From the Mind of Sam

Human movement, coaching, dogs, college football

Month: August, 2012

How to Watch Football: Understanding “Base” Concepts on Offense

This is the first of what I hope will be many posts to help you, the reader with a spotty knowledge of America’s favorite sport, better enjoy gridiron action this fall. Welcome to football season!

Football is a game where two opponents, for the most part, attempt to impose their will on one another. Everyone loves a good trick play every now and then, but very few teams (among them the brilliantly coached Boise State) consistently win games by deceiving the opponent. Football teams, both on offense and defense, rely on a small set of plays and concepts–their “base” stuff–that they like to run, and then work their countermoves off of that. If you understand what your team’s base concepts are, you will sound very smart on weekends this fall when watching games with buddies.

I am a highly devoted Michigan State fan. Because they’re the team that I understand best, I’m going to focus on them in this post. We’ll talk a lot about other teams in future posts (some of my favorites are Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, and Oregon), but for now, let’s look at what Sparty likes to do on offense.

“Power Football”

You don’t have to be a big football fan to have heard about “power” offenses, “west coast” offenses, and “spread” offenses. “Power,” “west coast,” and “spread” are just three examples of the myriad styles of offensive football out there. Those terms can be more or less descriptive of how the team plays, but they give you an idea of the formations and base plays the team runs.

Most teams establish an “identity” on offense by running a core set of plays very well. The team will work to establish those core plays and force the defense to adjust, then work the counters and constraint plays in response to those adjustments. The team in question today, Michigan State, builds its identity around a few running plays: “inside zone,” “stretch,” and of course, “power.”

Breaking tackles will help any blocking scheme.

“Power” is a classic football play that relies on a simple concept: getting more blockers into an area than the defense has defenders, then using those blockers to pulverize the outnumbered defense. Michigan State does this with a big, physical offensive line clearing the way for their bruising tailback, Le’Veon Bell. Former Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger described the experience of  trying to defend MSU’s “power” game like this: “When they all come off at one time they look like a herd of water buffalo stampeding at you, and there’s a gazelle somewhere behind them.”

It’s hard to describe in text the moving parts on a football field, so I made a video. I’ll work on being more entertaining/engaging/better looking in future weeks, but this one gets the job done.

All right, that’s enough for this week. If you want to read more on “power,” this piece over at Smart Football can’t be beat. Please post any questions in the comments! I’m going to try to get facebook commenting installed on here soon, but for now you can just use your name to comment below.



Motor Control, Motor Learning, and Why My Classes Suck

A wave of motivation has come over me recently to return to serious study. I’ve been sitting around this evening with my old friend, Dynatomy, reviewing some of the early chapters. I really enjoy this stuff, and even though I’ve spent time with this text before, the second reading is giving me new insights.

Nice false grip, brah.

One section in the first chapter caught my attention in particular; the authors outline the concepts of motor controlmotor learning, and motor development. I want to talk for just a sec about the first two.

Motor Control

…motor control refers to how the body’s systems organize and control muscles involved in movement. The system primarily involved in control is the nervous system… (Whiting & Rugg, p. 51)

This is what I call “the wobble.” When I make you do a hollow body progression in class and you get to that awful point where you’re trying to extend your hands and feet further apart and your whole body starts to shake? That’s motor control. Go a little deeper than you did before on a pistol, wobble, then fall on your butt? Motor control.

Motor control is when the muscles you’re trying to use are starting to “come online.” Your nervous system is telling your abdominals, hip flexors, and all the other core muscles to hold your pelvis and midsection in place, but the muscles don’t know how to do it yet. Wobble, wobble, shake, fall. But it gets easier every time! Until, of course, you’re too tired. Then we do three more.

Motor Learning

…motor learning involves several phases: the cognitive phase, the associative phase, and the autonomous phase. In the initial cognitive phase, a person must devote considerable conscious thought to the movement task and tries various strategies. … In the associative phase, movements are less variable, and the mover determines the best movement strategy. … In the final autonomous phase, the movement becomes automatic, or instinctive, and the mover can attend to other factors…

Let’s look at this through the lens of a kipping pullup.

Cognitive Phase

“OK, jump up to the bar. OK, stop swinging. Now how do I start again? Kick forward! No, that’s not it. Oh, yeah, feet back, chest forward. Now kick, now pull, then something else…oh yeah, push away at the top. Shit, this is hard.”

Associative Phase

“I got this. Swing, kick, pull, push, stay in rhythm, breathe, don’t lose grip, hang on, one more!”

Autonomous Phase

“This workout sucks. That girl has a nice butt, though. What’s her name, again? Shoot, what number am I on? I think that was 21. We’ll call it good.”

This is why it takes a while to “master” the movements you learn. Just remember–you never have it truly mastered. Keep practicing, though, because it does get easier.

GymnasticsWOD, or: How to Stop Worrying and Teach Yourself Anything

If, as a coach, I could choose to assimilate the powers of  other coaches, Rogue-style, I would do so in this order:

  1. Phil Jackson
  2. Carl Paoli

The post on how Sacred Hoops changed my life is coming later. In the meantime, I’ll say this: Carl Paoli is pretty much my hero.

Inspire-a-gram. Photo credit: Carl Paoli

I went to coach Carl’s seminar back in January. I remember thinking at the time that $250 seemed like a lot for a day-long gymnastics seminar, but I’d heard that this guy was good, and I really dug what he said in a few videos that I’d watched with him and Kelly Starrett. Little did I know what I was in for.

That day (Saturday January 28th, 2012) was the day I became a coach. Carl started off with a 45-minute or so explanation of his philosophy on movement. It was like every “brilliant” thought I had ever had on the subject, but said so clearly and organized so intelligently that all I could do was nod and say, “yes!” It was like the Landmark Forum for coaches.

That day I watched as Carl coached people to breakthrough after breakthrough without breaking a sweat. When lunchtime came, I offered to take him to the local Whole Foods for some kale salad and chalk talk. I peppered the man with questions, shared stories, and tried to juice every last bit of knowledge I could from him. The second half was just as mind blowing as the first. Carl coached me to my first strict muscle up with one sentence. I had been looking at shadows on the cave wall; this dude was out handstand walking through the meadow.

When the day was over, I took his message to my people at CFLA. I’ve designed and delivered two movement workshops of my own, all preaching the Gospel of Carl. And guess what? The stuff works. My last workshop had three folks get their first muscle up, which is just one measure of the breakthroughs my students made.

I highly recommend going to Carl’s seminar if you get the chance–it will change your life. I highly recommend going to my workshop if you get the chance–I get money if you do. But here’s the thing: not only does Carl Paoli possess unmatched coaching ability–he GIVES IT AWAY FOR FREE.

His website, GymnasticsWOD, is the best source for coaching on the internet that I have seen. There are hundreds of progressions on there to teach yourself to do anything! I have learned a freestanding handstand pushup and straddle press to handstand by following his videos, and my planche hold is coming along. If you want to learn something that involves moving your body through space, go on there and look it up!

And Carl, if you’re reading this, thank you for being amazing. I love you. Not in a weird way, just in a one-man-loving-another-man-who-inspires-him way. Keep being great.


Enough about Lance today. Let’s talk about someone we can ALL agree is great without reservation…the one and only Danette “Dizzle” Rivera.

Dizzle is literally one of my favorite people. I’m going to list off some things I like about her, with photos stolen from facebook to go along.

1.  She makes being a vegan cool.

Even a hardened carnivore can’t hate on this.

Dizzle is not just a vegan, she’s a hardcore, raw vegan. She drinks weird green liquids out of mason jars. She gets all of her protein from hemp, peas, tempeh, and other horrifying things like that. She is, needless to say, out there.

But I never argue with Dizzle about her food. We never get into tussles about whether or not The China Study is utter bullshit (it is, if you were wondering). Why? Because she does what she does better than anyone I know. Her food all looks amazing, tastes amazing, and is crafted with a level of love and care that you just don’t see much.

And I really didn’t notice that the blueberry pie she made me for my birthday had vegan butter in the crust. I just noticed that it was delicious.

2.  She trains like she means it.

With the also awesome Mr. Julio Rivera looking on.

Danette takes her training seriously. She works hard, has fun, and kicks ass. We do improvement challenges at CFLA. Normally, they’re won by new people who improve a ton because, well, they suck when they start. Danette’s been coming for over two years, and still took 5th-most improved in our last challenge. BY TRAINING HER ASS OFF.

She writes about her training, and her articles are great–not the standard, overblown, OMG CROSSFIT IS SO INSPIRATIONAL GIRL POWER! b.s. that everyone else does, but interesting thoughts on training, athletics, food, and other cool stuff.

3.  Her family is the coolest family out of all of the families.

Dizzle’s daughters: Maya, 16, and Mina, 12

Dizzle’s family is so cool that it makes me want to go have my own. I used to fear that one day, I might have a daughter instead of a son. This would lead to 18 years of me having nothing to talk about, no one to play catch with, and having to murder at least 3 teenage boys who mess with her at some point.

But now I know Maya & Mina. They’re confident, happy, smart, athletic, pretty, and just generally amazing. If such daughters are possible, then sign me up. I’m going to go ahead and say that their unbelievably cool mom had something to do with it.

4.  She looks maybe a bit too good for a mother of two who’s north of 40.

Oh, dear.

I’m gonna stop now.

Happy birthday, Dizzle. I’m really, really glad that you were born.

Must Watch: Under the Armour

My good friend, great basketball mind, and general possessor of good taste Andrew introduced me to this “Under the Armour” video series. It’s a really cool, 24/7-ish web series that follows Brandon Jennings, a rising young point guard on the Milwaukee Bucks. The second season is underway, but I’m still working my way through the first.

This one is great . He shows his All Star Weekend training routine. Watching NBA players workout is like porn to me.

My favorite, though, is the first video in the series. It features BJennings in the offseason: chilling with friends in LA, going to the Elite 24 game at Venice Beach (with a Kevin Durant cameo!), and my favorite scene: doing some hill sprints(!) with his trainer and chef(!) at what appears to be Runyon Canyon (skip to 1:51):

We’re all just trying to get it in, chef. Every day.

You can watch the rest of the series on BJennings’ youtube channel. This year’s UA Elite 24 is this weekend at Venice Beach, with the dunk contest on Friday at 4 pm and the game on Saturday at 4 pm. Regrettably, 5’6″ phenom Aquille Carr is apparently not a good boyfriend, and won’t be making the trip. Still, Andrew, Dray and I will be there–come find us and say hi!

Your Handstand is Bullshit

It’s OK, so is mine. So is everyone’s that you know.

CrossFitters love to use a weird possessive voice when talking about skills.

“Do you have muscle ups yet?”

“I got my first double unders today!”

“How many handstand pushups do you have?”

The thing is, you don’t “have” anything. You may have shown the ability to do something, or performed a certain number of reps one time, or whatever. And that’s fantastic! You should feel amazing.

But for some reason, we like to use that possessive. “I have _____!” As though the box is checked, now move on to the next thing.

The thing is, you don’t have it. And you never will. You may have the best handstand at your entire gym. But you actually suck at handstands. If you “had” handstands, you could do this:

It’s not just handstands. Your jump shot also sucks:

Skills are NEVER completed. You’ll never “have” anything, but you will continue to learn new skills and more finely hone the ones you’ve learned. Everything is one long, never-ending progression to amazing performance. Steph Curry hits the layups first, then moves out for jumpers, then threes, then the longer ones.

Train the fundamentals. Practice. And enjoy the process, because there’s no end in sight.

Meet Dray (on the CFLA blog)

I was meandering amongst the noisy cages when I was utterly stunned to see two crystal blue eyes staring right at me. The very large, 7-year old Alaskan Malamute those eyes belonged to wasn’t barking, wasn’t making a fuss, he was just sitting there panting. A volunteer took him out for me and we walked around the yard together, and that was pretty much that. My room mate came to meet him the next day and I brought him home that afternoon. Draymond “Dray” Martin was now a part of the family.

Read the rest on the CFLA site.

Lots of bonus Dray pics can be found on my instagram (@samworkmartin). Here are a couple of my favorites: