Archive for “Coordination Development” Category

How Physical Activity Enhances Brain Power – Erica Suter

If you’re a sport parent or coach, chances are, you enroll your kids in strength and conditioning programs so they become stronger, faster, and more resilient.

Of course, you want kids to perform at their best physically, whether that is by scoring goals, blowing by defenders, shooting three pointers, outrunning opponents, bodying off defenders, or making the audience “ooh” and “ahh” with sharp agility jukes. Expounding further, you want your kids safeguarded from injury and able to enjoy their sport, instead of being sidelined.

While performance and injury prevention are the backbone to youth strength and conditioning programs, I’d argue mental development is just as important.

Most of us have heard that physical activity improves cognitive function, but what exactly is going on at a neural level? How exactly does movement enhance memory, learning, and creativity? How can physical activity maintain or enhance brain function for a lifetime?

Without going into too much of a neuroscience discussion, here’s what you need to know: the brain establishes neural networks based on our experiences, from learning to roll over as a baby, to building the core strength to lift our heads up, to walking on different surfaces, to connecting the two hemispheres of the brain to perform sport-specific movements.

Movement, then, is the impetus for the expansion of new neural pathways in our nervous systems. Looking back to our elementary school days, we were able to learn skills in school because of the integrative dance of the muscles and brain.

When you learned cursive, your eyes moved to look at the chalkboard to see the letters on the board. Then, your brain sent a message to your hand to write what you saw on the paper.

Or how about learning a musical instrument? Your eyes followed the notes on the page, and the dance of your fingers and flow of your breath brought music out of your instrument.
Movement is a miracle. A gift. And something we should not take for granted. Movement leads to tremendous skills and rebuilds the plasticity of the brain for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, kids are being pulled away from magic of movement. Schools are cutting recess, video games are on the rise, phone and TV distractions are endless, strength and conditioning programs are not prioritized by sports clubs, physical education teachers are being laid off, and street pick-up games are waning. Because of all this, kids are becoming sedentary drones of society whose brains remain stagnant, close-minded, and distracted.

It’s sad because as we know that the brain is capable of restoring itself and rebuilding new pathways so long as we keep moving and challenging it with our movement.

Alas, to provide hope, there are several solutions to get the most out of your kids’ fitness and boost their brain power.

Let’s dive in:

1. Give them movement autonomy.

More often than not, physical activity for kids nowadays is under an organized setting. While some structure is needed for kids learn, I’d argue that free play is just as beneficial.

This doesn’t mean you should let kids run around with absolutely no guidance, but it’s totally okay to sprinkle in activities that give them autonomy. In fact, it’s highly encouraged.

As an example, for my middle school soccer players (ages 11-13), I will teach them a skill, then design a fun game around it where they have to problem solve on their own. My favorite game is “Soccer Break Dancing.” I give my kids a diverse menu of flashy soccer skills, then I tell them to get a partner and create their own dance together. Eventually, we all get in a circle and have a “dance-off.”

Not only is this activity one that inspires creativity, but it also allows them to create on their own and tap into the right side of their brains.  Find more conditioning games here.

2. Do cross-body movements daily.

Speaking of brain hemispheres, it is important for kids to activate both the left and right sides of their brains. The integration of the hemispheres allows humans to be optimally proficient in every life activity. Many people will argue, “oh, well they are a creative. They are just right-brained.” While some people may tap into one side an itty bit more, the left side is needed to analyze, sequence, and plan to jump-start the the creative process.

To give another soccer example, Messi is a “creative” player, but he needs the foot coordination and technique (left brain) in order to spontaneously (right brain) execute his skills. This is just one example of optimal interplay of both hemispheres.

With that said, research shows that cross-body movements maximize the functioning of both hemispheres. These movements are special because they cross the mid-line of the body, and allow the muscles of each side to work in concert together. Here are a few examples of cross-body movements you can perform daily to keep building neural pathways (adults included):

Cross Crawl

Crawling Coupling

3. Make fitness fun.

In order to inspire kids to be active in the digital age, fitness must be fun. The less of an obligation and chore it is, the more they develop a passion for movement and play.

Whether you are a parent, sports coach, or strength coach, there has to be a nice balance of structure and free play. However, for kids under age 8, free play is your best bet. Want them to get stronger? Take them to climb some trees. Want them to become more conditioned? Play tag. Want them to become agile, balanced, and aware? Take them to the playground.

Taking the conversation back to the “Break Dance” competitions I use for my athletes to hone in on autonomy, this is also a drill that allows kids to have fun and be carefree to come up with their own flow of movements:

Oddly enough, yes, coaches are there to instruct, but at the same time, we are also there to set up our kids’ environment so that it elicits certain physical results. Set things up properly, and let the drill do the work.  Over-coaching might look good from the outside (especially to over-bearing parents), but it doesn’t produce great results.  Kids need to learn and explore on their own.

Give these pointers a try and I promise the results will be nothing short of amazing. Your kids will not only have increased energy and focus, but also, increased confidence and creativity. And last I looked, these are things we want kids to have even outside of sports. After all, their sport careers will be over one day, and all they will have left is their brain power.

To that end, their mental development extends far, far beyond their athletic endeavors. It permeates into friendships, relationships, academics, career achievements, and creative pursuits.

Erica Suter is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and soccer performance coach at JDyer Strength and Conditioning in Baltimore, Maryland. She works with youth athletes across the state of Maryland in the areas of strength, conditioning, agility, and technical soccer training. Besides coaching, she is a passionate writer, and writes on youth fitness as well as soccer performance training on her blog www.ericasuter.com. She also is the creator of the Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program, which is a comprehensive guide for coaches and parents on how to train youth soccer players both safely and effectively. Her mission is to inspire a love for movement and play in kids, and motivate them to stay active for a lifetime.

Building Agility From the Ground Up – Brett Klika

As youth strength and conditioning coaches, we often find that the basic skills of athleticism we once took for granted with youngsters are now underdeveloped or missing altogether.  This is most apparent in pre-pubescent athletes as inactivity and lack of physical education has left them at a developmental detriment.

When we have a chance to work with these children, our role now includes introducing and building the most foundational constructs of many athletic skills. In essence, we have to be able help kids build athletic skills from the ground up.  

Agility is an athletic skill that many deconditioned or underprepared young children struggle with. As opposed to more absolute skills like speed and strength, agility requires fast, efficient, and frequent communication between the brain and body in response to varying demands. Building a foundation for this and other athletic skills requires an understanding of a developing child’s underlying sensorimotor circuitry.

The sensorimotor system, made up of various Perceptual Motor Skills, is responsible for linking the information a child takes in through their senses to an effective motor output. For example, a child tracks and focuses on a ball moving toward them (visual awareness). This visual information is used to develop a sense of where the ball is in relation to themselves and the surrounding area (spatial awareness). A sense of internal timing (temporal awareness) uses this sensory data and works with the proprioceptive system to move the right joints and appendages at the right time to have a glove meet the ball at some point in space.

Kids used to develop this sensory foundation through frequent free-play, physical education, and multi-sport participation. Unfortunately, fewer modern children have access or interest in all of the above. Facilitating this brain-body process has now become part of our job as a youth strength and conditioning coach.

To begin building an important athletic skill like agility, consider the different sensory-based perceptual motor skills listed below. Understanding and targeting these skills provides valuable insight as to how to build athleticism, regardless of a child’s ability.   Integrate activities like the ones listed during warm ups, or other strategic times during training to start building the underlying skills for agility.

(For a list of the 9 perceptual motor skills and how they impact performance, click here). http://spiderfitkids.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Intro-Module-for-Powerful-Play-Final-8-dragged.png

Body awareness: Knowledge of the different body parts and what they do provides a child endless options for how to move their body to maneuver the demands placed on them from the environment.

Body awareness activity: Body Letters

Visual awareness: An ability to focus, track, and take in information from a full field of vision provides essential sensory information telling a child what movement adaptations are needed to navigate the changing demands of the environment.

Visual awareness activity: *Group Tag (Hand Signs)

*Divide kids into three groups. Whichever number you are holding up, that group is “it” and tags the other groups. When tagged, perform 5 push-ups, then back in game. Change frequently.

Directional awareness: Being able recognize and respond accurately to directional cues, in addition to being able to move efficiently in different planes of motion is essential for multidirectional speed, a key component of agility.   

Directional awareness activity: *Quick Feet Reaction

 

*Progress to not using visual cues, i.e. pointing, gesturing, etc.

Temporal awareness:  Developing an internal sense of timing, rhythm, and precision helps children adapt their movement tempo based on the demands of the environment. Honing this skill also increases a child’s ability to anticipate other’s movement.

Temporal awareness activity: *My Gears

*Use different locomotion patterns, i.e. jumping, skipping, running, etc.

Spatial awareness: When a child is familiar with how much space their body takes up, in addition to their relation to other things in their environment, they are able to use this information to fine-tune movement.

Spatial awareness activity: Hop Guesser:

Proprioceptive awareness:  The proprioceptive system provides constant feedback as to where joints are in relation to one another and what the load demands are for each of them. This internal feedback helps youngsters adjust movement elements like body position and force. This ability is essential in improving agility.

Proprioceptive awareness activity: 4-Way Balance 

While other perceptual motor skills are involved with developing agility, start creating a foundation of those listed above. Add these activities as part of a warm up or game to get kids engaged prior to more tactical work. Consider how common games and activities performed during training could be slightly modified to focus on these and other sensory skills.  Asses how a child’s level of development with these individual skills is impacting their performance.

A youth strength and conditioning coach with the knowledge and practical know-how for engineering athletic skills for all levels of youngster can inspire more kids to be athletic for life.

 

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

 

 

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

 

Laterality in Sport – Overcoming Unilateral Dominance – Antonio Squillante

As young athletes develop, their bodies adapt in many interesting ways.   The nervous system, musculoskeletal system, and cardiovascular systems are in a constant state of adaptation as young athletes play, train and practice sports.  Most coaches look for structural changes that result in stronger, faster and more resilient athletes, but those changes are typically preceded by changes in the nervous system that aren’t recognized as easily.  While these neural changes may not be seen as easily, they often have a huge influence on the structural adaptations (i.e. strength, speed, size, power) coaches desire.  It’s important to understand that sport-specific structural adaptation can actually occur as a consequence of the pre-existing traits of an athlete’s motor behavior.   

There are aspects of an athlete’s general motor behavior that cannot be learned and cannot be changed; they permanently affect the ability to perform in sport.  Laterality – “functional laterality,” as it has been more recently described – represents one of these motor behavioral traits, as it defines the “preferential use and superior functioning of either the left or right side of the body” (Pavlicikova, 2012); it represents the last stage of a progressive, physiological establishment of left and/or right dominance in the early stage of growth and maturation that significantly influence both structural and functional adaptation in sport.  

Left and right dominance, once permanently established, define laterality: a long-lasting, permanent establishment of specific motor patterns achieved through the preferential use of one limb over the other.  Thus, laterality is more than just handedness; it includes all of the body control, movements and coordination associated with a dominant side of the body.  While evidence in the literature has shown that laterality does not need to be addressed as a problem, asymmetry (often created through the process of establishing laterality) represents a biomechanical impairment that needs to be corrected.

Laterality, a concept often confused with dominance and asymmetry, represents one of the many traits of an athlete’s motor behavior. According to the theory known as “sport specific kinetic adaptation” (Fousekis, Tsepis and Vagensa, 2010), laterality can promote the development of muscular asymmetry ultimately affecting long-term athletic development.  For example, a deficit between the dominant and non-dominant limbs is considered as one of the major risk factors in the overall incidence of non-contact injuries.  Besides injuries, asymmetry significantly affects the ability to perform sport specific skills involving both closed and open kinetic chain movements (CKC/OKC), potentially affecting performance.

Adapted from: Yoshioka, S., Nagano, A., Hay, D. C., & Fukashiro, S. (2011). The effect of bilateral asymmetry of muscle strength on the height of a squat jump: a computer simulation study. Journal of sports sciences29(8), 867-877.

The severity of the imbalance depends on many factors including pre-existing structural asymmetries, years of sport-specific training, and a series of kinematic variants related to the tasks involved in practice and competition. Bilateral asymmetry is the outcome of a functional deficit between dominant and non-dominant limb, a discrepancy between left and right side of the body as they both contribute to the execution of closed kinetic chain (CKC) movements.

This is not simply handedness nor footedness; it does not result from the establishment of right and left dominance in open kinetic chain (OKC) movements such as throwing or kicking a ball. Bilateral asymmetry emerges as a consequence of laterality as laterality affects both the acquisition and practice of new skills.

Laterality, therefore, affects symmetry, and this asymmetry can create a functional deficit that may ultimately affect performance.

A functional deficit between dominant and non-dominant limb is more than a deficit in muscular strength; it can be a multi-factorial impairment involving both central and peripheral components. Two different approaches have been developed to correct such a deficit: bilateral transfer of training and unilateral training. Bilateral transfer of training relies on strength training exercises performed with the dominant limb in an effort to facilitate the development of the non-dominant limb via transfer of training.  Unilateral training, on the other hand, is the exact opposite approach of performing single leg/arm strength training exercises to support the development of the non-dominant side of the body. 

Bilateral transfer of training has been shown to address the neurological factors involved in coordinating sport-specific motor patterns performed with both dominant and non-dominant limb.  A functional deficit between the left and right side of the body does not entirely depend on the neurological difference between opposite cerebral hemispheres as much as it depends on their reciprocal interaction. According to the theory known as “motor control explanation in bilateral transfer of training”, skill performed with the dominant limb seems to positively affect the neurological mechanism responsible for improving motor control in the contralateral limb, overall decreasing the functional gap between right and left sides of the body. 

Sport-specific exercises performed with the preferential use of the dominant limb have been shown to positively transfer to the contralateral extremity: however, the opposite mechanism – non-dominant to dominant transfer – has shown to be less effective.

Examples are sport specific exercises involving acceleration, deceleration and change of direction drills (agility drills) performed in both an open and/or closed skill situation, linear and rotational throws and a wide variety of technical drills involving eye-hand and eye-foot coordination activities where the dominant limb is used according to the physiological preference of the athlete. 

Unilateral training, on the other hand, has been shown to address the neurological factors involved in coordinating gross motor patterns, as they reflect the overall ability to perform movements in sport. The term “force control mechanisms” is used to describe a set of gross motor skills such as force production, force absorption, rate of force development (RFD), intramuscular and intermuscular coordination, co-contraction and inhibition, as they reflect the activity of the cerebellum adjusting to the surrounding environment.

Gross motor skills that significantly affect the ability to perform sport-specific tasks (force control mechanisms) have been shown to pertain to the preferential limb only, with no transfer between right and left limb regardless of dominance and functional preferences. Examples are: special strength training exercises characterized by fast, powerful movements involving both upper and lower extremities. Hops, leaps, jumps and throws performed accelerating (concentric contraction) and decelerating (eccentric contraction) with both dominant and dominant leg, but also unilateral weight training exercises involving both upper and lower body.

General strength training exercises are still considered an essential component of any corrective protocol aimed to narrow the functional deficit between dominant and non-dominant limb. Structural components of muscular asymmetry can only be addressed if the muscular system is equally developed, regardless of dominance. Different attributes of the neuromuscular system – maximum strength, power, reactive strength, eccentric strength and isometric strength – but also local endurance, range of motion and general coordination in the non-dominant limb need to be specifically address in order to compensate for the lack of training due to the preferential use of the dominant limb.

Adapted from: Gambetta, V. (2006). Athletic Development. The Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning. Humana Kinetics, Champlain, IL.

Bilateral asymmetry is expected and tolerated in sports where laterality is a characteristic trait of the tasks being performed. Strength, speed, endurance but also range of motion and coordination between dominant and non-dominant limb need to be equally developed in order to narrow the functional deficit that occurs as a consequence of laterality. Examples are: maximal effort (both eccentric and concentric), dynamic effort and repetitive effort performed with the preferential use of the non-dominant limb but also, isometric exercises, mobility and flexibility drills that target specific joints and muscle within the weaker muscle chain.

It needs to be considered, however, how sports are, for the most part, asymmetrical in nature. Bilateral asymmetry, to a certain extent, is therefore tolerated as long as the functional gap between dominant and non-dominant limb is lower than 7-12%. Functional performance test (FPT) – tests that are designed to bridge the gap between general physical tests and full, unrestricted athletic activity (Manske, and Reiman, 2013) – can help detect imbalances and quantifying their nature providing invaluable information to develop corrective programs based on the athlete’s specific needs.  Any deficit in excess of 15% – a level of symmetry lower than 85% – has been shown to significantly increase the risk on non-contact injuries in sport, potentially affecting performance.

We can help young athletes correct asymmetries and develop into well-rounded, balanced athletes.  Giving young athletes unilateral activities with both arms/legs will help to ward off issues down the road.

Antonio Squillante is the Director of Sports Performance at Velocity Sports Performance in Los Angeles, California. He is in charge of the youth development program which includes over 100 athletes 17 years old and under competing in many different sports. Antonio graduated summa cum laude from the University San Raffaele – Rome, Italy – with a Doctorate Degree in Exercise Science.  He has worked in college and professional athletics, has written numerous articles and holds certifications from multiple organizations.

 

The IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

 

Observations on Skill Development in Young Athletes: Part 1

4 Fundamental Observations on Skill Development in 6-to-9-Year-Old Athletes

By Phil Hueston, NASM-PES; IYCA-YFS

Phil Hueston shares 4 key observations on the skill development of 6-to-9-year-olds

Our fitness business and facility has what we call a “blended” clientele. Part of our clientele is made up of adults seeking to lose weight, reduce body fat, improve their health, and generally train for life itself. Some are here to prepare for athletic events of various natures: 5K and 10K runs, mud runs, Spartan Races, and other socially competitive events dominate the list. Some wish to compete at high levels in team and individual sports: Triathlons, marathons, adult sports leagues, and strength competitions are some examples. These adult athletes seek greater levels of fitness specificity than most and tend to be educated about their sport and the fitness required.

A handful of our adults are professional athletes. These athletes pursue their fitness like it is their job because, quite frankly, it is. Highly specialized programming with more sport specificity and an ability to react and respond to their sport-skill training needs is typical of our work with these athletes.

We also enjoy a large population of youth athletes, “mathletes” and “non-letes.” These vary in age from 6 to 21 and come in all shapes, sizes, and athletic abilities. From the fun-loving 6-year-old to the budding scholarship athlete, our facility enjoys a variety of under-21 fun-loving bipeds.

I’ve been paying attention lately to how various types of athletes process skill development activities, efforts, and feedback. In this piece, I’m sharing some of those observations, what I believe they mean, and how you might benefit from recognizing some of what I’ve seen.

Youth Athletic Skill Development

It is important to define what we mean by “skill development” here. I’m talking specifically about physical skills, or what I call “athletic adaptation skills.” These are the movement skills required to complete certain training and exercise activities with proper form repeatedly so that the intended training affect can be successfully attained.

Strength and power activities require appropriate levels of joint stability (static, transitional, and dynamic), deceleration skills, and active and passive alignment skills. Speed and agility activities require high levels of dynamic joint stability, muscle elasticity and response, and maximal levels of spatial and kinesthetic awareness.

Each aspect of the “athletic skill-set” (defined by us as strength, power, speed, agility, quickness, balance, coordination, mental acuity, and tactical decision-making) requires certain athletic adaptation skills in order to properly develop them. This article will address some observations and ideas regarding athletic adaptation skills in the 6-to-9 age group.

Herding Ferrets

In the 6-to-9-year-old age range (IYCA “Discovery” age group), here’s some of what I’ve noticed. First, this age group doesn’t respond well to highly rigid, complex skill development programming. Duh. We’re dealing here with a group of children who’ve only recently gone from having relative freedom of movement, thought, and emotion to being told “sit down and be quiet and learn this stuff we’re shoving in your head. No more fun thoughts.” Imagine how much pent-up energy gets attached to the feeling of being stuck in these young athletes. No wonder starting school can be so traumatic for many children!

For kids up to about the age of 4 or so, the vast majority (some say as much as 80%) of their thought is imaginative and creative in nature. They create entire stories and worlds out of their thoughts then play and act in, around, and through them. They design free-flowing games with no, few, or very fluid rules. They enjoy large measures of movement freedom with little or no purposeful correction or instruction (“No! Don’t touch that!” doesn’t really count here), and we, as adults, tend to physically interact with them in ways that match their movements and play desires.

Suddenly school introduces a rigid and structured environment—arguably necessary under the current goal-structure of most curricula—in which imaginative thought has less value than mastering pre-determined lessons and filling the head with “brain stuff.” Add to this the massive developmental leap asked for in most youth sports at this age, and we’re talking about a brain full of screaming monkeys!

So by the time they get to us, the youth fitness professional, we often feel like we’re “herding ferrets.” So how do we teach athletic adaptation skills and functional sports movement to these kids when the very system we need to tap is already overloaded and rebelling?

We don’t. At least not in the traditional sense. We’ve realized a few things about improving movement patterns in kids aged 6 to 9. In no certain order, here are some of them.

Insight 1: They don’t care about functional movement patterns.

You were done at the “fun” in functional. Deceleration skills? Nope! Change of direction skills? Nope again! Lumbo-pelvic hip alignment and glute activation? Hey, look! A chicken!

The few athletes in this age group who are interested in the science-y part of what you know either are mentally and/or emotionally developed beyond their years and driven by “those” parents (you know who I mean!), or are future serial killers. OK, that last one might be an exaggeration, but you get my point.

Bottom Line: If it ain’t fun, you ain’t gonna get ’em to do it, let alone do it repeatedly.

How to Get It Done: Take every functional movement and every athletic adaptation skill you want to develop and figure out how to put the 6-to-9-year-old child in a position to succeed at it! You see, when you do this, they begin to proprioceptively create patterns within their brains that reinforce what it should feel like. An added bonus to this is the visual mirroring that takes place as groups of kids get good at the movements. When other kids see good patterns, guess what their brains try to reproduce?

Get them to repeat it by making it fun! Any movement skill can be taught, developed, and reinforced faster and better if the process is fun. We’ve discovered that our 6-to-9-year-olds LOVE to run in bands! So, when we want to “teach” good running form, we build it into a series of “can you do this?” type of layered cues designed to elicit a form and movement response that helps develop good sprint and running skills.

Insight 2: They don’t love “the grind,” no matter what Dad says.

While you and I might really enjoy a good, challenging squat workout or deadlifting until we’re spent, I feel really confident saying that your 6-to-9-year-olds don’t want to work until they feel like puking. That’s a fantasy world built by some coaches and dads who should be asked to stay in the car while their kids work out.

Do you know what many of them do love? They love the idea that they’re working hard! If you’ve structured a strength development activity to work on form or correcting alignment in such a way that 6-to-9-year-olds enjoy it, tell them what a great job they’re doing and how proud you are of how hard they’re working. Then go have more fun. Over time, working hard in this way will equate to fun.

How to Get It Done (1): Try the “Levels Game.” Put each kid in proper squat start position. Show them three different levels of squat depth, each with a number or letter designation. The goal is for them to hit each level on cue, while maintaining the exact foot, ankle, knee, and torso alignment you desire. Make up funny names for each position if you like. Play each round for 1-2 minutes. After 2 or 3 rounds, their legs will be feeling it. That’s the time to heap on the praise for sticking it out and “doing it better than the older kids.”

How to Get It Done (2): Try “Bear Crawl Bumper Pool.” Spread hoops around the floor of the workout area. With the kids in bear crawl position, you (or the coach) start by standing in a hoop. All the kids must keep moving and must keep their knees off the floor for the entire game. The kids count to 5, then you must move to another hoop. If they tag you on the way, they win. If one of the bears touches their knees to the ground or falls over, you win. You can play “one and done” or play for a set amount of time, keeping score based on the rules above. To increase the level or variety of athletic adaptation skills in this game, add an aspect of specific positioning to the crawl patterns, such as exact knee position (increased hip mobility) or change to a 2-foot hop movement with free moving arms (ankle mobility, core activation.)

In both of these games, the kids will end up “working hard” and having fun. Congratulate them on both!

Insight 3: They need to blow off steam!

Most of the time, you’re getting these 6-to-9-year-old bundles of energy right after school (you know, the “sit there and learn all this junk” experience). Recognize that and connect with them over it. Ask them how their school day went. Care about the answer. Then, turn them loose on the floor for 5 minutes of free play. You’ll get to see some unadulterated fun while you observe how their athletic adaptation skills are developing.

You may also get some great ideas for games. In our facility, we have a saying, “Put 3 kids on the floor with a ball and a new sport will be born.” That sport might only last 5 minutes or it might turn into something you play over and over.

How to Get It Done: Give the kids 5 minutes of free play before your planned session begins. Don’t have time in your programming for free play? Start your session with something goofy that they can win against you. Let them build their own obstacle course (talk about redirecting mental energy!) Let them play dodgeball. Remember, this is the time to re-set their brains for the activity to come.

Insight 4: They need validation and recognition!

These athletes are at a time in their lives when they are developing a vast set of physical, mental, intellectual, and emotional patterns, abilities, skills, limits, and tendencies. It’s also a time when they hear “no” an awful lot.

Think about it. Most coaches correct and coach with a “not that, this” approach. This begins with “no,” the one thing the child’s mind and emotions want to hear the least. I’m not suggesting you green-light total chaos or encourage selfish or destructive behavior; I am suggesting you remember that these kids are moving from the “pre-operational” stage to the “concrete operational” stage.

In the former, the child is still highly egocentric. In fact, empathy, which allows the child to consider the feelings and needs of others when responding to stimulus, planning activity, or deciding on actions, only begins to develop somewhere between the ages of 7 and 11, according to Piaget and others. Development of this response is considered part of the “concrete operational” stage, in which the child more deeply learns to interact with the world beyond parental and other institutionalized controls.

During this latter stage, hearing “no” more frequently is likely, since many new interactions will be occurring. When a child hears negative feedback and response to actions frequently, he/she is likely to take fewer risks (though their perception of their own actions is not one of risk or no risk, but just what they do). Since we need these kids to be willing to try in order to learn new skills, providing an encouraging environment where they expect “yes” is important.

One of the key areas in which a child 6 to 9 years of age needs to hear positive responses and validation of their worth relative to the activity at hand is in front of the parent(s). Assuring that the athlete’s parents hear you praising their child is more important to the child than the parent in most cases. The fact that it makes it easier to engage that parent in enrolling their child in your program is a bonus built of truth. Talking positively to the parent with the athlete present or within close earshot is also incredibly powerful in developing an achievement attitude.

How to Get It Done: Create “yes” situations for each degree of completion of an athletic adaptation skill acquisition activity. For example, if you are playing tag and an athlete is lined up to start, simply saying “perfect, you’re ready to go” is just the ticket. Once you’ve established this positive baseline, you can layer in more instruction and more complexity with an expectation of success.

If we’re working on a squat skill or activity, no matter what the movement looks like, we open with a positive phrase. Something like “awesome, now we’re getting somewhere” allows us to immediately layer in a cue like “now let’s add something new.” This lets us either add a new layer of challenge OR make a necessary correction while presenting it as a new challenge.

When working with agility ladders (we all know the 6-to-9-year-olds love them, no matter their skill level!), we’ll always have at least one activity that starts on the side of the ladder or in a particular foot position. When an athlete remembers to set up well, we make a big deal of it. When they don’t, we might tell them “I’m psyched you’re ready to go, now let’s get you even more ready” and move them to the correct position. “Remember?” “Great! Let’s go!” High five them and off they go.

Seeing Success with 6-to-9-Year-Olds

At the 6-to-9-year-old age range, we’ve found that athletic adaptation skills develop better when we plug those skills into the activities we know the kids will love. Just as important, it is critical that we find the ones they will repeat. While we joke about “herding ferrets,” the athletic adaptation skills developed at this age tend to stick. And that’s good, since they are moving into an age where they will have input and instruction from a whole lot of people with a whole lot of good intentions (mostly) and not a whole lot of working knowledge of human movement.

The other huge benefit of understanding these skill development details is the creation of the “I can’t wait to go” factor. When you gain the loyalty of 6-to-9-year-olds, you become their “3rd place.” And that is good for your client—and good for your business.

In the next article, I’ll address some of the things we’ve noticed with our “Exploration” athletes in the 10-to-13 age group.

Phil Hueston is the co-owner of All-Star Sports Academy and Co-Head Coach at Athletic Revolution – Toms River, NJ. He has been, and continues to be, a sought-after Sports Performance Trainer and Consultant to teams and athletes at the Youth Sports, high school, collegiate, and professional levels.

Since his entrance into the fitness industry in 1998, he has questioned the status quo, challenged the conventional wisdom of the fitness industry, and used the answers to make his clients better, bigger, faster, and stronger.

Not just another pretty trainer, Phil has been called a “master motivator and trainer of high school athletes” and a “key player in the Youth Fitness industry.” He works with athletes, “mathletes,” and “non-letes” from 6 to 18, helping them all reach their performance potential and maximize their “fun quotient.”

Phil recognized early on that the ONLY task of Sports Fitness Professionals is the improvement of their clients’ sports performance and their enjoyment of the process! He has worked with thousands of athletes, assisting them on their journeys to collegiate sports, Division I scholarships, pro and semi-pro sports careers, and even the first round of the NHL Draft.

Recently, Phil was named IYCA Member of the Year for 2012-2013. He has also co-authored two books, The Definitive Guide to Youth Athletic Strength, Conditioning and Performance, which reached #1 Best-Seller status in two separate literary categories, and The IYCA Big Book of Programs.

Coach Phil can be reached through his company’s website, www.allstarsportsacademynj.com.

3 Lessons From The NFL Combine

By Jim Herrick

This upcoming weekend, most of the nation’s top pro football prospects will gather in Indianapolis for the 2013 NFL Combine. It is what the league refers to as a ‘4 day job interview’, where participants are subjected to a battery of physcial tests, position drills, interviews, and aptitude tests to determine how likely they are to succeed in the league.

Millions of dollars can be earned by top performers, and jobs are on the line for the team’s talent evaluators. Everyone has a huge stake in making sure this event truly measures what it takes to be successful.

And these days, you’ll find combine events for college and pro prospects in just about every other sport, as well.

There are some critical lessons we, as youth coaches and parents, can all take away from these high-stakes events. As you watch the incredible athletic feats demonstrated this weekend, remember that what you see is a product of the thousands of hours these college kids put in since they were very young. And remember too that there is a correct path to reaching the heights of athletic development. When followed correctly, it can add up to serious success in the long run.

 

3 Lessons From The NFL Combine

LESSON 1 – Do Everything You Can To Build Speed & Agility

3 of the 6 main physical tests (40 yd dash, 5-10-5 shuttle and 3 cone drill) measure pure speed and cutting ability. Why? Athletes who can get from Point A to Point B in the least amount of time – whether in a straight line or with some stops along the way – make more plays. This is not exclusive to football, it is true for almost all sports.

How should young athletes begin working on speed?

As early in possible as life, encourage your kids to move and move often. It doesn’t have to be a formal event or practice, in fact that may be detrimental in earlier years, so have some fun with them. Their nervous system will figure things out far better than our coaching cues anyways.

Put them in a coordination and balance rich environment often. Create engaging but challenging activities that enhance their ability to move better while building an early base of stability, which will help even further.

Develop healthy eating habits early on, as well. A large part of being fast involves maximizing your strength while minimizing your body mass. Poor eating habits will not only drain your energy but will also hamper your ability to stay both lean and strong simultaneously.

Get strong, and keep getting stronger at an age appropriate level. In your earlier years jumping, running and other basic bodyweight activities will do plenty. As time goes on resistance will need to increase. Band and free weight exercises, along with advanced bodyweight strength will achieve great results when implemented properly.

Refine speed and agility technique once your kids are mature enough where they can internalize specific coaching. In my experience I’ve seen kids as young as 9 years old learn and improve from specific technique tips, but this is rare. Usually it’s not until 12 years old or later, but the earlier the better as poor habits will be easier to break. Coaches will need to be a commanding force when technique drills are covered, since so much of speed development is about repeating and perfecting movements. Balance the seriousness of technique work with some game-based drills where kids can be kids and have some fun, but be sure to make clear your expectations for focus and effort when you transition back to skill work.

 

LESSON 2 – If Speed is the #1 Most Coveted Physical Ability, Explosive Power Is Clearly #1A

The NFL also has 2 separate explosive power tests, the vertical jump and broad jump. With the understanding that speed is a byproduct of power output, then 5 of the 6 performance tests this weekend will measure power in one form or another.

Power is highly sport-specific. The NFL uses the vertical jump and broad jump because the evaluate a prospect’s ability to tackle and block well. A soccer combine may be more concerned with kicking power, hockey combines may measure slap shot power, and all other sports may have their own variations of power tests too.

For youth performance coaches and parents looking to build sport-speicifc power, you should be focusing on two skills that form the foundation of almost all power movements – hip hinging and hip rotation.
By learning to hinge at the hip joint correctly, you can maximize power output while jumping, skating and sprinting. Young athletes sometimes incorporate too much knee or even lower back flexion and avoid using the more powerful hip muscles. Re-teaching this pattern will unlock their true power potential, and allow them to further improve their explosiveness by properly executing advanced exercises like Olympic lifting and plyometrics as they get older.

Hip rotation is critical to power output in sports like baseball, softball, ice hockey, field hockey, tennis, golf, and lacrosse. Done properly, you will be able to explode through the entire trail side of your movement, from the foot all the way through the shoulders. Being able to maximize total-body rotational power will once again unlock your current potential and make better use of development exercises using tools like medicine balls and functional training machines.

 

LESSON 3 – Elite Athletes Come In All Shapes And Sizes

This weekend you will see both 5’8″, 170 lb and 6’8″, 350 lb prospects, along with many others at just about every size in between. Extended beyond pro football, there is a much wider range of male and female athletic frames, skill sets and abilities.

The lesson? Kids should never focus on what they cannot become, and instead seek inspiration in all the things they can become some day with dedication, effort, and perseverance. No matter what your current size or skill level may be, there are doors of opportunity somewhere for you if you truly want to achieve excellence.

To increase a young athlete’s chances of success, the younger years should be dedicated to taking part in a wide range of activities, and developing basic physcial skills. Pigeonholing them into one sport or activity too early will make it much harder to create the large ‘toolbox’ of athleticism needed to excel later on.

The undersized and lightning quick 8 year old may grow to be the tallest person in his or her 9th grade class. Younger kids whose parents may see as being too stocky could find an active sport they love and completely transform themselves in their teenage years. Not knowing where a child will actually end up, by focusing on variety and foundational skills over a sport-specific track you will maximize their chance of long-term success.

 

If you do watch any of the testing this weekend keep in mind that it took a lot of hard work for each of them to get where they are right now. And also remember that although every kid will not become a professional athlete some day, there are certain traits that all elite athletes need to reach the top that are trainable and can be greatly enhanced over time.

Resistance Bands and Olympic Lifting

By Dave Schmitz

 

Wil Fleming recently wrote a very powerful article on “Why Olympic Lifts” that I found very thought provoking.

I agree with Wil that when you begin to discuss Olympic lifting with coaches, red flags immediately goes up about concerns for proper teaching, concerns for safety, and the stigma that Olympic lifting is only for the highly skilled or older athletes. For those coaches I understand their opinion and will not argue those points. Instead I will pose the question, is there a way to achieve some of the benefits of Olympic lifting without struggling with the teaching challenges or putting athletes at risk for injury.

As I read Wil’s article I continued to see a strong correlation between the benefits of resistance band training and Olympic lift training. Therefore as a follow up to Wil’s outstanding article, I wanted to touch on all 5 of Wil’s key points and relate them back to how resistance bands could assist young athletes and coaches with “improving” Olympic Lifting skill sets.

Please note that I am not suggesting you replicate Olympic lifting with bands but rather that you can get some of the neuromuscular benefits of Olympic Lifting by training with resistance bands. I also feel that performing certain movement with resistance bands will carry over to helping young athletes become better Olympic Lifting candidates.

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Cueing Athletes

 

Athletes Respond To Cueing

 

By Wil Fleming

 

Cueing is a big buzz word among fitness and performance coaches right now. Cues are an extremely efficient way to demonstrate some essential piece of technique to assist in the completion of an exercise.
 

A cue could be a set of words that concisely convey the result you would like to see: “brace the core” comes to mind for nearly everything. A cue could also be something more visual, like the imitation of “getting tall”, so often used at Force fitness and Performance when doing ½ kneeling movements. A third type of cue could be from palpation of a body part or region, to set the athlete in the correct position.
 

Stumbling upon, or discovering a new cue for an exercise can be a really cool thing. It can lead to technical breakthroughs, and lead to a cool blog post or a youtube video where you show your new toy off.
 

Cues then are a great tool, but what is the real value of one cue?
 

A particular cue may only work with 1 client and to that client, and to that training session, one particular cue may be extremely valuable. Use of this cue is able help them achieve the right position or make the right corrections to form so that the particular exercise can unleash its full potential. For this type of instance I keep a record sheet in every client’s binder to record things that work.
 

For the athletes on which this cue does not work, this cue has little value to them. In fact it is nearly worthless, but to you it remains a valuable part of your arsenal.
 

The real value of cues lies in the accumulation of many cues. No singular cue is the hammer and no singular problem is the nail, sometimes a cue is a screwdriver and the problem is a screw, and sometimes the problem is a 5mm hex bolt and the (oh nevermind you get the analogy). Problems take many forms and need many different tools. Having a toolbox is the important thing, not having the coolest hammer.
 

Being ready with the right cue at the right time is important, but the more important part is being WILLING to try all your tools until the problem is corrected. I see younger coaches getting frustrated when their “go to” choice of words doesn’t have the effect they anticipate with athletes. Although what they are coaching is correct and effective with many athletes, that cue does not work right now.

Patience and determination is key, a willingness to discover an athlete’s preferred learning style is necessary to create successful athletes.

 

By all means film your successes and share with others, they help other coaches equip their toolbox, but remember that you must be ready and willing to be diverse in your coaching ability.
 

 

Around The World For Better Balance Training For Young Athletes

 

Young Athletes Balance Training

 

By Dave Gleason
 

In this video IYCA Expert and Athletic Revolution Pembroke Owner Dave Gleason discusses and demonstrates one of his favorite Activities for training dynamic balance in young athletes.

 

Progressions, regressions and even a way to make this exercise more fun for even the youngest of athletes is included in this short video coaching clip.
 

 

 

Let us know what you think of these exercises for improving the balance of young athletes below.
 

 

Early Sport Specialization: Part 1


Sport Specialization

Sport Specialization Vs LTAD

 

The IYCA has championed the notion that the long-term athletic development model, or LTAD, provides the greatest benefit to a developing athlete, in both physical and psychological aspects, over time. 

 

Contrary to ever-popular and growing model of early sport specialization, the LTAD model is intended to optimize performance slowly and equip the young athlete with foundational skills. 

 

Although far from “new,” in light of heavily marketed programs intended to maximize immediate potential sport specific gains, the commonsense simplicity of the LTAD model is starting to gain momentum with some practitioners.

 

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Your Missing Strategy for Young Athlete Success

One word for you and your young athlete:

 

Communication

 

Are you communicating properly with your young athlete?

 

If you aren’t, will it impact the potential success for the young athlete?

 

Watch this:

 

 

The Art of Coaching is One of the Biggest Aspects of the IYCA ‘Youth Fitness Specialist – Level 1’ Certification…

 

Click Here to See What I Mean —> http://iyca.org/products/yfs1

 

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Young Athletes and the Guarantee


When it comes to young athletes I’m confident for a lot of reasons…

 

I’ve field-tested the ‘Complete Athlete Development’ system with about 20,000 young athletes worldwide over the past 12 years.

 

The system itself contains more than 100 photographs of exercises I use every day in developing the best and most dominant young athletes in their respective sports.

 

You also get a complete ‘done-for-you’ sample program chapter and template that allows you to create (literally) thousands of training programs through my unique ‘mix-n-match’ structure.

 

Access to Videos of what training sessions must contain with young athletes (more…)

Complete Athlete Development

Complete AThlete Development

 

 

The ‘Complete Athlete Development‘ System…

 

Now 100% Digital (So You Get IMMEDIATE ACCESS)

 

And Yours for Only $97

 

Click Here Right Now —>http://completeathletedevelopment.com/cad/digital

 

 

 

 

“When I read Brian’s ‘Speed & Movement Techniques’ chapter in his Complete Athlete Development Program, I knew that I was on to something very special…

 

… When I watched the corresponding DVD’s, I realized in an instance that the techniques and progressions he was showing were going to make my athletes the fastest and most agile in the game…

 

… I was right!”

 

I received that email from Heath Croll about 3 years ago.

 

My ‘Complete Athlete Development’ system was brand-new and I was anxious for feedback.

 

It’s one thing to coach successfully for 10 years, it’s another thing altogether to put your system on paper and ask people to believe in it.

 

But believe in it they did.

 

Fitness Professionals, Strength Coaches, High School Coaches – even Parents and Athletes!

 

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Train a Group of Young Kids With Different Abilities

Is it really possible to effectively train a group of young kids with varying levels of

ability at the same time?

 

What if some of them were highly skilled in movement aptitude while others (in the same group) had Autism?

 

Watch this fascinating ‘practical’ video from 2010 IYCA Trainer of the Year, Dave Gleason, and see for yourself:

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Young Athletes & Motor Skill – Audio

Motor Skill Development & Young Athletes

 

The cornerstone of progressive training programs.

 

Enjoy this information on young athletes and please be sure to leave a comment below:

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Pretend Play for Youth Fitness

 

 

Youth Fitness

This subject can actually get quite complex, because we are delving into the inner workings of the developing brain, with billions of neurons.  However, as much as we have to learn, we do know some things.  I will try to break down this subject of how pretend can be beneficial for development.

 

Everyone knows that kids pretend.  It’s often considered a frivolous, useless activity.  I find this a curious conclusion.  Why would kids all over the world, no matter the culture, engage in pretend play if it was so useless?  Why are our brains wired to do this if it is so devoid of value?

 

Have you ever considered the reasons why children engage in pretend play, or “pretense”?  Well, cognitive researchers have, and the findings are interesting:

 

1) Children pretend in order to learn the ability to represent a “strategy map” (if you will excuse my liberal use of that term).  Instead of being truly “in” the situation, they can learn to think many steps ahead.  It is basically like practice for the problem solving machinery in the brain. 

 

2) Pretense can develop these problem-solving skills in the absence of performance based stress.  Think about having consequences to your own safety and the expectations of adults always “weighing” on your decisions.  You are most likely going to always pick the “safest”, most familiar solution.  You are likely to not be very creative in this situation.  But in pretend play, you can be anyone and you can be anywhere! 

 

3) Pretense can even help kids develop empathy, by being able to picture themselves in someone else’s shoes. 

 

4) Pretending can deepen kinetic understanding (a term I will coin here).  Pretending, literally, to move with someone else’s patterns and rhythms can promote a much deeper feel for a movement, or what we might call “second nature”.   

 

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Coordination and Movement Skill Development For Young Athletes: The Key to Long Term Athletic Success

 

 

Young Athletes Long Term Athletic Success

The key ingredient to working with pre-adolescent and early adolescent young athletes is providing global stimulation from a movement perspective. Younger athletes must experience and eventually perfect a variety of motor skills in order to ensure both future athletic success and injury prevention. Developing basic coordination through movement stimulus is a must, with the eventual goal of developing sport-specific coordination in the teenage years. Coordination itself, however, is a global system made up of several synergistic elements and not necessarily a singularly defined ability.

 

Balance, rhythm, spatial orientation and the ability to react to both auditory and visual stimulus have all been identified as elements of coordination. In fact, the development of good coordination is a multi-tiered sequence that progresses from skills performed with good spatial awareness but without speed to skills performed at increased speeds and in a constantly changing environment. As Joseph Drabik points out, Young Athletes coordination is best developed between the ages of 7 – 14, with the most crucial period being between 10 – 13 years of age.

 

As with anything else, an important issue with respect to coordination development is to provide stimulus that is specific (and therefore appropriate) for the individual. Prescribing drills that are either too easy or too difficult for the young athletes will have a less than optimal result.

 

An interesting note, as I have suggested in past articles, is that there appears to be a cap with respect to coordination development and ability. Younger athletes who learn to master the elements associated with good coordination (balance, rhythm, spatial awareness, reaction etc), are far better off then athletes who are not exposed to this kind of exercise stimulation until advanced ages. The ability to optimally develop coordination ends at around the age of 16. This validates the claim that global, early exposure is the key from an athletic development standpoint. Again, global coordination will serve as the basis to develop specific coordination in the teenage years.

 

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Developing Young Athletes: Intelligent vs. Dumb

 

 

>Developing Young Athletes With the IYCA

‘Intelligence’.

 

Defined by the dictionary as –

 

“The capacity for learning, understanding and aptitude for grasping relationships”

 

That sets the stage very nicely for the meaning of this IYCA-based term.

 

What about ‘Athletic’?

 

It’s defined as such –

 

“Involving the use of physical skills or capabilities”

 

String those two definitions together and you’ve got the basis for the main motivation needed when training and developing young athletes.

 

In short –

 

“Increasing the capacity for learning and understanding various physical skills and how they relate”

 

That is the crux and critical requirement with respect to programming for young athletes.

 

And how backwards do we have that these days?

 

Increase the capacity for learning:

 

It’s not about over-coaching pre-adolescent children.

 

Teaching them the ‘mechanics’ of how to throw a baseball or kick a soccer ball.

 

It’s about enhancing their knowledge and understanding of how to perform these actions via Guided Discovery.

 

Allowing them to play.

 

Get a feel for the motion themselves and through trail and error, develop bodily aptitude.

 

Understanding various physical skills and how they relate:

 

Through this ‘trail and error’ period of development, it can’t be about specificity, either.

 

It’s about indirect, global stimulus.

 

Running fast, for example, isn’t just based on the action of running.

 

It’s based on:

 

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