Thursday, October 30, 2008

Become A “Runner”

I recently wrote about how easy it is to gear up for a running program.

Nancy Howard’s article on supported many of the comments I made.

It’s easy to run, but it’s important not to bite off more than you can chew. Nancy also mentions the possibility of participating in a 5K event. If you’ve been disciplined about starting a running routine, preparing yourself to do a 5K event is not out of the question.

Consider training for that first 5K event today!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Speed. Speed. Speed!

Everyone wants to get faster. But you can't teach speed!

As you reach an older age, it gets tougher to increase your speed. However, there are ways to overcome this burden. Consider the following options –

Incorporate intervals into your training. Regularly running intervals at accelerated paces will definitely make you faster. If you’re training for a specific event, look for intermediate and advanced race plans that incorporate the use of intervals at varying distances and speeds.

Tempo runs and fartleks. Build these runs into your training. It’s easy to determine a period of time where you can make the early and later part o f the run easier, but harder during the middle with the tempo run. Fartleks help you make parts of the run faster and faster – simply speed up your pace for a predetermined amount of time at varying points of your run.

Use a treadmill. Running outside can’t duplicate the treadmill. But use the treadmill to “keep you honest” on intervals and tempo runs when appropriate. Here’s an article I found from Christine Luft that offers helpful tips for running on a treadmill --

Run with someone who is fast. Consider training with someone who will “push” you faster. I recently did some training runs and an ensuing race with some of my health club friends who I knew would help push me. The result was a personal best in a half marathon event!

Hopefully, these quick tips will get you pointed in the right direction on getting faster!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Are Your Practices Organized And Productive? (Part III)

Why do a “word of the day”? Why have a “cheer drill”?

I’m sure these were questions you may have had after reading my last entry about organizing practices. Let me explain the “method to the madness.”

For starters, I highly recommend spending some time on Coach Hugh Wyatt’s website -- Wyatt is a football coach who is an expert on the “double wing offense”. We have run this offense primarily on my 12-year-old’s football team for the past five years, so the coaches have become disciples of his philosophy. Perhaps more valuable than his expertise on the double wing, is the insight Wyatt provides toward conducting productive practices and successfully motivating youth players.

This website is a little cumbersome, but there’s some valuable information here and we’ve found some of his videos and publications to be useful. He is also VERY prompt in answering any questions you want to e-mail to him as long as you identify yourself (that’s his big rule!).

The “word of the day” provides some direction for the theme of the practice. We’ve found words like “focus”, “commitment”, “drive”, “hustle” and others to be general starting points. The beauty of this little exercise is that it is only limited by your own (and your assistant coaches’) creativity. Use this tool to set a tone and direction for the practice. You’ll be amazed when you start to hear the players actually referring back to the word during the course of practice!

If you’ve read my blog in the past, you know I firmly believe in the importance of warm up preparation at practice. No one can dispute the value of warming up as a means of conditioning and injury prevention.

The “cheer drill” helps build camaraderie among team members by forcing players to cite something positive about another player at the conclusion of the practice. As the players get to know one another better, you’ll find they are more eager to make positive use of this exercise.

I also like to use tools to recognize individual effort in the practices that follow games. There are a variety of ways to achieve this through “game balls,” “shirts” or simple verbal recognition. “Mr. Hustle”, “The Big Stick”, “Bonecrusher” and “Web Gem” are examples of creative ways to recognize individual effort. You will be amazed at how players will compete for this type of recognition.

Hopefully, I’ve provided some helpful direction in these last few entries toward running successful practices.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Are Your Practices Organized And Productive? (Part II)

Don’t you love the e-mails you receive from parents?

Perhaps a recent communication went a little something like this – “Coach, really appreciate the time and energy you put into the team. But I was wondering what the point was to that last drill you did yesterday at practice? It seemed a little disorganized. Maybe giving the kids more explanation as to the goal of the drill would help. Just thought I’d throw that out. Thanks again for all you do!”

And your knee-jerk response went something like “Well, you can certainly volunteer and carry a clipboard while I step out the way.”

As much as this communication can be annoying because you’re the guy who stepped up to be the coach, parents have a point in their expectation for a productive practice.

When we left off the discussion of the importance of organizing your practices for productivity, I said I would provide an example. It’s really not hard to do. If you’ve identified the areas of focus for the practice with your assistants, your job is almost done!

I type each practice schedule out and distribute it by e-mail to the other coaches on the day of practice. Here’s an example of a schedule I used recently for a 10-year-old baseball practice –

Practice Schedule – Athletics 10U – May 15, 2008

5:30 – 5:35 Opening comments/questions – word of the day - “DEDICATION”
Working on mostly fielding and baserunning again today.

5:35 – 5:45 Run field

5:45 -- 6:20 Fielding/Baserunning/Pitching Full group
Coaches Roche/Irlmeier go through situations verbally on fielding. Line up everyone in positions, talk through situations, then go live with fielding. Add base runners after 10 minutes. As we add baserunners, we can talk about signs and “holding” runners. Stress sliding – practice you’re “down” and you’re “up” commands.

Coach Hrd works with pitchers – Mason, Colin, Noah, Alec, Danny, Will and Michael.

6:20 – 6:45 Fly ball drill – two lines where one calls, the other backs up.
End with a game of “500” for fun.

6:45 – 6:55 Pick off moves

Parting comments -- Next practice – batting practice at Holiday Park Saturday before game – one hour before start time.
Word of the day – “DEDICATION”
Cheer drill (everyone says something positive about someone else)
Break Group

Everyone is then committed to knowing the direction of the practice, hopefully making productive use of your time as well that of the players, parents and other coaches. I ran across an article written by Coach Randy Brown that supported this philosophy along with some other great ideas for conducting practices --

Next time, I’ll provide some rational behind each of the regular activities I include in a practice.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Are Your Practices Organized And Productive? (Part I)

There is nothing more frustrating than finishing up a practice where you feel you’ve accomplished little or next to nothing with your players.

Okay, okay. I get it. I remember that in most cases, if you’re reading this blog, you’re getting paid as much as I have for volunteering to coach – zero, zip, nada! That doesn’t mean you won’t be frustrated about having a less than productive practice. Furthermore, despite the fact that you’re volunteering your valuable time, most players and parents are expecting you to conduct a practice that is at the least “organized”.

A wise football coach with whom I have had the pleasure of serving, Tait Hines, taught me the value of scheduling out each and every activity of a practice. While that exercise may sound daunting, it’s actually very easy – and rewarding!

In preparing for practice, first hold a brief conversation among the coaches following each game and each practice to identify areas that require attention. Further discuss with your coaches activities and drills that will be conducted to address the identified areas of priority. A five-minute conversation should easily help you come up with the major components of your next practice. Add in your warm-ups, the time allotted for each activity, some time for “team talk” and there’s your practice.

In my next couple of entries, I’ll provide a sample practice schedule and review the methodology behind each practice activity.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tapering Important To Success In Race Events

One of the early mistakes I made when I first started running in competitive races was neglecting the value of the “taper”.

Before running my first half marathon, I ran the longest run of my training cycle about 10 days prior to the event. While I finished just fine, a veteran runner quickly alerted me to the need to “taper” prior to running this type of event.

Tapering is taking time at the end of the training cycle to lessen the intensity of workouts in order to give your muscles the ability recover and achieve maximum performance on the anticipated race day event. There are varying theories on how long a tapering period should be, but the period of time generally increases with the distance of the event involved.

If you do your homework and consult training programs for a specific event authored by a recognized expert, you will generally find appropriate tapering built into the program.

This entry from Matt Fitzgerald’s blog definitively explains the value of tapering -- in your training activities.

Monday, October 20, 2008

How To Buy A New Pair Of Running Shoes

Well, just how exciting can it be to buy a new pair of shoes?

Call me one of the weirdos who loves to purchase new running shoes. I’m like Imelda Marcos when it comes to buying new running shoes. I LOVE to buy them!

All kidding aside, a good pair of running shoes is one of the most important keys to taking up a successful, injury-free running program. One estimate says each of your feet may hit the ground 800 times during the course of running a mile That’s a lot of pounding, making the process of buying running shoes more critical.

First, you need to identify whether or not you suffer from overpronation. Check out this information on Wikipedia and you can test yourself to find out -- When you visit the store, you will want to be prepared to inform the associate as to whether or not you suffer from overpronation or any other conditions that might affect your shoe purchase.

Where do you go? I prefer the local fitness store that features knowledgeable, helpful staff. Nothing against the “big box” stores, but the local stores tend to have more experienced staff and are more “in-tune” to the local running community. In the Des Moines area, without exception, this store is Fitness Sports -- The staff at Fitness Sports will take the time to show and fit a wide variety of shoes until you are satisfied.

Taking time choose a new pair running shoes wisely will pay off in the long run. Be prepared to spend $100 or more on a quality pair of shoes. If you’d like to be more educated about shoes currently available before you visit the store, check out Runner’s World’s product reviews by clicking the “shoes and gear” link at There’s more information about purchasing the right pair of shoes for you, including a “shoe finder” tool.

Finally, literally by coincidence, Christine Luff just posted an entry about the purchase of running shoes on her blog. It has some very helpful information about this issue, particularly addressing the question of how to purchase the best shoes for certain conditions runners may have. Check it out --
Now go forth and buy new pair of shoes!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

End Of An Era As West Des Moines Packers Finish With Win

What memories I will now have as I assisted in coaching my son Jay’s last youth league football game!

A bit bittersweet, yet extremely satisfying was our win over the Ames Bears 20-0. Jay scored his last touchdown and an extra point. Hopefully, next year Jay will go on to success playing in his junior high school football program.

It’s extremely gratifying to have had the opportunity to be at “ground level” watching your oldest child move through development in youth football. Perhaps even more satisfying is knowing you’ve played a role in the growth of several other young men as well. I have great anticipation for the academic and athletic success of the players we’ve coached on our West Des Moines Packers’ team.

I’m sure I’ll find another endeavor to fill the void of time left without three weekly practices along with games next fall, but I know I will miss the experience.

I certainly encourage others to volunteer for this experience. You won't be sorry you did!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Take Advantage Of Programs At Big Race Events

Imagine having the opportunity to give a big presentation or speech as part of your city’s big marathon expo. What an honor! But come time for the big gig, only four people show up.

I felt terribly bad for a recent presenter at the Des Moines Marathon’s expo where this happened. I won’t mention the name of the presenter, but from personal experience, I know this person is extremely knowledgeable and had tremendous insight to share.

We runners sometimes overlook the valuable opportunities big race event expos provide. We get so caught up in training and “race day” itself, we forget about the educational opportunities available through local and national experts scheduled to make presentations at these events.

Using the Des Moines Marathon as an example, race director Chris Burch has done an outstanding job of bringing provocative content to this race expo. To Burch’s credit, the Des Moines Marathon was essentially defunct when he took over the reigns a few years back. This year, the marathon expo featured programs with Marianne McGinnis, Prevention magazine's west coast editor; Jon Dunham, director of the popular film “Spirit of the Marathon” and some great local speakers

I know I need to do a better job of taking advantage of these opportunities myself, but I thought this reminder would serve as inspiration to others as well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Here’s How To Volunteer To Help Your Child’s Athletic Endeavors

If you’re looking for ways to help improve your child’s athletic organization, trust me when I say plenty of opportunities exist.

Most youth sports leagues are struggling to identify enough help to meet the needs of the children enrolled in the programs. I know the baseball, football and basketball leagues in which my sons are involved are consistently looking for “fresh blood”. Here’s are some tips about how to get involved.

Just volunteer to coach! Coaching doesn’t require a deep knowledge of the sport for which you are volunteering. If you’re organized and you’re equipped to communicate effectively with children and their parents, you are pretty well-qualified. All leagues are generally in need of head coaches and assistant coaches.

If you’re uncomfortable coaching alone or you don’t feel you have enough knowledge of the sport, identify the parent of a friend of one of your children to work with you. Chances are these types of parents may have older children for whom they have coached in the past. I learned a great deal from a parent of one of my son’s friends during my first two years of baseball coaching. He had an older son he had coached in years past and was a tremendous mentor to me.

So, if coaching doesn’t appeal to you, contact the head coach of your child’s team and ask how you might be able to help in other ways. Every team of children enjoys treats after the game – why not volunteer to organize the other parents to bring treats following each practice and/or game? Ask the coach if he needs help preparing the field prior to a game. This is very common in baseball and in football, volunteers are always needed to “run the chains.” You could also ask the coach if he would like to have a video from the game. Coaches like to use video from games as a method of instruction. Or what about keeping stats? Coaches love parents who volunteer to keep stats as a means of measuring progress. There are countless ways to help your child’s team – just raise your hand and volunteer!

If your child’s league has a governing board, volunteer to serve on it. These leagues are always looking for help from volunteer board members; particularly in professional areas like accounting or law. Inquire with the president of the board as to how you can get involved.

Here are the website addresses for some of the more popular youth sports organizations in the West Des Moines area – the Holiday Park Baseball Club, West Des Moines Little Pro Youth Football League and West Des Moines Soccer Club –, and

By getting more involved in your child’s sports league, you’ll learn more about how the organization operates and be in a better position to help your child make the most of the experience!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Unhappy With Youth Sports? Volunteer To Help!

Tired of poor practices? Not happy with some of the policies of your child’s sports organization?

Trust me, complaining doesn’t remedy the situation much.

As one board member of our local baseball league challenged me recently, “Joe, put your money where your mouth is.” After expressing my dissatisfaction over some issues, he challenged me to join the board of the league. “You’ve been around awhile, Joe. You can help us improve things,” he said.

I hope he’s right because I attended my first board meeting of the Holiday Park Baseball Club last week. I’m excited about the prospect of contributing to this organization. There are certainly challenges, but nothing that can’t be overcome. I’d like to think some of my life experiences will help address a number of the issues the league faces.

Youth athletic organizations are so much in need of the time and expertise of parents. If you see it fit to express your dissatisfaction with the operations of a league, think about all of the volunteer time that goes into making things work. These leagues are in great need of volunteers at a variety of levels. Whether it’s coaches, team parents, board members; volunteer to step up and help out! The league will gladly accept your support and probably be more receptive to your input.

In my next entry, I’ll talk about some suggestions for volunteering.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Make Sure To Warm Your Players Up At The Beginning of Practice

In my last entry, I referenced the importance of stretching and warm up. This applies to young athletes you’re coaching in any sport.

While young children are not as prone to injury as us old folks, a good warm up not only reduces the chances for injury, but it helps put the players in the appropriate frame of mind for a safe and productive practice. This article from offers some guidelines on fitness activities for children --

Here is a routine to try in warming up your players prior to a practice –

Roll neck both directions
Stretch both arms across chest (holding the wrist)
Stretch both arms behind head (gently pushing down on elbow)
Touch toes
Heel-to-butt (hold the front of foot)
Knee to chest (hold shin to keep knee in position)
Three way stretch – touch right/left foot and ground

Then move to these exercises/agilities --

Push ups – 20
Sit ups – 25
Leg Lifts – 10

Each of the following can be done within a 10-yard stretch (remember, this is just warm-up!)
Easy Jog
High Knees
Butt kicks
Standing long jumps
Hops – right foot then left

These are all very easy stretches and exercises I’ve used with children from the ages of eight through 12 in a variety of athletic applications. All of the stretches go on the command, “Ready, begin.” The kids count to 10 then end with a clap. On the exercises, we establish even lines of three to five players to run through a 10-yard stretch. On the exercises, I use the command, “Ready, hit.”

After performing this routine a few times, you should be able to complete it in 15 to 20 minutes. At that point, your players should be properly warmed up and ready for a successful practice!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Stretching, Warmups Important To Beating Injuries

Nobody I know who regularly works out enjoys stretching or warming up.

But we’ve been talking about “beating” injury and this is one way to do it.

Stretching and warming up is a “necessary evil” in the world of fitness and training. Stretching prior to and after vigorous exercise is vital to injury prevention. Stretching helps prepare the muscles for vigorous activity and helps them recover from the stress caused by a workout.

We’re all more prone to injury as we get older. I’m a prime example, as I never sustained a serious injury until I hurt my shoulder lifting weights when I was 37 years old. My suspicion is that a lack of stretching prior that workout back in 2003 may have had something to do with that injury. Effects of that injury still linger, but a variety of stretching exercises I learned from a physical therapist have helped me beat them.

I sustained knee injuries at age 39 and 42. Again, stretching exercises I learned from a physical therapist have played a critical role in my recovery from these injuries. Every day when I wake up, whether I have a workout planned for the early morning or not, I do a 20-minute stretching routine.

If you’re looking for encouragement to support the importance of stretching and warming up, you need to look no further than the American College of Sports Medicine. A recent release published on its website highlights the importance of stretching and warm-up -- A recent article published in the Herald Extra in Utah highlights the importance of stretching, particularly for active seniors --

So, now that I’ve made you a believer about improving your stretching and warm-up habits, you’re wondering where to go to find the proper exercises. Typing in “stretching exercises” or “stretching and warming up” on a Google search will provide a number of results with proper resources toward proper stretching and warm-up exercises. YouTube is also a great resource for learning new exercises. The best part about YouTube is you can watch experts perform the exercises.

Check out Dave Scott, six-time world Ironman champion, and his video that outlines six key stretching exercises. When you go to this site, you’ll see several other video bits on additional stretching and warm-up routines.

Now, take time to do a better job of preparing your body for the fitness activities of your choosing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

So You're Injured . . . What Now?

If you’re injured from training activities – join the club. The injury scorpion at some point in their careers stings most athletes who have engaged in a steady dose of fitness activity.


Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation.

It’s important to REST following an injury. This is hard for active people, but take it from one who doesn’t like to rest, but has had his share of injuries. Listen to your body – if you’re experiencing abnormal, acute pain along with swelling; it’s probably time to rest. We’re talking most often about where we have joints and ligaments – the ankles, knees, wrists, etc.

Apply ice to reduce the swelling. Check out for advice on proper application of the RICE principles including how to ice and compress an injury.

Compress the injured area by wrapping it with an ACE bandage.

You can easily elevate your injury with a stack of pillows.

If an injury involves swelling and pain for more than 48 hours, it’s probably time to consult with your family physician. Your family physician can provide the proper guidance as to whether or not you need to be seen by a specialist or perhaps be treated with physical therapy. Sometimes therapy provided through the guidance of a licensed physical therapist yields healing through stretching and the appropriate rehabilitative exercises. Fortunately, I was able recover from a recent knee injury with the assistance of a physical therapist.

The most critical key to recovering from an injury is to not let it get you down. If you have a particularly serious injury, consult with your physician and/or physical therapist about activities you may safely pursue which will keep you in shape and help take your mind off the injury while you’re in the process of recovery and rehabilitation.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Are You Injured . . . Or Not?

Many serious runners are preparing to depart for marathons as many of the major events occur throughout the next couple of months. Or maybe you’re preparing for your first 10K race when IT happens. You feel a pain in your ankle, your calf, your knee or hamstring.

It’s inevitable that as you become more serious about your fitness activities, the risk for injury increases. But many people will ask themselves, “Can I just work my way through it?”

Well, in some cases, that is perhaps true with some rest, ice, compression and elevation (We’ll discuss more about RICE in my next blog entry). However, if you’re feeling acute pain in a targeted area for 48 hours straight or more, it’s probably time to get it checked out with your physician.

I’ll discuss more strategies for dealing with injuries in my next entry. I’m also going to write about some strategies to use that will help reduce the risk of injury in future entries.

What I’d like to be the takeaway for this entry is the following – don’t let an injury overtake your focus on long-term goals. Certainly an injury preventing you from participating in a planned event is not a good situation. But don’t allow your focus on your short-term goals to overtake your attention to long-term goals by being careless about treatment for an injury. If you’re really hurt, you need to give the injury the proper care in order to heal up and be ready for the long-term.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Training In Out-Of-Town Venues Offers A Break

Sometimes when we travel, merging our busy travel and training agendas can be stressful.

The trip is generally inevitable, so you need to make the most of your time to keep up with training activities, particularly if you’re working toward an event in the near future. My approach toward this is to take some extra time to plan out how I can work training exercises into my travel schedule. Additionally, working out in whatever venue you’re traveling to may offer a scenic and welcome break.

I had this experience recently on a trip to Philadelphia. With very little research, I was able to identify a three-mile-plus run that took me from my downtown hotel to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art made famous the by the “Rocky” movies. It was a very enjoyable run.

I’ve run in numerous venues where my travels regularly tend to take me – Colorado, Chicago, Florida, St. Louis and Kansas City. There is nothing like running or biking in the mountains of Colorado. You also get the bonus of higher altitude air that can help you upon your return home if you’re there for an extended period of time. I’ve found the same effect from working out in the heat and humidity of the summer in Florida.

Tampa and Miami have some wonderful waterfront biking and running areas. There’s nothing like biking or running along the lakefront against the cityscape of Chicago at Lake Michigan. St. Louis and Kansas City also have numerous scenic trail venues. I recently rode my bike along the Katy Trail in Missouri and it was wonderful.

Just about anywhere you travel, you can find great places to break out and experience new training venues that can be a welcome change to your routine. Check out this feature on the Runner’s World website that helps you identify running routes in various locations --,7122,s6-239-281-0-0,00.html.

Additionally, you can generally find hotels in metropolitan areas that will cater to your fitness needs through the research of a phone call or the web. Some even have partnerships with local health clubs that will cost you nothing or just a little extra. If you’re unable to bring the bike along for a ride, there are often places to rent bikes in trail-heavy areas.

Don’t let a trip stand in the way of experiencing some wonderful fitness activities in parts of the world that many times offer a motivating break from your routine.

Friday, October 3, 2008

What Is The Right Decision For The Financial Markets?

I’m really torn on this question as to what the government’s role should be in easing the stress that currently exists within our financial markets. If you are keeping score, the media would have you believe a depression is just around the corner.

I’m not sure that’s the case. History shows that the U.S. financial markets are strong enough to weather many temporary obstacles. I just don’t think we’re sure whether this is a “temporary recession” or merely a blip in economic history. Either is possible.

Who is at fault and who needs to fix the problem? Interesting question in my mind. While public opinion seems to lean toward “the greedy executives who got us into this mess should get us out,” we can’t ignore the fact that many a politician ignored the signs of this situation coming until now.

You may like it or you may not. You may think the actions being taken by Congress and the president make sense. Either way, the bipartisan spirit exhibited over the past week toward a solution is admirable.