Archive for “Coaching Young Athletes” Category

Metabolic Conditioning for Athletes, Part 1 – Phil Hueston

Metabolic conditioning has been a “buzz phrase” in the fitness profession for many years now. Before that, it was the subject of research dating back at least 40 years.

So when I hear a certain “Biggest Loser” trainer telling the world she coined the phrase, I just have to shake my head.  Ummm, yeah….I’m gonna need you to stop that. If you could just go ahead and remember it’s a science phrase, that’d be great. Thanks!metabolic conditioning

Metabolic conditioning (metcon) has been defined as the use of exercise to increase the storage and delivery of energy for any activity.

Bergeron defined it in 2011 as “exercises that impose a moderate to high demand on the cardiovascular system and energy metabolism of the active muscle fibers to meet with the muscles’ repeated high energy requirement.” (Current Sports Medicine Reports, 2011)

Essentially, metabolic conditioning is the improvement of energy storage, delivery, and usage through the application of activity to the movement system of the body.

What is energy, exactly?

We’ve all felt a little less than energetic. We’ve probably all been in a room full of people brimming with energy. Little children seem to have endless amounts of it.

But what is energy as it relates to the human body? Where does the energy to run our body systems come from? What fuels movement? When we run low or need more, where does it come from?

The truth is that energy is all around us. All matter is energy, in all its forms. We use energy to workout and we use energy to drive our cars and heat our homes.

The first law of thermodynamics says that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. It can only change phase or form.

Einstein figured this out when he postulated his theory about energy. He used the formula E=mc² to explain it. E is energy, m the mass of an object while the c² represents a constant, in this case, the speed of light in a vacuum. By his formula, we can ascertain the amount of energy inside any mass. A change in the energy of an object would result in the mass changing and vice-versa. He created his now-famous formula to quantify the way in which mass releases energy, and how a huge amount of energy can be released from a relatively small amount of mass. He also realized that there is a lot more energy inside an atom than in its valence electrons (unpaired electrons in the outer shell of an atom.) So if you split an atom, you release an amount of energy many times that contained in the electrons in the shell.

But, let’s talk about how this applies to us and the energy our athletes need – the energy for movement and cellular activity. To better understand metabolic conditioning and its impact on energy storage, delivery, and usage, let’s, as the King said to Alice, “begin at the beginning.” 

Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the secret sauce for physical activity. It’s been called the “molecular unit of currency.”

Nucleoside. Ribose.

All energy in the human body comes from the conversion of this high-energy, badass phosphate to lower energy, less-badass phosphates. In the simplest form of energy transfer,  a hydrolytic process takes place (meaning water is required,) and ATP is converted to ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) or AMP (Adenosine Monophosphate – this occurs with far less frequency.) Some energy, some heat, and one proton are released. Then, the ADP molecule connects with an inorganic phosphate to resynthesize the ATP molecule.

Here’s an easy way to put it. A ball with 3 legs and a hat gets splashed with water. A spark flies out (energy,) there’s a short burst of flame (heat) and the hat (hydrogen) and one leg (phosphate) fall off. After the water clears, the ball goes looking for a fresh hat and a new leg, which are apparently pretty easy to find. And just like that, we have another 3-legged ball and the whole dance starts again.

But even with a cool, easy visual like that, the process of energy production is not that simple. Since we use muscle and body systems in different ways and for different periods of time, using different muscles and types of muscles, we need different energy delivery methods to match the needs of each.

There are 3 different energy systems we work with. Which one takes the lead depends on how long, and how hard, we ask the body to go.  Let’s explore how these work and how they relate to metabolic conditioning.

Blast off – Phosphagen (ATP-CP) System

If you want to go hard and fast, but not very long, it’s all about the ATP-CP. The ATP-CP system, also called the Phospagenic pathway, is the system of choice when full power or intensity is needed for a short period. When maximal or near maximal power is needed by muscles, the demand for ATP goes through the roof. Just gotta have it and gotta have it now!

The ATP-CP system is the quickest way to resynthesize ATP and deliver the goods. Creatine Phosphate, or CP, is stored in muscle and is happy to donate a phosphate to the cause in order to facilitate the resynthesis process. At least, nobody’s heard CP complaining about it to date. When muscles use ATP for energy and leave behind ADP, CP provides a phosphate so ADP can become ATP. So, ADP + CP = ATP + C. That Creatine molecule will then pick up an inorganic phosphate and re-form CP.

It’s a real Jerry Maguire kind of moment…

This is an anaerobic energy system, as no oxygen is needed to resynthesize ATP. No fats or carbohydrates are required, either. Because of the speed of the process, it is ideal for high-intensity activities lasting no more than about 30 seconds. But there is also a limited supply of stored ATP and CP in skeletal muscle, so fatigue hits fast, and often hard.

To recap, the Phosphagen energy system is ideal for short-duration, high-intensity muscular activity because:

  1. It requires no oxygen for completion
  2. The ATP resynthesis is rapid
  3. All the components required are stored in the contractile proteins of muscle (but in limited quantities), and
  4. Few chemical reactions are required to split off the phosphate groups from either Creatine Phosphate or ATP to fulfill the energy requirements of the cell.

Sprints, Olympic and maximal lifts come to mind. Sports like football, baseball, softball and track and field events like the 100m dash, throws and jumps also fit this pathway. Due to the massive, rapid power output here, recovery can be anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes, depending on the current conditioning level of your athlete or client.  Typically, coaches refer to this kind of training as more explosive in nature, but it can have a role in metabolic conditioning if programmed correctly.  

The “in-betweener” – Glycolytic System

But what happens when we want to go at it a little longer, but still put some oomph in the work? Well, we have an app for that. Okay, an energy system.

The Glycolytic energy system is designed for activity between 30-60 seconds and up to 4 minutes, depending, of course, on which studies you believe. It’s the next fastest method of resynthesizing ATP.

Here, carbohydrate is broken down through a series of chemical reactions to form pyruvate. The first of these is a process called glycogenolysis, where glycogen is broken down into glucose. Each molecule of glucose that is broken down to pyruvate in this process yields 2 molecules of ATP.

metabolic conditioning for soccer

The trade-off here is that not a lot of energy is really created, but the process is pretty fast. When glucose breaks down to pyruvate, it can go one of two ways: it can be converted to lactate or converted to a metabolic intermediary known as acetyl coenzyme A, or acetyl-CoA. Acetyl-CoA is sucked up by mitochondria for oxidation and production of more ATP.

The conversion to lactate happens when the need for oxygen is greater than the supply, like during anaerobic exercise. When oxygen is plentiful and muscles are oxygen-happy, like during aerobic exercise, pyruvate (as Acetyl-CoA) enters the mitochondria and goes through aerobic metabolism.

Sometimes, though, this method of energy problems has issues. When oxygen isn’t supplied to muscles el rapido, anaerobic glycolysis takes place. Anaerobic glycolysis is a dirty slob. It leaves behind a mess of hydrogen ions, causing muscle pH to drop. This is known as acidosis. But that’s not all. We also get a buildup of other metabolites like ADP, inorganic potassium and free Potassium ions.

As you might imagine, all this metabolite trash causes trouble. Here’s some of what can go wrong:

  1. Inhibition of specific enzymes involved in muscle contractions and in metabolism
  2. Inhibition of calcium release from muscle storage sites. Problem! Calcium is the trigger for muscle contractions
  3. Interference with the electrical charges in the muscles

This all contributes to a reduction in the ability of muscles to contract effectively. As a result, muscle force production falls and exercise intensity decreases. In other words, you lose strength and power.

Working sets of weightlifting, jump rope sets and running distances of 400m and up come to mind as representative of activities needing this energy system. Sports like hockey, soccer, lacrosse and basketball also fit this pathway. Recovery time here is generally 1 to 3 minutes.  When most people talk about metabolic conditioning, it is usually the anaerobic energy system that gets challenged.  

Going the Distance: Aerobic System

The aerobic system is quite complex, the most complex of the three systems. This is likely an outcropping of the long-held understanding that the human body evolved for aerobic activity. Aerobic metabolic reactions, which happen with oxygen, are the genesis for the majority of cellular energy in the body. This form of ATP resynthesis is the slowest of the three types.

The aerobic system does its work in muscle mitochondria. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as mitochondrial respiration. Blood glucose, glycogen and fat fuels are used to resynthesize ATP within the muscle mitochondria. The aerobic system includes the Krebs cycle (Citric Acid or TCA cycle) and the electron transport chain.

(Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Here’s how it happens:

For carbohydrates, glycolysis metabolizes glucose and glycogen into pyruvate. This is used to create acetyl-CoA, which makes its way to the Krebs cycle. The resulting electrons are transported along the electron transport chain, with ATP and water being produced.

When glucose is completely oxidized via glycolysis, the Krebs cycle and the electron transport chain, the resulting yield is 36 molecules of ATP for every glucose molecule metabolized. So for those of you keeping score at home, that’s 18 times the amount produced by anaerobic glycolysis.

When the aerobic system relies on fat for energy, things are a little different. Fat is stored as triglyceride and can be found in skeletal muscles, where it’s called intramuscular triglyceride, and in adipose tissue under the skin. Fat represents the most plentiful source of energy in the body. Yes, even if you’re not “fat.”

Triglycerides are broken down through lipolysis into free fatty acids and glycerol. The free fatty acids are shipped off to the muscle mitochondria, where carbon atoms swing into action to produce acetyl-CoA in a process called beta-oxidation. Once acetyl-CoA has been formed, fat metabolism looks just like carb metabolism. Electrons go to the electron transport chain and form water and ATP, acetyl-CoA gets crammed into the Krebs cycle.

The result? Fatty acid palmitate produces 129 molecules of ATP. This helps explain why low-intensity activity in the “aerobic zone” can be continued for such long periods, often until the exerciser nods off and tumbles off the treadmill…

For activities lasting longer than 5 minutes, the Aerobic system is the energy provider of choice for the body. Capable of handling easy to moderate intensity activity for hours, it can generally also recover quickly.

Coming next…

If we’re going to use metabolic conditioning with our athletes, I think it’s important to have a basic understanding of energy systems and their application for our athletes. In the next part of this series, we’ll take a look at some of the questions and issues surrounding metabolic conditioning as it applies to athletes and their training.

In Part 3 of this metabolic conditioning series, we’ll put it all to use. We’ll explore sport- and context-specific programming variables for metabolic conditioning and other concepts that may just put your athletes “ahead of the game.”

Bio: Coach Phil Hueston is not just another pretty trainer. With over 18 years of in-the-trenches experience with athletes ages 6 to 60, he brings a unique skill-set to the improvement of his athletes. The author of the Amazon best-seller “Alchemy; Where the Art and Science Collide in Youth Fitness,” his client list includes professional athletes, collegiate athletes as well as thousands of youth athletes. Phil has been the co-owner of All-Star Sports Academy in Toms River, NJ, one of the largest and most successful youth and family fitness centers in New Jersey since 2008. He was named “Coach of the Year” by the IYCA for 2012-2013.  A contributor to IYCA.org and coach to other coaches, Phil provides unique insights and ideas that can help other coaches accelerate their clients’ progress and performance. Phil is married to the woman responsible for his entry into the fitness profession, MaryJo. Between them they have 2 grown children, Nate and Andrew, and 99 problems.  Phil’s personal website is coachphilhueston.com, and he can be contacted at phil.hueston@hotmail.com

 

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes.  The course includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

Top 10 Tips for Training Young Athletes – Jim Kielbaso

The IYCA has produced hundreds of articles and dozens of courses/certifications on important topics related to training young athletes.  There is a lot to know and understand about long term athlete development (LTAD) and creating exceptional training experiences for young athletes.  While it’s impossible to have a full understanding of everything involved in this process, this article boils it down into the Top 10 tips for training young athletes.
Whether you’re a trainer, coach, administrator or parent, this list will give you a basic understanding of the most important concepts involved in training young athletes.  training young athletes
1.  Progress over Performance: Focusing on wins and losses is like fools gold.  You may have won the game or race, but that doesn’t mean you made progress or performed your best.  Celebrate progress rather than performance.  Have a plan and goal for training, and don’t let unimportant competitions get in the way of sticking to the plan.  For young athletes, competitions should be viewed as opportunities to use what has been worked on in practice rather than judging who is good or bad.
2.  Think Long-Term:  Rather than taking shortcuts to see some short-term success, build a strong foundation that will allow an athlete to build upon. Young athletes need to develop fundamental motor skills, coordination and all-around athleticism that will enable them to perfect sports skills later in their development.  Athletic development takes time and can’t be rushed.  The goal shouldn’t be winning the game this weekend.  Instead, build athletic qualities that will allow for continued growth.
3.  Balance General & Specific:  Many coaches want to focus exclusively on one sport or event in order to achieve early success.  While this may help children perform well at a young age, you cannot go back and develop foundational skills like coordination and motor control once the window has closed.  While sports skills certainly need to be taught, be sure to include “general athleticism” drills when training young athletes to build a stronger capacity to learn and perfect skills later.  These two concepts should not be mutually exclusive.  It’s absolutely possible to use the warm-up period to enhance athleticism by including fundamental motor skills, plyometrics, coordination activities, strength development, and mobility work.

kids meeting athletes

4.  Ignite a Fire & Develop Confidence: The goals of every youth sports coach should always be to inspire a desire to excel and to keep kids coming back for more.  Give them examples of what they can be by introducing them to older athletes, taking them to events, and painting mental images of what their future may hold.  Get them to see where they could be someday.  Keep dreams alive in every child until they decide to move on.  Many athletes mature late, and just need to stay with a sport long enough for their strength, size, and power to develop.

5.  Teach Young Athletes More Than Sports: Sports are metaphors for life.  Use sports to teach lessons about the value of hard work, listening, cooperation, repetition, and other life skills.  If all you focus on is the sport, you are missing an opportunity to make a much larger impact on a young athlete.
6.  Focus on the Nervous System: While young athletes can improve strength and endurance, their hormones and anaerobic energy systems are not fully developed yet, so they will not see major improvements in muscular size or anaerobic capacity until adolescence.  Before that time, focus on developing the nervous system by training technique, coordination and fundamental abilities like balance and kinesthetic awareness.  Gradually change the focus over time as the athlete matures.
7.  Balance Variety & Repetition: Variety is an excellent way to stimulate the developing nervous system, but repetition will develop technique.  Young athletes need both and should be taught the value of repetition and the enjoyment of variety.
8.  Basic Scientific Principles Apply: The two most important scientific training principles to understand when training young athletes are Systematic Progression and Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (S.A.I.D. Principle).  The S.A.I.D. Principle states that the body will adapt very specifically to the stimulus it encounters.  In other words, we get better at what we practice.  For example, if we want to increase strength, we must consistently put the muscle under tension with intensity.  It will respond by adding more protein strands which will eventually manifest as a stronger, larger muscle.  On the other hand, performing low intensity, high volume exercises will increase muscular endurance rather than muscular strength.  Both are good, but you need to understand the goal before you choose the training method.
progressive overload for training young athletes
Systematic Progression is the concept of systematically increasing the demands placed upon the athlete in order to stimulate constant adaptation.  As a very simple example, if an athlete wants to increase her pull-up strength, and can currently do 5 pull-ups, she should eventually strive to get 6 reps.  When six reps are achieved, she should try to do 7 reps.  This is a very basic example, but the point is that athletes should constantly be challenged to do that which they are not currently able to do.  This concept holds true for all physical attributes.
9.  Slight Overreach:  This concept works hand-in-hand with Systematic Progression, but can include practices and competitions as well.  The idea is to push athletes barely out of their comfort zone – both in training and competition.  Have them compete against opponents that are slightly better than them so they are always striving to improve.  Be very careful not to put them in too many situations that are completely out of their reach as this often leads to frustration and decreased self-esteem.  It’s also important for young athletes to feel successful, so give them opportunities to succeed as well.  There should be a healthy balance between a young athlete feeling confident and knowing he/she can improve.  Great coaches are able to keep confidence high while helping the athlete work toward larger goals.
10. Use Volume, Don’t Abuse It:  The volume (or amount) of work is one of the most misunderstood concepts in athlete development, and it can be highly individualized.  A volume of work that is too low will not elicit progress.  On the other hand, a very high volume of work is often unnecessary and leads to injuries, boredom, and burnout.  An athletes biological age, training age, genetics, nutrition, sleep patterns, and outside activities are all factors in how much volume is appropriate.  Coaches and parents need to constantly monitor a young athlete’s physical, mental and emotional well-being, and be prepared to make adjustments at any time.
These 10 tips provide an overview of the most important concepts to understand when training young athletes.  For more in-depth information on the concepts and specifics on how to implement them, the IYCA encourages you to go through the Youth Fitness Specialist Level 1 certification and look into the Long Term Athlete Development Roadmap.
Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI.  He has authored multiple books, articles and training products and has spoken at events around the world.  He holds a BS in Exercise Science, an MS in Kinesiology and has gone through multiple certifications through the IYCA, NSCA, NASM and more.  Jim is a former college strength & conditioning coach and has trained thousands of athletes at every level of competition.  He runs a successful NFL Combine training program in Michigan and has been hired as a consultant for major sports programs like the University of Michigan Football Program and the University of Kentucky Basketball Program.

Escape the Achievatron Machine – Andrew Simpson

“The greatest benefit to your life will not be your accomplishments, but rather what happens inside you while you’re moving toward your goal.”

Sports are a big part of many children’s lives, and there are numerous benefits to having quality sporting experience.  Work ethic, mental focus/toughness, cooperation, dealing with ups & downs, perseverance, following directions and sportsmanship are just some of the traits that can be developed through sports. 

Unfortunately, many athletes get sucked into the high-pressure part of sports I call The Achieveatraon Machine.

The Achieveatron Machine is essentially an endless cycle of attempting to achieve the “next big thing” instead of focusing on the process.  While the desire to constantly improve is an excellent trait for athletes to develop, the Achieveatron Machine is different.

An appropriate desire to improve is what gets young athletes to practice, focus, accept coaching and work hard.  It’s a focus on the process, knowing that results will be seen with hard work.

The Achieveatron Machine, however.  It crosses a line when athletes start to feel as though they are never enough.  They can no longer enjoy sports or focus on the process because they feel like they have to always win, earn another scholarship or prove their worth through sports achievements.  Young athletes begin to lose their identity and judge themselves strictly on their performance.

With the way youth sports has gone over the past 10-15 years, we’ve seen a steady rise in the number of athletes getting sucked into the Achieveatron Machine.  This leads to anxiety, burnout, altered self-worth and a constant state of pressure to do more and more.

As coaches, we need to recognize when we see athletes getting sucked in and help pull them out of the Achieveatron Machine.  Here are some tips and a video to help coaches, athletes, and parents avoid this trap:

1. AWARENESS

Be honest with yourself.

Am I stuck in this machine? Have I conformed unknowingly?

2. CLARITY OF VALUES

What really matters the most to me?

Do I care most about the achievements and accomplishments? OR do I care more about who I become along the way? Are the habits I develop and lessons I learn more important than winning/losing?

3. RECOGNIZE and REWARD

Start recognizing and rewarding based on your values. If “hard work and effort” is a value, recognize and reward those behaviors.

If “overcoming fear and failure by not giving up and trying again” is a value of yours, recognize and reward your athlete when they do that.

Do you value “being a great teammate?” Recognize athletes when they high five and congratulate a teammate for shining bright, even if it meant they didn’t.

If I do not pull myself out of the Achievatron Machine, the consequences might be:

* Never feeling like I am enough

* Always needing more

* Loss of motivation at some point

* Roller coaster confidence – feeling good about myself WHEN I am achieving, feeling bad about myself when I am not

* Burnout. 

* Continual decrease in joy and passion for your sport.

Watch this short video of me talking about the Achieveatron Machine with more tips on how to help athletes avoid it.

Andrew Simpson is the founder of Players Fitness & Performance in Frederick, MD.   He discovered he had a passion for Exercise Science, Nutrition, and Human Performance in 2010 and decided to blend this with his love for athletics by opening PFP. He and his team have been blessed with the responsibility to mentor and develop hundreds of middle and high school students in the Frederick area. Andrew’s mission is to inspire youth to live uncommon lives and to be bold enough to become extraordinary leaders.

 

Many coaches talk about mental toughness, but do you really know how to develop this important trait in athletes?  It’s not about wall sits or pushing past limits.  It’s about being able to focus and perform at a high level without letting distractions affect performance.  There are simple strategies that coaches and parents can employ to develop this ability in young athletes.  The IYCA Mental Toughness Course teaches you the skills and exercises needed to help young athletes.  Developed by world-renowned sports psychologist Haley Perlus, this is an absolute MUST for any coach working with young athletes.

 

Is the Guru Always Right? – Brett Klika

As a young strength and conditioning coach, I would read an article or watch a presentation by one of my “big name” industry idols and immediately rush back to my own programs to employ what I had learned.

Sometimes, bam! It was like magic. The little programming secret I had learned from coach X helped transform my ability to help kids. Other times, it was more like, thud! The kids didn’t respond. It appeared unsafe for my training environment. I didn’t have the facilities, program setup, or coaching support required.

Assuming the problem was on my side (a guru would never lead me wrong), I often continued to torpedo my program with these strategies that weren’t really working for me or my athletes, but were apparently the “right” thing to do. After all, I didn’t want to seem like I was out of the loop when talking shop with colleagues.  The unfortunate result of this blind faith ranged from athlete and parent disengagement to unnecessary injury.

There definitely are “ideal world” or context-specific youth program strategies that can help improve kids’ performance. In the real world, however,  coaches find themselves in vastly different situations with the athletes, facilities, and training environments.  When we can be open to trying new things, but become reflective and honest enough to determine what works for us, it optimizes the performance and safety of our athletes.

Take an activity like crawling, for example. I personally tout the benefits of this training activity for nearly every level of athlete. However, in my touting, I may not mention that I primarily use this when I have a smooth indoor training surface. Outdoor synthetic turf gets too hot when the sun is out. Asphalt is out of the question, and poorly maintained real grass can get too muddy, sticky, and allergy-inducing to be a safe, effective surface for this activity.  

I only do crawling games when there is ample space because I’ve experienced multiple injuries from fingers getting stepped on when kids are moving in an over-congested area. I have primarily trained in upper-middle-class areas of wealthy Southern California, suggesting that the kids I’ve worked with are less likely to be morbidly obese than those training in more impoverished areas.

If this disclaimer was provided with every strategy a coach shares with the masses, our advice would take the shape of one of those drug commercials with the fast-talking “this drug might kill you” guy at the end. The truth is, within a majority of the context from which I coach and train, my athletes are engaged, parents see the value, and kids safely improve their strength from crawling activities. You may experience something completely different.  

Odds are, we’re both right.

Below are some of the alleged “must do” activities and equipment that many love, but I am willing to admit I’ve had either safety or practicality concerns within my own programs, particularly with groups of kids under the age of 8.

Medicine Balls

Gasp! How dare I question one of the original “4 Horsemen” of fitness? Don’t get me wrong, I still use medicine balls with nearly everyone I work with. However, when working with my youngest kids, I’ve developed concerns over the years.

For one, rebounding medicine balls often rebound too quickly off of the ground or off of walls for this age, resulting in frequent bloody noses and similar mishaps. Tossing balls back and forth hasn’t worked well with this age due to hand/eye coordination challenges and the relatively large size of many balls.

Soft-coated balls work better, but I’ve found these to be expensive and with the concrete area I’ve used for training, durability becomes a concern. I’ve also been challenged with balls rolling away or errantly being tossed in the wrong direction, causing tripping and “falling debris” hazards.

For my youngest athletes, I’ve had better success with softer weighted implements, like SandBells® that have similar benefits without the risks of most medicine balls. For rebounding types of activities, I’ll often use playground balls.

Back-pedaling

While it’s obvious we have to train youngsters to be able to move in every direction, I have grown to be extra careful when teaching kids to move backward. This activity requires movement with very little visual feedback. Young children rely almost exclusively on visual feedback, so their balance and spatial orientation are going to be severely compromised.

I’ve witnessed numerous falls and collisions, some resulting in concussions and broken bones when I’ve turned kids loose to do relay races, agility drills, and other activities while moving backward.

I still help children develop this skill, but I have learned to take the following considerations:

  1. Spend a significant amount of time teaching reverse marches and skips prior to running in this orientation. This includes performing agility drills using these regressions.
  2. Only perform back-pedaling in an open area where tripping will not result in colliding with other objects or people.
  3. When running backward, keep distance relatively short, i.e. 10-15 yards
  4. Never have young children race while running backward, particularly outside of 10-15 yards.

Resistance Tubing with Handles

For many, resistance tubing with handles has proven to be an easily transportable, safe, and effective resistance training method for nearly every age. While I’ve found this to be true with adults and more advanced, body-aware athletes, I have not found it to be true for youngsters.

For one, when training on a field with a group, there must be a fixed anchor to attach the tubing. I’ve found I can’t always depend on this. The elastic nature of the bands is a safety concern for young kids as well. Despite repeatedly sharing instructions and safety expectations, the temptation for kids to test the elastic boundaries of the bands is too great. One mis-handling can result in a band snapping another child. Yes, I have seen a child nearly “put an eye out”.

Even under regular training conditions bands can break under load, particularly when outdoors in the heat. When performing exercises, young children struggle with eccentric control, so the elastic recoil of the bands highlights this disparity.  Kids find this “ragdoll” phenomenon entertaining, so they are slow to correct.

I prefer using SandBells® and even medicine balls for resistance training with young children when away from an established weight room environment.  

The reason I share the above with you is to show that despite what “others” have said, I myself am challenged with some of the “established” paradigms when it comes to training youth. But, I have found ways and methods that work for me and my athletes in our training environment.

How do you determine if a training tool or program suggestion is truly working for you and the kids you work with, or if you’re merely trying to force square pegs into round holes?

Quickly answer these questions:

  1. Has your program grown objectively (in participation and profitability) since employing a new strategy?
  2. Does it improve athlete engagement?
  3. Does it improve value to parents?
  4. Has it resulted in more, or fewer injuries during training or game play?
  5. Does an increase in the amount of cost, administration, and/or time result in improved athletic AND BUSINESS results?
  6. Do you truly believe in the intended purpose and/or outcome?
  7. Does it improve the rate and magnitude of results with your athletes without compromising your training culture, business, or other critical factors allowing you to continue to help kids?
  8. Does it allow you to “be yourself” and connect with kids in the way you feel is the most critical?
  9. Does it objectively contribute to the longevity of your program and/or training business?
  10. Is the program model from which the advice comes relevant to yours?

As coaches, it’s essential that we employ programming tools that create the path of least resistance to the greatest magnitude of outcome for our athletes and our business.  

These tools can be different for everyone.

 

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and a regular contributor to the IYCA who is passionate about coaching young athletes.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.

 

If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

 

Lower Body Power Generation for the Junior Golfer – Nelson Morales YFS1

The number one thing that a golfer looks for when they seek an outside professional in the fitness world is to increase their power off the tee.  For those foreign to the game of golf, this is the home plate or line of scrimmage – the first shot on each hole. Tiger Woods ushered in the concept of performance training for golf, and as more and more professionals are seen training, it is becoming a normal part of the golf community. Because of this, parents are more apt to get their junior golfer involved in performance training, which represents an exceptional opportunity for the youth fitness professional.

Many children become enamored with the sport of golf as early as 3-5 years old.  Many want to focus solely on the game before their 10th birthday, which means fitness professionals will need to be familiar with the concept of long-term athlete development (LTAD) in order to give them more of a multilateral approach to their development.  

We must consider the needs and past experiences of a young golfer.  They may be experiencing some success at a young age, but have they developed a strong foundation of balance, coordination, strength, and mobility?  They will all want to increase their rotational power so that they see immediate improvements in their game. This can be tricky because you have to give them a little of what they want, so you can also give them what they need.  

Here are a few examples of how I create habits to generate power with the junior golfer and tie in the IYCA LTAD Model so you can gradually progress athlete to more challenging activities or version of each exercise.

Keep in mind that these are just a few exercises that can be used, and none of them require equipment or weights.  While traditional strength training can be beneficial for young athletes, it is wise to start with bodyweight exercises.  This will allow them to develop body control and technique, and it is also a much easier way to introduce training to the parents of young golfers who may be resistant if they think you are trying to “bulk up” their children.  While there are training misconceptions in all sports, the golf world is still very new to resistance training, so starting with bodyweight exercises is a great way to begin.

Ages 6-9

Game/exploration-based fitness activities:

Frog Hops:

Cueing should be limited at this age so they learn how to explore movement options, but you can say things like “get down like a frog and show me your best hop for distance” or “jump over the lily pads.” This helps them create mental images.  

Here you can lay out cones or agility dots/hoops as visual reference points and call them lily pads. Here is where you need to set your perimeters and let them know they can’t jump out of the “pond.” See where they take it and allow for exploration and self-discovery. You can add an element of excitement and intensity by adding an “alligator” that chases them.  This is just you running after them, but it will get them to jump faster and farther and the laughter will be contagious.  We are also nurturing the concept of spatial awareness at this stage. They will be learning different movement patterns and creative movement options to solve this “movement puzzle” as they get across the pond and evade the alligator.  

While simply jumping from pad to pad may not seem difficult for every child, it will improve lower body power as well as decision making (to decide which lily pad they can get to), distance perception and body control.  You can challenge athletes by only jumping with one foot or spreading out the lily pads.

Ages 10-13

Cueing should still be somewhat limited for this age group, but you can definitely start to connect the dots between training and better performance on the course.  Of course, you will also give enough instruction to ensure a safe training experience. Here’s an example of how you could use “golf language” to win over the attention of an elite junior golfer.   It’s important for them to feel that the training is relevant to their sport and that you know a little about it.

Broad Jumps:  Step 1: “We’re going to do an exercise that will help you with your strike at impact.  More leg strength equals more power into your drive.” Every golfer wants a strong drive to set them up for the next shot, and they know that strong and straight equals lower scores. Step 2: “Crouch down into a deep squat like you’re looking at your target line for a putt.” Of course, you want to visually demonstrate as well due to the modes of learning. At this age, they should have a decent understanding of the squat. They’ve most likely done it in gym class or seen it done in some manner. Step 3: “Explode out the way a ball explodes off the tee down the fairway. Land in the same position you started in, and aim the body to be in the middle of the X or Crack. Soft knees and think ninja-like “set-up posture.”

While this exercise is very similar to the frog hops over lily pads described above, athletes in this age group can handle a slightly greater volume of training, so more repetitions can be performed.

You can also put a challenge in front of athletes this age. Lay down a measuring tape and do a “best out of 5” or “beat your score” challenge.  Challenge and reward is huge with this age group. The positive reinforcement gets them geared up to better themselves the next time they attempt the task as well.  The feeling of accomplishment and a “Great Job” goes a long way.  You can progress to a 3-jump or 5-jump version (3 or 5 consecutive jumps) and even into single-leg hops to add bot intensity and kinesthetic challenge.  Constantly find small ways to push them just past their comfort zone in an effort to achieve slightly better performances.

Ages 14-18 years old:

In the golf world this age group is still largely considered in the “Junior” arena, but this is where training will become more intense and sport specific. Every little minor thing at this stage means the difference between Top 5-10 or Cut after the first day of tournament play, so detail is enhanced at this stage of development. What we tend to find at this age, especially at the younger side of the spectrum, is a “wonkiness” within the realm of balance. So, here is an example of taking an exercise that can be used even for the younger age groups and bringing it to the older ones.

Plyo push-up to a 2-foot and 1-foot land & stick:

Here we try cover a few areas at once. They’re beginning to develop upper body strength and with appropriate level push-ups they can really create some explosive power. Yet we still want to emphasize lowe- body power, balance and athleticism.

Start face down, straight legs, one line from head to heel on the floor. With arm at side and elbow slightly tucked at chest height, explode up as quickly as possible, and land in an athletic stance as softly as possible. Emphasize quickness and reactivity in addition to fighting to maintain balance. When the movement is mastered, progress to closing the eyes in order to challenge the athlete’s balance, proprioception and kinesthetic awareness.  Start with the 2-footed landing, and eventually progress to a 1-footed landing. Start with eyes open, and move to eyes-closed.

Here you can see the “eyes-closed” version:

Here is the 1-foot eyes-closed version:

These are simple examples of explosive exercises that can be done for the junior golfer.  Of course, the progression and slow build-up process that the IYCA teaches is the best approach for long-term results.  While these exercises can be used for any athlete, speaking their “sport language” will help develop buy-in and enhance their perception that the program is helping them at their sport.  

So as you see the exercise variation can be the same at all ages but is in the nature of the instruction and intention of the exercise where your overall results will stem from. The IYCA Model represents a build-up approach and as we know slow and steady does win the overall race to a well-structured athlete. Within universal exercises but the language of the golf world you can truly affect the development of junior golfer and the creation of their power.

 

Nelson Morales is the owner of KFS Fitness & Performance in Orlando, Florida and S & C Coach for the Henry Brunton Golf Academy. He works with Junior golfers ages 4- 18 as well as players on the Pro Golf Tour Circuits.

It’s Not Them; It’s Us – Better Coaching With Young Athletes: Brett Klika

Coaching young athletes isn’t as easy as it seems.  

“Use your hips, not your knees!”

My 4-year-old daughter’s swim coach echoed this cue over and over as my daughter lay in a backfloat, churning water and going nowhere.

The swim coach, myself and the host of other parents at the pool knew what she was trying to say.  Unfortunately, despite my daughter knowing what her “hips” where, her relatively limited experience as an earthling lent to trouble in deciphering what her teacher meant by “using” them.

Water continued to churn, my daughter didn’t move, her teacher looked defeated. My wife quickly shot me her “don’t make a scene” look as my inside voice screamed “Just tell her to make her legs straight!!!”

This communication disconnect is often a limiting factor in how positive or negative our interactions are with our youngest athletes.  In all honesty, a majority of the time when kids don’t do what they are supposed to do, the communication breakdown is on our end, not theirs.  Let’s face it, coaching young athletes isn’t as easy as people (who don’t do it) think.

It’s easy to chalk this disconnect up to:

  • Kids don’t listen
  • They don’t comprehend things well
  • They’re unfocused
  • They’re undisciplined
  • They’re uncoordinated
  • They have numerous physical and cognitive limitations
  • Etc., Etc. Etc.

The list of the challenges associated with coaching young athletes could go on.  The fact of the matter is that all of these have a significant element of truth. The good news, however, is that many of these limitations can be overcome when we focus on how to become better communicators with young children.

To create a more positive and less frustrating learning environment for everyone involved, consider the communication tips below.

“Pre-load” Vocabulary When Coaching Young Athletes

In the example with my daughter’s swim coach given above, she most likely had more experience working with older children. These older children could not only identify parts of their body, but also identify the different functions of these parts. On top of that, they were experienced in taking in auditory information and applying it to a motor task.These perceptual motor skills of body and auditory awareness, in addition to others, are not fully developed in most young children, particularly before the age of six. Their bodies, in addition to the many sensations, sights and sounds in the environment are still new.

Prior to introducing a skill or activity, consider the involved components. “Bend your elbow, drop your hips, point your toes, etc.” all sound like simple cues. However, to a relatively new and rapidly developing neuromuscular system, they are frustratingly novel, particularly when the child is attempting to integrate the multiple movements necessary to execute a skill.

When it appears that children are ignoring our coaching cues, the problem is often that they hear what we are saying but can’t draw the connections to recreate it physically. To overcome this issue with better communication, consider “pre-loading” important coaching cue vocabulary.

Decrease frustration by separating the anatomy and movement demands from the actual skill during the warm up.

Once again using my daughter’s swim lessons as an example, a better approach could be to have the children begin playing a “Simon Says” type of game on the wall, familiarizing them with the anatomy cues associated with the different ways they can kick in the water. Starting by identifying the body parts, then adding their function.  In a few minutes, the children’s neuromuscular systems could be better prepared to receive information.

Below are two examples of simple activities to familiarize kids with body part recognition and function.

Body Part Callouts Video 

Body Moves Video

Stop!

As mentioned above, children’s ability to absorb and process information is limited. Add loads of distraction and this ability to process information decreases further.  We often forget that when young kids are performing a new activity, everything is conscious and manual. They are consciously governing each step and movement. In addition to this internal world, they are learning to navigate everything around them.  This is why coaching young athletes is so different than coaching older kids.  When we stand in the middle of a field with a whistle and bark orders to 7-year olds, we merely add additional layers of complexity.  

If we want to help children by providing them instruction, it’s important that we eliminate as many internal and external distractions as possible.

One of the most effective ways to do this is to stop the current activity so the senses for absorbing information are maximized.

  • If there is a group, bring the group together, within arm’s reach, so their visual field is focused on you Coaching Young Athletesas the instructor. Another option is to have pre-designated markers (cones, dots, etc.) for the kids to occupy. This eliminates the distraction of “where should I stand?”.
  • Get down to the child’s level so you can make eye contact
  • Do a quick auditory or visual activity (How many fingers do I have up? How many claps is this?) to focus their attention
  • Keep instruction brief, preferably focusing on one cue
  • Have them immediately practice the cue
  • If they still struggle, consider refamiliarizing with vocabulary

While this is essential when coaching young athletes, it is an important element of coaching at all ages.

Identify the Obstacle

We’ve all experienced tossing an object to a young child and they flail their arms like they’re trying to swat multiple flies at the same time.  Meanwhile, the object bounces off their head like a backboard shot in basketball. We’ll often try to correct this with the good ol’ “keep your eye on the ball” routine, to no avail.

“Backboard!”

In scenarios like this, we very well could be trying to coach things the child is literally incapable of doing. Using the catching example above, prior to the age of about six, children have an extremely limited ability to focus on objects as they move closer to them. Additionally, judging speed and direction are difficult when their eyeball doesn’t fully form its round shape until about nine years old.

When properly trained and practiced, these limitations can be overcome and progressed.  However, significant regression is often required at the onset. When we understand that the obstacle to catching is the inability to focus on the quickly moving target, we may choose to introduce a target that doesn’t move as quickly. Striking and catching bubbles trains the eyes to track more efficiently because they move slower. They young eyeball has a better chance to take in useful information.

Other components of athleticism work the same way.  Consider the acquisition of strength for bodyweight calisthenics. We already know modern children are inactive and overspecialized. They’re not out playing every day, putting their proprioceptive system through a wide variety of challenges. We then wonder why they can’t climb a rope or do 20 push-ups on command.

Yes, these children could be considered “weak,” however, this weakness comes from their proprioceptive system having very little experience managing the body’s entire weight. When a child goes into a push up position, the shoulder joint goes into significant compression. The untrained muscle spindles and Golgi tendons panic and focus efforts to alleviate this compression. Hips raise into the air or fall to the ground.

Understanding that this proprioceptive inexperience is a significant obstacle, we can do crawling, grip, and static work in the push up position. When proprioception is better trained, stability, mobility, and strength can be optimized. In a push up, the shoulder joint no longer panics and is able to respond appropriately to the acute compression. Similarly, just hanging from a bar for progressively longer periods of time can aid in removing some of the proprioceptive limitations associated with performing pull ups.

We often have to facilitate the activities kids used to do during play in order to build a foundation for skill.

The next time you are working with or coaching young athletes and want to pull your hair out while screaming “aren’t you listening??” take a step back. If you’re honest, it’s probably you, not them. Consider the tips above to create a positive, enriching experience that will empower them to perform for life.

 

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and a regular contributor to the IYCA who is passionate about coaching young athletes.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.

 

If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

 

Creating Athlete Buy-In with Joe Powell

How do you get athletes to like and trust you?

While most coaches are worried about exercise selection, technique and programs (which are all important), none of that matters if you can’t create athlete buy-in.

Unfortunately, many coaches think this is just about personality and most think their personality is a perfect fit for coaching.  While your personality is certainly an important factor, there is much more to it.

In the video below, Jim Kielbaso talks with Utah State Strength & Conditioning Coach Joe Powell about how he creates trust and buy-in.  Joe has the ability to make this happen, so he’s sharing some of his experiences and thoughts on the topic so that you can do the same.

To learn more about creating athlete buy-in, we strongly suggest you check out Brett Bartholomew’s course titled BOUGHT IN.  This is an in-depth, comprehensive course that will help you understand exactly how to create trust and buy-in with your athletes.  Click on the link or image below to get a free video and more information about Bought In.

You Can’t Microwave an Athlete – Jim Kielbaso

Note: This article was originally intended for parents and/or coaches, but it can be helpful for anyone who helps develop athletes.  The IYCA encourages you to share this with parents or other coaches to help them understand the process of long-term athletic development.  Please feel free to copy & paste this into an email to parents, for use on your website or to share on social media.  It may be a little long for newsletters, so please divide it up however you feel is your best opportunity to spread the information.  It’s important for us to work together to educate the public about this process, and we can’t do it alone.

I talk to parents and coaches all the time who want to take short-cuts and rush the development of athletes. The most common belief is that if you just practice your sports skills (dribbling, shooting, setting, hitting, fielding, etc.) enough, you’ll be a great athlete.  

Unfortunately, that’s just not how great athletes are developed.

Take a look at who dominates most youth sports – it’s usually the fastest, strongest kids. Because they’re faster and stronger, they are almost always more coordinated which makes learning sports skills much, much easier.

Sometimes, kids with amazing skills rise up at an early age, only to be overtaken by the bigger, faster kids down the road. Rarely do you see a slow, weak athlete rise to the top of any sport.  I’m not even talking about being the best in the world. Just take a look at high school sports. Faster, more explosive kids are almost always dominating kids who have good skills but just can’t use them because they’re too slow.

Talk to just about any coach, and they’ll tell you that faster, more explosive athletes dominate sports and have a much higher athletic ceiling.

There is plenty of research supporting this concept, and just about every national governing body (i.e. US Hockey, US Lacrosse, etc.) is trying to implement long-term athlete development systems that don’t focus exclusively on sports skills. They know that the better all-around athletes end up enjoying sports more and eventually out-perform those who focus exclusively on skills, but our microwave mentality often gets in the way of this process.

So, what are you supposed to do about it?

The answer depends on where the athlete is in his/her development.  Let me give you some guidelines and practical tips that you can apply.  The age ranges below are not set in stone (developmental age is more important), but they give you a framework to work from.

Under 8 years old:  For athletes under about 8 years old (every kid is an athlete at that age), parents should expose them to as many different activities as possible. This is a critical time to “lay down the circuit board” for an athlete and develop a large movement repertoire. Practice what we call “Fundamental Motor Skills” like hopping, skipping, throwing, catching, climbing, tumbling, balancing, etc. Do the things that were taught in gym class back in the 60’s and 70’s. Make up fun games or obstacle courses and get kids to learn what their bodies can do.

8-11 years old:  For kids about 8-11 (who have decent motor development), it’s time to expand their “physical literacy.” Physical literacy is the new term for “all-around athleticism,” and it’s basically all about enhancing those fundamental motor skills by adding speed and complexity to them while sport-specific skills start to take shape. Certain sports like gymnastics and figure skating require a much earlier commitment to skills, but just about every other sport relies more heavily on the “slow-cooking” approach. At this age, athletes should still participate in multiple sports/activities, and overall sport specializationathleticism should be the focus. Teach athletes how to run, jump, catch, kick, throw, etc. with more power and accuracy, and begin to develop strength & speed by teaching mechanics and body weight exercises. Exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, lunges and jumping activities should gradually be incorporated into an athlete’s routine, but not so much that the athlete dreads them. 2-3 days a week of 20-60 minutes is more than enough to supplement what is probably not being addressed in gym class or sports practices.

Have athletes practice sports skills they show interest in, but encourage work in multiple sports throughout the year.  Allow kids to concentrate on a sport while they’re in-season, but move on to a different sport to keep things fresh.  Allowing kids to play on teams with their friends and coaches they like is very important at this age because it makes sports more fun.  Igniting an inner desire to play and improve is important at this age, and fun is an ingredient you can’t use too much of.  Of course, there are always exceptions to this with kids who absolutely love one sport and don’t want to do anything else.  Those kids should still take breaks so they look forward to coming back for more.

The most important goal at this age is to make each season or experience enjoyable enough that they want to come back for more.  Try not to get sucked into too much seriousness yet – there’s plenty of time for that later.

11-14 years old:  The ages of 11-14 are critical for speed & agility development because these traits are more easily developed before the massive growth spurts during adolescence. This is the age when more focused training can take place as long as the foundation has been laid. If athletes at this age are still struggling with fundamental motor skills, more time definitely needs to be spent on these skills. It’s always a good idea to take one step back in order to take two forward, so don’t be afraid to work on fundamental movement skills and keep things fun.  Development over competition should still be the guiding theme at this time.   Many athletes need considerable work on running mechanics at this age because they simply have not been properly addressed yet and parents/coaches start to notice a lack of speed. Growth spurts can also disrupt movement patterns, and once-coordinated kids can lose some of their smoothness.  Good training can usually avert this.

Most of this can still be corrected/improved, but it will usually take a more structured approach to make up for what was missed at an earlier age. Unfortunately, most athletes in this age range are already so over-scheduled that parents find it difficult to fit in this kind of training. Parents/coaches need to find windows of opportunity during the year to focus on physical literacy and athleticism. The off-season is the best time to address these traits, but athletes should gradually move to a year-round approach that includes brief exposures to training multiple times a week.

Sports are definitely getting more serious during these ages.  Kids start to gravitate to a sport, they start to notice who’s good at sports, and they usually decide how badly they want to pursue a sport during this stage.  Many kids will start to ask for more help or they’ll begin to practice more on their own.  Put kids in situations that gently challenge them without making it so difficult that they feel completely incompetent.  A little struggling helps athletes grow, but emotional development is important to understand at this stage.  Some kids are ready for more than others.  Some will step up to large challenges while others need a little less pressure.

By the end of this stage, kids on a path to great sports success will start to concentrate on one sport.  This is OK, but a secondary sport is still encouraged to keep things fresh and encourage competition is multiple ways.  “Early-recruiting sports” will add another level of complexity to high-performers, and these athletes will be put in high-pressure, competitive situations.  Try to wait as long as possible to take part in these events, but there is no way to avoid them in certain sports when an athlete is on track to being an elite performer.  These events will start to reward achievement over development, so waiting as long as possible for this extends development.

Athletes who are not on a high-performance path should be encouraged to continue improvement and find enjoyment in sports.  For some, that means pulling back on a busy schedule.  For others, that means adding more activities that promote athletic growth and confidence.

The goal is still to make sports/activities enjoyable enough that they want more.  For competitive, high-performers, the term “enjoyable” will mean getting better and they will thrive in competitive situations that stretch them.  For less-competitive athletes, enjoyable is still about developing competency, but pressure should be lessened in order to maintain confidence and the desire to continue.

There should never be a time where we “de-select” kids or encourage them to quit.  While it’s obvious that not every kid will be elite, there is much more to sports and athletic development that being a professional athlete.

15 years old & up: Athletes 15 and up have often concentrated their efforts on one or two sports, and competition takes on a larger role. This is usually the time where the faster, stronger athletes really begin to excel whereas the slower, weaker athletes lag behind, get injured or quit sports altogether.  Speed and strength can still be addressed at this age, and most serious athletes are now engaging in some sort of structured training program to enhance their strength, speed, and power. Athletes who have not developed the foundation can still improve their physical literacy, but they are at a distinct disadvantage if those traits weren’t addressed earlier. Much more concentrated efforts to develop strength and power should be applied in this age range because athletes are better able to adapt to more intense training.

Squat spot

Photo Credit: RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER

High-performers will usually start to concentrate on one or two sports because their busy schedule will not allow for too many additional activities.  Competition and exposure events will take on greater importance for these athletes, but development should still be the priority.  Very few athletes have reached their full potential at this point, so we should strive for constant improvement even for elite performers.

Non-elite athletes should be encouraged to learn the process of maximizing their potential and being the best they can be.  This is an important lesson and will make their sporting experiences much more valuable and enjoyable.  Many non-elite 15-year-olds still end up being elite at some point or in some sport, so it’s important to encourage constant improvement.  There are countless stories of kids getting cut from a sport as a freshman and eventually becoming professional athletes, so we shouldn’t de-select kids from the high-performance track if they have the desire to continually improve.  A single summer of development can have a profound impact on a young athlete, so continue to support these young athletes to take full advantage of what is available to them.

I hope this helps you understand the process of long-term athletic development and gives you some practical ideas for how to help your athlete/s. There is not a cookie-cutter approach to developing an athlete, so it’s important to give each athlete what he/she needs and avoid experiences that lessen their desire to excel.

Comment below so we can talk about the best way forward.

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and the Director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI where he helps develop athletes of all ages and ability levels.  He a former college strength & conditioning coach and also works with many elite athletes.  He also has three boys of his own, so he has seen athletic development from every angle.

 

For more detailed information about Long-Term Athlete Development, get the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap – the most complete and practical guide to enhancing athleticism through every stage of development.

 

Athlete Development Model – Jim Kielbaso

Athlete Development ModelLong term athlete development has been discussed for years, but the concept is still incredibly confusing for practitioners.  Part of the reason for this confusion is that the models are missing details and coordination of efforts between coaches, trainers and parents.

At the 2018 IYCA Summit, Jim Kielbaso offered a new way of thinking about athlete development and offered a solution for how we move forward.  He spoke about where we’ve been, what has been done and outlined a model that will add to the already existing LTAD models.

While most of the theoretical models have great thoughts and rationale behind them, we still find that professionals hide inside their own “silos” without coordinating their efforts with the other important parties involved.  If a S & C Coach can’t coordinate with the sport coach, the athlete is ultimately going to suffer and results will not be optimal.

Youth sports has become a business that is often more about the adults involved than the kids.  Because of this, early specialization gets shoved down everyone’s throats, and complete athlete development is ignored.  Numerous articles, books and videos have been produced describing the problems associated with the current sports industry.  But, instead of making changes, we seem to be stuck in a rut of complaining.

We also know that most athletes don’t start a formal performance training program until they have already shown some athletic promise or strong interest in improving.  Instead of waiting, what can we do as a profession to help enhance the opportunities and experiences of all young athletes?

We may not love the systems that are in place, but we need to be pro-active and work towards changing youth sports systems from the inside instead of complaining that things “aren’t the way they should be.”

The video above is meant to get coaches to think about how we can begin working together to create exceptional experiences for athletes and help them reach their true potential.  Most coaches have great intentions but get stuck in their own silo because there is so much to be done in their area of expertise.  It’s time to make a change.  Watch the video and leave your comments below on how we can make this happen.

 

The old “windows of opportunity” Long Term Athlete Development model doesn’t explain what to actually do at each stage of development.  Learn the truth about long term athlete development and how to approach athletes at every level in the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap.  This is the most comprehensive approach to long term athlete development available.  Click on the image below to learn more.

Also visit http://LongTermAthleteDevelopment.com for more information on Long Term Athlete Development.

The Summer Survival Guide for Youth Performance Coaches – Brett Klika

Summer is “Black Friday” for many youth strength and conditioning coaches. Kids are out of school, the weather is good, and parents are motivated to fill their kids’ time. During the summer, you have more of an opportunity than any other point in the year to make a difference with a large number of kids.

Of course, along with this opportunity comes 80-hour weeks, coaching, motivating, and guiding from sun up to sun down. You return home every night exhausted, vocally strained, and baked by the sun, but still excited to do it all again tomorrow. We’re lucky to be in a career we enjoy. 

Regardless of our level of enjoyment, however, “summer burnout” is a real thing. Every day our physical, mental, and emotional self is tested by kids, parents, coaches, facilities, and everything else that seems to be amplified when we’re drop-dead busy. Without some basic strategies to stay at the top of our game all summer long, it’s easy to become disengaged, burned out, and merely going through the motions by the beginning of August.  A burned-out coach can’t change kids’ lives. Actually, they can’t do much for their own life either.

After coaching summer camps for over 15 years, I’ve identified some of the key rituals that help re-fill the physical, mental, and emotional tank when the days are long, the sun is hot, and kids’ attention spans are short. These busy times of year (similar to combine prep for some) are “in season” for us. Consider how we would advise an athlete to maintain their performance throughout the course of a long season.

Caffeine

Energy drinks would probably not find their way onto the “Performance Fuel” shopping lists that we provide our athletes. For a good reason.  With high demands for energy all day, caffeine becomes a “go to” for strength coaches. While caffeine isn’t inherently “bad,” it’s important to note that it isn’t actually energy. It’s a drug that blocks a neurotransmitter that tells us we’re tired.  The body’s response is to put us into a temporary “fight or flight” mode. Essentially, caffeine gives us a new paint job on a broken-down truck.

A reasonable amount of caffeine (most research points to about 300mg or less per day- about two tall coffees) has very little negative impact on us. Once we start 2x and 3x’ing that, we can wreak havoc on our adrenal system. Is our physiology designed to be in fight or flight mode all day, every day? High levels of caffeine, particularly late in the afternoon or evening, can interfere with sleep. Even those who can drink caffeine late in the day and are able to fall asleep will experience unconscious disruptions in sleep quality. This, combined with a slow increase in tolerance creates a requirement for more caffeine. The cycle continues.

While committing to at least 7 hours of sleep per night is a magic energy bullet, read further for other ways, outside of bovine doses of caffeine, to ignite and manage your energy over the course of the summer.

Nutrition

Protein bars are a coach’s best friend when they are used in a pinch. The entirety of the summer, however, can become a pinch. A diet of synthesized protein covered in laboratory sweeteners takes its toll after a few weeks. While “sit down” meals aren’t an option for many during this time of year, consider how you would advise an athlete to eat during their busy in-season schedule.  

Coaches tend to have the most time and opportunities for choice at breakfast and dinner. Resist the temptation to immediately turn to the convenience of the drive-through. Put some rigor into packing as many veggies as possible into these meals, along with quality protein, fat, and carbohydrate.  Again, you’re eating to compete. During the work day, have some natural food choices available that can be eaten on the go if necessary. Nuts, fruits, and other similar choices can be used as energy a bit easier than franken-food. There is definitely room for the standard shakes and bars but try not to make them their own food group. Big mid-day meals with loads of carbohydrate and fat can drain our afternoon energy.  Eat for how you want to feel.

Frustrating Parents, Kids, and Coaches

It’s a 100% guarantee you will encounter kids, parents, and coaches that test every ounce of your patience. During the summer, you will encounter these almost daily. The emotional impact is amplified due to your strains for time and energy. Indulging in anger, frustration, or verbal combat creates a huge drain on every system of the body. These negative influences can shadow the majority of positive things that happen daily.

To create some emotional armor to deal with these distractions, it’s important to realize that most of the resistance you encounter with these individuals is due to issues they have, not issues you have. They feel threatened. They want attention. They need control.  Not that this makes things easier when a kid is being a distraction, a parent is questioning your methods, or a coach is bad-mouthing your program. However, putting these challenges in perspective and dealing with them as a cool-headed professional lessens the negative emotional impact. Additionally, when you are cool-headed and confident during a confrontation, it frustrates the hell out of these individuals, often forcing them to change their tune.

You win….with a smile.  

Talk to your mentors

Every youth strength and conditioning coach should have a handful of mentors they feel comfortable seeking counsel from. Furthermore, it’s important that at least one of these mentors is outside of the organization you work for.  These mentors and peers are critical for exchanging challenges, solutions, support and other ideas that not only boost morale, but create a better overall summer camp experience. When we’re coaching, it’s easy to feel like you’re on an island. There is an inherent sense of competition with other coaches and other organizations. While a certain level of competition is healthy, much more can be gained from collaboration. Sharing how we make ourselves and our kids better every day helps everyone grow.

Your personal “best practices”

We all know the formula for how to perform at our individual best. It could be eating a certain way, educating ourselves daily, or going to church every Sunday.  While this formula is different for everyone, we know that when we hit this formula, we’re hard to stop. The problem is, when our time and energy is strained, we neglect these practices in favor of “survival mode.” Survival mode allows us to survive, not thrive. Furthermore, survival mode has a short shelf life before full shut-down occurs.

Summer and other busy times of the year require us to perform at our best. Taking a moment prior to the madness to write down the practices that supercharge our mind and body, helps us realize our summertime “non-negotiables.” While our time and energy will be strained, these things are necessary to perform and feel the way we want. Of course, we may need to create modifications, for example your normal 2-hour workout might become 30-minute maintenance workout.  Either way, we identify an essential component of our success and commit to it.

Change young lives all summer long with these simple ways to fill your physical, mental, and emotional tank on a daily basis. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, say your prayers and call mom. The world needs the best YOU.

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and regular contributor to the IYCA.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.

 

 

Rethinking Long Term Athlete Development – Jim Kielbaso

The concept of long term athlete development (LTAD) has been around for several years, but it has more recently become a hot topic amongst youth sports and training organizations.  It seems that everyone now needs a formula for how to develop great athletes so they can represent their countries and succeed as professionals.  Several academicians have taken the lead on reviewing the relevant literature and have written articles and books about the topic.  They have used this literature to create several different models for developing athletes.  While these models were a great start, their oversimplification of athlete development seems to be steering coaches, trainers and parents in the wrong direction.    

To begin, the entire premise of LTAD theory needs to be examined.  When it originated in the late 1990’s, academician Istvan Balyi identified some very important issues in many countries and sporting organizations, so he created a 3-stage model that emphasized long term athlete development over winning competitions.  This premise challenged the approach of many coaches and got a lot of people to open their eyes to the problems in youth sports.   

Balyi’s original model included three phases – Training to Train, Training to Compete and Training to Win.  A few years later, he realized that a fourth stage – FUNdamentals – should be added to address the fundamental motor skills that should be developed early in a child’s life.  

Sporting organizations latched on to this theory and quickly started talking about it as a formula that would create great athletes.  As these theories picked up steam, other academicians decided to jump on the train and create their own models.  They included talent identification, more in-depth discussion on early childhood, and there was a strong emphasis on taking advantage of hypothetical “windows” of opportunity where different training methods would supposedly have a greater impact. The models told coaches when to emphasize strength training, speed training, endurance training and when to emphasize competition vs. training.  

Eventually, some groups realized that an LTAD approach may also give children great sporting experiences that would lead to lifelong enjoyment of physical activity.  Because of the childhood obesity and physical illiteracy epidemics, this idea seemed very attractive.  

A few organizations came out with their own versions of LTAD that included 7-9 stages of development, and they felt good about adopting this approach because they believed it was the “right thing to do for kids,” even though it was nothing more than words on paper for most groups.  These organizations would hire an expert to put together a model, but they didn’t seem to put much effort into the actual implementation.  Education and coordination of efforts were left out of the models.

Eventually, the stages looked like this:

  • Stage 1 – Active Start (0-6 years old)
  • Stage 2 – FUNdamentals (girls 6-8, boys 6-9)
  • Stage 3 – Learn to Train (girls 8-11, boys 9-12)
  • Stage 4 – Train to Train (girls 11-15, boys 12-16) 
  • Stage 5 – Train to Compete (girls 15-21, boys 16-23)
  • Stage 6 – Train to Win (girls 18+, boys 19+)
  • Stage 7 – Active for Life (any age)

More in-depth models described when each training method would elicit the best results.  USA Hockey did a much better job with their American Developmental Model that looked like this:

Still, a lot was left out, especially any details on implementation.  For the most part, LTAD has remained theoretical, and implementation has largely been missing.  

To be clear, the models aren’t necessarily “wrong” as much as they are incomplete and misleading.  Most of them give the reader the impression that they have been thoroughly tested and proven, and that they contain a formula for success.  This may not have been their original intent, but that’s how it has been taking by the sporting world.

The strength & conditioning/sports performance profession has taken notice more than just about any group because a lot of these models talk about “training” and “movement.”  The term “athlete development” resonates with these professionals, so this is where many of the thoughts have become popularized.  

These professionals have tried to implement these already-flawed, theoretical models by attempting to use different training methods at certain times to take advantage of the “windows of opportunity” outlined by academicians without coordinating their efforts with other important players in this process.  This is one of the biggest mistakes made today, and the lack of integration with other groups has stymied progress and severely limited outcomes.  

While the theory of long term athlete development is well-intentioned, the models have yet to produce exceptional athletes in real life.  In fact, even the researchers admit that there was no real data to support any of the models.  In a great review of some of the relevant literature, Guy Razi and Kieran Foy showed that the data does not support these models.  It was all a great idea, but these models were nothing more than theoretical. To this day, no athlete has gone through the entire model the way it was originally laid out, and achieved a high level of success.

The models are also not very realistic in many situations.  For example, the models include a lot of talk about peak height velocity (PHV) as the optimal time for the adaptation of certain traits.  What is not addressed is how coaches are supposed to know when an athlete is experiencing PHV.  In most sporting situations, kids’ height is not constantly monitored by coaches, and most of the training decisions described in the literature are related more to strength & conditioning than sports skills.  Sports coaches might have contact with kids year-round, but most kids are not engaged in year-round strength & conditioning at an early age (this can be because of money, availability, beliefs, time restrictions, etc.).  So, how would the strength coach know when PHV is occurring?  It may not even matter since most performance coaches only see young athletes in limited spurts.  Typically, parents come to a performance coach after PHV when they recognize altered movement.  

If every child was in a “sporting academy” situation from a young age where they were constantly coached, trained and monitored, this may be possible, but it’s not realistic in most cases.  An argument could be made that we should move toward these type of year-round academies so that everything can be monitored, but that’s beyond the scope of this article and it carries as many negatives as positives.  

The most popular LTAD models propose “windows of opportunity” in which certain athletic traits may respond better to specific kinds of training.  For example, it has been theorized that speed is best trained just before PHV, and that strength is best trained directly after PHV.  These models lead many coaches to believe that worthwhile adaptation only occurs during these periods, and that is absolutely not true.  Young athletes are always open to adaptation and can always enjoy the benefits of proper training no matter where they are in their maturation.  

Every physical attribute can be trained at any time.  Most practitioners just need to understand how to best address each attribute during maturation to achieve the best long-term and sustainable outcomes.  

So, “missing” a window of opportunity does not mean progress in certain traits cannot be made.  On the contrary, long term athlete development is much more individualized than these contrived models suggest.  

Even more concerning is the fact that long-term implementation has not been thoroughly studied, which is ironic given the name of the theory and the fact that academicians created it.  It is typically written/spoken about by people who do not coach athletes, have not successfully developed great athletes, and many don’t even have children of their own in which they’ve tested their theories or developed athletes into champions.  

There are far too many factors involved in creating a great athlete to boil the process down to a few simple steps, and several key ingredients have been missing from the recipe.  Developing athletes is highly individualized, and included many factors beyond those that are described in the current literature.  These missing factors include:

  • The child’s interest/passion for sport
  • The psychological approach used with each athlete
  • Parental support and their role in the process
  • Environmental/societal influences
  • Access to the coaching/training at the right time
  • Genetic factors & talent identification
  • Coordination of development with all parties (parents, coaches, trainers, etc.)
  • Having the “right coach at the right time” or at least the right approach at the right time

Some of these factors cannot be easily controlled by coaches, rendering them “too messy” for academics to even attempt to address.  Yet, these factors will determine the long-term outcome to a much greater extent than any theoretical model of when to train each physical component.  

Kids are not robots, and developing athletes is not a science experiment.  long term athlete development

We don’t need models – we need coaches….great coaches.

If we’re truly interested in developing great athletes and/or adults who enjoy physical activity, we cannot do it alone as strength & conditioning professionals.  We must look at the entire picture, address physical, psychological/emotional and social aspects and include everyone involved in the development of the athlete – coaches, trainers and parents.

Much has already been addressed regarding the physical training of young athletes.  The materials available through the IYCA and others are exceptional and give in-depth information on strength development, speed & agility training, flexibility/mobility, conditioning and even skill development.  Rather than summarizing these methods, let’s explore the missing factors listed above and how each may be addressed.

Before we do that, two things need to be made clear:

  1. The term “youth” refers to anyone 18 and under.  When people are first introduced to the International Youth Conditioning Association, they often assume we are focused on very young children.  The process of athlete development begins at a very young age and continues until at least 18 years old, so it’s important for us to understand how to properly address each stage of maturation. Of course, athletes continue to develop past 18, but the process changes dramatically at that time.  
  2. Great training and coaching are absolutely essential to the process of athletic development.  This should be obvious, but it needs to be stated since it will not be addressed here. Training and coaching are addressed in many other IYCA materials and this is well beyond the scope of this article.  Athletes need physical development, so speed, strength, sports skills, etc. are critically important.  These topics are what most LTAD models focus on exclusively, and they should not be ignored.  

Now, let’s examine the aspects of long term athletic development that are NOT included in most models, but must be understood if we are truly interested in overall development:

Passion

Enjoyment of sport is one of the most important underlying factors in long-term athletic success.  If a young athlete does not find joy in a sport, the likelihood of him/her giving the long-term effort to excel is very small.  He/she may go through the motions and experience some level of success, but it is very difficult for a young person to stay motivated to excel in a sport if passion is not part of the equation.  

Without passion, the entire LTAD model comes to a grinding halt, so this cannot be ignored.

At some point, a child has to be willing to pursue a dream for themselves, not simply because he/she is talented or others want the success.  In most cases, there needs to be a burning desire within a person if high levels of success are going to be achieved.  Even more importantly, that passion needs to be fueled in order to sustain it long enough to achieve any real success.  Playing for the wrong coach, not getting enough playing time, having poor teammates, lack of parental support and year-round play are some the reasons the flame burns out for many athletes. If the sport is no longer fun for a young athlete, it’s almost impossible to expect continued progress.  

In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle refers to a concept he calls “Ignition.”  Essentially, this is what creates a deep passion for sport in an athlete.  It might be exposure to a particular person, participation in an event, watching a sport, family involvement or something else.  It will be different for every person, which is why this isn’t a formula.  But, that ignition needs to exist if long-term success is the goal.

Parents, family and friends typically play the largest role in establishing a love for sport.  Exposure to sports (live or on TV) and attitudes toward sports often start in early childhood.  They can establish emotional feelings before they ever participate in a sport.  There’s no right way for parents to approach sports with their children, but positive exposure to a variety of sports seems to be optimal.  

As stated earlier, children are not robots, so there is no single formula for producing passion about a particular sport.   Intense parental feelings about sports have the potential to influence children in both positive and negative ways.  Some parents actually push kids away from sport because they are so passionate about it, while others create a healthy feeling of excitement.

Coaches and trainers often don’t even meet an athlete until some amount of exposure to a sport has been made, so feelings have often been established to some degree before a child’s first practice.  Youth coaches, however, play an enormous role in whether or not that passion continues.  

A child’s early exposure to sports and coaching often influences their desire to continue participating.  Early coaching needs to be both positive and effective.  Coaches need to balance making practices/games fun and improving athletically so the child develops feelings of self-efficacy associated with the sport.  Few things are more motivating to children that the feeling of proficiency – when a child thinks he/she is good at a sport, they enjoy it more.  

This can be a very delicate balancing act, and factors like stature, enjoyment and fundamental movement skills (FMS) play large roles in developing feelings of proficiency.  Typically, athletes who have good FMS’s excel early on, and have greater early enjoyment of sports.  Parents can greatly assist this process by working on FMS early in a child’s life and providing positive exposure to sport.  

Coaches can recognize the importance of establishing passion by making sports enjoyable and productive.  Possibly the most important goal of a youth sports coach should be to make each season so positive that the kids want to play another season.  This keeps them in the “system” and allows them to progress.  

Coaching

Having great coaches should be the first thing mentioned in any long term athlete development model.  Unfortunately, it is not. Great coaches trump theoretical models every time and should be discussed before anything else in this process.  

The approach used with each child may have more to do with long-term athletic success than any physical training method.  Yes, the right training methods will elicit positive physiological responses, but the wrong coaching approach can make the athlete lose interest, confidence, and enjoyment of the sport.  

Getting this wrong will render LTAD models useless, so having the right coach at the right time is essential to the process of athlete development.  The right coach will be different at each stage of maturation and for each athlete, so there is no single solution.

The right approach, however, has the potential to increase self-efficacy and passion, and can establish positive traits such as work ethic, perseverance, coachability, and a healthy outlook toward sports.  These positive traits and feelings may be the keys to sticking with a sport through tough training and the ups & downs associated with sports later in their development.  

Great coaching should be used by both sport coaches and strength & conditioning professionals (SCP) alike.  A SCP has the ability to balance out a poor coach and vice versa. Optimally, all coaches will be positive influences and contribute to the success of an athlete by teaching skills and making the process enjoyable enough to keep the passion burning.  

The importance of having the “right coach at the right time” cannot be overstated in the development of an athlete.  The right coach at 8 years old probably won’t be the right coach at 18, and the right coach for one athlete may not be the right coach for all athletes.  

Typically, young athletes and parents don’t even know which coach is the right fit or if that person is even available.  More often, we realize the negative experience when it’s too late and the damage has been done.  For example, a young soccer player can be on a terrific path of development from age 8 to 14 until a poor coach absolutely ruins soccer for her.  This can occur when athletes change clubs, move to a different age group, or have a coach who is simply a bad fit. This has the potential to make athletes lose passion/interest, decrease confidence or quit the sport altogether.  Anyone who has been involved in sports for any length of time has seen this over and over again.

Coaches who value winning above development too early in an athlete’s career can stifle the developmental process and get athletes to focus on things that limit long-term success.  These coaches often play favorites with young athletes and push certain athletes to excel (often their own child) while relegating others to less-important roles on the team.  While this may work for some athletes, it can also have a negative effect on overall development.  The “favorite” child may have false confidence in their early success and he/she may not learn how to work hard for that success.  Other children may feel decreased confidence and end up quitting because the sport just isn’t fun anymore.  

Unfortunately, high-quality coaches often feel compelled to work with older, more developed athletes because that’s what society deems as “better.”  To be sure, some coaches are simply better-suited to work with older athletes, but a great youth coach has the potential to be one of the most influential figures in a child’s life.  A year, early in life, with a bad coach could have easily derailed the careers of great athletes like Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson or Lionel Messi.  

If we’re truly looking to develop great athletes through a long-term process, we must encourage great coaches to spend time with young athletes.  This means that quality coaches may need to volunteer their time to work with young athletes, knowing that the payoff may not occur for many years.  

It also means that SCP’s need to be aware of how each child is being coached and approach them with what they need.  A child who has a negative sport coach may need a more positive approach from the SCP. Conversely, a talented child who has been coddled his whole life may need a hard-nosed influence to push him to be great.  

Social/Environmental

It is impossible to ignore the fact that a child’s surroundings influence his/her sporting experiences, but this is also ignored by every LTAD model available.  Spending time with friends is very important to most children.  Sometimes, kids may be better off playing a sport with their friends than on a travel team comprised of kids who don’t know each other.

Geographic location will also influence long term athlete development.  For example, a young child with a passion for lacrosse, but who lives in an

Members Of Female High School Soccer Team

area with limited coaching/competition, will probably not have the opportunity to reach his potential like he would if he grew up in Maryland.  A young gymnast may be identified as a potentially great diver in middle/high school.  If she doesn’t like the coach or the other athletes on the diving team, she may never even give it a chance, and a potential Olympian may never try a sport.  How many exceptional rugby players, fencers or team handball players have been born in America and were simply not exposed to these sports?

Access to quality experiences and identification of talent plays a huge role in the long-term success of an athlete.  

Strength coaches may not have much control over this, but it’s certainly something we need to consider if the goal is to develop great athletes and achieve long-term success.  Even if the goal is to create enjoyable experiences, the fact that opportunities are often limited should not be ignored.  

An experienced coach may be able to suggest sports and/or coaches to families when talent is identified.  While there is no guarantee that these suggestions will be acted upon, we should always think about what we can do rather than complain about a problem after the fact.  

Parental Support

Parents have more of an influence than anyone in the process of long-term athlete development, and both sports coaches and SCP’s may need to step in to help guide them when appropriate.  Some parents push too hard, while others expect too little. This is a delicate balancing act that must be considered as part of any long term plan.

Simply providing transportation to great coaching/training may be the difference needed to keep the flame burning in a young athlete.  Conversely, negative conversations after a game may poison the well and create negative emotions related to a sport.

Sports satisfaction surveys reveal that “having fun” is the main reason that most children like to participate in sports; however, the parents’ perception of why their children like to play sports is to “win.”

SCP’s and sport coaches can help create balance when support is not present.  By making practice/training an enjoyable, positive experience, a child’s “emotional bank account” can be built up.  Coaches may also need to have hard conversations with parents sometimes or at least talk to the athlete about how to communicate with the parent.  

Coordination

With all of these factors in mind, it appears as though long term athlete development is much more complex than just the training methods used at different points in the maturation process or how many games to play each year.  Of course, great training and sport coaching are necessary. That should be painfully obvious by now. But, besides great training and coaching, it also appears that many critical factors need to come together in a coordinated effort if we are truly looking for optimal development and great sporting experiences.

We have created “silos” that don’t have enough interaction with each other.  Parents, sports coaches, and strength & conditioning specialists each have their silos where they do their work independently.  This approach creates a lack of continuity for the young athlete. Sports coaches don’t know what kind of training is occurring outside of their practices.  SCP’s have no input on the number or duration of practices, and parents often don’t know what’s best for their child, so they simply drop them off with a coach and hope he/she is doing the right thing.  

Unfortunately, many adults seem to think that “their way” is the best approach, so there is little coordination between parents, coaches, and trainers.  

It also goes without saying that the entire youth sports system is broken and has become more about the adults than the kids.  Many books and articles have been written on this topic. Web sites have been created and Ted Talks were given. Even the US Olympic Committee is now supporting pediatric sports psychologists to help young athletes deal with the stresses of youth sports and to help parents and coaches deal with the challenges.

The problems are obvious, and rehashing them here seems pointless.  

We are not going to fix this problem by complaining about it or attempting to tear it down.  

In order to fix this broken system, a much more coordinated approach needs to be taken.  Someone must intervene and change the system from the inside.

Most parents simply don’t know how to handle this overall development, so guidance is needed.  Sport coaches usually have great knowledge of a sport, but lack knowledge in the area of complete athlete development.  Many strength coaches are aware of the needs, but don’t have enough influence over the process, aren’t involved until later in an athlete’s career or simply want to stand on the outside and complain about it.  

It is time for strength & conditioning professionals to step up and become coordinators of athletic development.  

The SCP is armed with the knowledge to coordinate long term athlete development.  It is up to this group to take a more active role in the education of parents and coaches.  We need highly-qualified professionals who can effectively communicate and coordinate the “silos” in an effort to create positive experiences.  

complete athlete development

The SCP can teach coaches and parents how each aspect of athleticism is linked, and plans can be put in place to create well-rounded athletes.  

This shift will require the SCP to get out of his/her comfort zone and think about athlete development as more than just lifting weights.  The SCP will need to work within the structure of youth sports by educating parents and coaches, and taking their own egos out of the equation.  We need to spend time teaching parents and coaches about fundamental motor skills, skill acquisition, strength and speed development, and all-around athletic development rather than specialization.  With overuse injuries ranging from 37% to 68% depending on the sport, we can help reverse this trend.

This education will not put us out of jobs.  On the contrary, educating coaches and parents about how to properly integrate strength & conditioning into a long term athlete development plan will secure our places in every organization.  More coaches and parents will understand the need for training which will increase the demand for our specialized services. More trust will be placed in our hands because we will be viewed as allies rather than adversaries.  

Without this coordination, the important people in this process will remain in their silos.  But, a collective approach will yield far better results for everyone involved.

As you can see, long term athlete development cannot be distilled down to contrived models.  The process is more complicated and many factors need to be addressed.

We have a great opportunity to influence a broken system from within, and make the changes that are needed for long term success.  We need great coaches and coordinators to help develop athletes. It’s time to stop complaining and take action.

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI.  He is a former college strength & conditioning coach and the author of Ultimate Speed & Agility as well as dozens of articles published in various publications.  Jim is also the father of three boys and has helped coach all of them in different sports, so long term athlete development is very important to him.

The old “windows of opportunity” Long Term Athlete Development model is a thing of the past.  Learn the truth about LTAD and how to approach athletes at every level in the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap.  This is the most comprehensive approach to athlete development available.  Click on the image below to learn more.

How to Extend Your Positive Influence Beyond Training

If you own a gym, studio, or performance center that caters to young athletes, you are aware of how saturated the market has become.

In order to stand out, we have to create a program and experience that not only delivers results, but creates raving fans out of parents and athletes alike. As I have shared in previous posts (IYCA Free Content), we have an opportunity to do this when children enter our program daily, when they exercise with us, when they exit our program daily, and when we extend our positive influence with them.

When a coach creates an engaging experience with all of the aspects above, they empower athletes, impress parents, and rise above the competition. Of particular interest to discerning parents is how a coach is able to extend their positive influence into other aspects of a child’s life.  As coaches, we can inspire kids to do things in life in a way that sometimes parents cannot.

Stepping out of the strength and conditioning world for a moment and stepping into the world of marketing, the #1 way to create a successful product is to solve a problem for a group of people.  Have trouble communicating while you travel? BAM! The cell phone. Don’t like carrying your suitcase around the airport? BAM! Wheels.

While parents want to know we are running a fundamentally sound program, many of the dogmatic training principles we feel set us apart from others mean very little to parents.  They come to us because we can get their kids to do things they can’t.  

Tuning in to what parents want from their young children is important. Listen for the “I just can’t get him/her to….” The next words out of their mouth are a problem they would like solved. Additionally, this avoided habit or behavior will most likely help in delivering the intended results of your program.

From over 15 years of directing a highly successful youth sports performance program, I have introduced a variety of daily “extend your influence” activities. Anything from involving our young athletes in community service projects to bringing in satisfactory school report cards to in order to be invited to watch some of our pro athletes train on the field. While we have included general concepts, i.e. mental toughness, etc., I have found clearly defined, tangible actions have more impact.

Oddly enough, the 3 simplest of these activities have had the greatest impact on both athletes and parents and therefore, have withstood the test of time.  These activities included:

  • The Handshake
  • Post Workout Nutrition
  • Family Challenges  

The Handshake

We have all experienced the wet noodle, eyes-cast-down handshake of youngsters.  For some reason, the firm, eye-contact handshake our fathers instilled in us is no longer part of the parenting paradigm. Judging by parents’ obvious embarrassment in these situations, I could tell that they wanted their child to act differently, but weren’t enforcing the behavior at home.

I began making the firm, confident handshake part of our program.  Upon entering, each child would make eye contact, stand upright, and say hello as they squeezed a coach’s hand. All coaches would engage the kids with a handshake with similar  expectations. Even if the coach wasn’t working with the athlete!  This was also the ticket to leave at the end of the day.

Parents were wowed, as now they could reinforce this behavior in other situations.  We still gave our high fives, fist bumps, and other “positive contacts” as coach Rob Taylor calls them. However, we would set the tone for confidence and respect at the beginning and end of each day with the handshake.

Nutrition

As youth performance specialists, we are well aware of the impact of nutrition on a child’s performance in sports and in life.  We also know the struggle that exists to get kids to improve the way they eat.

I sat through countless consults with parents complaining about their children’s nutrition habits.

“I can’t get him/her to eat breakfast”

“I can’t get him/her to eat vegetables”

“I can’t get him/her to eat “healthy” food”

I realized we could extend our influence into nutrition. We created a 1-sided, 1-page send -home of options for post-workout nutrition that everyone got during their first session.  These weren’t necessarily ideal macronutrient-ratio foods for post workout, they were just relatively nutrient-dense foods that were simple to put together.

Whatever the kids put together (this was a caveat as well- the kids had to make it) it had to consist of protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fruit or vegetable.  The kids would need to explain where each of these was found in their food. The PB&J with natural peanut butter and a banana become a staple.

If one kid in a group forgot their snack, we would do a short “memory tool” as a group.  This would be something like a wall sit where we would ask trivia questions they would have to answer in order to get off of the wall.  Fun, but still tough enough to drive home the point!

Kids started to bring food not only for them, but for others that may have forgotten. Their parents raved about the fact their kids had started to understand the relationship between food and performance. Kids would bring healthy snacks for after sports games and practices even when they weren’t in our program.

For breakfast, we included some suggestions on the list we sent home. At some point during the day, coaches would do a quick quiz, usually when the group was holding a plank or other isometric exercise, as to what each child had eaten for breakfast.

If a child had skipped breakfast or made a poor choice, the coach would comically interview them at length about it while everyone held the exercise. The kids would laugh, but it was tough enough for them to remember to change their behavior. Parents would beam about how their kids had started to eat breakfast every day of the week.

This nutrition intervention scaled all the way from our 7- year-olds to our college kids, with equal success throughout.

Family Challenges  

Early on in creating youth athletic camps, I discovered a disconnect between parents and our program.  Minivans would pull up to our facility, slowing down just enough for a troop of kids to pile out, then speed off to the nearest coffee shop for some peace and quiet.

60 minutes later, they would return for pick up.  After the kids piled into the car the parents would 

ask “so what did you do today?”  The knee-jerk response being “nothing.” We could have had an NFL quarterback juggling honey badgers on a flaming balance beam and the answer would be the same. It’s a kid/parent dynamic thing.

I realized that while parents expect this, it negatively impacted the overall value of our program. 

Our program is designed for kids, but parents make the ultimate value assessment with their time and money. 

We began to create weekly “family challenges.”  These would be simple things that the entire family could “compete” at or test themselves against a benchmark.  Understanding that not all parents would appreciate hardcore maximal exercise challenges, these would usually involve balance (balance on one foot, try to tie and untie your shoe without falling over), coordination (how many times can you toss and catch a playing card with one hand in a minute) and general functionality (can you stand up without using your hands?)

We’d print these out and send them home, in addition to including them in a weekly email. These simple activities would showcase basic skills from our program.  It also helped our culture permeate the family culture with physical activity. Kids (even relatively unfit kids) could often out-perform their parents. The result was creating a conversation at home about the things kids learned in our program, sparking extremely positive word-of-mouth between parents.

Consider the simple, tangible things you could add to your program to extend your positive influence on young lives. The result will be greater impact on youth, a better relationship with parents and the community, and continual program growth.

 

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and regular contributor to the IYCA.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.

Pre-Puberty Performance Plan

Training youth isn’t merely “miniature-izing” adult programs.

Prior to puberty, youngsters’ physiology, psychology, and a host of other factors are significantly different than adults. As a matter of fact, the training effect of a program could be drastically different between a 10- year old and a 14-year-old.

These differences are well documented in the literature, however, practical program strategies to account for these differences are not.  In this article, I will be highlighting some of the unique  physiological and neurological aspects of pre-pubescent athletes, and how to program for success.  

Supercharging the Sensory System

As humans, our sensory system is the underlying mechanism that enables us to accurately take in input from the outside world and apply an action based on that input.  We are constantly adjusting our motor output based on what we see, feel, hear, and otherwise observe.sport specialization

This system begins developing in the womb and experiences a drastic opportunity for further development during a child’s early years.  Notice the word “opportunity.”  Hours of active play while interacting with a variety of both indoor and outdoor environments was once the stimulus for tremendous development of a variety of athletic senses.

Unfortunately, the amount of time children engage in active play has been drastically decreased over the past 20 years.  The result is an observed decrease in the development of the wide variety of sensory capability needed to develop overall athleticism.  Additionally, behavior disorders such as ADD, ADHD, and aggression have witnessed an uptick, possibly due to widespread inactivity in youth.

 

What can we do?

Many of the critical periods for development of the sensory skills take place during the years prior to puberty. As the neural system develops, matures, and myelinates, it is critical that youngsters develop a relationship between perception and action.

Understanding the various sensory or “perceptual motor” skills and how they develop can broaden our impact with children. Check out a list of nine of the most prominent perceptual motor skills HERE. Creating warm-ups and activities that highlight sight, sound, balance, body awareness, directional awareness, and other sensory skills can help fine-tune this foundational skill-set of athleticism.

Additionally, provide opportunities for kids to make their own games, activities, rules, or even movement interpretations.  For example, call out three nonsense words, and have the kids immediately create movements for each, and tie them together in a movement sequence.  This can help “internalize” their sense of coordination and movement awareness.

These activities may not be directly related to perfecting game tactics or movement technique. They can serve merely to challenge different aspects of the sensory system in a fun, engaging environment.  Make it a goal to integrate at least 1-2 perceptual-motor focused activities into training each day.  Below are some group and individual examples.

Auditory Warm-Up Using Partner Cross Sound Tag

Movement variable warm up using Guided Discover

Zoo moves

Switch tag with visual cues

 

Developing Speed and Strength

Prior to puberty, kids have limited anaerobic capacity.  They often display a higher proportion of Type I muscle fibers and they preferentially use fat as fuel.  Lack of anabolic hormone interferes with an ability to increase muscle cross sectional area, which is generally associated with gains in strength. As one can see, children’s hormonal physiology doesn’t necessarily favor the development of speed and strength prior to puberty.

However, a child’s neuromuscular system is highly plastic and adaptable. It’s like a sponge for exploring, acquiring, and fine-tuning new skills.  Improvements in speed and strength prior to puberty stem from improved neuromuscular coordination as opposed to structural or hormonal physiology.  In order to improve coordination, practice makes perfect.  

Considering this, our primary goal prior to puberty should be to help create quality movement patterns and basic biological capacity (GPP anyone?). Puberty, then, supercharges this well- made machine.  Unfortunately, many well-intending coaches lose track of this when working with young athletes.  In a race to justify our work to parents and coaches, our assessment protocols often have more to do with maximal numbers than movement assessment.    

When considering the long- term impact of training a young athlete, an assessment of movement quality should be an integral aspect of a program.  Maximal numbers should be assessed, but developing quality motor patterns should be paramount.  

 

What can we do?

Begin with a simple checklist of 2-3 criteria for each movement, and progress to a more involved checklist as a child develops.  This helps both the athlete and the coach learn to become aware of the critical aspects of movement.   

Take the squat pattern for example. While there are numerous criteria that make up a proper squat, initially, merely bending the knees and lowering the hips to move under a barrier helps lay a foundation for the movement. These two criteria may represent a “level 1” category of assessment.  This may progress to a checklist involving spotting, use of an Olympic bar, proper depth, and even benchmark load criteria by “level 5”.

During the introduction of skills during the early years, it’s important to limit the coachable criteria and allow kids to explore the movement for themselves.  Again, skills are much more ingrained and adaptable when they are internalized. For example, skipping is an important movement for developing sprint technique.  Allowing, and even prompting, kids to skip with different body orientations (arms/legs wide and narrow, on heels, on tip toes, high knees, low knees) lets them form a context for effective movement.  They feel the difference between wide, flaying arms and narrow, driving arms.  They feel the propulsion of proper vs. improper movement of the knees and hips.

Creating obstacle courses that prompt children to move over, under, around, and through various barriers can offer a fun, natural environment to explore the different ways the body can move.  These “play” based approaches are also an opportunity for a high volume of practice with the basic precepts of a movement.

As a youngster progresses, create criteria that allow them to “earn” use of certain equipment or activities. If they want to push the prowler, they have to demonstrate the criteria for a perfect skip.  If they want to “use weights” they have to display passing criteria for the bodyweight versions of certain exercises.

The more children learn, practice, and truly feel the most efficient ways to move, the more opportunities they have to improve speed and strength before puberty and beyond.   

 

Conditioning

Pre-pubescent youngsters’ physiology favors the use of aerobic pathways (using fat) vs. anaerobic pathways (using glycogen) for providing the energy for performance. Children have limited intramuscular glycogen stores and observe higher levels of intramuscular triglycerides. Even their metabolic enzyme ratio favors the use of fat as fuel.

What does this mean in regards to improving aerobic and anaerobic capacity through targeted conditioning?

Due to the fact that most energy for movement is derived from aerobic pathways, pre-pubescent children observe far lower lactic acid accumulation than pubescent age children.  This suggests that children are able to recover quicker between bouts of exercise. Additionally, children are able to regenerate phosphocreatine faster than adults during rest.  Lower sympathetic nervous system activity during high-intensity exercise (compared to adults) also contributes to faster recovery times for pre-pubescent children.

On the other hand, during high intensity exercise, children are not able to re-synthesize ATP as fast as adults.  Due to this, they fatigue relatively quickly. Keeping high intensity bouts of exercise short and purposeful can optimize the positive training effect with children.

 

What can we do?

Prior to puberty, it makes very little sense to cater conditioning programs to the demands of a specific sport.  Repeated 40-yard sprints can reinforce running mechanics, but won’t necessarily alter physiology to favor anaerobic power output for a specific sport.  The early years of development represent a critical period for the development of a wide array of general, lifelong physical skills.

Consider creating conditioning circuits that focus on different aspects of athletic skill.  Incorporate the highlighted movement skills of the day, in addition to others.  Allow children the capacity to focus on proper execution by keeping work times relatively short (around 15 seconds).  Keep them engaged by keeping rest times relatively low as well (try a 1:1 work/rest ratio).  

Whenever possible, reinforce the proper development of skills and monitor for excessive fatigue. The greatest contributor to improving athletic performance prior to puberty is found in improved neuromuscular coordination.  When conditioning creates fatigue over function, it loses effectiveness.

Gamifying conditioning can improve performance and increase engagement.  Relay races, competitions, and other games provide an opportunity for the development of different movement skills in a fun format.

A well-run, targeted training program shouldn’t require extended daily training time for “conditioning”.  When a coach creates an opportunity and expectation for engagement within a training program, conditioning is merely an aspect of training with more tightly observed work to rest ratios.

Use these tips to maximize your lifelong impact with young athletes!

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and regular contributor to the IYCA.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.

How To Talk to Parents About “The Next Level”

If you’ve worked with young athletes very long, you’ve probably met “that” parent.  You know, the one with his/her kid’s entire scholastic/scholarship/sign-the-mega-contract future all planned out.

And the “kid” is only 7!  Oy!

Thankfully, that particular species of parent, Mykiddus Secondcomingus, is extremely rare. This annoying and sometimes fatal (to any hope of a childhood for the 7 year old in question) species is often mistaken for the less-dangerous, easily-confused species called Stellacus Oculus Parentus, or “Starry Eyed Parent.”

While often annoying, this species can be helped if you are patient, well-informed and willing to uplift their child while planting their own feet squarely back on terra firma.

Some simple rules of engagement:

DO NOT, under any circumstances, pronounce judgement on the child relative to talent. Remember, this species is reactive and protective and will snap right back. Instead, praise the child while discussing the remarkable level of talent, work ethic and sports balance exhibited by scholarship and pro athletes. Feel free to point out areas where their child has similarities to any “next level” athletes with whom you have had contact.

Example – “Wow, Mr. B, your little Janie sure is coachable. She reminds me of (insert athlete name here.) When he was working with me, he really took instruction and correction well. It’s just one of the elements coaches at that next level are looking for. (Athlete name) had that trait, too. He developed his athletic skill-set, kept a great mindset, played a couple different sports and kept his love for the game. And it paid off, for sure.”

GENTLY discuss the value of developing the athletic movement skill-set (I define it as strength, power, speed, agility, quickness, balance, coordination, mental acuity and tactical decision-making) as it relates to sports success. Include a gentle reminder of the value of playing multiple sports as it relates to cross-over athletic skills, how doing so helps maintain a healthy sports mindset and even assists with stress management. Remember that this species is myopic regarding their child and the opportunities to play at the ‘next level.’ Any suggestion of slowing the inevitable march of their child to the scholarship or Olympic podium may result in complete neural and emotional shutdown, and your chance to help their child will be lost.

Example – “Does Janie play any other sports? Is there anything else she’s talked about trying? Oh, I realize this is her sport. She clearly loves it and has aptitude, for sure. I always found it interesting how some of my athletes who were real studs in one sport loved to play one or even two others just because they were fun to play or because their friends played them. When I dug a little deeper, that second sport was often like the weekend golf game or hobby – it helped them de-stress from the important competition of their primary sport. Just something to think about.”

SHARE personal insights about the college or club sport environment. Always begin with the positives, since this species doesn’t possess independent insight on this subject and may recoil at any challenge to their worldview regarding their child and the ‘next level.’

Example – “Janie sure has a great future and a lot of excitement ahead! I remember when (insert athlete name here) was being recruited. Wow! What a whirlwind process! It was exciting for her to be courted by some great schools and to feel wanted. It got a little harrowing waiting for those final calls and letters, though, but she handled it really well. The most interesting lesson I think we learned in that process was that when the scholarship had been awarded, the work was really just beginning. Four or five years of being a student athlete, representing a school and a sport program and trying to maintain a decent balance between all of those. So challenging, but so rewarding.”

OFFER SUPPORT for the entire process, no matter the outcome. Stress the great qualities their young athlete already has, and the ones you see that can be fostered and help them really enjoy sports and life.

Example – “Janie is such a great kid! Always happy, always smiling. And you may not realize this, but she is a great influence here in the facility. She focuses on the work or game at hand, supports other kids and really shows some leadership. You’ve done a great job with her! I just hope we can continue to foster those great qualities. If so, she’ll be a success no matter what path her life takes!”

SHARE the “facts of life” only if absolutely necessary and NEVER before establishing trust. This species will rapidly retreat to the Univ. of Google to refute your every fact with “facts” (usually anecdotal stories about the exception rather than the rule) of their own. Remember, the life of a child is at stake here…okay, so that’s a little extreme, but you know what I mean! Discuss facts and statistics in a way that supports hopes and dreams, but injects some reality into the process.

Example – “What’s great is that as a softball player, Janie has options across all 3 NCAA Divisions of college sports, plus NAIA and Junior Colleges when the time comes. I mean, a little less than 2% of HS softball players play at the D1 level, but the great thing is, if she gets good grades, there are lots of other options for scholarships at all 3 levels.”

There are “facts of life” that both species of parent needs to understand. Like so much of life, though, it’s all in the presentation and subsequent perception. Always try to ADD possibility, not take it away. When discussing the “scholarship” question, remember that D1 is NOT the only level at which scholarship money can be found for athletes. Yes, at the D2 and D3 levels, academics will be a qualifier in many cases, but if a program wants a player, well, where there’s a will, there’s a way…

You will need to have your ducks in a row when discussing the possibility of scholarships for athletes, as well as the possibility of play at professional or Olympic levels. Here are 2 resources, both from the NCAA, that can help:

http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/estimated-probability-competing-college-athletics

http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/estimated-probability-competing-professional-athletics

and a bonus resource:

http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/probability-competing-beyond-high-school

In addition to discussions of the possibilities for success, we also need to have discussions about what can go wrong in the athletic development process. One of the biggest battles we face is the rising pressure on children and parents to “specialize” in one sport from an early age.

As we know, early sport-specialization is the surrender of play, practice and development in multiple sports in favor of exclusively playing, practicing and developing skills in a single sport. The pressure being applied by the $15 billion a year youth sports industry is pushing parents and children to immerse themselves in one sport at an early age.

One additional factor to consider here is the “chain play” effect. When the oldest sibling chooses a single sport at an early age, what impact does that have on sports selection by younger siblings? How many times have we seen children “choose” a sport because their older brother or sister chose it? Or even because it was “more convenient” for all children to play the same sport? (Think about the multi-layer discounts offered by many clubs and organizations and the convenience of maybe not having to drive to dozens of sports venues for all the kids to play different sports.)

One way to discuss the value of multi-sport play over early specialization is the “pain factor.” No parent wants their child to suffer. Speaking about injury risk is a great way to underline the power of multi-sport experience for children. And the evidence is both clear and mounting. I’ll discuss just one example here.

Not long ago, the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) undertook a study to determine the impact of early-sport specialization on injury rates among high school athletes.

While there are a few minor flaws in the study, which I’ll address momentarily, the study sheds a fairly strong negative light on early sport-specialization as it relates to injuries to high school athletes.

The study can be found here:

http://www.nfhs.org/articles/injury-rates-higher-for-athletes-who-specialize-in-one-sport/

There are 2 minor flaws in the study.

The first is that it excludes lacrosse and field hockey, which are not offered at the high schools studied (all in Wisconsin, the state site of the study.) This may be statistically significant because field hockey tends to have a high rate of early specialization and lacrosse players tend to suffer a considerable number of non-catastrophic injuries. Athletes in both sports tend to experience higher-than-average numbers of head injuries, including concussions.

The second is that the study relies heavily on self-reporting and the completion of a questionnaire by the athletes participating. While this alone is not a reason to discount the study, it may slightly skew the results for lack of independent or empirical observation of the athletes.

All that said, it is an excellent study with some shocking results. Here are 4 important take-aways:

1. Children who specialize in one sport from a young age have significantly higher risk of injury – nearly double the risk, based on reporting.

2. Girls are more likely to specialize in one sport than boys (nearly 50% more likely.)

3. Soccer has the highest rate of specialization at 47%, followed by volleyball at 43%. Both of these sports have inordinately high injury rates, especially for girls.

4. Last, there’s this: “In addition, specialized athletes were twice as likely to sustain a gradual onset/repetitive-use injury than athletes who did not specialize, and those who specialized were more likely to sustain an injury even when controlling for gender, grade, previous injury status and sport.”

Read that twice. We’re talking about repetitive stress injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome in office workers, except these are children!

With the seemingly complete takeover of sports by organized youth sports, travel and competitive showcase sports organizations, these take-aways are alarming and should be a clarion call to parents and coaches to institute change in the way youth sports are organized, marketed and managed in the US.

However, once again, money talks. There are billions of dollars being spent in youth sports, often in the hopes of enhancing the child’s potential to receive a college scholarship in relation to the ability to play a sport. When we consider that, according to the NCAA, about 2% of all high school athletes will receive a college scholarship to play a sport, youth sports organizations could well be accused of fraudulent subliminal marketing.

By the way, the average value of those scholarships received by the elite few? Approximately $11,000 a year.

So an accounting question seems appropriate here – does the value of the scholarship outweigh the co-pays, out-of-pocket expense, pain, suffering and lasting mental and emotional trauma of a catastrophic injury?

The Long-Term Athletic Development Model (LTAD) is a model designed to improve overall athletic ability, counter injury risk among athletes who do specialize and help young athletes grow and discover the sports that make them happy, fulfilled and competitively satisfied. This is counter to the perversely intuitive concept of training a child in one sport from an early age so that he or she will be more acutely skilled than peer athletes and have a better chance of succeeding in the competitive and scholarship “marketplace.”

LTAD views athletic development as a broad-based set of skills which can then be applied in as narrow a setting as desired to create a sport-based outcome. This can be repeated in a variety of sports, should the athlete so desire.

In other words, develop the athletic skill-set so the athlete can use those skills to be a player in any sport they choose! Here’s a visual on what the model looks like:


The International Youth Conditioning Association has created a great course to help Strength, Fitness and Sports Coaches become familiar with the LTAD model and how to apply it’s principles to help athletes get better, be happier and play longer. You can find it right here:
IYCA Long-Term Athletic Development Program

Children begin playing a sport because it’s fun, and often because their friends are playing. Early-specialization can be just as detrimental to a child’s desire to play a sport as repetitive tasks and a boring work routine can be for an adult’s desire to excel at work. When we add to that the truth about early sport-specialization and injuries, it becomes nearly impossible to find a positive argument in favor of sport-specialization.

If we are going to help parents understand the risks of early sport-specialization, immersion and upward play pressure, we need to be armed with the right info. I’ve tried to supply you with some of that information here, as well as a field guide to several sports parents species and how to address them!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/recruiting-insider/wp/2017/09/06/youth-sports-study-declining-participation-rising-costs-and-unqualified-coaches

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/recruiting-insider/wp/2017/09/06/youth-sports-study-declining-participation-rising-costs-and-unqualified-coaches

https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Recruiting%20Fact%20Sheet%20WEB.pdf

With over 18 years of in-the-trenches experience with athletes ages 6 to 60, Phil Hueston brings a unique skill-set to the improvement of his athletes.  The author of the Amazon best-seller “Alchemy; Where the Art and Science Collide in Youth Fitness,” Phil believes strongly in the application of sound training science and skillful coaching art.  His client list includes professional athletes, collegiate athletes as well as thousands of youth athletes, adult athletes and people who want to move, feel and look their best and bounce back from the many challenges life can lay on them.  Phil has been the co-owner of All-Star Sports Academy in Toms River, NJ, one of the largest and most successful youth and family fitness centers in New Jersey since 2008. He was named “Coach of the Year” by the IYCA for 2012-2013.  Phil’s personal website is coachphilhueston.com, and he can be contacted at phil.hueston@hotmail.com

What is Impact?

There is a marked difference between influencing someone and truly impacting them.

You can command, motivate, or manipulate someone to act or behave differently.

Or…

You can educate, instruct, and inspire someone to BE DIFFERENT.

The bottom-line difference between influence and impact is that IMPACT is lasting while INFLUENCING has a

temporary effect.

Communication and consistency are the deciding factors of making impact or not.

When you communicate, you connect; and consistency in communication develops respect, trust, and relationship. No matter how good your instruction may be, communication and consistency determines its value and beneficial effect on others.

Some questions to consider when coaching athletes include:

•Does the way you address an athlete embrace them into positive action or only push them in hopes something different will happen?

• When you correct, or discipline, an athlete, is there follow-through and consistency with the importance and urgency of the message?

• Do you just motivate someone to move, or do you inspire them to make the decision to move?

• Do you just get someone to change their behavior, or communicate to the degree that they exchange behaviors?

The above answers reveal if the influence you have on an athlete has them just wanting to avoid unwanted consequences, or impacts them to make decisions in their life that lead to what is actually wanted.

Protecting Respect

As a coach, you don’t have to be liked to be respected. As a matter of fact, a coach who compromises authority to try to “make everyone happy” will lose what they think they are protecting – their voice of influence.

An athlete may always hear authority, but only listens with respect.

It’s not a coach’s job to be an athlete’s “friend”, but a trusted, reliable source of consistent guidance in their life. Respect will develop from this.

An athlete needs to respect a coach in order to unconditionally listen to a coach’s instruction, and trust their counsel and guidance in the way of producing positive outcomes. An athlete may always hear authority, but only listens with respect.

The true purpose of a coach is finding solutions. As idealistic as it may sound, the art of coaching is using an athlete’s “strengths” to eliminate “weaknesses”. A coach who is skilled in making accurate assessments of situations, on and off the field, and is consistent with their principles, will be in the best position to find and implement solutions.

Productive coaching leads athletes– individually and as a team– to see through the self-limits of inferiority, doubt, and fear, and into the process of uncovering and realizing their true potential. Again, it’s respect that brings clarity and trust to a coach’s voice.

Fear of failure and fear of success are simply bookends of counter-productivity. Once coaches realize this, he/she can be a stronger part of the solution by getting to the root of destructive patter
All disciplinary issues with athletes– such as disrespect, rebellion or indifference have their origin in fear. There are also performance issues that are founded in the spirit of fear. Consistent communication leads coaches/athletes through these challenges.

The coaches who have the greatest impact on their athletes are not perfect human beings or always pleasant to be around. They are the coaches who emphasize solutions with consistency and who refuse to allow their athletes to become satisfied with inferiority, mediocrity, or even superiority.

These coaches inspire confidence without complacency; pride without conceit. They continue to “raise the bar” just enough to sustain confidence in the perpetual process of fulfilling potential. They do this by being consistent in their expectations, values, and standards.

Coaching: The Perpetual Influence

Over the years, I’ve never been prompted to write (or even talk) about “my impact” on others. We typically focus on an athlete’s ability to perform well on the field or in the weightroom rather than discussing how we instill character in athletes.

I believe that we, as coaches, are not qualified to determine the degree of actual impact we have on our athletes. This reality will be based on the lives led by those young men and women under our guidance for an extended period of time, and the life they lead long after our regular presence, rather than some weekly stat sheet.

Yes, there are always checks and balances in our work to keep us on the right track, but we must not waste time worrying about what’s not in our control, and this includes our “popularity” with our athletes. What we can control are our values and principles, and how consistent we are in expecting and enforcing them.

I believe my personal experiences in coaching can provide some clarity of the real potential for impact we have available to us as coaches.

I believe coaches have the opportunity to have amongst the greatest constructive impact on young men and women’s futures. Yes, that’s a strong statement, but one that has plenty of examples to support it.

In effective coaching, every moment is a potential teaching moment.

I state this purely to express the infinite impact coaching can have on a life, and it can be even more relevant in this current generation by fully understanding our potential influence in a young man or woman’s life. In effective coaching, every moment is a potential “teaching moment”.

From the weightroom to the classroom to the field to the home, we can play a key role in being part of solutions to each young man and woman we work with.

There is no such thing as “neutral” influence as a coach; we can certainly be ineffective, but not necessarily neutral. We are either a constructive or destructive presence.

In my experience, I can recall “defining moments” with certain coaches I had as a child that have stayed with me throughout my life, and impacted the way I coach athletes and the principles I choose to live by.

Some of these experiences were positive, but some were not. They were each constructive in the outcome of their occurrence. I will share one personal example that stands out later in this article.
Commitment/Consistency/Confidence

I believe that a coach’s primary purpose is to be a constructive presence to each athlete in their circle of influence. That known, I must clarify that there is a difference in being just a “positive” influence and a constructive presence.

While constructive coaching is about positive outcomes, we, as coaches, are not to be a cheerleader who does not confront uncomfortable issues with unwavering authority.

There will be times when critical input and unpopular decisions will be necessary to sustain the primary constructive objective, both for a team and the individual athlete.

Throughout a coaching career there will be personality clashes, misunderstandings, and other reasons out of our control that affect whether we connect with a particular athlete or not. We must not allow those to change our principles, objectives, and the expectation of being part of a solution in athletes’ lives.

Yes, we are to learn and progress in the ways we empathize and communicate with our athletes, yet when there are issues beyond our control, we must not permit compromise or indifference to overtake our intentions, principles, or primary objectives.
Foundation of Success

When I was a young coach, I was completely focused on an athlete’s performance, as this confirmed that I was succeeding in my work. While this was not “wrong,” I no longer allow this to be the only way to determine the benefit I have on an athlete.

While athletic performance measures will never become insignificant, as we mature as coaches, there will be the realization that our true success is based on how we influence the young man or woman as a human being more than it is with any specific performance.

The irony here is that, when we take this perspective, we actually lead these individuals to fulfill their potential in all aspects of their lives, which includes athletic performance.

We are to use the perpetual path of pursuit of athletic excellence as a medium of teaching, and implanting, the principles of commitment, consistency, and confidence. This is the unfailing path manifesting from the impact of constructive coaching.

When we teach our athletes to prepare in the expectation to be the best, we instill character values, principles, and work ethic qualities that are applicable to all areas of life.

By our doing this, we teach our athletes that refusing intimidation is a personal decision that each individual has the authority in making.

When a young man or woman embraces responsibility and accountability they also connect with empowerment, which repels being intimidated by any opponent, condition, or circumstance.
It’s About Balance

Rather than getting fixated on isolated situations, it’s infinitely more constructive to focus on the day-to-day process of the coaching relationship.

In our present era, it’s different than it was in generations past. Each generation has innate challenges, thus it’s not better or worse today than it was 25 years ago; it’s just different.

Kids are exposed to more off-the-field distractions, near non-stop stimuli, external input, and clutter than in generations past. And, we are more effective coaches by understanding, yet not conforming to, this reality.

Where in eras past, a coach often could simply show up and bark commands with an air of intimidation and athletes would comply with a sense of reverential fear, today it’s essential to connect with communication– along with consistency of principles– to build trust and respect. These are constant reminders that success is not a destination, but a never-ending process that is a major part of today’s coaching success.

We earn an athlete’s trust by unconditionally sustaining our principles. General rules can be taken into a case-by-case consideration, but principles must remain intact regardless of circumstances.

We must not compromise those values with modern-day-tolerance that is so prevalent today, but use effective ways of enforcing those standards in an understanding, yet still reliable, way.

As any parent can attest, most young men and women don’t like “rules” and the discipline that is associated with them. However, they internally desire and need the stability it provides. Discipline should not be a reaction, but a reliable, guiding quality to insure the primary objective is sustained. Effective discipline is proactive, not reactive.

Principles and boundaries are not the end itself, but a means of expectation and direction that leads to a desired result. Our job is to communicate this truth, and that only occurs with consistency of expectations.

Coaching is a balancing process that includes factors outside the limited time we have with our athletes. Our job is to clarify our expectations and boundaries to such a degree that our athletes fully understand the lines that are not to be crossed.

By doing this, we are impacting these young men and women with self-worth to the degree where they eventually discipline themselves rather than needing the threat of a penalty to guide their decisions.

Our ability to help athletes understand that the present moment is the only time that they can truly control, will be the most important lesson in productive behavior. Inf fact, this may be “the secret of success” to life in general.
Not Our Concern

In truth, our success as coaches, teachers, and leaders is not the number of “followers” we have, but the ones we constructively impact. Our impact will always be more relevant than just our popularity through the quantity of contacts.

As coaches, our primary objective is in leading an athlete to find, follow, and fulfill their potential. I see the preparation for sport as a microcosm of life. Integrity and consistency are the substances worthy to follow, not marketing skills or P.R. savvy.

Keeping a symbolic scorecard of success in that regard is misguided and a waste of time.

That known, I am always appreciative and blessed by words or messages from an athlete, parent, or a coach about how they see positive change in an athlete.

The overwhelming majority of our athletes will not earn their living playing a sport. They will go on to other careers, and we want the principles we infuse in them to be universally applicable to their lives.

Again, when we truly realize that sport is nothing more than a great teaching opportunity for life, the principles we teach can have great impact on athletic performance and success as a very exciting benefit.
Built-in Discipline

Making impact as a coach is about illuminating the ‘path of the process’. It’s not just getting athletes to do what they are “supposed to do” but having them buy-in to the greater reality in that process; the why of what they are doing. Getting athletes to understand the why is the foundation of buy-in to the what and when. Again, this is impact.

The most successful coaches in the world of Strength and Conditioning are the ones that inspire the highest degree of personal accountability rather than those who just yell motivational mantras, have a drill sergeant persona, or design the most technically-savvy programs.

It’s common to preach that team sports are “not about I“, however we must convey the truth that there is an “I component” that requires each individual to be accountable to. While it may sound humble to say “I don’t matter“, it’s discounting that there is no “we” without personal responsibility.

The best teams are made up of the highest percentage of accountable individuals. Our job as coaches is to clarify that truth in an impactful way.
Excellence Expected is Excellence Expressed

There’s an undeniable spiritual law: Excellence expected leads to excellence expressed.

Nothing destroys potential as assuredly as indifference. Teaching athletes to take command of what they can control sets them up to make good decisions. When we clarify expectations we are clearing the path-of-process, and impacting our athletes.

Indifference comes from confusion of what is expected in the immediate. When there’s no clarity in what’s expected now, there’s confusion of what to expect ahead.

Simply stated, consistency of expectation in the present paves the path of excellence in the future. We are best to teach our athletes to take command of what they do control 100% of the time, and this will minimize any adverse effect of what they do not have control of. The badge of leadership is “being a thermostat, not a thermometer” in your present environment.

Accountability is constructively contagious, and teaches athletes to impact their teammates in the way that goes beyond a random winning season and into becoming a winning program.

The University of Alabama football program has sustained a high level of excellence over an extended period of time. While this success can be attributed to aspects such as Head Coach Nick Saban, recruiting, and on-field coaching, in actuality the most vital component is due in large part to the work of Strength Coach Scott Cochran.

Having relationships with several highly-respected collegiate strength coaches, I consider them “the heartbeat” of their respective programs, and Scott Cochran is one who exemplifies this with his unrelenting influence, impacting young men to become men who positively impact their entire environment.

I’ve observed Coach Cochran’s work over the last 10 years and have worked with many athletes who’ve also been under his guidance. All you have to do is ask any of those men if there’s any substantial carryover from their time in Coach Cochran’s program to their daily lives today, and the unanimous affirmative answer reveals the true significance of a coach’s impact.

Winning programs refuse complacency by building accountability from the inside out, and Scott Cochran has mastered this principle year after year.
Coaching is Connecting

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

The reality is that there will be some athletes who will choose to take a counterproductive path and and we will not be able to understand why we did not have the impact we intended.

Conversely, there will be those we thought we did not connect with, only to find out later, that we had a significant impact on their lives. We must refuse to allow our present perception to change our passion, purpose, and responsibility of expecting to be a positive impact on each athlete’s life.
Just as we expect from our athletes, effective coaching is forever a process that knows no complacency.

Simply stated, impacting athletes is not about any particular training method or playbook, but about how we use those tools to communicate life principles with our athletes. Successful coaching uses our systems to impact athletes rather than just trying to use athletes to validate our system.

On the field and off, I’ve witnessed coaches use the most simple principles imaginable to generate huge impact, and I’ve observed some of the most intelligent systems fail miserably.

Remember, the key is in consistent, constructive communication. Even the most critical input can, and must, connect with an athlete to inspire positive action and output.

When there’s a situation that calls for us to use a stronger, louder, reprimand to get the attention of an athlete (and there will be), we must follow it with input to bring solution moving forward.

In other words, there’s no benefit in leaving someone “in the problem”. Once it’s acknowledged, teach athletes to take ownership, and use that powerful position to move forward.

We must keep in mind that our vigilance in reprimanding an athlete isn’t us just showing our disapproval in the isolated situation, or thinking we can make an athlete “feel bad enough” to make the correction. It’s about bringing light to an issue that needs correction for the greater good.

Condemnation has never led anyone to constructive change.

Who’s Impacted My Life

When it comes to others impacting my life and career, I consider the key mentors I’ve had in the athletic preparation and fitness fields over the span of my 30+ year career as playing vital roles in my development. These people have helped by setting examples, confirming my path, instilling the values of the continuous process of learning, integrity, genuine humility, and communication that are essential for both success and longevity in coaching.

The first mentor I had in my career is Clarence Bass. Many will know of Clarence as a highly successful bodybuilder and author of books on physique training and living a healthy lifestyle. What many may not be aware of is that he has been a practicing attorney through all the years of his training, writing, and exemplifying the strength-based healthy lifestyle.

Clarence’s ground-breaking RIPPED book series has never been surpassed in its practical content, and his monthly columns in Muscle & Fitness magazine were way ahead of their time. Clarence has entered his 9th decade and continues to live his life’s message of strength, physique, and health.

I first connected with Clarence back in 1983, and he has been a consistent source of encouragement, edification, and accountability for nearly 35 years.

Clarence has sustained a level of consistency in our relationship that has impacted me in unspeakable ways. The take-home from Clarence is that it’s often the subtle, consistent principles you live that lead to the most powerful impact.

Even though my career has taken a path more towards athletic preparation rather than bodybuilding, the principles I learned from Clarence have applied to every aspect of my work.

Probably the most important principle I learned from Clarence is to rely on intelligence and healthy skepticism, instead of physical capabilities and traditional practices, to make the best training and nutritional decisions. That’s the power of impact.

I am beyond appreciative of, and honored by, Clarence’s generosity. I am blessed by the fact he recognized that I had chosen the right path for my life even when successful careers in the fitness field were about as rare as a solar eclipse.

The Coach’s Coach

The list of others who’ve impacted my life also has its roots in the coaching world. I started playing multiple organized sports at a very early age and was fortunate to have many great coaching influences in my life.

I was into everything from Skeet Shooting to Baseball to Swimming, Track & Field, Soccer, Basketball, Martial Arts, Football and Tennis. I was fortunate to have parents who exposed me to a large variety of sports. It certainly set the path I am on to this day.

One coach in particular, Coach Ralph Pierotti, stands out among all of the coaches I’ve had over the years. There were numerous moments in my time with Coach Pierotti that I vividly recall having positively affected my life.

To create a better visual, you could put Coach Pierotti in the lead role of any good inspirational movie involving a coach. Just tell him “be yourself” and you’d have an Academy Award winner.

Many of you can relate to this one particular “life lesson” I’ll share. It’s relevance to this article is in the example of how even one relatively simple coaching moment can provide the positive impact of a lifetime.

Just before 7th grade, my family moved away from the city and school where I’d lived since I was 4 years old. It was literally like starting over, and especially difficult during that transitional time in a young man’s life. I was still a kid but beginning to think more as a “young man” in terms of the ego, self identity, and dealing with authority outside the home.

Playing sports was probably second only to breathing in importance at that time in my life. Along with that, I had difficulty tolerating anything less than near perfection from myself and that carried over to what I expected from my teammates. I loved to win but my distaste with losing was even stronger. I’m not saying this with any sort pride or satisfaction but to set up what was one of those most impactful moments for me as that naive 7th grader.

My new school was playing my former school (where I had gone since Kindergarten) in basketball. Considering I was only a few months removed, my friendships with the opponent were still quite close. I wanted more than anything to beat my old school in front of my former teammates and their parents. However, what started with great hopes quickly went in another direction.

We got behind early, and the cocky, embarrassed, and immature kid in me began to let the frustration escalate. My mindset was “just get me the ball, so I can score“. I had no interest in encouraging my teammates in a way that would positively affect the team. I only wanted to save face by being the one who stood out. I did eventually “stand out”, but not for the reason I wanted.

As the game continued to go in the opposite direction, on one of the trips down the floor, a teammate did not see me open and again failed to pass me the ball. He threw the ball away and one of my best friends, on the other team, scored another easy basket. This happened time and again, and in an obvious show of frustration, I looked to our bench, emphatically put my palms up, shook my head at Coach Pierotti as if to say “someone needs to fix this”.

On the very next in-bounds, I passed to a teammate who had just entered the game; he took the ball under our basket, picked up his dribble, was immediately covered, and shot the ball into our basket, scoring two more points for the opposition. I looked at Coach Pierotti and again threw my arms in the air with that look of “can you believe I’m having to go through this?”

Coach Pierotti immediately called a time-out, motioned for me to come to him, grabbed the front of my jersey, quickly assisted me to a seat on the bench, looked me straight in the eyes, and firmly stated “if you ever do that again, you will never play another second for me“. Now I got to “be the star”. I thought I was already embarrassed, but this took things to a whole new stratosphere. Everyone in that gym was looking not at my teammates, but at me.

It went from me thinking I was being embarrassed to me being truly humiliated, and justifiably so. This moment of strong critical input from Coach Pierotti was a time of constructive coaching that was actually one of the most impactful lessons in my life.

Coach Pierotti had given me several opportunities get rid of my frustration on my own by not outwardly confronting me until that point. However, my body language only got more counterproductive to the team. He finally stepped in and clarified his expectations for me.

This became one of those “life moments” that taught me the reality of leadership, and influences how I coach young athletes nearly 39 years later.

Another key lesson I learned from Coach Pierotti stemmed from the fact that he coached every soccer team in that school, from 1st grade through the 12th. This means he had to manage every level of physical, psychological, and emotional development in those age ranges. He masterfully met each kid at their level and communicated his expectations without fail.

Considering I’ve worked with kids as young as 8, all the way through pro athletes, I fully appreciate the unique challenges this presents. Watching Coach Pierotti taught me that there is value in coaching every age and every level.

Another foundational principle I learned from Coach Pierotti is the expectancy of excellence through preparedness. He taught his athletes to respect every opponent, but to be intimidated by no one. He had us so prepared – physically, tactically, and psychologically – to compete for our best rather than against some opponent.

We were winners before the game started. He was way ahead of his time as a leader, having us consistently believing in ourselves individually and as a team united.

We consistently won championships throughout my time with Coach Pierotti. But, this is not what led to Coach’s values; it was the product of them. I can honestly say, I never went into a single game (the aforementioned basketball game withstanding) with Coach Pierotti without believing I was ready to compete, prepared to win, and confident enough to respond to failure or adversity without being defeated.

Successful coaching is about understanding how to lead people more than it is a sport or training methods. Coach Pierotti exemplifies a coach’s coach, in that he’s the type coach who could take a team in a sport he has no direct experience with, and coach them into winners.

This experience has continued to impact my daily life, nearly 40 years later. And I’m fortunate enough to personally share those impactful experiences with others and thank Coach Pierotti for the impact he’s had on me.
What are the take-home messages from the impact of Coach Pierotti?

• We are always leading in some way or another.

• Our presence affects everyone around us, and we choose that effect;
are you a thermostat or thermometer?

• Our body language is as significant as our words in communication to everyone around us.

• Clarity of expectations leads to clarity of preparation; Decide on desired outcome and prepare with that as reality.

• Preparing to win every time leads to its greatest frequency.

Vince McConnell is the founder of McConnell Athletics in Alabama. He has been training athletes for more than 20 years and has worked with athletes at every level of competition from grade school to professionals.  Learn more about Vince at http://www.mcconnellathletics.com

The Art of Sports Science

Sports science has become one of the hottest topics and trends in the world of strength & conditioning.  It seems like everyone is trying to find the holy grail of athlete monitoring or how to utilize sports science to find the key to athletic success.  Millions of dollars have been poured into technology designed to enhance our understanding of athletes so that coaches can make better decisions about training and practice.  Unfortunately, it does look like those dollars have had much of a return on investment for most programs yet.

This could be due to many factors:

  • Coaches not knowing how to take advantage of the technology
  • Coaches not making decisions based on the technology
  • The technology not giving coaches the most important information necessary
  • Information overload
  • Coaches not knowing what to do with all of the information

Art of Sports ScienceIt could also be that technology can’t tell us everything that is going on.  It can’t account for the human factor in sport, so coaches still need to make instinctive decisions and athletes still need to make plays.

Director of Sports Science & Operations for the University of Michigan Football Program, Fergus Connolly Ph.D., has a unique perspective on the sports science trend.  While Connolly is fully educated on the technology, he also has a deep understanding of the human element present in sports.  In his new book, Game Changer – The Art of Sports Science, he goes into great depth on the ways teams win games.

At first, this seems like just another book on winning, but it’s not.  Instead, it’s an in-depth study of sports at both the macro and micro level that makes you think about sports from a unique perspective.

In this episode of The Impact Show, Jim & Fergus discuss the impact that sports science is having on sports and how we can use it to truly make a difference.  Listen on iTunes at The Impact Show or on your favorite podcast app, or click on the player below to listen now:

 

Pick up a copy of Game Changer – The Art of Sports Science at this Amazon link:

Youth Athletic Development Fundamentals

Youth athletic development and youth fitness are often talked about as “being important,” but truly understanding the foundations of these topics is critical if we’re going to make a difference in the lives of young people.  IYCA contributor and co-founder of SPIDERfit Kids, Brett Klika, created this in-depth video for the IYCA to lay out some of the fundamental principles involved when working with athletes 6-10 years old.youth athletic development

In the video, Brett discusses youth athletic development and youth fitness in ways that most parents and coaches don’t fully understand.  He lays out the concepts of motor development, games and play, fundamental movement skills, applied movement skills, body awareness, spatial awareness and more so that we can have a better understanding of how to integrate all of these factors into our training programs.  Taking advantage of all of these concepts will allow coaches to create more engaging programs for young athletes that will also improve overall physical literacy.

In addition to being a featured presenter and contributor for the IYCA, Brett takes puts these principles into practice with his SPIDERfit Kids program as he works with kids on both youth athletic development and youth fitness.  These aren’t just things he talks about – he has used these principles with thousands of young people.

This video will help you understand how to integrate information from the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification with the concepts of game play and long-term athlete development.  All of these concepts work together to help foster complete athletic development and youth fitness, but it’s often difficult to know how to incorporate all of this when you’re actually working with a young athlete.

Sometimes, great coaches shy away from working with young athletes because they don’t understand how to keep them engaged.  Other times, it’s because these coaches simply don’t understand how to develop a young athlete.  The more we learn about and understand the importance of youth athletic development and youth fitness, the more we will have quality coaches working with young people.  Take a few minutes to watch this video on Youth Athletic Development Fundamentals and start integrating these concepts into your programming.

 

How to Make a Difference

Aaron Byrd owns one of the most successful soccer training businesses in the country.  As a former college and professional soccer players, Aaron clearly has the skills necessary to help improve a soccer player’s abilities, but it’s not the soccer training that makes the biggest difference in people’s lives – it’s the lessons he teaches through his training programs.

Aaron started his business by helping two kids of a friend who wanted to get better at soccer.  Two turned into four, four turned into eight, and before he knew it, Byrd had over 100 kids enrolled in camps and training programs.  Since then, his business has expanded exponentially and he has hired a staff of coaches that implement his programs in multiple locations throughout southeast Michigan.

As his business grew, Aaron realized what an impact he was making on young athletes.  That realization made him take that role more seriously, and it has become a huge part of his business and life.

As a father of two children, Byrd understands how important it is for young people to have positive influences in their lives, and he takes every opportunity possible to teach life lessons that will make his students not only better soccer players, but better people.

In this episode of The Impact Show, Aaron shares real-life examples of how he makes an impact through his business, and he talks about his journey as both a coach and business-owner.  You can learn more about Aaron Byrd and his Next Level Training soccer programs at http://www.next-leveltraining.com/ or follow him on Instagram at NLTsoccer

If you haven’t already subscribed to The Impact Show, please click on that link and do so immediately.  Make time in your schedule to fuel yourself with the valuable information the show provides coaches, trainers and business-people.  It’s important that we also share great content with others, so make sure to tell others about the great messages the IYCA is providing.  You can also listen directly from this page by clicking on the player below.

Early Sport Specialization Is Making Youth Less Athletic

Early sport specialization has become a hotly debated topic in many sports circles.  The youth sports scene has changed dramatically over the past two decades, and while a lot of improvements have been made, some changes have not been good for children.

A recent study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, which included over 1,500 high school athletes, found that athletes who specialized in one sport were twice as likely to report a lower extremity injury as compared to those who played multiple sports. It was also found that 60% of athletes that specialized in one sport sustained a new lower extremity injury1.

This study got a lot of publicity because early sport specialization has been a hot topic as of late. Most of the arguments against early sport specialization are from rehab professionals, surgeons, and well-informed strength and sport coaches. The frustration of these professionals is the lack of understanding and push-back from parents that desperately want their kid to succeed at an early age. Instead of just relying on anecdotal cases and opinions, it’s nice to have more legitimate studies that can be brought to the parent’s attention as evidence.

Youth programs started out as an avenue to allow kids to play a sport in an organized environment. This helped kids develop self-esteem, peer socialization, work ethic, and general levels of fitness. It also allowed kids to sample a variety of sports and potentially start developing a passion for some of them. It also allowed time for them to recognize the sport they are best at. These were the days when a sports season lasted somewhere around 4 months before the next season came around and the focus would shift. But in the last decade, youth sports have morphed into highly competitive leagues, and year-round early sport specialization is the trend.

If Some is Good Than More Must Be Better, Right?

Unfortunately this is first instinct for a lot of parents and even coaches. At first glance, it seems to make sense, right? If you want to get better,  you have to practice and play the game. Seems all well and good, until you take a second look and realize how damaging that idea can actually be.

I think everyone can agree that playing a sport puts an immense amount of strain on the human body. As parents and coaches, we forget about this because young kids are so resilient and bounce back so quickly. That is until the day they don’t bounce back, and a nagging overuse injury starts forcing them out of competition and practice. Kids are going through growth spurts, bone and body structure is still developing, and they are still developing strength and coordination. All of these are risk factors for developing overuse and repetitive strain injuries.

Imagine you have a piece of plastic such as a credit card. You fold it once, still good. Fold it back the opposite way, still intact. Keep moving it back and forth repeatedly and eventually it snaps.

An injury is the fastest way to decrease athleticism. Especially when you consider that at such a young age rapid improvements are made in speed, coordination, and athleticism. Missing out on 6 weeks of play due to an injury, means missing out on a very important 6 weeks of development.

Why is Playing Multiple Sports So Beneficial?

We already mentioned that sports can help develop self-esteem, socialization, and work ethic. Physically it will improve strength, coordination, power, and adaptability. As previously mentioned, playing one sport year around (early sport specialization) at such a young age exposes kids to overuse and repetitive injuries at a high rate.

When kids play multiple sports over the course of multiple season it varies the type of stress on the body. Football, basketball, and baseball all have very different demands in sport. As such the strain and wear pattern on the body is different. It’s the same reason you rotate the tires on your car. Change the wear pattern and you increase the likelihood of staying healthy.

How Can Playing Multiple Sports Increase a Kid’s Athleticism?

A study in the Journal of Sport Sciences found that physical fitness and gross motor movements were improved in boys aged 6-12 when they played multiple sports versus just one sport2.

Similarly, according to a study in The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, 88% of college athletes participated in more than one sport as a child3. Playing multiple sports exposes the athlete to different kinds of skills, movement patterns, coordination, and dynamic power development. It’s been found that kids who play multiple sports have a larger athletic base of skill to draw from. This means that they have the ability to pick up and learn skills, techniques, tricks, etc much faster than their one sport counterpart.

The problem with early sport specialization and playing just one sport is we immediately switch from a youth development model to an elite athlete development model. While it sounds cool, this is a major problem as the physical needs of youth athletes are totally different than elite athletes.

Even high level athletes (Collegiate Division I) have different needs than elite athletes (Pro/Olympic caliber). To put this in perspective, it’s similar to teaching calculus to a student before they can even do basic addition. The knowledge base is completely different, and as a result your, conversations will change drastically. Elite and high level athletes have already developed foundation levels of strength and coordination. Their bodies have matured enough to withstand a prolonged season and repetitive strain.

With that being said, most elite and high level athletes still find time to recover throughout the year in some way shape or form because they know the negative effects over-training and overuse have on the body.  Most professionals integrate a variety of movements and exercises into their training routines to help create a more balanced body.

Furthermore, they understand that their body will only have a limited window of sustainability when performing at a high level and at such a high frequency. It’s why athletes retire. Playing at a high level day in and day out is just not sustainable forever, and especially not at a young age. This is why early sports specialization should be delayed as long as possible. In most scenarios this won’t be until college or at the very earliest high school. Some of this may differ depending on sport. For example gymnasts peek at a very young age, however most field and court sport athlete peak much later, generally in mid to late 20’s (sometimes later).  So, while some sports require early sport specialization just to be competitive (i.e. gymnastics), most actually benefit from more of a long-term athlete development model.

Playing Multiple Sports is Beneficial To Confidence & Self-Esteem

Kids just want to have fun. Interestingly enough, when a kid is having fun they simultaneously want to get better and win. When the emphasis is placed on year around competition in a highly competitive environment, the fun and joy of the game is lost.

Things have gotten so organized that kid’s don’t even know how to free-play anymore. We don’t have scientific evidence to back this up, but anecdotal evidence points toward far fewer pick-up games occurring on neighborhood courts/fields than there were just 20 years ago. Today, kids often wait for adults to schedule organized practices where they’re told what to do.  Passion for the game starts because the game is fun. We hear stories about elite athletes all the time who retire because they have “lost the love of the game” or was “burned out.” If this is happening to mature athletes, what are the odds it’s happening to your kids when you treat them the same?

What If My Child Only Likes Playing One Sport?

I would first answer that question with some follow up questions. Does your kid truly only want to play one sport? Or is it you, the parent that thinks they only want to play one sport? Have you asked them and truly given them options?  Sometimes it means giving something up or making inconvenient arrangements, so it’s not always easy for parents.

If they only enjoy or have interest in playing one sport, then there is certainly no reason they have to play multiple sports. Forcing a kid to do something that’s “good for them” certainly isn’t the answer.  The point being made earlier is that year-round early sport specialization at a young age can have very negative side effects with little benefit. So, if you enjoy playing more than one sport, by all means play a variety of sports at a young age.

However, if a kid only enjoys one sport, or during their Junior or Senior year the child chooses to specialize (not the parent), it’s perfectly OK to focus on one thing.  Just understand that even elite and high level athletes do not compete and play their sport year-round. If a mature pro doesn’t play year around, there is no reason a developing child should. High level competition imposes high levels of demand on the body that is not sustainable year-round, so it’s important to add some variety through training or other activities.

How Does Lifting Weights & Training Contribute To This?

Obviously lifting weights and other training programs will impose stress on the human body. However, the purpose of an intelligently designed training program is to impose a demand on the body so that it adapts favorably.

The goals, volume, and intensity of a training program will vary depending on the sport, age of the athlete, training age, time of year, and needs of the athlete. The goal of a quality training program at a young age should really focus on filling in the gaps of foundational movement and basic levels of strength that only playing sports may miss.

Enjoying the various seasons and sports will accomplish much of this at a very young age. When a training program is implemented correctly, it will first address poor movement patterns and the ability to absorb force to make the body more adaptable to stress. It will also start to build foundation levels of strength, balance and coordination to make the body more resilient and resistant to overuse injuries. When these foundations are established it creates higher athletic development potential and an environment for the athlete to succeed when they eventually decide to specialize later in their athletic career.

Early sport specialization is an issue for young athletes, but adults hold the key to assisting in their long term athletic development.  We have the ability to put children in a position to succeed, and it is our responsibility to look out for the best interest of young athletes.  Simply bringing awareness to the issue will benefit many children and develop better, happier athletes.

 

Dr. Greg Schaible is a physical therapist and strength coach specializing in athletic performance.  He attended The University of Findlay as a Student Athlete.  As an athlete he competed in both Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field where he earned honors as a 5x Division II All-American and a 6x Division II Academic All-American. In 2013 he completed Graduate School earning his Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT).  Greg is the owner of On Track Physical Therapy and Content Manager for Sports Rehab Expert. In addition to his rehabilitation services, Greg has a passion for sport specific youth athlete training and battling early sport specialization. 

References

Study Indicates Higher Injury Rates for Athletes Who Specialize in One Sport. (2016, November 3). Retrieved from https://www.nfhs.org/articles/study-indicates-higher-injury-rates-for-athletes-who-specialize-in-one-sport/

DiFiori JP, Benjamin HJ, Brenner J, Gregory A, Jayanthi N, Landry GL, Luke A. Overuse Injuries and Burnout in Youth Sports: A Position Statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. Clin J Sports Med. 2014; 24(1):3-20

Fransen, J., Pion, J., Vandendriessche, J., Vandorpe, B., Vaeyens, R., Lenoir, M., & Philippaerts, RM. (2012). Differences in physical fitness and gross motor coordination in boys aged 6‐12 years specializing in one versus sampling more than one sport. Journal of Sport Sciences, 30, 379‐386.

The IYCA Long-Term Athlete Development Roadmap is the perfect resource to more fully understand the needs of athletes at different ages.  For more information, click on the image below.

Dave Gleason – How to Train Young Athletes

Dave Gleason is considered one of the top youth training coaches in America for good reason.  He’s awesome!

Dave has been a huge part of the IYCA for years.  He has spoken at many events, helped write the LTAD Roadmap and Game Play Performance and has contributed videos and articles that have helped thousands of people create better programming for young athletes.

In this short interview, Dave drops knowledge bombs about training young athletes.  You can tell how passionate he is about this, and he always gives the IYCA community something to think about.