RTP Interview #1 Lee Taft

Here at RTP, we are delighted to have Lee Taft (www.leetaft.com) also called «The Speed Guy».  Lee is very well-known for his knowledge and development of multi-directional movement skills, both for young athletes and high-performance adults. His philosophy could be summarized by the following, as he himself points out on his website: «Learning athletic movement correctly from the start is the foundation for athletic success.»  As regards professional experience, we can highlight the important conferences that he has given, as well as his consulting work for a large number of professional teams and individually with players of the highest professional level.

RTP: Many of our readers may not yet know Lee Talf -for those who don’t know you yet, how do you define yourself?

Lee Taft: What an great pleasure to be a guest of RTP- thank you! At the end of the day I simply consider myself as a coach. I started my career out in 1989 as a Physical Education teacher and coach of 3-sports (football, basketball, track). I also was getting into strength and conditioning then and have never looked back. So, even thought I am a sport coach, consultant,  and strength and conditioning coach I simply consider myself as coach. 

RTP: We understandthat in team sports there is a set of movement skills that our athletes must master: a) what are the skills that any athlete must master?; b) how could we classify and explain them briefly?; and c) depending on the particular sports discipline should we work  on different skills? (for example, in volleyball and handball)

Lee Taft: All athletes must be able to perform these 7 movement patterns; 1. Linear acceleration  2. Max velocity sprinting  3. Lateral shuffle  4. Lateral run  5. Backpedal  6. Retreating hip turn   7.Jump/land

When an athlete can perform these foundational fundamental skills they are capable of building specific patterns to meet the needs of any sport. For example, in volleyball a player doesn’t typically sprint as in Max Velocity- but having the ability develops more elastic response off the ground due to the speed of ground contact in sprinting.

I believe all athletes, regardless of the sport, need to work on all these movement patterns and the variations of them. It allows the foundation of human movement to stay constant and allow for greater specific development. It also allows to reduce injury potential due to being able to avoid un-coordinated situations.

RTP: In the different movement skills involved in team sports, is there an ideal model that should be replicated by all our athletes?

Lee Taft: If we look at movement skills and the model of each skill, we should train our athletes with the basic movement pattern and then allow the sport to bring out the specific pattern. For example; I teach all my athletes to accelerate like a track sprinter- track sprinters are the best at pure acceleration. If I can teach my athletes to move that way- they will understand force application, limb actions, line of force, etc… If my court, field, and ice athletes learn this they will have a great foundation for the specific movement of their sport to build from.

RTP: How do we achieve that such skills are adequately integrated in the specific environment of each sport? Should each sport train them in a different way?

Lee Taft: This question kind of goes along with the last answer I gave. When an athlete plays a sport they learn to move how that sport demands they move. In other words, a basketball player learns to move in such a way that makes them more successful in the game. Same with a soccer or lacrosse athletes. The sport tasks require various specific postures and movement styles and over many repetitions the athlete develops those patterns. This is why I like to train basic general fundamentals so the athletes gets variation of how the pattern should be used in a general sense.

RTP: Once we have identified the skills that we need to work on, how can we evaluate them? What tools help us to quantify the quality of movement of our athletes?

Lee Taft: There is nothing better than having the model of how each movement skill should occur. If you know what postures and positions they athletes should be in during each phase of the movement it is easy to assess the correctness.

An example of this is the lateral shuffle. When an athlete performs a fast lateral shuffle, like in basketball defense, the front foot should open up and turn out so the heel pulls, the back leg should push down and away with the foot perpendicular to the direction of travel to proper load the hip and ankle. The body should remain fairly level and not go up and down, etc… if we evaluate these things are not occurring we now know exactly where to start in our corrective exercise.

RTP: How do we know, when we place the athletes in their specific environment, if the skill is executed satisfactorily or, on the other hand, if the environment modifies their ability and this is a “normal” variability?

Lee Taft: Because athletes are going to be playing their sport often I don’t even worry too much about when to put them into the specific environment- it happens naturally. In training sessions, I will work on specific patterns immediately if I feel it will help them develop overall skill in that pattern. I will help a volleyball player who is a middle blocker learn how to open their hip and perform a lateral run step to get to the outside to jump and block. All of the specific patterns she is performing is made up very general patterns- lateral run, big gather step, jump and land.

RTP: On both a qualitative and quantitative level, what are the most common deficits that you find in young and professional adult athletes?

Lee Taft: I certainly see a lot of low functioning in moving backward and in rotational movements (running forward and having to do a 180 and backpedal…). I think there is a lack of body and spatial awareness in many athletes from youth to professional. I also, see many athletes unable to hit arm an leg separation positions during acceleration. They do not bring the thigh forward far enough and the same side arm back far enough to create long enough ground contact time to move their mass. These are things we want to address so they can accelerate with greater velocities.

RTP: For you, what is the importance of ‘closed skills’, both for young athletes and for professional adult athletes?

Lee Taft: Well, I believe a closed skill allows for more opportunity to work on postures and positions. I can do more exact repetition of what I want to see when the athlete knows exactly what they are suppose to do. So, a shuttle run allows the athlete to hit certain marks on the court or field and this allows them to set up their change of direction footwork. This does not happen in open chain exercises.

I believe it is very important to not do too many closed chain drills when athlete are learning because you do not want them to develop rigid patterns that don’t allow for quick decision making and appropriate movements based on decision.

RTP: In many clubs and training centres, coaches and personal trainers generally have little time to work with their athletes. If you had very limited time, what would be your priorities when working on movement skills?

Lee Taft: Any time I am in this situation with little time to train my athletes I couple as many skills together as possible. For example, I will have them perform a linear acceleration to a lateral shuffle to another linear or angular acceleration. I get to focus on how they transition from movement to movement, I can assess body control, I can make the movements reactive or closed to work on different emphasis I feel the athlete needs.

My biggest priorities, with limited time, would be the ability to accelerate and control the acceleration with change of direction. This is what they will have to do in games so I need to make sure they are good at it.

RTP: Lastly, what advice would you give those that are reading this interview? An open space for you to express your ideas.

Lee Taft: Always network and create connection with other professionals. If you try to do it by yourself you will struggle. Being able to communicate effectively is so important. Also, create a board of directors for yourself. These people do not even need to know they are on your board of directors. It should be make up of people who you trust and value their work and opinions, people how are successful, and people who have done it for a long time. I have track coaches, physical therapists, business coaches, personal development coaches, nutrition coaches, and so on that are on my board of directors. Any time I feel stuck and or need help with answers I look to what it is that these people have done. Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable and grow.

Thank you!