge and encourage your female players to lift heavier weights during a training session to develop the strength needed to effectively compete in their sport. 

As quoted by Lou Schuler in his book entitled The New Rules of Lifting for Women, “results come from hard work and hard work occasionally includes lifting heavier weights.” Basically, it’s alright for females (if capable and taught proficiently) to squat heavy, deadlift heavy, perform chin-ups/pull-ups, perform sled work, perform kettlebell work and the list goes on!

So what are the benefits for getting strong? (I am sure this comes to no surprise for those reading this article.) First and foremost, we all know that female athletes are more prone to sport-related injuries when compared to male athletes. Therefore, the stronger females can become, the less likely they will get injured. Second, strength is the foundation for improving movement efficiency, central nervous system efficiency, balance, coordination, stability, power, speed, elasticity, acceleration, deceleration, quickness, reaction, and conditioning.

Basically, strength is one of the catalysts for enhancing athleticism. Athleticism is the catalyst for providing a solid foundation for developing a skill. Therefore, if you want to improve your ability to post up a defender – get strong; if you want to improve your rebounding capabilities - get strong; if you want to improve your ability to play man-to-man defense – get strong; if you want to improve your ability to absorb contact when driving to the basket – get strong; if you want to set hard screens or get through screens – get strong, if you want to improve your jump shot - get strong! I think you get the point!

Third, all basketball players need to play at an optimal weight/body composition regardless of position.  Researchers found that unlike men, women typically don't gain size from strength training, because compared to men; women have 10 to 30 times less of the hormones that cause muscle hypertrophy. So, lifting heavier weights will develop functional strength without the expense of adding unwanted size. 

I believe there is also a psychological benefit for females when developing strength. When a female athlete becomes stronger, they become more confident and their self-esteem soars through the roof.  Confidence translates into toughness. Toughness is an attribute that is needed to win games. Why, because you need toughness to play defense, to dive on the floor for loose balls, to make free throws, to run your offensive sets, to erase a ten point deficit or to maintain a 10-point lead.

Within a team environment, getting stronger can foster team unity and enhance team toughness simply by having players push themselves (and each other) in the weight room. Make no mistake, female athletes want to be challenged and in most cases; in the same manner as a male athlete. They want to train in an intense and competitive environment and some relish the experience. 

Lastly, studies have shown that strength training (strength work) reduced depression symptoms and anxiety levels more successfully than standard counseling sessions. Newly released studies show that after a strength training session, endorphin levels (feel good hormones) are increased by more than 60 percent leaving you feeling rejuvenated and even euphoric, keeping your mind trouble-free.

Mentally, players have to prepare for a long season which can be quite stressful. Players are under extreme stress because of classes, study sessions, and practices. Games are normally played on Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and during winter break sessions. Social activities with friends and family are at a minimal. If you ever been to Madison, Wisconsin the cold weather and snow can sometimes make life miserable. Let’s not forget, losing streaks are stressful as well. Stress can make or break a season!  Weight training can be quite therapeutic.

So remember, if you want your female players to be athletic, lean, competitive, self-confident, tough and stress free; lift some heavy stuff once in awhile!


Blog article written by: Ray Eady, M.Ed, CSCS, PES, Strength and Conditioning Coach - Women’s Basketball at University of Wisconsin


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Topics: basketball conference, athletic training conference, boston hockey summit, boston hockey conference, womens basketball, female basketball, female strength training, off season training