Conversation with Kebba Tolbert and Latif Thomas (Part 2 of 4)

Click Here for Part 1.  Please remember, this is a transcript, and it was never meant to be an article, so the grammar isn’t perfect.

The continues the topic of Neuromuscular Development, with a focus on the sprint events.

kebba tolbert

Kebba Tolbert is the Associate Coach at Harvard University, specializing in Sprints, Hurdles, and Horizontal Jumps.  He has 2 DVDs produced by Coaches Choice

Moreover, I interviewed Kebba back in 2012 as part of the Freelap Friday Five series.

Latif Thomas

Latif Thomas is a former All East Sprinter while attending the University of Connecticut on a track and field scholarship. Latif is USA Track & Field Level II Certified in the Sprints, Hurdles and Relays.

He is the co-founder of and produced the 11 DVD set on Complete Speed Training for sprinters.

NOTE: This was recorded January 2011.

Conversation with Kebba Tolbert & Latif Thomas

[Latif Thomas]: How important would you say that these proprioception factors are? I’m thinking about coordination. To me coordination is one of the greatest limiting factors and you can talk about coordination of speed, coordination of strength, coordination of all types of different things.

How big a factor is that in terms of being able to express more powerful or more complicated movements? And when you think about the number of things that you have to pull together to accelerate properly, to run at maximum velocity, to speed maintenance and to prevent high rates of deceleration, is that something that you specifically focus on throughout the year or is that something that…?

[Kebba Tolbert]: Every day, every single day in almost every activity. It’s absolutely crucial for us. So from the warm-up to the cool down coordination matters. Movement patterns matter. We have a whole series of sprint drills that we look at to help the athlete, well not only be coordinated, but to look at what’s their fitness, are they ready to train; things like that.

When we’re doing acceleration that’s very high level coordination work. When we’re doing Olympic lifts that’s very high level coordination work, balance work, proprioception work. So there’s never a time during the week when we’re not addressing these things. All the activities they feed into each other ‘cause it’s multifaceted and multilateral.

[LT]: Right; absolutely. So when you talk about prioritizing neuromuscular development and also the way you look at the general training, the medium to low intensity kind of work that you’re doing throughout the course of the week, when you’re looking at athletes how do you evaluate their readiness?

What are the things that you look for when you’re looking at individual athletes, but also when you’re looking at your group as a whole, whether it’s your hurdlers or your sprinters or your 400 meter, 400 meter hurdlers? I’m talking more from like an assessment or a movement screen standpoint. What are the things that you’re looking for when you are watching your athletes and you’re looking at how their readiness for particular elements of training?

[KT]: Some of the things that we look for are we really try to look at posture and what’s the athlete’s posture like. Are there deviations in good posture? What’s the symmetry like and range of motion. So is the same thing happening on the left side as on the right side? Does the foot come off the track the same way? Is one side as elastic? Are their arms and legs moving through the same range of motion on both sides? Those types of things. Then just in general if they’re skipping or they’re walking or if they’re doing sprint drills looking at how elastic and how reflexive those things are. Are they having to struggle to get into position during the warm-up and things like that or if we’re gonna do a long speed workout, when they’re doing the accelerations to warm-up. How do they look? Is it smooth? Is it bouncy? Is it open? Meaning are they going through a good range of motion? Those types of things.

So looking at those things; posture, symmetry, elasticity, reflexivity. Those are what we use to evaluate their readiness to go. Are they always 100 percent. No. But when it’s very aberrant, where it’s very deviated from what we consider to be good, then we know that we’ve gotta intervene in some way, shape or form or go to Plan B or warm-up more. There’s a bunch of different ways to intervene, but we know that something has to happen in order for that workout to be a success that day.

[LT]: Is there differences between these type of assessments between male and female athletes and is it important for the coach to spend some time learning, studying the Gray Cooks of the world who really are known for their FMS stuff, the functional movement screen stuff?

How do you differentiate between male and female athletes and how important is it for the sprints coach, with technique being so important, to understand these things and be able to develop that eye for these little idiosyncrasies that you speak of?

[KT]: I think that the better athletes that you have that it becomes more important because for maybe the 12.5 girl, her being off 1 percent or 2 percent or even 3 percent might not be that big of a deal. She probably can run down the track and be okay, but when you’ve got an elite person that 3 percent is a big deal and you might be setting up an injury situation. I’m not saying that the less developed athletes they can’t get injured ‘cause they obviously do, but I’m saying those little differences are more magnified the better you are.

Boo Schexnayder has a saying about car crashes. He says if you’re riding down the street and you crash into a sign at 10 miles an hour, no big deal. You just get out the car, check it out, make sure everything’s okay. No harm, no foul kind of thing. You just have a dent in your car.

But if you do it at 50 miles an hour well then you call an ambulance. That’s kind of the difference with the developmental kids and athletes or even the sub-elite ones can have some issues and because their power output is not as high, they don’t get beat up as much from those mistakes whereas the real elite people, being a little bit off, sometimes you look at the Formula 1 races, Indy and stuff like that, they’re a little bit off. Their car’s a little bit off, they crash.

[LT]: Right.

[KT]: So that’s the difference. Everybody wants their car to run well, but if I ride my Honda Civic and it’s off a little bit, no big deal. I’m just not as efficient. I gotta put more gas in, but those guys in Indy if they’re off 2 or 3 percent, they’re crashing into the wall and they don’t get paid that day.

[LT]: That’s a great analogy. Now are there differences between male and female athletes? I say this both for the developmental level, looking at, say, the 12.5 HS girl. For most developmental coaches you’re hoping to get the 12.5 girls, but talk in terms of the 12.5 girl and the 11.5 boy versus the 11.5 girl and the 10.5 boy or even faster than that.

[KT]: I think there’s some differences between genders, but not so much that you’ve gotta go into a whole other field of study. I think that women sometimes can do more elastic work and men can do more absolute strength work at different times of the year. I think that the hormonal output is obviously different between men and women because they’re just setup differently.

But in terms of movement screens I think that – I’ve seen women that certain loading schemes, certain types of training tend to bother the low back area more than others than the guys. Some of that’s just anecdotal, but in general I’d say it’s 95-96 percent the same for the gender thing.

For the different levels like elite, sub-elite, super elite or whatever, then the differences just become – things become more fine. Little mistakes magnify more for the elite athletes I think.

[LT]: When you talk about these evaluations, is that something you’re doing when you’re at practice? Are you watching your group warm-up or go through a particular circuit or whatever the particular thing you’re doing that day is, are you looking at the group and making group assessments or are you taking each of these kids individually and putting them through their own movement screen where you’re going to work on the individual strengths and weaknesses of that particular athlete?

For example, would you say maybe more individualized or individual athlete specific if you’d worked at the collegiate where you have a smaller group versus like say myself. I have 90 kids in my sprint group. I can’t do a movement screen for each kid. I can barely run practice.

[KT]: Right now my group is small, but I’ve had larger groups, relatively larger, 20-25 kids. I don’t write workout, warm-up evaluation stuff for each athlete. We write one thing or two things or depending on if I’ve got throwers, jumpers, hurdlers, sprinters, then maybe we’ll have three different warm-ups on that day at different times; sometimes at the same time.

But my point is that no, I am not definitely trying to evaluate each and every athlete each and every day. Sometimes you might know okay, this kid’s a little beat up. I need to watch them a little more and see how they feel and see what they’re doing and see how they’re moving.

Or you might notice see, this kid, he doesn’t quite look right. You talk to them and see are they feeling okay or sometimes when you see aberrant behavior and aberrant movements it’s because something’s wrong or sometimes because they’re not concentrating. So sometimes you talk to them and say, “Hey, you feeling okay?” “Yeah.” “Okay. Let’s make sure we do this. Make sure you got your hips up and make sure you’re doing this.” Then it gets better and okay, there’s no injury issue. They just weren’t concentrating.

Then sometimes just that, the not concentrating part is maybe a window into their life. Maybe they have other stuff going on that day or in their life and maybe they’re not mentally ready to train really hard that day. Now obviously if that happens all the time that can be an issue, but it might give you a window. Hey, this kid, we had this workout plan, but they’re kind of blown out the water. Maybe they had a fight with their boyfriend or girlfriend or their mom or dad or they failed a test and that workout has to wait a day or two.

So it’s not just always the physical part that shows up when you’re doing these screens or these evaluations. It’s just they got mental and they’ve got life things going on, too.

Having said that, like I’ve got Movement: Functional Movement Systems: Screening, Assessment, Corrective Strategies by Gray Cook. It’s a really good book, but it’s not necessarily what I use and that’s not a knock on Gray. We just design our warm-ups so that there are enough things to evaluate with regard to those things I talked about earlier; posture, range of motion, symmetry, elasticity that we can try to look for those things or the lack of them in the warm-up activities that we choose.

We have certain dynamic movements that we do. We look at that. We have certain sprint drills that we use to look at body landmarks and look at posture and awareness, elasticity. So those things in our warm-up are a big window to see who’s ready, who’s not ready, who’s having issues type of thing. If someone’s injured we also evaluate those to say okay, on day one after they were beat up or injured they looked like this. On day five they looked like this. On day 14 they looked perfect. So they’re 100 percent.

So somebody might on day 1 may be only able to do 50 percent work. On day 3 they might be able to do 90 percent. But sometimes that curve from 90 to 100 might take a little bit longer. Like the improvement curve might be really fast, but the last 10 percent might lack a little bit. So essentially you have to get more finite with certain people.

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
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