Creating a Competitive Environment using Velocity Based Training
By Steve Thompson
April 10, 2019
It has often been thought that the markings of a good coach should include a few key characteristics: technical and strategic know-how relating to how an athlete might best execute skills and techniques fundamental to their sport; be an effective educator in which they can structure appropriate training, communicate clearly, and impart performance-enhancing and motivational feedback; and create a psychological environment that helps athletes maximise their skills and potential and perform efficaciously in competition . The ability of a coach to harness these approaches as well as to build influential relationships with their athletes or clients can be no mean feat, but is something that is integral in the development of those we work with.
Despite the above blueprint constituting successful coaching, it's noteworthy that flexibility and reactivity in approaches are fundamental; especially when working with large groups or teams of varying personalities. One central approach must revolve around an athlete's motivation, both in and out of competition. Many great sport and exercise psychologists such as Dr. Joan Duda and Dr. Isabel Balaguer have proposed a motivational framework called Achievement Goal Theory (AGT) in which motivation, or more specifically, one's own judgement and perception of a performance, can be split in to two goals; a task goal and an ego goal [1-4].
Task oriented individual’s focus on the challenge and the process of a competitive environment, for example, setting a PB in a race or in the weight room. This is a self-referenced perception of competence in which an individual is happy meeting the demands of a task, exerting effort and improving their skill level [1-4]. An ego oriented individual is someone who becomes motivated by demonstrating superior competence over another individual, for example, beating an opponent, or performing better than a teammate in training. [1-4].
Coaches often strive to create task-oriented athletes due to its direct link with motivational processes that can make an athlete's achievement more resilient and constructive and target what's called an adaptive achievement pattern . Furthermore, ego oriented individuals can have negative experiences with motivation, especially if perceived competence is low and may slip in to a maladaptive achievement pattern. However, it is important to note that task oriented individuals can experience a negative response to an attempt of skill mastery and an ego oriented individual can experience positive behaviours from a competition against another. Thus, further emphasising the importance of building relationships and understanding your athletes; and adding weight to the classic term; "coach the person in front of you".
The theory of AGT assumes that athletes or individuals have varying dispositions of goal orientations, and thus, motivated in different ways. In fact, task or ego orientations tend to be orthogonal in nature, suggesting that individuals may be pre-disposed to either task or ego, and others may be pre-disposed to both, dependent on the situation, environment, social setting etc. Therefore, it is the job of the coach to ensure the optimal competitive environment is created, at the optimal time, for each individual. Figure 1 portrays a simple task/ego continuum in ways in which the theory of AGT can be utilised within practice.
Utilising technology (camera systems, linear position transducers, inertial sensors, and mobile applications) can be particularly effective in inducing the desired motivational climates and competitive environments needed to ensure optimal training and adaptation occurs. Velocity Based Training (VBT), the method in which the velocity of movement is tracked and measured to monitor and prescribe important training variables such as load and volume, can also be utilised to provide feedback to an athlete and track acute and chronic progressions.
Taking the examples from figure 1, we can begin to apply our own version of a task/ego oriented continuum centred on VBT. Velocity specific technology can provide important retrospective feedback regarding an athlete's technical proficiency during the more complex lifts. This objective data can help confirm a coach's inclination that, despite correct loading and volume, a drop in velocity may be due to technical laziness or misunderstanding. Thus, the reinforcement of specific intrinsic or extrinsic cues may get the desired reaction from that athlete. For example, if during a power clean at the start of a session, the recorded velocities are lower than expected; this should prompt the athlete to seek guidance from the coach. The coach may see, for example, sub-optimal triple extension at the top of the second pull. By reinforcing the necessary coaching points, the velocities may increase, providing an important educational, but motivational experience for the athlete.
A vital task oriented approach to creating a competitive environment is encouraging athletes to chase and attempt personal bests in all aspects of training. Utilising VBT in the weight room can be a big contributing factor in giving an athlete the motivation to attempt a PB (Figure 2). With the strong relationship that load and velocity has demonstrated across a number of different exercises [6-8], confidence can be assumed when using an individualised load-velocity profile (LVP) [6-7] to dictate load manipulation. Moreover, if a given load is lifted faster compared to previous weeks or months, a coach may encourage the athlete to chase a PB (maximal or submaximal), using the objective velocity data as motivation to do so. For example, if an athlete's previous mean set velocity for a 5RM back squat was 0.4 m.s-1, but is now 0.45 m.s-1, this may encourage the athlete to increase the load by 2-2.5% and have another attempt (Dan Baker VBT Guide).
Recent research  has proposed some benefits of providing live feedback (verbal kinematic vs. visual kinematic vs. verbal encouragement) in order to improve kinematic output and motivation. This study suggested that providing live feedback to an individual can produce moderate improvements in their velocity outputs (See Jonathon Weakley’s PUSH blog for more information). This simple method can be employed on an individual level (task oriented) or in a competitive level (ego oriented).
Creating a healthy, competitive environment between like-minded and physically similar individuals can be a really effective way in encouraging improvements in the weight room. This could be something as simple as challenging two athletes to produce the biggest jump height at the start of a session, lift the same relative load the fastest or lift the heaviest load for a single repetition. Utilising technological devices and simple aids such as leader boards (Figure 3) can help to produce a spirited atmosphere within training, and allow those that are more ego oriented to harness their competitive nature and improve physically. It must be noted that too much negative exposure to an ego oriented environment can be detrimental to performance and may create negative perceptions of one's performance, reduction in effort or the choosing of tasks that are far too difficult or far too easy.
Another simple method may include the monitoring of velocity data (loaded or unloaded squat jumps - figure 4) at the beginning of training session to assess readiness to train/physical improvements. In doing so, an athlete, when receiving positive verbal and kinematic feedback, may become highly motivated and proceed to perform over-expectations during training sessions.
The versatility of VBT is paramount in its popularity within S&C environments. By understanding your athlete's motivational status and AGT predisposition, an optimal environment can be created in order to ensure your athletes have the best possible opportunity to progress and adapt.
Smith N, Quested E, Appleton PR & Duda JL. A review of observational instruments to assess the motivational environment in sport and physical education settings. Int Review Sport Ex Psych. 2016; 9 (1): 134-159.
Duda JL, & Pensgaard AM. Enhancing the quantity and quality of motivation: The promotion of task involvement in a junior level football team. In: Cockerill, I (Ed.) Solutions in Sport Psychology. 2002; Thomson: London.
Garcia-Ramos A, Pestana-Melero FL, Perez-Castilla A, et al. Mean velocity vs. mean propulsive velocity vs. peak velocity: which variable determines bench press relative load with higher reliability. J Strength Cond Res. 2018; 32 (5): 1273-1279.
Weakley JJS, Wilson KM, Till K, Read DB, Darrall-Jones J, Roe GA, Phibbs PJ, & Jones BL. Visual feedback attenuates mean concentric barbell velocity loss, and improves motivation, competitiveness, and perceived workload in male adolescent athletes. J Strength Cond Res. Ahead of press. 2017.
BIO: STEVE THOMPSON
Steve Thompson is a senior lecturer, programme lead for the new MSc Strength and Conditioning Coaching and S&C coach at Sheffield Hallam University. Steve is also a doctoral researcher majoring in Velocity Based Training. He is UKSCA accredited with a wealth of coaching experience at elite and international level including Diving, Football, Rugby League, Volleyball and Golf. Steve is actively researching in VBT, with a particular focus on its application to load manipulation.