Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jen...My Apologies

Dear Jen,

I owe you an apology. Many months ago you were in a coaching clinic I was conducting for the Region.

I made a statement that reeked of smug and sound bite.
“You don’t set with your legs!”

You countered with how young players used their legs and as I had learned to diffuse this claim, I had a player sit down and have her set back to me, not using her legs. I asked how someone who jump sets uses their legs when they set? You were polite although I didn’t think I had won you over and the clinic went on.

Then in July, in a coaching clinic in Rogers, Arkansas, a coach who heard this tag line asked me this: “What about a shot putter? They use their legs and their arms in unison, don’t they?”

Stumped, I reached out to an acquaintance with Arizona ties and a humbling body of work and knowledge in this area; Peter Vint,  the Senior Director of Competitive Analysis and Research & Innovation at the United States Olympic Committee.

Vint is always open to these questions and to his credit, figures out a way to explain the complexities of the human body for even this coach to understand, quite a chore in itself!

His first sentence was direct and made me ashamed I had tossed around that billboard slogan for the past few years without checking with a professional. “The legs, and any body part for that matter, can and do have a direct impact on motion.”

Jen, again, my apologies!

Vint explained it this way, obviously dialed into his captive yet ill informed audience of one. “Let’s say the setter needs to impart 10 units of speed to the ball, at release, to achieve the desired trajectory and final location of the ball in the attacking zone. The 10 units can be derived from many sources and the sources are additive in their contribution.”

“So if the ball has a speed of 10, the hands could contribute all 10 units of speed or any fraction thereof. If the legs are used to elevate the center of mass during the setting action, they will impart velocity. Perhaps they contribute 2 units or 4. If the hips or knees extend at all they will contribute in some way, shape or form to the velocity of the ball.”

Vint, at this point, throws me a bone before he rightfully throws me under the big yellow bus. “Whether this is preferred by coaches or not is perhaps the next questions but it is a different question. If I heard you say, ‘you don’t pass or set with your legs,’ I would understand your intent but would feel you were fundamentally incorrect of your understanding of mechanics.”

My friends, that smell you have picked up on is the smoking gun!

“The legs WILL contribute. How much is a function of the technique used, which by itself may be a function of upper arm strength.” Vint then, as if typing this with Jen standing in front of his desk, adds, “In this way, a u12 girl may need to use her legs to a larger extent than a national team male because she does not possess the upper body strength to deliver all 10 units with her arms.”

We can debate when to teach setters to jump set and/or not use their legs for a unit of the set speed, but that is for another blog.
This is a public apology to Jen and to those who I misinformed with an infomercial mentality. I took their serious question and answered it with a smugness and flippancy of the uneducated. I apologize sincerely.

As a coaching instructor for the Region, you should expect more than cute answers and pat phrases. You should expect scientific answers and when I don’t have them, I should get them for you.
We talk about how many coaches look past the science of our bodies and our sport and continue to follow traditions that are both inefficient and sometimes even counter productive. My glass house is in need of repair these days.

Jen, I am sorry. I will be better at my job going forward.

You and the other coaches of our Region don’t deserve anything less.

Eric Hodgson

Arizona Region of USA Volleyball