Archive for “Coaching Young Athletes” Category

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 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.   



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:

and a bonus resource:

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:

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!

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, and he can be contacted at

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.


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.

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

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 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. 


Study Indicates Higher Injury Rates for Athletes Who Specialize in One Sport. (2016, November 3). Retrieved from

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.

Ron McKeefery – Making a Difference

ron mckeeferyRon McKeefery has become one of the most influential men in the industry by simply being himself and caring about people.  He has been a strength coach at the highest levels of football – University of Tennessee and the Cincinnati Bengals – as well as programs that he had to help create a winning culture – University of South Florida and Eastern Michigan.  He has also helped more young strength coaches break into the field than just about anyone through an outstanding internship program he created over 10 years ago.  He wrote the book The CEO Strength Coach a couple of years ago and is now the Director of Education for PLAE USA.

Even though he has done so many big things, it still all comes back to making a difference in people’s lives.

“I chose to be a strength and conditioning coach and why I love being a strength and conditioning coach is it’s a laboratory for life” explained Coach Mac in a recent discussion about how coaches make a difference. “Every single day, you walk in and you have an idea, you have a goal, you have a concept of what’s about to happen, but then all of a sudden you get smacked in the face with a tough workout, you know? And now you have to deal with adversity, you have to deal with success, and you have to work as a team, and you have to create energy when there’s none. What a better, it’s a microcosm of life. What a better laboratory for developing the skill set that you need to be successful after sport by doing that each and every day. So why would you every compromise those values to not reinforce that for their entire life?”

But, coaches can’t just start with crazy workouts and an abrasive attitude anymore.  We’ve learned that there is much more to being a strength coach than just lifting weights.

“I think I would go back a little bit further and start with your meetings with the athletes” McKeefery suggests. “Too many people don’t haveron mckeefery internship those initial meetings about why a kid is actually there. I call them WHY meetings. There’s a great book called Start With Why by Simon Sinek and there’s a good TED talk on it if you’re not into reading.  These meetings really help get down to the core of why they do what they do.  Maybe this is their only escape.  Maybe this is the only way that they see that they have a future. Maybe they just love being around people and interacting with people.  When you find out what their WHY is, you know the buttons to push. Just going up to a guy and saying ‘that bench press right there is not gonna get you into the NFL’ may resonate with them. He may not even care about that.”

Coach Mac went on to talk about how he handles different athletes when he knows more about them:

“If you know what their WHY is, then you find those little buttons to push as you’re walking around the room.  Some people like the public challenge. They like the limelight. They like the audience and the gladiator style deal. So, in that group you’re blowing the whistle and you’re getting everybody around and being loud when you’re talking to the guys so it brings attention. Then there’s other guys that don’t like that at all. They don’t like that attention but they want to know somebody cares about them. So, you put your arm around that guy so he knows you’re there for him. There are moments like that in every session where it’s almost like being a CEO.  Sometimes you have to run the entire room instead of just one squat rack.”

ron mckeefery weight room“I try to find touch points with every single person that’s in the room. That touch point may be putting my arm around a guy. The touch point might be play boxing with somebody. It might be cracking on this guy and it might be telling the next guy to come meet me after the lift so we can talk about home situation. But I find touch points with every single guy as I’m going through the room. By doing that, when they know that you care about them more as a person than as a player, then asking them to do things that are uncomfortable, which people don’t want to do in this society, you can do that.  You’ve been given that permission.”

Another interesting way Ron McKeefery gets to know his athletes is by asking them about their most challenging life experiences.

“Sometimes you’d be surprised what you hear when you ask about challenging life experiences. I had a player who watched his dad shoot his mom and then shoot himself right in front of him. He grew up in a foster home. And this kid, he’s a doctor now. You would have never thought. He’s happy, go lucky, smile on his face every day kind of kid. You would have never thought that this guy grew up that way.  And, I probably would have never found that out had I not asked him what’s the most challenging thing you’ve ever gone through. So, when you do those things, you start to find out at the core what is important to them, and then you can help counsel them, not just from an athletic standpoint but from a life standpoint.”

To get ever further into his relationships with athletes, Coach Ron McKeefery tries to create experiences for them.  Experiences they will never forget.

“When you create life experiences for kids, they hold you in a different light.  We’ve done all sorts of things, like taking them to the sand dunes on Lake Michigan, or shutting down the roads of a small town and doing a workout in the middle of the street.  After that kind of thing, when you’re asking them to give you another sprint, it’s not the guy that’s being a jerk with the whistle saying do it. It’s the guy that cares about me and he thinks that the sprints can help me. He believes in me. He’s investing in me.”

You don’t have to plan an elaborate trip.  You can create experiences right in your space by doing special workouts, bringing in speakers and having new experiences.

The IYCA philosophy of making an impact on people’s lives is one of the things that makes our community so amazing, and it’s great to see someone like Ron McKeefery placing such a high value on this aspect of the profession.

To get more Ron McKeefery in your life, listen to an interview with Ron McKeefery on The Impact Show podcast talking about making an impact through your business or listen to his podcast Iron Game Chalk Talk where he interviews coaches from all over the world.

Mike Boyle – Coaching Kids

A while ago we had a great thread on the forum entitled Athlete Engagement and Behavior. Anthony had suggested that I expand my thoughts from the thread into an article.

The thread began with this question:

“Would really appreciate if anyone could share their experiences or direct me to some good resources regarding engaging young athletes (13-15 year old female athletes) in structured strength and conditioning sessions.”

My response ( expanded on here) began with this:

Training kids is a balancing act. Kids are kids. They should be having some fun training. However, at 13 -15 they should also be learning that there is a serious aspect to training. If you are having trouble controlling a group, I strongly advocate removing those who are most disruptive, or at least threatening to do so. The threat of getting kicked out adds a bit of “what if” to the equation. What if I have to go home and explain that I got kicked out of a training session?

This “threat” gets the message across. You are the boss and this is a practice. What you really have to learn is to be “tight but loose.” You have to establish the boundaries. With kids it’s a constant push- pull. Sometimes you are pushing them forward from an effort standpoint and other times you pull them back from silliness. With females you can be pushing them to try a heavier load, with males you might be pulling them back from trying to impress the other boys.

Start with simple organizational stuff. Put them in lines, keep them in lines. Call out those who distract the others. Always lines, no circles. Keep everyone where you can see them. Kids behind you is like an invitation to screw around

With kids we want to be light on science and heavy on structure. You can keep them busy as the loads are light and the work is primarily technical. Rest between sets is not nearly as critical as it is with older, stronger, more experienced athletes. I use their energy as a guideline. If they have time to screw around, we are probably going too slowly.

On the flip side, develop relationships with the problem kids and realize that winning them over is the goal, not kicking them out. Kicking them out should be the last resort.  In truth, develop relationships with all the kids. Learn all the names, ideally learn about them. Do they have siblings? Do they have two parents? Do they have two moms or two dads (more common than you think these days).  In truth, the relationships will end up being the best part of coaching. You will be changing lives for the better.

I advocate a John Wooden style of teaching for everything we do. This works particularly good with kids. Wooden had a simple, do this, not this, this approach.

Show them three times (while telling them). Give a good demo followed by the most common mistake, and finish with the good demo again.

Remember, the demos mean much more than the words. Kids today are powerfully visual. Keep the talk to a minimum and let them learn by doing.

Training kids can either be the best experience or the worst. You just have to remind yourself that you are the facilitator, the culture creator. You will get what you ask for.  Ask for more.

Michael Boyle is one of the foremost experts in the fields of Strength and Conditioning, Functional Training and general fitness. He currently spends his time lecturing, teaching, training and writing. In 1996 Michael co founded Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, one of the first for-profit strength and conditioning companies in the world.  Go to to interact with Mike on his popular message boards.


Conscious Coaching with Brett Bartholomew

Conscious Coaching by Brett BartholomewConscious Coaching: The Art & Science of Building Buy-In is the name of Brett Bartholomew’s new book, and it encapsulates years of coaching and research that has gotten Brett to this point in his coaching career.

In Conscious Coaching, Brett breaks down coaching into easy-to-understand parts so that we, as coaches, can be sure to address each one.  His research and thought processes are incredibly thorough, but his style is to keep things practical and understandable.  Conscious Coaching is a perfect mix of that.

He describes it best as “Developing a balance between the physical, psychological and cultural elements of sport is what truly comprises elite level performance.”

Readers learn the foundational principles of improving relationships, enhancing engagement, and gaining the trust of athletes through targeted communication. And, every bit as important, readers also learn concrete strategies to apply these principles in day-to-day coaching situations they will inevitably encounter.

Brett started his career as a college strength and conditioning coach at the University of Nebraska.  He also spent several years coaching, speaking and developing programs at Athletes Performance/EXOS where he was able to work with many elite athletes and host numerous mentorships and workshops for trainers/coaches.

He spent the last year running a private facility in Los Angeles, and is now striking out on his own with the release of Conscious Coaching.  We will provide a link for the book as soon as it’s available (scheduled for March 11th) so you can access it directly.

If you’re not familiar with Brett, this podcast pretty much sums him up.  Smart. Witty. Well-spoken.  Down to earth.  And a great coach.

If you ARE familiar with Brett, you’re going to love this conversation, and you’re definitely going to laugh when he does his “movie trailer voice impersonation.

Because everyone associated with the IYCA strives to make an impact on the people around them, learning the art of building buy-in couldn’t be more important.  That’s why Brett’s book Conscious Coaching is an absolute must for everyone in the IYCA community.  Click on the image of his book below to check it out.

Enjoy this episode of The Impact Show – The official podcast of the IYCA.

The Maturation of Effective Coaching by Vince McConnell

What you need to understand about the maturation of effective coaching:

  • The profession of coaching is a commitment to continued learning before it can progress into a lasting career of application.

  • There is no universal “the” way, or “the best” way for a strength coach to do his/her job in regards to techniques, methods, or systems.

  • “New information” does not have to be something you’ve never heard of to be innovative.   

  • All information is useful whether you choose to apply it all or not.

  • A career in coaching is about using a program to fit and develop athletes– rather than using athletes to suit and develop a program.

  • Continuing education as a strength coach comes full circle – simple to complex and back to simple.

  • Effective coaching proficiency begins in using your accumulated knowledge.

  • Effective coaching efficiency begins in confidently making adjustments to a designed program.

  • Effective coaching maturity begins when ‘checks and balances’ is your priority when reading, watching, listening to “new” information.   

To those not in the coaching profession, there’s the perception that being an effective strength coach is based largely on how close you can get to mimicking a stereotypical military drill sergeant.

While there may in fact be times that this appearance can be observed—and by the way, it’s relatively easy to just motivate athletes for a brief period of time– sustained success as a strength and conditioning coach is a manifestation of years of seeking as many resources and studying as much information as is available to you.  

Even though the sport-specific staff is the “player developer,” a strength coach needs to be both the architect and the contractor of the athlete’s development.

In early stages of any coaching career there’s a vital phase of accumulation where you expose yourself to as much material and seek as much information as is available. Yes, this can be a frustrating and intimidating time along with the excitement of learning new stuff.

It All Has Value

Valuable resources include courses, classes, and textbooks based on human performance on subjects such as physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, psychology, and nutrition. From there, a large selection of seminars, workshops, video and audio teachings, and books are seemingly growing in volume by the month.

Beyond those resources are those invaluable openings to intern at respected training facilities. If even for a brief period of time, these direct opportunities to observe and engage the process of effective coaching may be the most important to a young coach’s career.

Even material that is not worth your applying can serve to confirm what is worth including in your program at this time. Thus, even “nonsense” can benefit you.

Many of these resources will include some information that may surpass your level of comprehension, and plenty that will contrast each other. Do not allow that to interfere with the content that can be understood and used.

The reality is, in even the highest standards of academia, you will actually use a relatively small percentage of the information you are exposed to. Wisdom comes in consistent application and assessment of the collected information, and seeing any confusion as a learning opportunity for clarity.  

Again, in this extended phase you are best to “take it all in” as best as your personal ability to assimilate and retain may be. Take every teaching as relevant; take physical notes of everything. Again, accumulate.

Along with some valid and applicable information there will be some erroneous and unusable stuff. In the earlier stages of your coaching career you will not yet be equipped with the insight to discern what is useful and what is not. Only through applying this information for over that extended period of time with a large variety of athletes will all the accumulative information become knowledge.

The irony of this process is that though you are gathering a plethora of material, it’s to come to a point where you recognize the content that is truly applicable.

There is plenty of valid information in theory that simply may not be practical for your purposes.  This confirms the truth that simple beats complex as no matter how “intelligent” a program may be, it’s only as effective as its application.

Confusion to Clarity

With this increasing knowledge comes the experience of conflict, which means a point where you begin to see a lot of the knowledge clashes with each other and boils to a point of confusion. This is that moment where the maturing process must commence.

Refuse to be discouraged when there’s confusion or conflict. Choose to see this as a learning opportunity, seek clarity, and continue on. The solution is nearly always in the category of “simplify”.

Continuing education in the world of performance strength and conditioning is a full circle reality, simple to complex to simple. The maturing phase of coaching is much like the earliest stage in regards to gathering information. But, this learning phase is all about becoming more efficient with the information that is useful at ‘that’ moment in time, for each situation. Applying a wide range of techniques and methods, and making constructive adjustments to a designed program, and within a specific workout, to best serve your athletes is all part of mastering the art of coaching.

Every coach will have favorite exercises, techniques, and systems. This can be due to several different reasons such as logistics, a coach’s ability to teach certain exercises, equipment availability, or simply that’s it’s a manner of training that “connects” with that particular coach.

This can be beneficial as it gives a program some stability. However, any partiality cannot be allowed to be a blinder to the real objective: getting athletes better in the given sport. An athlete being “better” not only means performing at optimal levels but also being healthier and in lower injury risk.

The stability that preferred components have in a program is invaluable as it provides the foundation to build on. Nevertheless, this stability must not negate the “mobility” of a program to make adjustments and changes as is necessary.

The continued education in the maturing stage is all about “checks & balances” and getting rid of “the clutter” so that the job gets done with the highest level of precision and efficiency. Biases must be checked while even proven preferences are to be balanced.

The Primary Objective is THE Objective

The program design is important, but effective coaching within the program is most important. A major attribute of the mature coach is the “it factor”, which is the acuity to observe each and every training session as an assessment that either confirms what’s working or seeks solutions to what may not be. This includes being able to make minor adjustments while sustaining the foundational principles of the program. This can be for a select few athletes or the team as a whole.

“Addition by subtraction” becomes the reality of a mature coach’s continuing education. The “wide eyes” of a young coach are replaced with a look of the “wise eyes” of constructive questioning, and solution based critique.

In this stage, a coach is adept at coaching in its purest application. This is where coaching is less about teaching exercises, techniques, and methods, and more about coaching athletes in how to train in the most efficient manner possible in the way that transfers to the best on-field product possible.

He/she has matured beyond the need to show how much they know and is secure to use even the most ordinary tool in the box to get the job done with great precision, accuracy, and reliability. Numbers on the wall or a spreadsheet are secondary to the relevant qualities that are transferable to performance in the chosen sport.

In principle– in truth–  the mature strength coach keeps the primary  objective… THE objective.

Vince McConnell – A performance/strength/conditioning coach and personal trainer since 1983, Vince’s professional career has covered over three decades.  Vince uses both scientific evidence and practical experience in working with a clientele that ranges in ages from early childhood to those into their 10th decade.  Though much of Vince’s work has been with collegiate and professional athletes, it is certainly not limited to competitive athletes or experienced fitness enthusiasts as many of McConnell Athletics clients have gotten their very first experience in fitness working with Vince.  Learn more about Vince by visiting


Powerful Play in Sports Performance, Part 1 – Brett Klika

“Coach, can we play Power Ball?”

I was a strength and conditioning coach for a High School football team, and the reward of 10 minutes of a chase -and- evade game with a tennis ball could get my players to do just about anything during training.

This is despite the fact that this particular game, with elements of soccer and rugby, required everyone on the field, including linemen, to run constantly.

As a performance coach, you have undoubtedly witnessed this phenomena  working with athletes and non-athletes from kids to adults.

The miracle of “gamifying” has now extended from athletics to the fitness industry and beyond.  Corporations are now paying a kings ransom to organizations that can help teach business concepts through interactive games.

So why are games and other forms of play so effective for teaching, developing, and reinforcing concepts of performance and competition?

In the world of sports, coaches and athletes are actually immersed in the world of play.  After all, athletic competition has been embraced for centuries as what Stuart Brown M.D., Author of Play and founder of the National Institute of Play, refers to as “War play”.

Prior to sports being widely embraced, competition among individuals most often took on the form of war or battle.  Societies discovered that from the demands of war, certain positive aspects were developed among individuals and groups.  To decrease the “cost” of developing such aspects, non lethal ways of competing were developed.

Additionally, “play” behavior appears to be in our DNA, as well as in organisms as simple as insects. Scientists believe this tendency has evolved to allow species a physical and emotional outlet, allowing for greater social and cognitive development.

While sports once served as a play-based, “release” for the tensions otherwise associated with war, our kids are often placed under increasing pressure to perform athletically  at younger and younger ages.  Instead of an outlet, athletic performance is becoming the currency that stratifies many life opportunities for youngsters.

Play has become work for many children.

The rigors of athletic preparation are a tremendous tool for developing traits of teamwork, commitment, resiliency, and tactical proficiency.  However, by letting our athletes “play” within the confines of training, we can facilitate motivation, creativity, and camaraderie, in addition to other coaching “intangibles”.

These intangibles culminate to create an athlete’s individual desire to not only compete at a high level, but continue competing.  Looking at various research and the available data, it appears the number one determining factor in long term athletic success is most highly correlated with a child’s overall enjoyment with an activity.

Consider as well children who are not athletically inclined.  The physical benchmarks naturally established by sports and regimented athletic preparation remind them daily of their ineptitude.  Unsurprisingly, these kids often abandon physical activity altogether and contribute to the statistic suggesting nearly 1/3 of our countries children are obese.  For these kids, play-based activities often strip the status quo of athletics and allow them to explore endless opportunities to be active.

Aside from the “obvious” advantageous offered by infusing novel games and activities into an athletic preparation or physical activity program, consider the underlying neuromuscular mechanisms below that make play so powerful.

Development of the “Perceptual Motor Skills”

The ability for our senses to perceive, send a message to the brain, and have the brain create the appropriate response is the true underlying foundation for athletic, cognitive, and even social development.

As humans, we depend on input from a variety of senses to inform our physical, mental, and emotional decisions. These sensory skills, or “perceptual motor skills” create an important link between our body and brain.

Consider the following perceptual skills that help make up our ability to move and learn effectively:

Body Awareness:  Understanding the parts of the body and various ways they can move.

Directional Awareness: The ability to understand the directions of the body (right, left, up, down, etc.) and to be able to move in all planes of motion.

Spatial Awareness:  A concept of how much space the body occupies in relation to the surrounding environment.

Temporal Awareness:  The sense of timing, rhythm, and precision.

Vestibular Awareness:  An internal sense of the head and body’s position in relation to gravity.

Proprioceptive Awareness: The ability to interpret the internal sense of where the body and specific joints are in space and in relation to each other, and how much force/velocity they are exerting.

Tactile Awareness: The ability to appropriately respond to touch, in addition to differentiation of objects by size, texture, and shape.

Visual Awareness:  The ability to visually focus, track, and take in broad fields of view.

Auditory Awareness: The ability to accurately interpret and respond to sound.

When these skills are in tune, the “perceive- relay- respond” mechanism is optimized, allowing for improved overall physical and cognitive performance.

We begin developing these skills in infancy and continue throughout life.  While different sensory skills develop at different rates, research suggests a “sensory rich environment” not only helps fully develop these skills, it accelerates the process.

Consider how broad development of the sensory skills intertwines with play and performance in youth sports.

When children filled their time with unstructured play and multi-sport participation, every aspect of their sensory system was developed as they rolled down hills, threw baseballs, dribbled basketballs, kicked kickballs, and participated in any number of novel activities on a daily basis.

Currently, data suggests that a growing number of children are narrowing the physical activities they participate in on a daily basis.  They either are inactive, favoring video games over unstructured play, or they are funneled into early sport specialization.

Both of the above situations result in confining the sensory rich environment required to fully develop the perceptual motor skills of learning and athleticism. Novel games and activities during practice, training, or exercise sessions can help combat this trend, broadening the sensory skills these children have the opportunity to develop.

Consider an 8- year- old baseball player that has been convinced (against your advice as a development coach)  to forgo other sports in favor of year-round baseball.  Within the baseball environment, this child will practice and hone a small set of sensory skills.  While this can help baseball performance at a young age, a more broad spectrum of skills will be required to perform at a high level at an older age.

Facilitating targeted activities and games that require these children to use the senses outside of the small set required for baseball can help create an environment that optimizes overall development.

Pro sports are full of athletes attributing their on-field success to activities outside of their primary sport.  Dance, martial arts, gymnastics, and other surprising activities during their youth are often credited for shaping the unique athletic ability they ultimately developed.

It’s obvious that aside from an outlet from the demands and expectations from their “money” sport, these activities helped develop the underlying sensory skills that allowed them to become adaptable, resilient, and proficient.

As you can see, facilitating play within practice and training is a powerful tool to fully develop and engage the youngsters you work with.  In part 2 of this article, discover a framework to quickly and easily gamify drills and other activities to supercharge your training sessions!


brett klikaBrett Klika CSCS is the Co-founder and CEO of SPIDERfit Kids and an international expert in the area of youth development.  He has spent many years working with Todd Durkin at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA and was named the 2013 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year.

The IYCA’s Game Play Performance by Dave Gleason and Dave Jack gives you the tools to easily gamify your drills.

Game Play

Eric Cressey on Finding Your Niche

Eric Cressey is at the top of the baseball training world.  His company Cressey Performance has become synonymous with high-level baseball training, but it didn’t start out that way.  Early in Eric’s career, he was simply learning about anatomy, physiology and how to train.  Eventually, he had the opportunity to work with baseball players, and over time, he realized that this was his niche.  He loved it.  He was great at it.  And, it was a good market for him.

At this point in his career, and in the grand scheme of the industry, he feels like developing a niche is necessary for long-term success.  “you’re going see more examples of people specializing.  For example Jim Kielbaso is working with football guys, Mike Boyle is working with hockey, Mike Robertson is working with soccer – that’s the direction I see this going” said Cressey in a recent interview.

“With that said, it’s really, really hard to force these things because there are a lot of things you have to realize. You have to realize it’s important to beeric-cressey-3 passionate about something beyond just monetary gains. As an example, I did a little bit of NBA combine prep towards the end of my U-Conn experience, so I had some time in it.  When I got into the baseball world, what basically happens is you’re swamped from the second week in September all the way up until the first week in March. And then you have six weeks to gather your thoughts before you start going with your summer guys.  It’s a tough schedule.  So I’ve had some agents who represent baseball players as well as basketball players and football guys, and they’ve asked me if I’d be interested in doing NBA combine or NFL combine prep.  While it sounds great, that would be walking away from the four weeks of quiet that I get each year. You have to be passionate about it but you have to be passionate about it beyond just monetary gains because if I try to be everything to everybody, it doesn’t work. Our baseball guys appreciate us even more because they don’t see a bunch of 350 pound offensive linemen walking around, and I don’t look like a guy who’s going to play linebacker in the NFL, so you have to be able to want it for more than just money.”

That’s advice anyone in the training world can listen to, because sustaining passion is hard work.  It takes something deep inside to keep going day after day, even when things are perfect.

“You can’t be a 110% on everything. Nobody can read all the journal articles on something like pitching injuries and everything that goes into that, and also know everything about the NFL or the NHL or youth training. I think you have to find something you really like and you’re also really good at. For example,  shoulders and elbows can be really, really complex. I’m a very good shoulder and elbow guy. I’m terrible when it comes to foot and ankle. I probably wouldn’t be a good foot and ankle physical therapist. So, you have to be able to acquire the information easily to really take over a niche.”

Eric also realizes that there’s more to things that just “wanting it” or being good at something.

“It also has to be substantial or sustainable. You’re probably not going have an incredible hockey development program in Mexico, you know? People have to realize that as well. That was something that we wrestled with for a long time.  We weren’t sure if we could build this baseball training mecca in Hudson, Massachusetts. We didn’t really know whether that’d be possible. We had to test the waters.  Eventually, high school guys became college guys, and college guys became pro guys, and then we ultimately decided we could expand our reach by opening another facility in Florida. Your business model has to be able to accommodate whatever you’re trying to do.”

You also have to make the environment friendly to the group you’re trying to attract.  One step into Cressey Performance and you know it’s all about baseball.

eric-cressey-facility“It’s hard to really grow a specific niche if you can’t outfit your facility to accommodate it. When you walk in our facility in Massachusetts, we’ve got two big tunnels for pitching and throwing and now doing video, and stuff like that makes a big difference. If we didn’t have that it would be harder to cater to baseball players.”

There’s also something to be said for being the first at anything.

“It’s also really hard if you’re not one of the first to market. We were probably the first people to be really specific in baseball strength and conditioning. We effectively bridge the gap between rehab and high performance. That’s what you need for baseball and we did it first in our area, so it’s really hard to compete with us if someone wants us to come to Massachusetts and start training baseball players.  It’s a challenge because we’re very well-connected in that area.  If you have an elbow issue we can get you in with an elbow specialist that afternoon. We know who the best physical therapists are. You know we can get guys passes at Fenway before a Red Sox game.  We can deliver a quality experience that goes with the expertise, and while they’re here, chances are they’re rubbing elbow with other big league baseball player in the office. So, from a business standpoint, it’s very, very hard to compete with us in the baseball niche because we were one of the first to market, and we’ve really worked hard to stay on top of things and really nurture that presence nationwide.”HSSC

Eric is a co-author of the IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Certification – the only certification focused specifically on training high school aged athletes.  Read another article by Eric Cressey on Youth Training.

Your Opportunity for Impact in Youth Fitness & Performance

Making an Impact in Youth Fitness and Performance

In this video, Jim Kielbaso talks about three of the ways you can have the greatest impact in youth fitness and sport performance.

Listen to what he has to say, and let us know what you think. What ways do you feel coaches and trainers can make a big impact with the kids they are working with?

Watch this video for more!!

Comment below!

Help Your Athletes Get Prepared to Perform by Checking This Out

IYCA-LTAD-LM-Blog AD-V1 - Opportunity for Impact in Youth Fitness and Performance

Jim Kielbaso Talks Shop with Cliff Avril

Talking Shop with Cliff Avril and Jim Kielbaso


Cliff Avril of the Seattle Seahawks joins the Impact Show to discuss his journey from an 0-16 season to Super Bowl Champion.

Cliff talks about the difference between his experiences with the Detroit Lions and the Seattle Seahawks and how the environment really made a difference in the mindset of the entire organization.

What is really interesting is what he says when he talks about what he went through as he prepped as a younger athlete. It’s probably not what you think an NFL football player would say.


Cliff also talks about some of his greatest influences. It’s some good stuff. There are many ways you, as a Coach, can have a positive impact through positive coaching. Go get em’!

Preparing HS Athletes for College – Your Role as Coach

How You Can Prepare Your HS Athletes for College

LacrosseDo you have athletes that dream of playing in college?

As performance coaches, you have the opportunity to play a large role in the success of athletes making that “jump” to the next level.

We know that there are many coaches that do this really really well, and one of them is Coach Jim Kielbaso. He is our resident expert on, well – just about everything 🙂

We knew that it was time to sit down with him and talk shop, and you can see the entire video in our Exclusive Insiders All-Access Membership. We spoke about exactly what athletes need from their performance coaches to be prepared to play at that next level.

Usually we keep this pretty exclusive, but some things are just too good not to share with everyone! There are many things that can be done to help make the transition from HS to College Sports a little bit “easier”. Here are 4 from the exclusive video.

Four Ways to Make the Transition from HS to College Sports

#1: Identify goals early on

Try to decipher what your athlete ultimately is striving for. Do they want to play at the next level? Are they committed to the challenges?

#2: Network with college coaches

If an athlete identifies that they want to play at the next level, then it’s time to start networking. Speak with collegiate coaches (ideally at the school where the athlete has applied/is accepted) and start understanding what is “next” for your athlete.

#3: Get your athletes in REALLY good shape

Let’s face it, this is completely your wheelhouse! The best thing you can do for an athlete that wants to take their game to the next level is get them physically ready. The Long Term Athletic Development Model is the best way to get them prepared to perform.

#4: Teach good technique

This goes right along with getting them in “REALLY good shape”. They must be able to perform the fundamentals really really well. Again, it is about the long-term approach.

Realizing that you don’t always have the luxury of training a kid for many years before college, it’s your job to make sure the technique is mastered before moving on to “bigger and better”.

Want access to the entire video—–>Become an IYCA Insiders Member for $1 today.

Want to Learn More About Preparing Athletes for the World of College Sports?

Come see our exclusive content for $1, plus get exclusive bonuses that will catapult your training.


Retaining HS Athletes from Sport Season to Sport Season

Keeping HS Athletes from Season to Season

RAW and UNCUT with Jim Kielbaso (seriously…if you want to laugh, you need to watch this video in its entirety…in this video, Jim and Julie get taken by surprise…and it was really worth leaving in)

In this video, Jim Kielbaso talks about an all-too-common issue that High School Strength & Conditioning professionals deal with daily! Retaining athletes from season to season.

High School Strength & Conditioning professionals have the power to educate and coordinate one of the most important programs in a kids athletic career, their Strength & Conditioning Program.

It isn’t always easy, but it IS the best thing for the athlete.

Take the time to talk to other coaches and parents of your athletes to provide a program that is the most conducive to their success. WATCH the video above to learn more about retaining athletes from sport season to sport season.

Want to Help Your Athletes Get Prepared to Perform?


Lessons From the “Greats”

They Do it Again and Again…Lessons from the “Greats”

There are a lot of lessons that High School Strength & Conditioning Professionals can learn from the “greats” in sports. Names like Bolt, Walsh and Phelps likely resonate with you in some way.

They are great athletes, but not only that…they repeat greatness on a daily basis.

What if you could help your athletes become “their” great?! 🙂

Making a positive impact on youth through great coaching can help your athletes live up to their potential. They all have the abilities to do something great. How will you help them?

In this video, Dr. Haley Perlus talks about what makes Bolt, Walsh and Phelps so spectacular. The best thing is you can teach your high school athletes these skills as well. That’s right, skills like having fun, being “real”, having the mindset to compete and focusing on the little things.

These are just a few things that Dr. Perlus talks about in this 6 minute video. Watch the video above now.

Want to Help Your Athletes with the Mental Side of Their Game?

Want to Enable Them to Succeed Again and Again? Here is a FREE RESOURCE FOR YOU to get started!



Keys to Unlocking the High School Athlete’s Potential

How to Unlock the High School Athlete’s Potential

(Note: we apologize for the background noise on this video, but please enjoy the content).

There are many responsibilities of the High School Strength & Conditioning Coach. However, when the end-goal is to have a positive impact on your athletes, teaching the “keys” to unlocking their potential is close to #1!

In this video blog, Jim Kielbaso gives you the keys to being a great athlete, and you may be surprised to know that they have nothing to do with talent!

Sure, talent matters. However, when it comes down to it, if a kid has all the talent in the world but lacks these “keys”, then they won’t live up to their potential. Watch the video above now!

Want to Help Your Athletes with the Mental Side of Their Game?