Becoming Dominant with Reactive Ability

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Running fast and being strong are two essential qualities of good athletes.

But aren’t there some that just seem to know exactly where and when to be in the right place?

They might not be the fastest or the most skilled but they are always making a play.

We can see this with the undersized, under-recruited, and under-appreciated athletes.

Whats the deal with that?

I was listening to an interview with Nick Winkelman of EXOS, the premier training facility in the US, and he brought up an interesting way to classify athletes.

  1. Fast, but not good at decision making
  2. Good at decision making and fast
  3. Good decision maker, but slow
  4. Struggles with both

I forget what the actual quadrant numbers were but those were the categories.

Ideally, we would want 2’s. They can think quickly, make good decisions, and they are a great athlete.

We also can like 3’s because those are your “right place at the right time” people.

1’s usually end up being what we call “workout warriors.” They are usually the ones that are the biggest, strongest, and fastest but somehow not all that good in the game.

We see this often in the NFL where someone has a great combine and looks like a monster but can never get on the football field. They are a 1. Meanwhile there is someone who is much weaker and slower making Pro Bowls because of their instincts, or a 2.

Number 4 is the athlete that you do not want. They are not going to be all that good and they will probably be occupying the bench.

The biggest take away is that both of these qualities can be trained.

Athletes can train to get faster and more explosive. We have a million ways to train that.

We can also train reaction drills to help develop decision making and critical thinking.

Some examples follow.

-Sprinting around a cone based on the color

-Sprinting around a cone based on a number

-Changing direction by a coach pointing

-Changing direction by left or right

-Changing direction based on a partner leading the way

In all of those examples the athlete should be sprinting without an indication of where they are going. Once the cue is called they should break hard into that.

One drill I like in particular is to set up 4 cones all different colors. The athlete sprints, I yell out the color of the cone, and they must react to that cue. This can be simple or complicated depending on where the cones are placed, how quickly they have to react, or how many times they need to change.

The ability to react is going to give athletes the edge over those that are just simply faster than everyone. Coaches take notice of the athletes that can make quick decisions and play instinctively.

When it comes to the younger generations, mine included, no one wants to make decisions. It’s uncomfortable and people hate to get out of their comfort zone. This is going to cripple sports success and professional success, when it comes around.

I hear a lot about athletes that are very good at their sport, but terrible at reaction drills. That gets exciting because there is a giant window of opportunity that just opened to make this athlete better. But there is also a mindset issue at hand.

Athletes doing reaction drills will have to make mistakes and relax. If they are too tense and stressed during the drill they will either go too slow, or not hit the right cone.

They can take this to the field with them because the best athletes are able to control their body and emotions in order to stay composed when the adrenaline is pumping.

Better athletes are better at reaction drills. It is a skill that is easy to transfer to sport.

All sports are unpredictable, constantly moving, and require split second decisions. Athletes that always go through controlled and structured drills are missing a huge part of the equation.

Training athletes to react to different stimuli will improve their ability to think and make decisions on the fly.