Note: This article was originally intended for parents and/or coaches, but it can be helpful for anyone who helps develop athletes. The IYCA encourages you to share this with parents or other coaches to help them understand the process of long-term athletic development. Please feel free to copy & paste this into an email to parents, for use on your website or to share on social media. It may be a little long for newsletters, so please divide it up however you feel is your best opportunity to spread the information. It’s important for us to work together to educate the public about this process, and we can’t do it alone.
I talk to parents and coaches all the time who want to take short-cuts and rush the development of athletes. The most common belief is that if you just practice your sports skills (dribbling, shooting, setting, hitting, fielding, etc.) enough, you’ll be a great athlete.
Unfortunately, that’s just not how great athletes are developed.
Take a look at who dominates most youth sports – it’s usually the fastest, strongest kids. Because they’re faster and stronger, they are almost always more coordinated which makes learning sports skills much, much easier.
Sometimes, kids with amazing skills rise up at an early age, only to be overtaken by the bigger, faster kids down the road. Rarely do you see a slow, weak athlete rise to the top of any sport. I’m not even talking about being the best in the world. Just take a look at high school sports. Faster, more explosive kids are almost always dominating kids who have good skills but just can’t use them because they’re too slow.
Talk to just about any coach, and they’ll tell you that faster, more explosive athletes dominate sports and have a much higher athletic ceiling.
There is plenty of research supporting this concept, and just about every national governing body (i.e. US Hockey, US Lacrosse, etc.) is trying to implement long-term athlete development systems that don’t focus exclusively on sports skills. They know that the better all-around athletes end up enjoying sports more and eventually out-perform those who focus exclusively on skills, but our microwave mentality often gets in the way of this process.
So, what are you supposed to do about it?
The answer depends on where the athlete is in his/her development. Let me give you some guidelines and practical tips that you can apply. The age ranges below are not set in stone (developmental age is more important), but they give you a framework to work from.
Under 8 years old: For athletes under about 8 years old (every kid is an athlete at that age), parents should expose them to as many different activities as possible. This is a critical time to “lay down the circuit board” for an athlete and develop a large movement repertoire. Practice what we call “Fundamental Motor Skills” like hopping, skipping, throwing, catching, climbing, tumbling, balancing, etc. Do the things that were taught in gym class back in the 60’s and 70’s. Make up fun games or obstacle courses and get kids to learn what their bodies can do.
8-11 years old: For kids about 8-11 (who have decent motor development), it’s time to expand their “physical literacy.” Physical literacy is the new term for “all-around athleticism,” and it’s basically all about enhancing those fundamental motor skills by adding speed and complexity to them while sport-specific skills start to take shape. Certain sports like gymnastics and figure skating require a much earlier commitment to skills, but just about every other sport relies more heavily on the “slow-cooking” approach. At this age, athletes should still participate in multiple sports/activities, and overall athleticism should be the focus. Teach athletes how to run, jump, catch, kick, throw, etc. with more power and accuracy, and begin to develop strength & speed by teaching mechanics and body weight exercises. Exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, lunges and jumping activities should gradually be incorporated into an athlete’s routine, but not so much that the athlete dreads them. 2-3 days a week of 20-60 minutes is more than enough to supplement what is probably not being addressed in gym class or sports practices.
Have athletes practice sports skills they show interest in, but encourage work in multiple sports throughout the year. Allow kids to concentrate on a sport while they’re in-season, but move on to a different sport to keep things fresh. Allowing kids to play on teams with their friends and coaches they like is very important at this age because it makes sports more fun. Igniting an inner desire to play and improve is important at this age, and fun is an ingredient you can’t use too much of. Of course, there are always exceptions to this with kids who absolutely love one sport and don’t want to do anything else. Those kids should still take breaks so they look forward to coming back for more.
The most important goal at this age is to make each season or experience enjoyable enough that they want to come back for more. Try not to get sucked into too much seriousness yet – there’s plenty of time for that later.
11-14 years old: The ages of 11-14 are critical for speed & agility development because these traits are more easily developed before the massive growth spurts during adolescence. This is the age when more focused training can take place as long as the foundation has been laid. If athletes at this age are still struggling with fundamental motor skills, more time definitely needs to be spent on these skills. It’s always a good idea to take one step back in order to take two forward, so don’t be afraid to work on fundamental movement skills and keep things fun. Development over competition should still be the guiding theme at this time. Many athletes need considerable work on running mechanics at this age because they simply have not been properly addressed yet and parents/coaches start to notice a lack of speed. Growth spurts can also disrupt movement patterns, and once-coordinated kids can lose some of their smoothness. Good training can usually avert this.
Most of this can still be corrected/improved, but it will usually take a more structured approach to make up for what was missed at an earlier age. Unfortunately, most athletes in this age range are already so over-scheduled that parents find it difficult to fit in this kind of training. Parents/coaches need to find windows of opportunity during the year to focus on physical literacy and athleticism. The off-season is the best time to address these traits, but athletes should gradually move to a year-round approach that includes brief exposures to training multiple times a week.
Sports are definitely getting more serious during these ages. Kids start to gravitate to a sport, they start to notice who’s good at sports, and they usually decide how badly they want to pursue a sport during this stage. Many kids will start to ask for more help or they’ll begin to practice more on their own. Put kids in situations that gently challenge them without making it so difficult that they feel completely incompetent. A little struggling helps athletes grow, but emotional development is important to understand at this stage. Some kids are ready for more than others. Some will step up to large challenges while others need a little less pressure.
By the end of this stage, kids on a path to great sports success will start to concentrate on one sport. This is OK, but a secondary sport is still encouraged to keep things fresh and encourage competition is multiple ways. “Early-recruiting sports” will add another level of complexity to high-performers, and these athletes will be put in high-pressure, competitive situations. Try to wait as long as possible to take part in these events, but there is no way to avoid them in certain sports when an athlete is on track to being an elite performer. These events will start to reward achievement over development, so waiting as long as possible for this extends development.
Athletes who are not on a high-performance path should be encouraged to continue improvement and find enjoyment in sports. For some, that means pulling back on a busy schedule. For others, that means adding more activities that promote athletic growth and confidence.
The goal is still to make sports/activities enjoyable enough that they want more. For competitive, high-performers, the term “enjoyable” will mean getting better and they will thrive in competitive situations that stretch them. For less-competitive athletes, enjoyable is still about developing competency, but pressure should be lessened in order to maintain confidence and the desire to continue.
There should never be a time where we “de-select” kids or encourage them to quit. While it’s obvious that not every kid will be elite, there is much more to sports and athletic development that being a professional athlete.
15 years old & up: Athletes 15 and up have often concentrated their efforts on one or two sports, and competition takes on a larger role. This is usually the time where the faster, stronger athletes really begin to excel whereas the slower, weaker athletes lag behind, get injured or quit sports altogether. Speed and strength can still be addressed at this age, and most serious athletes are now engaging in some sort of structured training program to enhance their strength, speed, and power. Athletes who have not developed the foundation can still improve their physical literacy, but they are at a distinct disadvantage if those traits weren’t addressed earlier. Much more concentrated efforts to develop strength and power should be applied in this age range because athletes are better able to adapt to more intense training.
Photo Credit: RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER
High-performers will usually start to concentrate on one or two sports because their busy schedule will not allow for too many additional activities. Competition and exposure events will take on greater importance for these athletes, but development should still be the priority. Very few athletes have reached their full potential at this point, so we should strive for constant improvement even for elite performers.
Non-elite athletes should be encouraged to learn the process of maximizing their potential and being the best they can be. This is an important lesson and will make their sporting experiences much more valuable and enjoyable. Many non-elite 15-year-olds still end up being elite at some point or in some sport, so it’s important to encourage constant improvement. There are countless stories of kids getting cut from a sport as a freshman and eventually becoming professional athletes, so we shouldn’t de-select kids from the high-performance track if they have the desire to continually improve. A single summer of development can have a profound impact on a young athlete, so continue to support these young athletes to take full advantage of what is available to them.
I hope this helps you understand the process of long-term athletic development and gives you some practical ideas for how to help your athlete/s. There is not a cookie-cutter approach to developing an athlete, so it’s important to give each athlete what he/she needs and avoid experiences that lessen their desire to excel.
Comment below so we can talk about the best way forward.
Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and the Director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI where he helps develop athletes of all ages and ability levels. He a former college strength & conditioning coach and also works with many elite athletes. He also has three boys of his own, so he has seen athletic development from every angle.
For more detailed information about Long-Term Athlete Development, get the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap – the most complete and practical guide to enhancing athleticism through every stage of development.
Skill reinforcement. That’s the name of the game for real, sustainable training.
Whether your goal is multi-sport fitness, high-level “sport-specific” athletic performance, or general physical preparedness, reinforcing movement and athletic skills makes all the difference and delivers results.
Every. Single. Time.
Too often we blindly pursue the “new, cutting-edge” fitness program, modality or tool. As a result, we fail to master the basics or fully appreciate their huge impact on health, fitness and performance.
One risk of this approach is that clients don’t benefit from the metabolic and performance boosts that come with movement mastery. Another, is the higher risk of injury associated with never really creating foundational levels of stability, strength and durability.
Your athletes will develop better metabolic response, higher performance levels, deeper levels of physical skill-to-game transfer, and body shape improvements via fuller movement mastery. Better yet, they’ll be able to repeat and sustain those benefits over time.
Now, those are outcomes you (and your athletes) can believe in!
A few tips to help you recognize when your client is mastering a movement or exercise:
Form – Duh. If it looks like a train wreck, it’s unlikely to be going well in your client’s neuro-muscular system. Cue adjustments according to what your client can handle and in ways that match their learning/communication style.
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) – If your athlete looks good doing the activity and isn’t completely out of breath, mastery is likely present, or shortly on the way. Even with higher intensity, the brain’s ability to create efficient movement reduces output stress on the body as a whole, making the exercise seem more physically manageable. You’ll notice more comfortable conversation during execution from clients who are mastering an exercise or movement. We know from research that better movement economy and improved motor control means a lower energy requirement for completion. So while several variables (pain tolerance and the athlete’s communication style come to mind) mean RPE probably shouldn’t be your key indicator of mastery, you may be able to use it to corroborate your assessment of mastery based on other indicators.
Questions – When your athlete has questions that go beyond basic execution, you’re making mastery progress. If your athlete or client is asking “why does that happen,” chances are they haven’t mastered the movement in question. When your athlete’s questions change from execution-oriented to outcome-oriented or even to progression-related, you’ll have a good idea that they’re mastering the movement being performed.
Execution-oriented: “How do I do this?” “How do I make ‘X’ happen?”
Outcome-oriented: “What does this do?” “If I do ‘X,’ what will that do for me?”
Progression-related: “Can we try it like this?” “Can this be done (single-leg, one arm, on an unstable surface, with a higher load)?”
Crossover effect – If you notice mastery at a quicker pace in other activities with similar challenges (balance, deceleration, multi-directional movement), and a quicker acceptance and application of new skill patterns, that can mean a step towards mastery.
The crossover effect extends beyond the gym too. Your client may tell you they are doing “X” better. Whether that’s throwing a 95 MPH fastball to a 2 square inch spot on a catchers glove 60 feet away, or getting from Point A to Point B smoother and faster, you’ll know it (or hear about it) when it happens!
Add accessory tools, equipment, movements and even alter vectors when mastery of the essential movement pattern has occurred, even under substantial load (where loading is appropriate and beneficial to the movement or its progressions). Avoid “ramping it up” or “taking it up a notch” just for the sake of the “cool factor” or because you want to throw a fresh challenge at your athlete. The lack of mastery and the resulting neural disconnects won’t be a fresh challenge, they’ll create a “fresh hell,” and may set your athlete back without you even recognizing it.
A compensation pattern which allows for completion of a movement under an unfamiliar or inappropriate load, vector or equipment application can undo progress in movement mastery and create problems in neuro-muscular patterning of the base movement pattern. This is similar to the disruption caused by tight or weak muscles or by a structural injury like a broken bone or ligament tear. Movement is sub-optimal and proprioception is altered. The brain perceives an insurmountable challenge to completion of the movement pattern. A compensation pattern develops to complete the voluntary movement within the environmental restrictions and within the conscious targeting and task completion framework provided to the brain by your athlete.
In other words, overloading, overcomplicating or overstepping movement boundaries during an athletes movement can confuse the brain and screw things up.
Skill reinforcement. Such a simple concept that can deliver huge results and major improvements for your clients. Stop chasing the latest “ooh, shiny” program or toy and get back to the basics – then layer them up and reinforce them!
Bio: Coach Phil Hueston is not just another pretty trainer. With over 18 years of in-the-trenches experience with athletes ages 6 to 60, he brings a unique skill-set to the improvement of his athletes. The author of the Amazon best-seller “Alchemy; Where the Art and Science Collide in Youth Fitness,” his client list includes professional athletes, collegiate athletes as well as thousands of youth athletes. Phil has been the co-owner of All-Star Sports Academy in Toms River, NJ, one of the largest and most successful youth and family fitness centers in New Jersey since 2008. He was named “Coach of the Year” by the IYCA for 2012-2013. A contributor to IYCA.org and coach to other coaches, Phil provides unique insights and ideas that can help other coaches accelerate their clients’ progress and performance. Phil is married to the woman responsible for his entry into the fitness profession, MaryJo. Between them they have 2 grown children, Nate and Andrew, and 99 problems. Phil’s personal website is coachphilhueston.com, and he can be contacted at email@example.com
The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes. The course includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America. Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.
Long term athlete development has been discussed for years, but the concept is still incredibly confusing for practitioners. Part of the reason for this confusion is that the models are missing details and coordination of efforts between coaches, trainers and parents.
At the 2018 IYCA Summit, Jim Kielbaso offered a new way of thinking about athlete development and offered a solution for how we move forward. He spoke about where we’ve been, what has been done and outlined a model that will add to the already existing LTAD models.
While most of the theoretical models have great thoughts and rationale behind them, we still find that professionals hide inside their own “silos” without coordinating their efforts with the other important parties involved. If a S & C Coach can’t coordinate with the sport coach, the athlete is ultimately going to suffer and results will not be optimal.
Youth sports has become a business that is often more about the adults involved than the kids. Because of this, early specialization gets shoved down everyone’s throats, and complete athlete development is ignored. Numerous articles, books and videos have been produced describing the problems associated with the current sports industry. But, instead of making changes, we seem to be stuck in a rut of complaining.
We also know that most athletes don’t start a formal performance training program until they have already shown some athletic promise or strong interest in improving. Instead of waiting, what can we do as a profession to help enhance the opportunities and experiences of all young athletes?
We may not love the systems that are in place, but we need to be pro-active and work towards changing youth sports systems from the inside instead of complaining that things “aren’t the way they should be.”
The video above is meant to get coaches to think about how we can begin working together to create exceptional experiences for athletes and help them reach their true potential. Most coaches have great intentions but get stuck in their own silo because there is so much to be done in their area of expertise. It’s time to make a change. Watch the video and leave your comments below on how we can make this happen.
The old “windows of opportunity” Long Term Athlete Development model doesn’t explain what to actually do at each stage of development. Learn the truth about long term athlete development and how to approach athletes at every level in the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap. This is the most comprehensive approach to long term athlete development available. Click on the image below to learn more.
The concept of long term athlete development (LTAD) has been around for several years, but it has more recently become a hot topic amongst youth sports and training organizations. It seems that everyone now needs a formula for how to develop great athletes so they can represent their countries and succeed as professionals. Several academicians have taken the lead on reviewing the relevant literature and have written articles and books about the topic. They have used this literature to create several different models for developing athletes. While these models were a great start, their oversimplification of athlete development seems to be steering coaches, trainers and parents in the wrong direction.
To begin, the entire premise of LTAD theory needs to be examined. When it originated in the late 1990’s, academician Istvan Balyi identified some very important issues in many countries and sporting organizations, so he created a 3-stage model that emphasized long term athlete development over winning competitions. This premise challenged the approach of many coaches and got a lot of people to open their eyes to the problems in youth sports.
Balyi’s original model included three phases – Training to Train, Training to Compete and Training to Win. A few years later, he realized that a fourth stage – FUNdamentals – should be added to address the fundamental motor skills that should be developed early in a child’s life.
Sporting organizations latched on to this theory and quickly started talking about it as a formula that would create great athletes. As these theories picked up steam, other academicians decided to jump on the train and create their own models. They included talent identification, more in-depth discussion on early childhood, and there was a strong emphasis on taking advantage of hypothetical “windows” of opportunity where different training methods would supposedly have a greater impact. The models told coaches when to emphasize strength training, speed training, endurance training and when to emphasize competition vs. training.
Eventually, some groups realized that an LTAD approach may also give children great sporting experiences that would lead to lifelong enjoyment of physical activity. Because of the childhood obesity and physical illiteracy epidemics, this idea seemed very attractive.
A few organizations came out with their own versions of LTAD that included 7-9 stages of development, and they felt good about adopting this approach because they believed it was the “right thing to do for kids,” even though it was nothing more than words on paper for most groups. These organizations would hire an expert to put together a model, but they didn’t seem to put much effort into the actual implementation. Education and coordination of efforts were left out of the models.
Eventually, the stages looked like this:
Stage 1 – Active Start (0-6 years old)
Stage 2 – FUNdamentals (girls 6-8, boys 6-9)
Stage 3 – Learn to Train (girls 8-11, boys 9-12)
Stage 4 – Train to Train (girls 11-15, boys 12-16)
Stage 5 – Train to Compete (girls 15-21, boys 16-23)
Stage 6 – Train to Win (girls 18+, boys 19+)
Stage 7 – Active for Life (any age)
More in-depth models described when each training method would elicit the best results. USA Hockey did a much better job with their American Developmental Model that looked like this:
Still, a lot was left out, especially any details on implementation. For the most part, LTAD has remained theoretical, and implementation has largely been missing.
To be clear, the models aren’t necessarily “wrong” as much as they are incomplete and misleading. Most of them give the reader the impression that they have been thoroughly tested and proven, and that they contain a formula for success. This may not have been their original intent, but that’s how it has been taking by the sporting world.
The strength & conditioning/sports performance profession has taken notice more than just about any group because a lot of these models talk about “training” and “movement.” The term “athlete development” resonates with these professionals, so this is where many of the thoughts have become popularized.
These professionals have tried to implement these already-flawed, theoretical models by attempting to use different training methods at certain times to take advantage of the “windows of opportunity” outlined by academicians without coordinating their efforts with other important players in this process. This is one of the biggest mistakes made today, and the lack of integration with other groups has stymied progress and severely limited outcomes.
While the theory of long term athlete development is well-intentioned, the models have yet to produce exceptional athletes in real life. In fact, even the researchers admit that there was no real data to support any of the models. In a great review of some of the relevant literature, Guy Razi and Kieran Foy showed that the data does not support these models. It was all a great idea, but these models were nothing more than theoretical. To this day, no athlete has gone through the entire model the way it was originally laid out, and achieved a high level of success.
The models are also not very realistic in many situations. For example, the models include a lot of talk about peak height velocity (PHV) as the optimal time for the adaptation of certain traits. What is not addressed is how coaches are supposed to know when an athlete is experiencing PHV. In most sporting situations, kids’ height is not constantly monitored by coaches, and most of the training decisions described in the literature are related more to strength & conditioning than sports skills. Sports coaches might have contact with kids year-round, but most kids are not engaged in year-round strength & conditioning at an early age (this can be because of money, availability, beliefs, time restrictions, etc.). So, how would the strength coach know when PHV is occurring? It may not even matter since most performance coaches only see young athletes in limited spurts. Typically, parents come to a performance coach after PHV when they recognize altered movement.
If every child was in a “sporting academy” situation from a young age where they were constantly coached, trained and monitored, this may be possible, but it’s not realistic in most cases. An argument could be made that we should move toward these type of year-round academies so that everything can be monitored, but that’s beyond the scope of this article and it carries as many negatives as positives.
The most popular LTAD models propose “windows of opportunity” in which certain athletic traits may respond better to specific kinds of training. For example, it has been theorized that speed is best trained just before PHV, and that strength is best trained directly after PHV. These models lead many coaches to believe that worthwhile adaptation only occurs during these periods, and that is absolutely not true. Young athletes are always open to adaptation and can always enjoy the benefits of proper training no matter where they are in their maturation.
Every physical attribute can be trained at any time. Most practitioners just need to understand how to best address each attribute during maturation to achieve the best long-term and sustainable outcomes.
So, “missing” a window of opportunity does not mean progress in certain traits cannot be made. On the contrary, long term athlete development is much more individualized than these contrived models suggest.
Even more concerning is the fact that long-term implementation has not been thoroughly studied, which is ironic given the name of the theory and the fact that academicians created it. It is typically written/spoken about by people who do not coach athletes, have not successfully developed great athletes, and many don’t even have children of their own in which they’ve tested their theories or developed athletes into champions.
There are far too many factors involved in creating a great athlete to boil the process down to a few simple steps, and several key ingredients have been missing from the recipe. Developing athletes is highly individualized, and included many factors beyond those that are described in the current literature. These missing factors include:
The child’s interest/passion for sport
The psychological approach used with each athlete
Parental support and their role in the process
Access to the coaching/training at the right time
Genetic factors & talent identification
Coordination of development with all parties (parents, coaches, trainers, etc.)
Having the “right coach at the right time” or at least the right approach at the right time
Some of these factors cannot be easily controlled by coaches, rendering them “too messy” for academics to even attempt to address. Yet, these factors will determine the long-term outcome to a much greater extent than any theoretical model of when to train each physical component.
Kids are not robots, and developing athletes is not a science experiment.
We don’t need models – we need coaches….great coaches.
If we’re truly interested in developing great athletes and/or adults who enjoy physical activity, we cannot do it alone as strength & conditioning professionals. We must look at the entire picture, address physical, psychological/emotional and social aspects and include everyone involved in the development of the athlete – coaches, trainers and parents.
Much has already been addressed regarding the physical training of young athletes. The materials available through the IYCA and others are exceptional and give in-depth information on strength development, speed & agility training, flexibility/mobility, conditioning and even skill development. Rather than summarizing these methods, let’s explore the missing factors listed above and how each may be addressed.
Before we do that, two things need to be made clear:
The term “youth” refers to anyone 18 and under. When people are first introduced to the International Youth Conditioning Association, they often assume we are focused on very young children. The process of athlete development begins at a very young age and continues until at least 18 years old, so it’s important for us to understand how to properly address each stage of maturation. Of course, athletes continue to develop past 18, but the process changes dramatically at that time.
Great training and coaching are absolutely essential to the process of athletic development. This should be obvious, but it needs to be stated since it will not be addressed here. Training and coaching are addressed in many other IYCA materials and this is well beyond the scope of this article. Athletes need physical development, so speed, strength, sports skills, etc. are critically important. These topics are what most LTAD models focus on exclusively, and they should not be ignored.
Now, let’s examine the aspects of long term athletic development that are NOT included in most models, but must be understood if we are truly interested in overall development:
Enjoyment of sport is one of the most important underlying factors in long-term athletic success. If a young athlete does not find joy in a sport, the likelihood of him/her giving the long-term effort to excel is very small. He/she may go through the motions and experience some level of success, but it is very difficult for a young person to stay motivated to excel in a sport if passion is not part of the equation.
Without passion, the entire LTAD model comes to a grinding halt, so this cannot be ignored.
At some point, a child has to be willing to pursue a dream for themselves, not simply because he/she is talented or others want the success. In most cases, there needs to be a burning desire within a person if high levels of success are going to be achieved. Even more importantly, that passion needs to be fueled in order to sustain it long enough to achieve any real success. Playing for the wrong coach, not getting enough playing time, having poor teammates, lack of parental support and year-round play are some the reasons the flame burns out for many athletes. If the sport is no longer fun for a young athlete, it’s almost impossible to expect continued progress.
In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle refers to a concept he calls “Ignition.” Essentially, this is what creates a deep passion for sport in an athlete. It might be exposure to a particular person, participation in an event, watching a sport, family involvement or something else. It will be different for every person, which is why this isn’t a formula. But, that ignition needs to exist if long-term success is the goal.
Parents, family and friends typically play the largest role in establishing a love for sport. Exposure to sports (live or on TV) and attitudes toward sports often start in early childhood. They can establish emotional feelings before they ever participate in a sport. There’s no right way for parents to approach sports with their children, but positive exposure to a variety of sports seems to be optimal.
As stated earlier, children are not robots, so there is no single formula for producing passion about a particular sport. Intense parental feelings about sports have the potential to influence children in both positive and negative ways. Some parents actually push kids away from sport because they are so passionate about it, while others create a healthy feeling of excitement.
Coaches and trainers often don’t even meet an athlete until some amount of exposure to a sport has been made, so feelings have often been established to some degree before a child’s first practice. Youth coaches, however, play an enormous role in whether or not that passion continues.
A child’s early exposure to sports and coaching often influences their desire to continue participating. Early coaching needs to be both positive and effective. Coaches need to balance making practices/games fun and improving athletically so the child develops feelings of self-efficacy associated with the sport. Few things are more motivating to children that the feeling of proficiency – when a child thinks he/she is good at a sport, they enjoy it more.
This can be a very delicate balancing act, and factors like stature, enjoyment and fundamental movement skills (FMS) play large roles in developing feelings of proficiency. Typically, athletes who have good FMS’s excel early on, and have greater early enjoyment of sports. Parents can greatly assist this process by working on FMS early in a child’s life and providing positive exposure to sport.
Coaches can recognize the importance of establishing passion by making sports enjoyable and productive. Possibly the most important goal of a youth sports coach should be to make each season so positive that the kids want to play another season. This keeps them in the “system” and allows them to progress.
Having great coaches should be the first thing mentioned in any long term athlete development model. Unfortunately, it is not. Great coaches trump theoretical models every time and should be discussed before anything else in this process.
The approach used with each child may have more to do with long-term athletic success than any physical training method. Yes, the right training methods will elicit positive physiological responses, but the wrong coaching approach can make the athlete lose interest, confidence, and enjoyment of the sport.
Getting this wrong will render LTAD models useless, so having the right coach at the right time is essential to the process of athlete development. The right coach will be different at each stage of maturation and for each athlete, so there is no single solution.
The right approach, however, has the potential to increase self-efficacy and passion, and can establish positive traits such as work ethic, perseverance, coachability, and a healthy outlook toward sports. These positive traits and feelings may be the keys to sticking with a sport through tough training and the ups & downs associated with sports later in their development.
Great coaching should be used by both sport coaches and strength & conditioning professionals (SCP) alike. A SCP has the ability to balance out a poor coach and vice versa. Optimally, all coaches will be positive influences and contribute to the success of an athlete by teaching skills and making the process enjoyable enough to keep the passion burning.
The importance of having the “right coach at the right time” cannot be overstated in the development of an athlete. The right coach at 8 years old probably won’t be the right coach at 18, and the right coach for one athlete may not be the right coach for all athletes.
Typically, young athletes and parents don’t even know which coach is the right fit or if that person is even available. More often, we realize the negative experience when it’s too late and the damage has been done. For example, a young soccer player can be on a terrific path of development from age 8 to 14 until a poor coach absolutely ruins soccer for her. This can occur when athletes change clubs, move to a different age group, or have a coach who is simply a bad fit. This has the potential to make athletes lose passion/interest, decrease confidence or quit the sport altogether. Anyone who has been involved in sports for any length of time has seen this over and over again.
Coaches who value winning above development too early in an athlete’s career can stifle the developmental process and get athletes to focus on things that limit long-term success. These coaches often play favorites with young athletes and push certain athletes to excel (often their own child) while relegating others to less-important roles on the team. While this may work for some athletes, it can also have a negative effect on overall development. The “favorite” child may have false confidence in their early success and he/she may not learn how to work hard for that success. Other children may feel decreased confidence and end up quitting because the sport just isn’t fun anymore.
Unfortunately, high-quality coaches often feel compelled to work with older, more developed athletes because that’s what society deems as “better.” To be sure, some coaches are simply better-suited to work with older athletes, but a great youth coach has the potential to be one of the most influential figures in a child’s life. A year, early in life, with a bad coach could have easily derailed the careers of great athletes like Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson or Lionel Messi.
If we’re truly looking to develop great athletes through a long-term process, we must encourage great coaches to spend time with young athletes. This means that quality coaches may need to volunteer their time to work with young athletes, knowing that the payoff may not occur for many years.
It also means that SCP’s need to be aware of how each child is being coached and approach them with what they need. A child who has a negative sport coach may need a more positive approach from the SCP. Conversely, a talented child who has been coddled his whole life may need a hard-nosed influence to push him to be great.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that a child’s surroundings influence his/her sporting experiences, but this is also ignored by every LTAD model available. Spending time with friends is very important to most children. Sometimes, kids may be better off playing a sport with their friends than on a travel team comprised of kids who don’t know each other.
Geographic location will also influence long term athlete development. For example, a young child with a passion for lacrosse, but who lives in an
Members Of Female High School Soccer Team
area with limited coaching/competition, will probably not have the opportunity to reach his potential like he would if he grew up in Maryland. A young gymnast may be identified as a potentially great diver in middle/high school. If she doesn’t like the coach or the other athletes on the diving team, she may never even give it a chance, and a potential Olympian may never try a sport. How many exceptional rugby players, fencers or team handball players have been born in America and were simply not exposed to these sports?
Access to quality experiences and identification of talent plays a huge role in the long-term success of an athlete.
Strength coaches may not have much control over this, but it’s certainly something we need to consider if the goal is to develop great athletes and achieve long-term success. Even if the goal is to create enjoyable experiences, the fact that opportunities are often limited should not be ignored.
An experienced coach may be able to suggest sports and/or coaches to families when talent is identified. While there is no guarantee that these suggestions will be acted upon, we should always think about what we can do rather than complain about a problem after the fact.
Parents have more of an influence than anyone in the process of long-term athlete development, and both sports coaches and SCP’s may need to step in to help guide them when appropriate. Some parents push too hard, while others expect too little. This is a delicate balancing act that must be considered as part of any long term plan.
Simply providing transportation to great coaching/training may be the difference needed to keep the flame burning in a young athlete. Conversely, negative conversations after a game may poison the well and create negative emotions related to a sport.
Sports satisfaction surveys reveal that “having fun” is the main reason that most children like to participate in sports; however, the parents’ perception of why their children like to play sports is to “win.”
SCP’s and sport coaches can help create balance when support is not present. By making practice/training an enjoyable, positive experience, a child’s “emotional bank account” can be built up. Coaches may also need to have hard conversations with parents sometimes or at least talk to the athlete about how to communicate with the parent.
With all of these factors in mind, it appears as though long term athlete development is much more complex than just the training methods used at different points in the maturation process or how many games to play each year. Of course, great training and sport coaching are necessary. That should be painfully obvious by now. But, besides great training and coaching, it also appears that many critical factors need to come together in a coordinated effort if we are truly looking for optimal development and great sporting experiences.
We have created “silos” that don’t have enough interaction with each other. Parents, sports coaches, and strength & conditioning specialists each have their silos where they do their work independently. This approach creates a lack of continuity for the young athlete. Sports coaches don’t know what kind of training is occurring outside of their practices. SCP’s have no input on the number or duration of practices, and parents often don’t know what’s best for their child, so they simply drop them off with a coach and hope he/she is doing the right thing.
Unfortunately, many adults seem to think that “their way” is the best approach, so there is little coordination between parents, coaches, and trainers.
It also goes without saying that the entire youth sports system is broken and has become more about the adults than the kids. Many books and articles have been written on this topic. Web sites have been created and Ted Talks were given. Even the US Olympic Committee is now supporting pediatric sports psychologists to help young athletes deal with the stresses of youth sports and to help parents and coaches deal with the challenges.
The problems are obvious, and rehashing them here seems pointless.
We are not going to fix this problem by complaining about it or attempting to tear it down.
In order to fix this broken system, a much more coordinated approach needs to be taken. Someone must intervene and change the system from the inside.
Most parents simply don’t know how to handle this overall development, so guidance is needed. Sport coaches usually have great knowledge of a sport, but lack knowledge in the area of complete athlete development. Many strength coaches are aware of the needs, but don’t have enough influence over the process, aren’t involved until later in an athlete’s career or simply want to stand on the outside and complain about it.
It is time for strength & conditioning professionals to step up and become coordinators of athletic development.
The SCP is armed with the knowledge to coordinate long term athlete development. It is up to this group to take a more active role in the education of parents and coaches. We need highly-qualified professionals who can effectively communicate and coordinate the “silos” in an effort to create positive experiences.
The SCP can teach coaches and parents how each aspect of athleticism is linked, and plans can be put in place to create well-rounded athletes.
This shift will require the SCP to get out of his/her comfort zone and think about athlete development as more than just lifting weights. The SCP will need to work within the structure of youth sports by educating parents and coaches, and taking their own egos out of the equation. We need to spend time teaching parents and coaches about fundamental motor skills, skill acquisition, strength and speed development, and all-around athletic development rather than specialization. With overuse injuries ranging from 37% to 68% depending on the sport, we can help reverse this trend.
This education will not put us out of jobs. On the contrary, educating coaches and parents about how to properly integrate strength & conditioning into a long term athlete development plan will secure our places in every organization. More coaches and parents will understand the need for training which will increase the demand for our specialized services. More trust will be placed in our hands because we will be viewed as allies rather than adversaries.
Without this coordination, the important people in this process will remain in their silos. But, a collective approach will yield far better results for everyone involved.
As you can see, long term athlete development cannot be distilled down to contrived models. The process is more complicated and many factors need to be addressed.
We have a great opportunity to influence a broken system from within, and make the changes that are needed for long term success. We need great coaches and coordinators to help develop athletes. It’s time to stop complaining and take action.
Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI. He is a former college strength & conditioning coach and the author of Ultimate Speed & Agility as well as dozens of articles published in various publications. Jim is also the father of three boys and has helped coach all of them in different sports, so long term athlete development is very important to him.
The old “windows of opportunity” Long Term Athlete Development model is a thing of the past. Learn the truth about LTAD and how to approach athletes at every level in the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap. This is the most comprehensive approach to athlete development available. Click on the image below to learn more.
I love new exercise variations. I love learning new methods. I love new technology. It’s fun for me to watch new trends come and go, and I enjoy trying to predict what’s coming. People love throwing around the term “functional” and seem to use it as a blanket reason for anything in their program.
Over the past year, however, it’s been hammered home time and time again that, while function and creativity are great, practicality is one of the most important – and neglected – factors to consider in programming. This is especially true when working with groups, which I do a lot. You can design the greatest program in the world, but if it isn’t practical – if it can’t actually be implemented – it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.
Here is an example. I’ve had a few young coaches contact me about looking at their programs for high school teams before they implement them. I’ll see stuff like this:
Power Clean 5 x 5
Front Squat 5 x 5
RDL 5 x 5
Bench Press 5 x 5
Barbell Row 5 x 5
Machine Front Neck 2 x 10
Machine Back Neck 2 x 10
At first, it looks like a nice, straightforward program, but things start to look a lot different when I find out there will be 40 athletes in the weight room with three racks, five barbells, and just one neck machine. There’s going to be a line out the door waiting for a barbell or the neck machine. It’s going to take two hours to finish a workout that should take less than 60 minutes. It’s not practical. It’s going to be a mess and the coach is going to look like a total amateur.
I also look at that workout and think about where the coaching energy is going to be placed. I would consider every one of these a “high coaching-demand” exercise. High school kids are going to struggle with several of them, so you’re going to be running around trying to correct poor form all day. You’ll have no time to help them understand how to progressively overload each movement or simply motivate the kids. It’s a recipe for disaster and will become a complete cluster based on the exercise choices. It’s a perfect example of a good program that’s simply not practical.
Here’s another example I’ve seen for a workout at a private training facility:
6 x 10 yards acceleration mechanics work
6 x 10 yards sled sprints
3 x 10 squat jumps
3 x 10 split squat jumps
Tabata set of something each day
Clean 3 x 5
Dumbbell Press 3 x 8
Chin ups 3 x 8
Single leg squat 3 x 8
RDL 3 x 8
When I first saw this, I thought it looked good. I felt like the coach had a good plan….until I started asking questions.
It turns out that he runs 60-minute sessions, there are typically 6-8 athletes in a group and he only has one squat rack and one speed sled.
Then I found out that he also does a 10-15 warm-up at the beginning of each session. There’s just no way to get all of that done in one hour. Something has to give.
When creating programs, it’s critical to think about how you’re actually going to get it all done. You can’t fit everything you know into one hour (at least I hope not), so pick a few things and get your athletes great at them.
Early in my career, I always wanted to fit everything in and come up with new stuff to show off my creativity. I prided myself on being able to come up with a great workout no matter where I was. While I still think that’s important, I’m now drawn to fundamentals more than ever. I see so many young coaches trying to make their mark on this field by coming up with something new instead of mastering fundamentals. What I’ve learned is that, without mastering the fundamentals, there is no basis for innovation. It’s almost like saying “I’m not very good at the basics, so I’ll come up with something different so nobody will notice.”
I don’t need 50 variations for every movement. I need a couple and I need to understand the most important concept in strength training – systematic & progressive overload. Pick a movement, and get stronger with it.
The basics are not broken. They never were. We’ve just become so used to being entertained, that we’re constantly looking for something new. Our athletes aren’t bored. We are. And, who cares about us? We’re not the focus of the training – our clients are.
If you and your athletes aren’t exceptional at the fundamentals, take a step back and think about what you’re doing. You owe it to yourself, and your clients, to help them develop a sound foundation before moving on to new tricks.
In my world the most important program equation now looks like this:
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the physical and neurological benefits of facilitating play in your work with young athletes. In case you missed it, here’s the Link to Part 1. In Part 2, we’ll delve into some simple framework to make gamifying drills and activities quick and easy.
As performance coaches, we are often well versed in the pedagogy of teaching specific movement skills. We’ve acquired a few fun-yet-fruitful activities and games along the way, but we can exhaust these rather quickly when working with kids on a daily basis.
The good news is that in order to maintain and build an arsenal of fun, engaging, and effective play-based activities, there’s no need to study and memorize the sacred almanacs of kids games. With some simple guidelines, you can take the activities you’ve already had success with and make them a new, novel, and fun challenge.
While these guidelines tend to work best for grade school aged children, they are also effective for high school, college, and even adult populations.
Consider the following game creation guidelines in order to engage your young athletes and develop the “intangibles” that play such a tremendous role in long term athletic development.
Guided Discovery- The Movement Variables
Play is a great teacher. When we as coaches can guide play a bit, we can use it as a strategic tool to develop important skills.
Guided discovery is the process of providing just enough direction so kids can experience not only the skill, but the process of learning. During guided discovery, the focus is not so much on the precise development of a skill, but in the actions taken during the learning of that skill.
Take a movement like a “skip”. As a coach, we have a checklist of what a proper skip movement should entail. However, instead of barking these commands to our athletes, guided discovery would walk them through the process of developing the skip movement on their own.
In order to do this, we would use “movement variables” to help them establish an internal context for the parameters of the movement. “Walk with your knees high. Now walk with your knees low. Walk like you’re on the moon reaching your hands up to the stars when you step. Now leave the ground with every step, but keep your arms at your sides”.
Through this “abstract” process, kids are developing an internal sense of movement efficiency and effectiveness. They realize when they keep their arms at their sides, it’s harder to move. They develop a feeling for the advantage of high knees.
Instead of constant external correction, they are able to internalize and modify movement to make it better and more efficient.
Infusing movement variables into warm-ups and familiar games not only makes them novel and fun, it further develops the body/brain connection within young athletes.
To do this simply and quickly, merely take an established fundamental movement skill (squat, skip, lateral shuffle, push up, etc.) and pair it with 1 or more variables for effort (hard, soft, fast, slow, etc.), space (limbs, movement path), and/or relationships with people and objects (over, under, around, etc.).
Fast-crawl backward while matching a partner in a zigzag path
Play Tag while skipping backward, arms remaining wide
Play dodgeball from the knees, crawling to the ball, only throwing with the left hand.
In both instances, a familiar activity is combined with a novel demand. The kids are learning context and parameters for movement while having fun with something “new”.
Consider how this could be integrated into the activities you already do to increase engagement and coordination.
Watch guided discovery in action!
Creative Discovery- Word Adventures
While guided discovery activities have general parameters for movement, during creative discovery, no guidance is provided as children are free to discover different movement parameters on their own.
Consider the words hop, roll, and explode. How could each of these words be represented with movement? How could they be combined in smooth transitions? What would adding punctuation do to the transitions between words?
For example: Hop. Roll, Explode!
Allowing the kids to interpret these movements and transitions on their own (with a general understanding of the vocabulary and punctuation conventions) combines powerful coordination and cognition.
Since the concepts are completely novel and unfamiliar, kids must manually develop new movement patterns. More learning, more coordination, more sensory awareness.
And lots of fun!
With young kids, consider telling a story where they interpret movement words as part of an adventure. Use nonsense or completely unfamiliar words to challenge them during warm ups or other activities. Instruct them to move like animals, cartoon characters, or other objects.
Realize the complex inner workings of a young child’s neuromuscular system when they have to create a new movement pattern from scratch.
Watch creative discovery in action!
While guided and creative discovery work best with grade school aged children, object modification is a simple game creation strategy for all levels of children (and adults)!
Consider games that require a ball or implement. Merely by changing the size, shape, or other characteristic of the ball or implement, a whole new set of neuromuscular demands is created.
For example, think of your favorite team “keep away” game. How would the parameters of the game change with different implements? A tennis ball? Soccer ball? Frisbee? Balloon?
With young or uncoordinated children, this could give them a greater opportunity for success (i.e. balloon volleyball, beachball baseball). For more advanced kids, this could highlight certain game tactics, improve conditioning, and/or develop additional skills sets.
A few years ago I was working with a women’s soccer team, I was playing a team keep-away game similar to soccer, but they were throwing a tennis ball to one another. I replaced the tennis ball with my baseball hat.
Immediately, they had to change tactics. While they could look for a long shot with the tennis ball, they had to move constantly in close quarters with the hat. Successful exchanges required quick decisions, anticipation, and field movement.
Not only did it increase the conditioning demand, the coach loved the tactics it highlighted!
Consider how familiar games could be modified with different objects!
As you know, gamifying activities and drills can be a powerful way to increase athlete engagement while enhancing skill development. Creating new games and activities does not have to be complex.
The suggestions above provide a quick and simple framework to create games and other fun, novel activities to develop lifelong athleticism with your young athletes.
Brett Klika is the CEO of SPIDERfit Kids and is an expert in Youth Development. He was named the 2013 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year.
Brett is giving away a free pocket-guide with hundreds of movement variable combinations for warm ups and other activities,
Program design is tough! There’s no getting around the fact that it takes years of practice writing hundreds of programs to get “the feel” for writing great programs. Just consider all the variables that go into writing a great program…
the age of the athlete…
the sports they play…
the experience of the athlete…
the equipment they have…
the number of days they train with you…
the other activities they have…
The list goes on and on!
That’s why the best of the best use a program design system to accelerate their learning, and make writing great programs more efficient. There is a goal and a plan to achieve success.
Mistakes to Avoid
If you want to create a great system, here are the 10 mistakes you need to avoid:
Treating every athlete like they are an all-star, future pro with individual needs
Training too much sports skill and not enough strength & conditioning for performance
Writing programs that are too long and time intensive
Adding in advanced exercises too early
Missing critical performance components at specific times of the year
Adding in too much variety
Using the wrong training order for exercises during each training session
Basing your programs on methods not principles
Not having a system, just writing workouts
Trying to reinvent the wheel
While these mistakes are easy to avoid and correct, I still see too many coaches making them with their programs! What challenges do you have with programming?
About the Author: Ryan Ketchum
After his time as an All American Track and Field athlete at Indiana University, Ryan Ketchum launched his own training business from nothing and eventually grew it into what is now Force Fitness and Performance/Athletic Revolution Bloomington with his business partner Wil Fleming.
While building one of the most successful gyms in the country, Ryan has also become one of the leading business coaches and experts in the industry. He speaks around the country about building a successful fitness or sports training business, leading several of the most successful coaching programs in the industry and consulting with countless fitness pros.
He also serves on the leadership team for Athletic Revolution, Fitness Revolution and Fitness Consulting Group.
Special Offer: Get the IYCA Program Design System Today!
Team training can be challenging. There are a variety of factors that have to be taken into account when working with large groups and sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming.
When programming for a diverse population, it is important to account for the various needs of the group in order to ensure success. Injury history, physiological age and ability level are just a few of the factors that need to be considered when developing your training programs.
These factors become even more important when you will be working with the same group for an extended amount of time. This will be a 2-part blog series that will explain this process.
This blog post will focus primarily on what must initially be considered in order to program for the long-term effectively. The second post will focus on specific examples of progressions and regressions and how to utilize those in LTAD programming.
#1 Backward Design
It is important to begin with the end in mind. As the coach, you must determine what your top tier exercises will look like in your program. A top tier exercise should be the most advanced exercise your athlete will reach while training.
After determining what your top tier exercises are, you will work backward to determine what exercises you need to help your athletes reach the top tier of your program.
Pro Tip: Begin with your most advanced exercise and work backward.
#2 Developing Multiple Training Blocks
Developing multiple training blocks is necessary to implement regressions and progressions effectively in team training LTAD models.
A 9th grade 14-year-old athlete is much different from an 18-year-old athlete physically, psychologically and emotionally. You must also account for the junior in high school who has never lifted weights.
Differentiated training blocks will allow you to do this effectively. You must develop training blocks that set them up for long-term success. One of the most effective ways to do this is to implement a model that utilizes progressions and regressions of the same type of exercise.
Developing this type of program will allow you to differentiate for large groups of athletes while keeping your athletes on a similar plan.
Pro Tip: This is an example of a lower body squat emphasis day for these athletes.
Blue (Seniors – 17-18 years old)
Gold (Juniors – 16-17-years old)
Gray (Sophomores – 15-16 years old)
White (Freshmen – 14-15 years old)
Kettlebell Goblet Squat
#3 Developing a Deep Toolbox
Developing a deep exercise toolbox is a must if you want to meet the individual needs of your athletes, while at the same time setting them up for long-term success.
It is important to evaluate your athletes in order to determine the correct exercise for each individual athlete. An athletic profile should be developed from the assessment process, which will aid in exercise selection for your athletes.
Use a method which determines a baseline exercise every athlete should be able to complete before progressing forward. Look for a couple of progressions forward and several regressions backward.
There should be a reason and defense for all of your progressions and regressions in your programming. Develop a deep toolbox, but do not get too far out there in your programming for developmental athletes. Master the basics with this age group.
Pro Tip: Here is an example of progressions and regressions on a lower body squat day.
Progression & Regression Levels
Barbell Back Squat
Barbell Front Squat
Barbell Overhead Squat
Kettlebell Overhead Squat
Kettlebell Front Squat
Kettlebell Goblet Squat
This is the process to use to begin plugging progressions and regressions into your developmental blocks in an LTAD plan. Part 2 of this blog will get very specific with real life examples of what this looks like at Battle Ground Academy.
About the Author: Fred Eaves
– Ed.S, M.Ed, CSCS, RSCC, IYCA, USAW, USATF
– BIOFORCE Conditioning Coach Certified
– 2015 NSCA H.S. Strength Coach of the Year
– 2013 Samson Equipment & AFM H.S. Strength Coach of The Year
Prepare Your Athletes To Perform
Learn how to leverage the Long-Term Athletic Development Model to ensure your athletes are prepared to perform. In expert Wil Fleming’s free 7-minute video and PDF checklist, he covers how to create a training system that prepares young athletes to move better, get stronger, and enhance their performance.
Pamela MacElree provides us with a lot of content on kettlebell training for kids. She mostly talks about kettlebells being a great tool for introducing strength training to athletes and learning movement mechanics.
In her recent INSIDERS EXCLUSIVE post, Pamela spoke about how easy and simple it is to switch from one exercise to another, providing a great avenue for complexes and challenging all ranges of abilities and levels.
She mentions, that “there are many different ways to program conditioning into athlete workouts but adding in kettlebell complexes is a great way to get a lot of work completed in a short period of time. There are two distinct ways to do complexes and they each have their own level of difficulty.”
Here are important factors to “check off” and consider when applying kettlebell complexes in your programs:
Transitions are important – One kettlebell exercise should put you in a good position for the next kettlebell exercise in the complex.
Athletes should be proficient in each exercise in the complex – You do not want to introduce new exercises in a complex. Be sure that the athlete is proficient in individual exercises prior to putting them back-to-back in a complex.
Ability to recall exercises – Complexes should make sense to your athletes. You don’t want to compile a boat-load of exercises into one complex. They will spend most of the time trying to remember what is next, losing focus on the form and mechanics.
Find the balance – Balance the number of exercises in the complex with the complexity of the exercises themselves. Keep it simple.
Pamela has provided our Insiders with exclusive videos on two complexes. If you are currently an Insider, log in and check them out! If not, you can snag them for a month at only $1.
About Pamela MacElree
Pamela has owned and operated her own fitness business in the Philadelphia area for the last decade. In addition to training clients, she has spent the past 4 years coaching other fitness professionals through FR Nation.
Pamela has her Masters degree in Sports Performance and Injury Prevention, and also has expertise in kettlebell training, women’s fitness training, time management, goal setting and accountability. Pamela lives in Mt Airy, PA with her husband and their three furry, four-legged children: Bella, Leo & Max.
Programming for the high school athlete during the summer has its challenges. Does it seem like the summer is getting shorter and shorter?
Here are 6 hurdles you will see if you work with high school athletes. More importantly, check out the Pro Tips for ways to overcome them!
Hurdle #1: Vacations
Families want to use the summer for vacations and let’s face it, they can’t always plan it around a strength and conditioning program.
Often they are planned around work schedules and other siblings. As a performance coach, it is challenging to adjust for every athlete when there are 30, 40 and up to 100 kids involved in summer programming.
Pro Tip: Set the expectations at the beginning of the program. For example, expect athletes to make a certain percentage of the summer workouts.
You can also give athletes a supplemental workout for vacations, so they are still getting the benefits of your program, even if they can’t attend.
Hurdle #2: Sports Camps
It’s summer camp season, which is not a bad thing. However, it can have its challenges for the performance coach. Consulting with parents and players about which camps the athlete attends is very important.
Too many sports camps can have a negative outcome, not because they are a “bad camp”, but because it can be too much in combination with a summer strength & conditioning program. There is a balance, which will reduce the risk of over-training and burnout.
Pro Tip: Work with the athlete and parents to find the balance, be flexible and do your research on opportunities that are appropriate for your individual athletes. Be sure to know when the athlete will be gone and adjust for that in their programming.
Hurdle #3: Lifestyle
Summer days often take kids out of any sort of routine. Sleeping habits, eating habits, etc. can all change. Let’s face it, it can get pretty sloppy.
Pro Tip: Provide morning workouts! Athletes that train in the morning will start their day off on the “right foot”. This “Get Up and Train” mentality will ultimately provide athletes with a structured morning routine that will also prep them for their respective sports.
Hurdle #4: Summer Teams
Summer travel teams are full-force right now. It is necessary that it is acknowledged. This will be a challenge in respective athletes’ programming, but don’t fight it…look at it as an opportunity to educate parents and players!
Pro Tip: EDUCATION! This is the most important thing you can provide your athletes in their programming. They will play on travel and club teams, but do they understand how to balance practices, games, skill and their strength & conditioning? This is where you provide valuable insight and knowledge.
Don’t be a “my way or the highway” coach. Communicate and educate athletes, parents and even other coaches on the value of athletic development as they progress through their high school careers.
Hurdle #5: Summer Jobs
Summer jobs are something to encourage. This is a great time for athletes to get a glimpse of the real world. They will learn to balance their time and set priorities.
Pro Tip: Help athletes find the balance between work and training. This may mean they need to leave early or come late. Don’t discourage this opportunity, they can do both.
Hurdle #6: Transportation
Lastly, some will have transportation issues. If they can’t drive themselves, they have to rely on someone else.
Pro Tip: Suggest car-pooling and have flexibility.
There are many challenges that performance coaches can face during the summer months. These 6 show the possible hurdles in participation, and ways that they can be overcome.
About the Author: Joshua Ortegon
Joshua currently consults and programs for athletes of all levels. He operated Athlete’s Arena for 10 years—a sports performance and fitness center in Irmo, SC and sold that business in 2015. Josh is currently Director of Performance at Dual Threat Training Group in Albany, GA.
His career highlights include training over 100 athletes who moved from high school to college and 15 professional baseball athletes. He also developed 36 return to sport programs to help bridge the gap between rehab and performance for the athlete. He can be reached at JoshuaLOrtegon@gmail.com.
Need Help With Your Summer Programming?
Help athletes Prepare to Perform with these FREE key components of program design.
In Part 1 of this blog I discussed why we monitor and considerations for monitoring your athletes. Part 2 is going to deal with how we monitor at the high school level.
Monitoring can be an expensive venture, but there are also less expensive ways that can be implemented by virtually anyone at any level.
This blog will detail two practical and inexpensive ways in which, monitoring can be implemented to help you make decisions, allowing you to meet your athletes where they are at on any given day.
Having your athletes take quick daily surveys can help create awareness regarding their habits. These surveys can be simple and ask as few or as many questions as you would like. Keeping it simple is best. Here is an example of some of the questions to ask:
How many hours did you sleep?
Did you eat breakfast?
How many bottles of water did you drink?
How tough was practice yesterday on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the hardest?
How tough was your workout yesterday on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the hardest?
How do you feel overall 1-5 scale with 5 being the hardest?
You could make a survey through excel pretty quickly and log your information there to keep track of long term trends with your athletes. There are a couple of ways in which this can be beneficial for you.
Make educated adjustments to your plan dependent upon feedback from the athlete
Identify, where you feel they are at from a readiness standpoint that day.
Look at long-term trends both individually and globally to make better decisions in programming for your athletes.
Individually, you may find that your athletes do not get enough sleep on Monday nights due to practice and academic obligations. Globally, you may find that the football team’s toughest day is on Tuesday every week. Knowing that your athletes average 6 hours of sleep on Monday nights and also have their toughest day on Tuesday allows you to adjust and make the best decision for your athletes that day.
It is very important that you use the data that you collect!
Pro Tip: Collecting data for the sake of collecting data is counter-productive. The adjustments you make off of the data collections is what is of real significance.
You can also up the ante and implement technology to take surveys. There are programs that exist where athletes can enter survey information into their phones, and it collects and organizes the data. This is a real time saver for busy trainers.
Here is an example of a survey:
#2 Autoregulation (APRE-RPE Scales)
A second cost-effective way to monitor your athletes is by using an APRE/RPE scale in their strength training programming. APRE is defined by Dr. Bryan Mann as Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise. APRE is a method that takes the daily readiness of the athlete into account through adjustment protocols that dictate working sets.
There are two warm up sets, and then the third set is a set to failure at a prescribed rep max (RM). The results of the third set dictate the weight used on the fourth and final set.
As a coach, this can be used to help the athlete train to the highest level possible for that specific training session according to the physical state of the athlete.
We do not use strict percentages in our program but rather we use them as a guide.
Use this auto-regulation method to dictate our training loads for the day.
I always use the example of the athlete who slept 3 hours the night before a hard training session that is under tremendous personal and academic stress when describing the need for this type of training. This athlete may have a prescription to hit 2 reps at 95% that day, but due to his physiological state that 95% is really more like 105% that day. This is why autoregulation can play such a key factor in the development of your athletes.
Dr. Mann from the University of Missouri has done a tremendous amount of work in this area, and has written an E-book specifically on APRE methods. 1
Here is what typical APRE protocol according would look like:
SET 4 ADJUSTMENTS- REFER to this chart after set 3
An RPE scale in conjunction with APRE methods is another effective manner in which to implement RPE. RPE stand for rate of perceived exertion. Athletes use this rating scale to rank the difficulty of a set in training.
Pro Example: Sample RPE rating scale
An example would be an athlete does 155lbs. for 10 reps. When he finishes this set on set three, he rates whether or not he had one rep, two reps, or multiple reps left in the tank. Then picks an appropriate weight to finish his fourth set, using the adjustment chart below.
Here is an example of what this looks like:
SET 4 ADJUSTMENTS- REFER To This Chart after set 3
Look at long term trends when recording their numbers to make sure there is consistent progress. Do not worry about disp as this is common due to the variable nature of the high school athlete.
Two simple and cost-effective measures in which to monitor and adjust for your athletes have been outlined. Use these tools to tremendously impact your athletes in way that is both feasible and practical.
Athlete monitoring has risen to the forefront of the physical preparation industry over the last several years. Monitoring and readiness is part of a continued evolution in a field that is never static. Athlete monitoring is a way in which sport scientists and coaches are using information gathered from the athlete to gauge how physiologically, psychologically, and emotionally ready their athletes are for training and competition.
Sport scientists and coaches are relying more and more heavily on both objective and subjective measures to help adjust and determine training protocol for both athletes and clients. There has been a steep rise in the implementation of monitoring technology in physical preparation from the professional all the way to the high school level. GPS units, heart rate variability monitors, velocity based measurement, and multiple phone apps have become an integral part of physical preparation programs across the United States. We are going to take a look at monitoring in three distinct parts:
Why we monitor and considerations for monitoring
How we monitor at the high school level
What difference can monitoring make in the development of your athletes?
Part 1 of this blog is going to focus on why we monitor and considerations for monitoring. The “why” is the most
critical component of any method that you may choose to implement in your program. If there is not a clear understanding of why something is being implemented into your program, then I would advise you to immediately pause and determine what that “why” is for you.
I am going to be giving a high school perspective as to why we believe that monitoring has become extremely important with our athletes. The “why” for why we began to monitor became very clear for us before we began to implement any monitoring strategies at Battle Ground Academy.
The demands on today’s high school athlete are tremendous. Many of these athletes are participating in rigorous academic programs, highly competitive high school and club athletic programs, as well as consistent physical preparation training. It has been my observation that this athlete’s readiness levels are some of the most variable a coach will experience. These athletes rarely experience true off-seasons due to multiple sport participation, private skills training, and club participation. This leaves this athlete under a tremendous amount of stress on a routine basis, and it puts the physical preparation professional into the role of a stress manager.
My concern for my athletes ultimately came from growing to understand the intense physiological, psychological, and emotional demands that not only came from their sports, but the chronological and developmental age of the athlete. An athlete’s high school years can be some of the most stressful and challenging of their lives. Once again, they are experiencing rapid changes physically, mentally, and emotionally that can make the demands placed on them through athletics participation a daunting task. Expectations, realistic or unrealistic, have also become a major stressor for these athletes. Our society has set the bar high in term of expectations both academically and athletically during these formative years.
Through the data tracking of our athletes, we would see a great amount of variability in the strength levels on a regular basis. All of our long term trends would be very solid, but we could see that at times there could be as much as a 17% fluctuation either positive or negative in a core lift from one week to the next in what we measured from an athlete!
This was not the standard fluctuation of course, but it was not unusual to see significant weekly fluctuations in strength levels. Looking at this data ignited the “light bulb” moment for me. Most of us who have been in the profession for a while most likely came out of programs with a strict percentage based mentality that did not really take the daily readiness of the athlete into account. We programmed volume and intensity into the program, and hopefully it lined up with where our athletes were that day.
Throughout this process the “why” for us became this: we want to meet our athletes as close to where they are as possible from a readiness standpoint on a daily basis. We want to do what is best for our athletes, and also what will help them achieve their goals in the safest and most efficient manner possible. I typically find that this is the goal of any coach who wants to implement a monitoring program with his or her athletes. The next step was to discern how we were going to implement a monitoring program that can be executed in an efficient manner. We first needed to consider what some challenges or limiting factors may be at the high school/youth level.
The most obvious challenges for most are going to be financial cost, time expenditure, and athlete compliance. All of these can be difficult because they are outside of your control for the most part. Finances are usually set at a certain point by a multitude of different factors dependent upon the situation. Time can be limited by access in an educational and private setting for different reasons as well. Finances and time are usually very scarce commodities in the world of physical preparation, and it must be taken into account to understand what type of monitoring program is right for your situation. Athlete compliance is the third area that is very important. Monitoring and measurement can be useless if the athlete’s in non-compliant. Non-compliance can be a lack of reporting or dishonest reporting by your athletes. There has to be athlete buy in to make all of this work!
Another factor to consider is making sure that data collection is in line with the amount of data that you can manage successfully. Collecting data for the sake of storing data in your computer is a futile exercise at best. There needs to be a plan in place to both collect and use the data.
It is important to implement any change in your program in stages, and implementing a monitoring program is no different.
It is important to implement any change in your program in stages.
It will be an adjustment for strength coaches, sport coaches, and athletes.
It is important not to place excessive demands on all involved in the early stages of building your monitoring program.
It is also important to help your athletes correctly understand the information you are asking for as well as explain the relevance of the information being collected.
It is vital that you repeat this process with everyone who is going to be involved in the process to ensure its success. This includes sport coaches, administrators, as well as parents.
Part two of this three-part series will look at methods from technology to programming that can be implemented at the high school level to monitor, evaluate, and adjust to help your athletes achieve optimal results.
About the Author: Fred Eaves
Ed.S, M.Ed, CSCS, RSCC, IYCA, USAW, USATF, BIOFORCE Conditioning Coach Certified, 2015 NSCA H.S. Strength Coach of the Year, 2013 Samson Equipment & AFM H.S. Strength Coach of The Year
There are many reasons to become a sport performance coach. Whether it is an undeniable passion for working with kids, a need to fulfill a void that you never had during your athletic years, an experience with a great coach, or even an experience with a bad coach….
…whatever the reason, the kids in your community need a strong, confident leader and an educated leader. It is the “educated leader” that I think we miss the most. It concerns me. Does it concern you?
Unfortunately, the uneducated performance coaches aren’t likely reading this blog, so my question is…what can we do to educate more coaches, more trainers, more parents and more athletes so that we can have a bigger impact, reduce injury and create strong, healthy athletes?
What Coaches Must Be
Education begins with an individual: an open mind to evolve, grow, forego past assumptions and adopt new ways (or improve upon old ways). Leading by example is a surefire way to educate those that you come in contact with.
Providing informational sessions, newsletters and a strong culture, based in the concepts that you can find in the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist Credential, will give you the confidence and courage to program & teach all athletes.
What Coaches Must Have
It is really easy to get side-tracked and pulled into multiple directions. The best performance coaches know their vision, and it’s a compelling and powerful one! When you have a compelling vision, others will believe in you and ultimately follow you, not the other way around.
The best performance coaches know their vision
When we look at the latest trends and fads, one thing stands true—they are all temporary. Build a vision that can last. Invest yourself in your vision. Live it. Love it. Learn to say NO to the paths that do not lead your in the direction of your vision.
What Coaches Must Do
Knowledge is power…right? So why do we so often keep it to ourselves? One of the biggest challenges that you may face, is educating others who may/may not be open to it.
That high school coach who has been doing the same routine for 30 years, or that volunteer parent who played Division I athletics and trains the kids like mini-adults, they may need a voice of reason when it comes to coaching youth.
Share your knowledge, but do it gently. In order to educate, sometimes it’s more important to listen. Find a common cause or purpose that we all can rally behind.
Here at IYCA, we love the saying, “A high tide raises all ships.” Take that approach to coaching. Do your part to raise the tide and make the industry better, and our athletes better.
With a common purpose at the forefront, work on gently integrating your techniques, thoughts and vision. It isn’t about trying to be “right” or the “best” coach for the job. Don’t try to compete, work along-side them, and watch the tables turn.
You will win some over…but then again, there will be some that you won’t. Let that go.
And…Never Quit Learning.
It is easy to throw your hands in the air and stop trying to educate others. Understand that not everyone will be receptive to the concepts that we teach here at the IYCA, and that you teach in your programs.
Remember, for every one coach/trainer that you get to impact, there are potentially hundreds of kids that they may coach in a lifetime, so keep educating yourself and others, the kids need you, we need you.
Want to get started on your path to Youth Fitness today?
Julie is the Executive Director of the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA). She grew up as an athlete and played collegiate softball at Juniata College. She currently owns and operates her own youth fitness business pouring into young athletes. Her areas of expertise are youth sport performance, youth fitness business and softball training/instruction. Julie grew up on a dairy farm and can challenge the best of the best in a cow-milking contest. 😉
The best youth coaches are always looking for ideas, tips and tricks to improve their program development. Maybe it’s because they are the “never settle for anything less than perfection” type personalities, or just because they are getting bored with their current programming.
Either way, we have found some great techniques for how to approach program development, that will help you improve your programming, mix up the mundane, and continue to get great results with your athletes.
Pro Tip: When developing a program or improving an existing program, think of the acronym P.L.A.C.E. to make sure that you are delivering an extraordinary experience.
Plan & Prepare
Every program needs a good amount of planning and preparing. It is no secret that the best performance coaches in the industry have a tried & true system when it comes to planning and prepping their sessions.
What is your plan? How do you prepare?
Quality planning and preparation will take your training to the next level
Learn how to prepare your athletes to perform and to design programs that fit within a model of long term athlete development.
You have an amazing opportunity to simulate and help athletes overcome many barriers and obstacles. Find ways to relate training back to life and make it a part of each program.
Overcoming barriers, fears, weakness and obstacles can easily be brought into a training program in a non-threatening, manageable way. It is a great moment for you to impact that athlete for life.
On a similar note, when you program from the long term athlete development model and principles, not only do you get to spend many years with a single athlete, you also get to implement a rock-solid foundation in movement that will change their life.
Never lose site of the bigger picture: lifelong health & happiness.
Application to sport
It is an unfortunate reality that many athletes are defined by the sports that they play. Educating them on the need to be well-rounded, foundationally sound and the concepts of long term athlete development is essential.
But the reality is still there. That is why “application to sport” is still an important part of your program. Don’t over-emphasize this topic, but give your sport-athletes as much as they they need when it comes to relating components of your program to their sport.
Confidence building should be an integral part of each and every session when working with athletes. Providing a platform for confidence building will allow your athletes to achieve goals and perform at a higher level.
How will you help your athlete(s) mentally? Whether it’s in the confidence that you have in them, or the way that you play to their strengths and build their weaknesses.
There are many ways to instill confidence as a coach, so make it a priority.
There are two pieces to the evaluation part of your program:
Evaluate the athletes
Evaluated by the athletes
Every time you see an athlete, there should be a constant evaluation process that takes place. How are they feeling, how is school, how busy are they, how do they look when they move?
Much of this evaluation should occur in your warm ups and before they start working.
Secondly, they evaluate you. At the end of each session, you can ask for feedback. How did they rank the session? How did they rank their performance? (I use a # system, 1-10)
The good news is that the acronym PLACE is easy to remember, and will help you think through the basics of what to include in your program design.
What others tips, tricks and recommendations do you use? We’d love to hear!
Want to help make sure your athletes are prepared to perform for the long-run and not just for next week’s big game?
Download our FREE Prepared to Perform Video to hear youth coaching expert Wil Fleming break down critical aspects of the long-term athlete model.
Author: Julie Hatfield
Julie is the Executive Director of the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA). She grew up as an athlete and played collegiate softball at Juniata College. She currently owns and operates her own youth fitness business pouring into young athletes. Her areas of expertise are youth sport performance, youth fitness business and softball training/instruction. Julie grew up on a dairy farm and can challenge the best of the best in a cow-milking contest. 😉
When it comes to developing the ability to push someone around, a skill necessary for almost every team-based sport, there isn’t a better training tool than the push up.
I’m sure there are plenty of 5/3/1, Bigger Stronger Faster, or other weight room guys that will argue a big bench trumps someone who can crank out a bunch of push ups any day.
That’s when I refer to the great Earl Campbell and Herschel Walker, two incredibly successful and punishing running backs in the NFL, who reportedly were body weight training guys. They swore by push ups and body weight exercises and clearly had no problem pushing around the best in the world over and over.
Additionally, you have to look at the population of athletes in front of you. We have mostly late middle school or high school age kids who have a low training age and lack the ability to activate their entire body. The push up and its progressions give us an opportunity to teach that skill to our athletes.
More importantly, a girl that can crank out 10 full push ups and a boy that can knock out 25, in our experience, has a body well-prepared for sport and the contact typical of most team sports.
Finally, from a biomechanical standpoint, I look at the push up and see the direct correlation to pushing necessary for sport. The body stabilizes on the ground with four contact points, but the majority of the body MUST be active when pushing away from the ground. Otherwise, we might as well be doing the worm.
That pattern very closely resembles an athlete pushing someone on a field or court, with two legs on the ground and the entire body activated.
Conversely, when assessing the mechanics of a bench press, the back, glutes, and (sometimes) thighs are in contact with a stable surface. I don’t know of a situation in team sports where that much of the body comes in contact with a surface while pushing. The exception, of course, is being on the bottom of a pile of players after a tackle and pushing someone off you, which is not ideal for high performing athletes.
So let’s take a look at our progressions to get a young athlete crushing push ups on a regular basis!
Plank on elbows/hands
When doing a plank on the elbows or hands we are looking for rigidity of the entire body and will use various cues to teach each body part how to activate optimally:
Active legs (straight as an arrow)
Glutes (squeeze a quarter between the cheeks)
Trunk (brace like someone is going to punch your gut)
Shoulders (envision a towel between the elbows or hands and try to rip it apart)
The plank requires a lot of focus and should be difficult to hold for a long time. Therefore, we find it much more beneficial to teach athletes a plank by having them fire everything for brief periods (10-20 seconds) rather than hanging out in a plank for a minute with just enough activation to make it look good.
Mountain Climbers, in our world, don’t differ greatly from a plank. The only difference here is that the athlete now must learn to stabilize in a dynamic setting.
By only moving one leg at a time, they get the chance to maintain full body bracing, like the plank, while actively driving the knee towards the trunk. Here, the athlete must be on his or her hands. Thus we implement a new cue, “push the ground away.”
By using that cue, the athlete now aggressively pushes his or her body away from the ground, giving the leg more room to move and activate the scapular stabilizers that are generally very weak and assist in poor posture with young athletes.
We also ask athletes to “torque the ground” with the intent of turning the hands away from each other. The hands shouldn’t move, but when torquing occurs, the arms become more active and better prepared for a push up later on in the progressions.
Once an athlete shows quality movement with the mountain climber, we will have him or her start to move the leg with aggression while stopping it at 90 degrees to the body. The exercise then turns into an excellent front leg drive drill for acceleration training.
Assisted Push Ups
We use two main variations of the standard push up to help young athletes progress towards completing a push up that is repeatable and consistent through fatigue.
Our first and most common assisted push up is completed via the use of a resistance band attached to the athlete’s body and a point well above the athlete’s body (typically 7-9 feet high on a rig or hook).
There are some significant benefits to this variation. First, the movement is quite similar to an unassisted push up from the ground. Second, the athlete can torque the ground with his or her hands and arms like we cue during an actual push up.
Once an athlete has developed sufficient assisted pushup strength and can perform the movement without the band, there is almost no adjustment necessary for a body weight push up.
There are, of course, limitations to any assisted pattern.
First, the core is supported during the assisted pushup and for many of our athletes who are stuck in anterior tilt, core strength is the limiting factor and sometimes allows them to continue doing the worm instead of a push up once the band is removed.
Second, we often miss full range of motion (ROM) with our younger athletes, particularly boys. They want to crank out 20 push ups because, “that’s what I did when I tested for football!” However, the only way their chest would touch the ground with their “testing push ups” would be if they had a 60-inch chest. And I have yet to see a 16-year-old that looks like Lou Ferrigno.
**We started using bean bags (like the ones used for bean bag toss) to force full ROM. Our athletes need to touch their chest to two bean bags stacked on top of each other and then progress to one bag before we take the band away and have them train the full push up. **
The other variation we use is an elevated barbell on a rack.
Again, there are both positives and negatives to this assisted push up variation.
First, it is great for younger female athletes who truly lack upper body strength. They can see gradual improvements in strength since the holes on our rack are 1-inch apart. They can make small gains, sometimes within a singular training session, and certainly over a 6-week training program.
Second, because of the height, those athletes who lack upper body strength can start to make significant gains in chest, shoulder, and arm strength since they don’t have to struggle through the pattern and can truly focus on form, positioning, and muscle tension.
But this variation also leads to some potential issues of which coaches need to be aware.
First, due to the angle the athlete is at, the shoulders tend to elevate once the chest and arms have fatigued. So you either need to stop the set before that point or cue the athlete’s “shoulders away from their ears.”
Second, since the hands are on the bar, not on the ground, torquing is nearly impossible. I am not going to lie to you and say I haven’t seen it done, but generally those just learning a push up can’t start pulling apart a bar plus do all the other things they need to do correctly.
Remember, this isn’t our end all, be all. Instead, it is a stepping stone from a mountain climber to a full push up from the floor.
The push up is our end all, be all. I fully believe an athlete does not need to train bench press unless they are required to test for their sport. For the sports required to test the bench, like football, there is enough contact and pushing involved in practice and play that it justifies working the bench press into programming.
However, no matter how advanced our athlete is starting out, I want to PERSONALLY see them do ten perfect push ups before they put their face under a bar and start benching. All too often we have athletes come in who bench and are stuck at a certain weight.
When they show me their push up, it’s evident they lack the full body activation necessary to do a push-up. Once we train the push up correctly, they go back to the bench and magically set a new personal best.
The things we coach in a quality push up stay consistent with everything taught in the previous movements, but we add additional cues to maximize pushing power.
Create rigidity through the body (body is one long piece of solid oak)
Torque the ground through the hands (rotate the hands away from one another)
Pull the body to the floor (rip the ground apart to give the chest space)
Push down as your body comes up (push the ground away)
Once an athlete shows the ability to accomplish this and get his or her chest to the ground for a reasonable amount of push ups, we may add resistance in the form of plates on the athletes back. We had some strong male athletes rep out ten push ups with 90+ pounds on their back, so if you don’t think you can overload the push up, you’re wrong!
By taking the proper steps in progressing a young athlete through the push up, you will create a powerful, stable athlete capable of pushing around anyone he or she chooses.
And when the athlete returns to his or her team and can crush all teammates in push ups, they walk a little taller. When we as coaches can create confidence like that, we win!
ADAPT and Conquer,
About the Author: Jared Markiewicz
Jared is founder of Functional Integrated Training (F.I.T.). F.I.T. is a performance-based training facility located in Madison, WI. They specialize in training athletes of all levels: everyday adults, competitive adults and youth ages 5-20+.
The long-term vision for F.I.T. is recognition as the training facility for those desiring to compete at the collegiate level in the state of Wisconsin. Alongside that, to also develop a platform to educate those in our industry looking to make strides towards improving the future for our young athletes.
Find out more about Jared’s gym by visiting F.I.T.
2014 Fitness Entrepreneur of the Year – Fitness Business Insiders
2014 IYCA Coach of the Year Finalist
Volunteer Strength Coach for West Madison Boys Hockey and Westside Boys Lacrosse
Helped develop dozens of scholarship athletes in 3 years of business
Instructed Kinesiology Lab at UW-Madison
Houses an internship program at F.I.T. that started in 2013
Member of Elite Mastermind Group of Nationwide Fitness Business Owners
If you are reading this, it’s fair to assume it is because you answered “yes” to at least one part of that question.
Let’s be honest here, most of us feel this way at some point or another, no matter what industry you’ve worked in.
Many sport performance coaches spend countless hours planning, preparing and delivering, only to fall short on financial performance and feel exhausted. After all, we wake up before the sun, and go to bed just before it rises again…right?
If you are like most performance coaches, passion got you started—persistence keeps you going—and pride keeps you from quitting when the going gets tough. If you are feeling that you are
overworked, underpaid and exhausted…well, the going has gotten tough.
What to do?
Take a few steps back, and figure out how you can turn your youth fitness business into a lucrative and successful place…afterall…the world NEEDS you!
Here are 3 Ways to avoid burnout as a performance coach:
Take a 30,000 foot view, quarterly:
Sometimes we can’t see what is really going on inside our businesses until we remove ourselves. It isn’t always physically possible, but what if you could look at your business from the outside…
… what would you see? Would you like it? What wouldn’t you like? Is it what you envisioned when you started? Would you come into your own gym as a client, and why?
These questions serve to spark your curiosity, knowing what your business is really about is probably the most important thing you can do when it comes to being lucrative.
If you lose sight of your vision, your dream and the reason you started in the first place, likely that passion will fade and so will your business.
Know your numbers, monthly:
Many youth fitness business owners hate showing their numbers. Knowing your numbers is a sure-fire way to gain insight into your business.
Numbers you have to know:
There are more than these, but this is a good start. Do you know these answers? If you don’t, you need to. If you want to make money, you have to know what is coming in and going out.
Don’t have “time” to track them, then keep ignoring them and the result (likely not the one that you or I want for you) will come, or acknowledge them and have the power to create solutions and change the course…and WIN!
It is that simple. Numbers tell the story, get to know your business’s story!
Work ON the business, not IN the business, weekly:
Performance coaches are good at coaching…we are not always businessmen and businesswomen. Overlooking critical aspects of our business, like sales/marketing, setting goals, our numbers, strategies and systems, etc. can destroy a business.
By working ON your business, you focus on the strategies and systems that optimize your performance. Spend an hour or two every week (or a timeframe that works for you), focusing on your business.
What to think about?
What is working
What is not working
If you are only working IN the business, you have blinders on to most of these things. You may know them, but they get forgotten. Don’t let that happen…it’s a good way to burn out.
IYCA– Executive Director YFS, YNS, YSAS Fitness Business Owner
Strength training program design can get very complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. The bottom line is that you need to develop a well-rounded, comprehensive program that encourages hard work and progressive overload of the musculature. If those components are in place, you are well on your way to helping your athletes reap the benefits of a strength training program for young athletes.
Strength Training Program for Young Athletes Component #1: Comprehensive
A strength training program for young athletes should address every major muscle group in the body: chest, upper back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, neck (for collision sports), abdominals, lower back, hips & glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Certain sports will focus more on a particular body part or require specialized work on smaller muscle groups (i.e. baseball pitchers will train the rotator cuff extensively), but all major muscle groups should be addressed. In general, an equal amount of work should be done on each side of a joint.
Deficiencies can be overcome through a strength training program, but it generally takes specialized assessment to determine which muscles are deficient.
Strength Training Program for Young Athletes Component #2: Progressive
In order for any program to be effective, there must be a systematic and progressive overload of the musculature. In other words, athletes should systematically attempt to perform more work on a given exercise. For example, an athlete who can perform a maximum of 10 push-ups today should attempt to perform 11 repetitions at some point. When 11 can be performed, 12 should be attempted and so on.
Progress can be made through any of the following: increasing the number of repetitions, increasing the amount of weight, increasing the number of sets, increasing the number of training days per week, decreasing the amount of rest time between sets, or a combination of any of these.
One of the easiest approaches is called “double progression”. To use this method, start by determining a range of repetitions you are going to use, for example 6-10 reps.If the athlete is unable to perform at least 6 reps, the weight is too heavy. If more than 10 reps can be performed, the weight is too light. During each workout, one more rep should be attempted until the top of the range (10 reps in this case) can be performed. When the top of the range is achieved, the weight will be increased at the next workout by the smallest amount possible.
Strength Training Program for Young Athletes Component #3: How many sets?
The number of sets used on an exercise or within a complete workout can vary greatly, but the following guidelines can be used.In most cases, 1-3 sets will be performed for each exercise and 10-20 sets will be performed in the entire workout.
If fewer sets are used, each set should be performed with maximum intensity. In other words, the set should be taken to the point of momentary muscular fatigue, or no more reps can be performed. If the athletes are unable to perform with maximal intensity, it is generally a good idea to complete multiple sets of an exercise.
Strength Training Program for Young Athletes Component #4: How many reps?
While there is great debate of the number of repetitions that should be used in a set, it really should not be confusing.In general, it is recommended that 6-20 reps be performed on each set. While this is a large range, it offers a guideline in which to create smaller rep ranges from. It is best to choose ranges of 4-6 reps, such as 6-10, 8-12, 10-15, or 15-20.
As long as your program continually challenges the athlete to perform a greater amount of work, strength gains will be made. Any rep range will work. There are, however, some subtle differences between the benefits of each rep range.
Lower rep ranges (i.e. under 6 reps) will stimulate the nervous system to a greater extent, but actual tissue changes may be limited. Very heavy weight (relative to the athlete’s strength) must be used which can be potentially dangerous because athlete may have a tendency to use improper technique to lift the weight.
In general, it is unnecessary for any high school athlete to use weights that cannot be lifted at least 6 times with good form. Prepubescent athletes should generally use weights that allow for at least 10 reps.
Medium rep ranges (i.e. 6-10, 8-12, 10-15) offer the benefits of increasing strength, eliciting positive tissue changes, and allow for greater safety than very heavy weights. These rep ranges are recommended for most sets on most exercises.
Higher rep ranges (i.e. 15-20) offer the greatest results when muscular endurance is the goal. Endurance athletes may want to consider higher rep ranges. Young athletes or beginners may also consider higher rep ranges because it offers the opportunity to practice good technique. Strength will still be gained with higher rep ranges.
Strength Training Program for Young Athletes Component #5: How much weight?
Once a rep range is determined (for example 8-12 reps) selecting a weight is fairly easy. Have the athlete perform a set of as many reps as possible. If the athlete cannot perform at least 8 reps, the weight is too heavy and should be decreased at the next workout. If the athlete can perform more than 12 reps, the weight is too light and should be increased at the next workout.
Within 2-4 workouts, the optimal weight will be selected. This selection process gives the athletes the opportunity to practice technique and experiment with different resistances.
Strength Training for Young Athletes Component #6: How often should you train?
Selecting the number of training sessions per week is dependent upon many outside factors such as practice time, game schedule, outside activities, facility availability, etc. Generally, there will be more time available for strength training during the off-season than during a competitive season.
The following are some guidelines for the number of training days per week during different phases of the competitive cycle, with routine ideas in parenthesis:
Off-season: 2-4 days/week (2 or 3 total-body workouts per week T & Th, 2 upper & 2 lower body workouts/week M-T-Th-F or 3 days/week alternating upper & lower body routines M-W-F)
Pre-season: 2-3 days/week (2 or 3 total-body workouts per week, or 3 days/week alternating upper & lower body routines M-W-F)
In-season: 1-3 days/week (1- 3 total-body workouts per week, or 2-3 days/week alternating upper & lower body routines)
Strength Training for Young Athletes Component #7: How long should the workout take?
Each strength training session should last 20-60 minutes. There is no reason for any high school strength workout to last more than 60 minutes.
Rest between sets should last about 1-2 minutes. This allows time for a partner to complete his/her set and the next exercise to be set up.
Work large muscles first
In general, the order of exercises should begin with the largest muscle groups and move to smaller muscle groups.
Large muscle groups include the chest, upper back, and hips & quads. Smaller muscle groups include the shoulders, arms, hamstrings, calves and abdominals.
An example of a total body routine would be:
Hips & Quads
Strength Training Program for Young Athletes Component #8: Variation
A workout routine should be changed every 6-12 weeks to offer new stressors to the body. A change can be very small such as changing the rep range, changing the number of sets per exercise, adding a new exercise or two, or changing the order of exercises. Change can also consist of a completely new routine. Small changes are all the body needs to continually make progress so don’t feel that it is necessary to create brand new programs.
The process of changing the workout routine is called periodization. This can get very complicated, and there are entire books written on the subject. To get started on a strength training program, it is absolutely not necessary to understand the intricacies of periodization. For now, all that is important is to modify the workout every 6-12 weeks.
Changing the routine too often does not allow the muscular tissue time to gradually adapt to the stress. If the routine is changed too quickly, it is difficult to determine whether or not the routine is working. Building strength requires a great deal of patience and persistence, so encourage athletes to be diligent.
Variety, however, can often keep athletes engaged, so it is encouraged to offer something slightly different every couple of weeks. All this means is that every 2-3 weeks, you change one or two things about the program for that day. You can increase or decrease the number of reps on an exercise, add additional sets of an exercise, add 1-2 exercises, or give an unexpected day off. Anything to make the workout a little different for the day in an effort to keep the athletes engaged.
Strength Training Program for Young Athletes Component #9: Off-season vs. Pre-season vs. In-season
The time of the year is going to create more differences in your strength training program for young athletes design than just about anything else. While this can get very complicated, once again you are encouraged to keep it simple. The major differences between the programs you will design for each “season” are as follows:
Off-season: The off-season is the best time to make strength gains because fewer physical demands are placed on the body at this time. Overall training volume will generally be increased during the off-season. This means that more days per week may be used, more sets of each exercise and more energy overall will be spent on strength than any other time of the year. In general young athletes will train 2-4 days per week and use 14-20 total sets per workout.
Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning is generally de-emphasized during the off-season to allow more energy to be spent on gaining strength or the improvement of other deficiencies.
Pre-season: Strength training will continue through the pre-season, but the overall volume will gradually decrease as more time and energy are spent on conditioning or fitness. In general, strength training will consist of 2-3 days per week and 12-15 total sets per workout. The intensity of each set may be increased as the volume of work is decreased.
In-season: It is absolutely imperative that strength training be continued through the competitive season. The total volume of work will be reduced, so the relative intensity can be increased. The workouts will be less frequent and shorter in duration.Athletes should strength train at least one day per week, and no more than three days. Workouts will take 20-40 minutes with a total of 10-14 sets per workout.
The number of training days per week and volume of each workout will depend upon the competitive schedule and physical demands of the sport.
Decide what time of year it is, think about the facilities available, and consider which exercises you feel are most appropriate for you to teach and for your young athletes to perform.
Quads & Hips: Pick 1-4 Exercises
Squat Deadlift Leg Press
Lunges DB/Trap Bar Deadlift 3-D Lunges
Leg Extension Glute/Ham Raise Step Ups
Machine Squat Airball Squat Hip Flexion
Hip Extension Hip Abduction Hip Adduction
MR Squat MR Hip Flex/Ext/Ab/Ad/Leg Ext
Hamstrings: Pick 1-2 Exercises
Leg Curl Airball Leg Curl RDL/Stiff-leg Deadlift
Glute/Ham Raise Hyperextension
Chest: Pick 1-3 Exercises
Bench Press Incline Bench Press Decline Bench Press
DB Bench Press Incline DB Bench Press Decline DB Bench Press
Machine Press Dips Push Ups
DB Flys Machine Flys Tubing Press/Flys
Upper Back: Pick 1-3 Exercises
Chin Ups Pull Ups Pulldown
DB Row Cable/Machine Row Close Grip Pulldown
DB Pullover Machine Pullover Straight-Arm Pulldown
MR Row Shrugs
Shoulders: Pick 1-3 Exercises
Lateral Raise Bent Over Raise Military Press, Seated/Standing
DB Military Press Machine Military Press Front Raise
MR Lateral Raise/Front Raise/Bent Over Raise Tube Raises
Internal Rotation External Rotation Empty Can/Thumbs Up Raise
Biceps: Pick 0-1 Exercise
Barbell Curl DB Curl Hammer Curl
Triceps: Pick 0-1 Exercise
Dips Close Grip Press Skullcrushers
Pushdowns DB Overhead Extensions MR Tri Extension
Learn One Lift that will Improve Power, Sports Performance and Strength in Athletes
By Wil Fleming, IYCA Director of Sport Performance
*(NOTE: In an effort to provide the highest quality information, this post was updated on May 13th, 2013. I have learned a lot in the last 11 months and found it necessary to update this post to reflect my current understanding of how to power clean correctly.
On some points my thinking changed just slightly, but enough that it should be noted, and in other cases I was dead wrong. The good thing is that in my application of some of these new concepts and ideas my lifts have never been better.)
Training for power is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of becoming a better athlete. Athletes that want to get faster, get stronger, and get bigger need to train to improve their power. Fortunately many programs include the power clean for just that purpose. Unfortunately though, a lot of people do it incorrectly, get injured, or don’t get any good at the lift and don’t get to reap the benefits.
So whether you are an athlete or a coach of an athlete this post is for you. I have taken everything that I know about the power clean and put it to paper (or cyberspace) for your enjoyment and education.
This is a step by step guide to help your athletes get better, stop missing lifts, and see all the benefits of one of my favorite lifts. Before I get to all the technical stuff, why should athletes do the power clean in the first place?
Power Clean Benefits
In terms of pure power output very little athletes can do in the weightroom compares to the power clean. The power output of a power clean dwarfs movements like the bench press, squat and deadlift by three fold.
Improve sports performance
Increasing speed and strength are the fastest ways to get better on the field. By training with loads at high velocities the clean is the best tool to simultaneously train both qualities. Many of the most important tasks in sports rely on well-timed sequential movements. The timing of the power clean mimics many of those movements, and shares movement qualities like explosive hip extension. This improved timing is great to improve sports performance.
I haven’t run into many people that are legitimately strong in the power clean that aren’t also strong squatters, deadlifters, and many times, even bench pressers. The power clean is a great total body movement that develops type II muscle fibers unlike much of the rest of the weightroom. If an athlete has the strength to get in positions for the power clean they will have the strength to move serious weight around in the rest of the weightroom.
How to power clean—The start position
Cover the shoe laces
Establishing the right distance between your body and the bar is essential to completing the power clean correctly. Too close and the bar will need to move forward off the floor, creating a bad pulling position, too far and the bar will need to move back, and once again the athlete will be in the wrong position. Setting up with the bar covering the the last shoelace as the athlete sees it from above, establishes a great position to begin with. The bar should be placed over the forefoot. This position allows the athlete to get in a quad dominant position at the ground level, where the knees will be shifted forward
For athletes that are taller this may need to be adjusted slightly forward and shorter athletes may adjust slightly closer to the bar, but at least we have a frame of reference from which to start. From the coaches point of view this looks like a bar position that is in the midfoot of the athlete.
Flat Feet (but weight at the ball of the foot)
The athletes balance of weight will mirror the position of the bar over the foot. This is the case for the entire lift. While the bar is on the floor it will be centered over the base of the big toe (and the athletes own weight will be towards the ball of the foot). As the lift progresses the bar should move into the body (more on that later) during that portion of the lift the weight will dynamically move back towards the heel.
Remember this is a dynamic system, and the athlete’s weight will reflect this dynamic system.
Jump width feet
The vertical jump is used as the indicator of lower body power when we are testing athletes. The foot position that athletes naturally use when jumping is likely going to be the one that they will want to begin the power clean. With the feet around hip width apart athletes will be able to direct force into the ground in the most efficient way possible. Setting up too wide directs much of the force outward and not into the ground. Athletes that have hip mobility restrictions may need to adjust their stance wider than jump width to achieve a safe position from the ground.
Seriously Brace the core
A strong core is necessary to maintain the torso position from the ground up through the first and second pull. The only way to ensure that this happens is to pre-brace the core before the lift begins. Once oriented to the bar establish the brace position while standing which will be much easier to do than trying to establish the brace while in the starting position. It is important to have this feeling established before having your hands on the bar.
RDL to the Knees
Finally we can begin moving towards the bar! Right now from the standing position athletes have 3 choices that they can make to get your hands to the bar and only 1 of them is correct.
1)Athletes could choose to bend their knees to move their hands lower to the ground, but eventually they will run out of ankle mobility.
2) Athletes could also choose to bend their back to make their way to the bar, but in this case athletes will be putting some crazy stress on their lumbar spine once loaded.
3)Lastly athletes can hip hinge, their way towards the bar. (BINGO! This is what we want)
The first movement that needs to be made is an RDL or hip hinge movement. By completing this movement athletes will be creating a hip loaded pattern that allows for a powerful hip extension later in the movement. Only hinge until the hands are at the kneecaps, and remember if the athlete’s hips quit moving back in space while making this movement they are no longer in a hip hinge.
Squat to the bar
To finish the descent to the bar athletes will need to cease moving their hips back in space. Athletes will need to move towards the bar by squatting or moving their hips down in space. The athlete will be able to maintain the same relationship to the bar on the X axis, but will gain the knee bend necessary to start the bar off the ground. The deeper the squat to the bar the better. Hopefully we can establish a position where their is little space between the hamstrings and the calves, remember off the floor we are looking to be very quad dominant.
Using the cue “squat to the bar” is a great way to relate this “foreign” position to something that most athletes are very familiar.
Eyes Forward Neck Straight
Once the hands meet the bar a neutral spine posture must be assumed. Cervical hyperextension, which will likely contribute to greater lumbar hyperextension. With greater lumbar hyperextension the athlete will put more shearing force on their lower back.
That all being said, there is much contention to the idea that a neutral neck be used. Many elite weightlifters use a head position that would be considered cervical hyperextension, and there is even literature suggesting that in this position, the greater tension that is found in the lower back actually aids the lifters.
We are not likely coaching elite weightlifters destined for Olympic greatness, in the interest of lumbar spines everywhere, positioning the neck in a neutral position is the right call for most athletes (don’t fret too much over this)
Lock the lats down, and core tight
On the neutral spine idea, we have to think of ways to brace the core. Typical bracing will do well, but including the cue to lock down the lats will aid in the stiffening of the core, and will also allow the athlete to keep the bar close to the body at the moment of lift-off. Keeping the bar close to the body will assist the athlete in maintaining a tight lifter-barbell system.
Arms straight Down
In an effort to maintain a tight lifter-barbell system and the bar close to the body a “knuckles down” cue will lead to a the shoulders being directly over the bar. The arms will be straight while the bar is on the ground. For some athletes it is easy to keep the arms straight through thinking of relaxation at the elbows, while for others it is important to teach that the elbows remain “locked” when on the floor.
Knees out is a new cue for me, but one that is helping my athletes tremendously. Externally rotating the thighs in the start position creates a higher level or torque and sets athletes for the transition of the bar around the knee. Push the knees into the elbows, create torque, make more power later.
Once more thing on the knees. To ensure the right torso position make sure that the knees are forward of the elbows. This creates the right angle we are looking for when the bar breaks the ground.
The Hook Grip
There are two ways to grasp the bar in the power clean. The first is the simple grip in which the athlete grabs the bar with an overhand grip and thumbs wrapped around the bar. This grip will not be sufficient to lift heavier weights. It is necessary then to use the hook grip to pick up some serious weight. The only reasons a simple grip should be employed is in the case of a thumb injury or some other lack of mobility in the thumb.
The hook grip is actually pretty simple to complete. The athlete should grasp the bar overhand like normal and before wrapping their fingers closed, should place their thumb inside of their grip. Simple.
There will be some discomfort in maintaining this grip for novice athletes but this will subside over time. (Note: Don’t trim your thumbnails too short before using the hook grip, pain will ensue).
The width of the grip in the power clean will be shoulder width or slightly wider. While many people employ certain lines on the bar to determine where to place the hands, not all athletes are able to use high end bars to do the movements. It is necessary to have a way to make sure athletes are able to grasp any bar with the correct grip no matter the markings.
From a standing position the athlete should be able to grip the bar in a position that allows for their thumbs to be extended straight and be in contact with their hips/upper thigh. This width is sufficiently wide enough to achieve a strong racked position, allow for the possibility of a jerk later on, and is not dependent on the markings of a bar.
How to Power Clean- The Start
The static start looks just as you would expect it to look, motionless. Once the athlete has achieved the start position described above they remain motionless for up to several seconds and then begin their initial lift off. This method is great for beginners because there is no variation to the start position once it is initially achieved. The downside to using a static start position is a reduction in power from the floor and many athletes find the start position to be relatively uncomfortable to maintain for long periods of time.
There are actually several ways to complete a dynamic start but each of them aims to develop acceleration of the torso before lifting the barbell from the ground.
Rocking can be thought of as a “less dynamic, dynamic start” The athlete will start with the pelvis higher than the bar and begin movement of the torso to the appropriate angle to begin the lift off. This movement is smooth and the torso will shift from a horizontal relationship to the platform to a more vertical relationship. Once in the vertical torso position the athlete will begin a transition to their lift off position, once that position is achieved the lift off will begin
The pumping start can begin with 1 or 2 pumps but is the “more dynamic, dynamic start”. The athlete will start with hips higher than the bar, quickly drop the hips to the appropriate start position, and execute the lift off. A second pump can occur by bringing the hips up 1 more time and then down again to the bar. (down-up, down-up). Be careful in this very dynamic start to not let the athlete’s weight shift forward to the toes.
How to power clean—the performance
The First Pull
The first pull is the initial movement from the ground and until the bar passes the knees. This pull is usually slower and more controlled than the second pull. The primary goal is to maintain good position while gaining momentum through the early part of the lift
“Push The Floor”
My old thinking in the power clean was more along the lines of pushing through the heels. This works, I promise, but I have found a better way to get from the ground to the knee level. If you establish a good quad dominant position with the bar over the ball of your foot, all you will need to do is “push against the floor,” or “push with the legs.” With a strong torso your knees will move back and the bar will get on the elevator to awesome.
Knees Back, Translate the torso
The initial lift off from the floor should be done by extension of the knees. Driving the knees back while lifting the torso is what we are aiming for. The torso should remain in the same relationship to the ground (30 degrees above horizontal) throughout the first pull. In this way we are looking to translate the position of the torso vertically through space. This will maintain the powerful hips loaded position above the knee. The knees should continue driving back until almost reaching extension as the bar begins to pass the knee.
Bar sweeps back
Up to this point we have spoken much about the position and movement of the body in the power clean. The bar however does make a slight movement off the floor back toward the body to maintain the tight lifter-barbell system. This occurs due to the activation of the lats, we are not looking for a straight line pull, but rather one that resembles a very flat S.
Slow off the floor (if you’re a beginner)
A beginner that rockets the bar off the ground will miss positions the entire way up the lift, for this reason we incorporate lifts with pauses throughout the learning process.
Once an athlete knows the positions and can consistently hit them, they are likely able to pull much more weight. When an athlete can pull some significant weight the intent will become pulling the bar from the ground as fast and hard as possible.
Looking at the best lifters in the world, you will likely see them pulling in what looks like a slow manner, but I can guarantee that they are pulling as hard as possible they just have to overcome inertia, and that can be a hard task.
At the knees
Once the bar is at the knees several things should be occurring. This is a difficult place to coach the athlete, because the system is already in motion but changes may need to be made after reviewing the lifts on video.
The feet should be flat so the athlete can transition correctly for the second pull. The hips should still be higher than the knees, and very little hip extension has occurred. The torso should still be roughly 30 degrees above the horizontal. The arms should also remain straight at this point, athletes that have bent their arms by this point will have difficulty with completing the second pull.
The second pull
The second pull is more aggressive in nature and the point at which the athlete will accelerate the bar to its highest speeds, this pull lasts from above the knee (after the transition period) and until the athlete reaches full hip extension.
Creating the triangle
A really important concept that I like to teach my athletes is that once in the above knee position they have created a “power triangle”. This triangle consists of their entire arm, their torso, and the angle of their hips. From this point on the only goal, and the only way to make a successful second pull is to flatten, or close the triangle. This is a vivid image that can help athletes hit the correct positions.
Knees Forward (Scoop/Double Knee Bend)
A lot is made about the knee bend during the second pull. Articles have been written about the double knee bend, that would make this post look like small potatoes.
The fact is, in a good power clean the knee bend will occur to align the body in a position to create vertical movement, pure hip extension from the above knee position will create too much horizontal projection and the athlete will jump forward.
Here are the facts:
When the bar is at the knee level, the knees are nearly extended.
When the bar is in the final pulling position the knees need to be under, or even in front of, the bar to create vertical movement and pull from the strongest position.
It is necessary to perform the double knee bend (or scoop, or transition) for vertical projection.
To get a picture of the right final pulling position think about how you would lift a washing machine. Would you stick your butt out and get your chest over it to lift it? Or would you try to get a pretty vertical torso, dig your heels in the ground and push down with your feet?
I would suppose it would be the second option, and by no coincidence this position is the exact position we want to reach to finish our pull.
Finish the hips and knees
Once the bar has reached a high thigh position, and the torso has come to vertical, the hips and knees will both be nearly extended. At this point the athlete should finish driving the hips and knees to extension. Athletes will drive up through the toes in this phase and will achieve FULL extension. This is the highest speed portion of the entire lift.
What about the elbows and the shrug?
Don’t worry about the elbows yet. There is no need for a high pull. Once the hips and knees have extended, yanking upwards with the hands is unnecessary, and will not make the bar go any faster.
In both the case of a shrug and the elbows we often think about frame by frame shots of elite weightlifters seemingly pulling the elbows up and shrugging the shoulders. The fact is very few of these lifters are thinking of doing those things.
Instead this position is a result of an effort to move UNDER the bar, not in an effort to move the bar any higher.
Punch the elbows (still no high pull)
The arms have stayed relaxed to a great degree up to this point, but once the athlete has started to move under the bar it is time to use the arms forcefully. The action of the arms at this phase is best described as punching the elbows up.
The elbow punch will result in a receiving position that is high on the shoulders, meaning that the weight will not be resting on the wrists (generally a weak point) but instead will be in line with their center of gravity. An effort to flip the wrists will usually lead to a low catch on the chest and a need for the athlete to “roll” the bar up the chest.
Instead think of getting the hands to the shoulders quickly and punching the elbows up.
On the internet, where people get mad about everything and start internet fights. This is one topic where they will start a lot of fights. Should the athlete jump?
While the lift will definitely improve jumping performance it is not exactly like a jump, but still that does not answer the question.
Here’s where I stand. For most athletes jumping actually improves the catch position and here’s why: When an athlete leaves the ground, their ability to pull up on the bar is done. Any effort put into the bar will make the athlete move under the bar when the feet are off the ground.
This doesn’t mean pull the feet up really high and stomp the ground and this doesn’t mean you should mimic a jump and leap from the ground. It just means a short impulse of power to leave the ground.
Hips Back, Feet Flat
This step will occur simultaneously to punching the elbows. Athletes should aim to receive in an athletic position just as they would land from a jump (only on their heels first in this instance).
The athlete will widen their feet slightly, from a hip width/jump width stance to a shoulder width/squat width stance to receive the bar. The athlete should also have very little forward or backward travel at the time they receive the bar.
Power Clean Variations
Variations in the power clean are made by changing up the start position and the receiving position. Different variations can train different qualities and are very valuable to any athletes.
Variations in starting position
Hang Power Clean
The power clean from the hang position is a great teaching tool to use with athletes and can even be used as your primary way to train athletes with the clean. The clean from the hang position will help athletes develop better ability to use the stretch shortening cycle.
We have two positions in which we do hang cleans most of the time.
Hang power clean from hip
This movement is to mimic the final pulling position. The one where the knees are re-positioned under the bar, and the torso is vertical. This position has become the first position in which we teach athletes to clean.
Establishing that this foreign position is the ultimate goal, is important to making your athletes successful with the lifts.
Hang power clean from knees
Our second position from which we do the hang power clean is at the knee level. We use 2 primary variations of this variation (all very confusing).
Above Knee: This position is the one from which our athletes complete most of their power clean reps. It is an athletic and familiar, and athletes have plenty of success with it.
Below knee: Our Olympic lifters do many of their reps from this position. Typically the transition around the knee is difficult for lifters and making them lift from below the knee means we make better lifters.
Clean from Blocks
The clean from the blocks is a great way to teach athletes to learn the lifts. This position allows you the ability to physically put your athletes in the right alignment for starting from any position (hip, above knee, below knee). This is a great teaching tool for beginners as well as a great way to learn different portions of the lift that athletes may struggle with (transition around knee).
Variations in receiving position
The split clean is a blast from the past, it was employed by many athletes as the primary way to complete the movement in competition for a number of years. For athletes the split clean should be used as a way to provide variation to the program and to accustom athletes to absorbing force in a “single leg” stance. After full extension is reached the athlete should punch the lead knee up and drive the rear foot back and to the ground. Ideally the athlete will land with a vertical shin on the front leg, similar to the 90-90 position employed in split squats
It takes a special athlete to be able to complete a good looking full (squat) clean, many athletes will lack the mobility to get in the correct positions to receive the bar. The world’s most explosive athletes use this technique to complete the clean in competition, so the upside in terms of potential weight used is great. The full clean is an even greater total body exercise because of the need for great leg strength to come up from the full front squat position.
Common Power Clean flaws and Coaching Cues
The bar drifts away at the start
At the moment of lift off the bar and lifter should be closely linked, a bar that drifts away early on the floor is likely an issue that can be fixed by making a modification to the start position. Coach your athletes to keep the bar tight by locking down the lats and locking in the core arms vertical
Check to make sure that the athlete is not forward of the bar at the start position, no horizontal backs around here.
The bar moves around the knees
The bar moving around the knees is a very common problem that can really inhibit the athlete’s ability to make a great second pull, with two likely causes.
The most likely cause of this problem is the weight of the athlete not shifting from the forefoot towards the heel as the bar makes its way up the body. Push the ground and sweep the bar, the knees will get out of the way.
The athlete racks the bar with elbows down
This is a very common issue and can be caused by several things.
1) The athlete is pulling with arms flexed. When pulling with the elbows flexed the athlete will slow down their ability to punch their elbows around the bar.
2) The athlete is not completing their second pull. If the athlete does not complete the second pull their chest will likely remain over the bar and this will not allow for enough time to punch the elbows through and necessitate that they receive the bar with their elbows down
3) The athlete lacks lat mobility to receive the bar correctly. Athletes that lack the requisite mobility to receive the bar will not be physically able to rotate their around to the correct receiving position. Including more lat mobility work, and thoracic extension training in the warm-up period will be a good long term fix for this sort of problem.
The athlete jumps forward when catching the bar
Jumping forward when receiving the bar is a classic sign that there was incomplete extension of the hips during the second pull. When the hips don’t fully extend the bar will begin to drift forward and the only way that the athlete can complete the lift is to jump forward to the bar.
A second likely cause not re-positioning the knees under the bar as the bar moves up the thigh. If the hips come from too far a horizontal distance to reach hip extension the bar will be “bumped” forward and the athlete will need to jump forward to catch the bar.
The athlete jumps back when catching the bar
Lets first say that some coaches do teach a movement backwards at the catch, while their reasons may vary it is likely that they feel this promotes a full hip extension. Traveling back to receive the bar is likely caused by directing their momentum back rather than vertical in the completion of the second pull. Cue the athlete to move their head vertically toward the ceiling and not throw it back while completing the pull.
The athlete jumps feet out when catching the bar
Ahhh the starfish. I am not a fan. Athletes that jump their feet out are looking to get to the finish position the fastest way that their body knows how. This problem can lead to really awkward and dangerous receiving positions and needs to be eliminated quickly. The easiest way to do so is to create a visual stimulus that will reinforce the correct technique. A murray cross will do well to give athletes immediate feedback as to whether they received the bar in the appropriate position or not.
The cause of the starfish is mind blowing to some people, but I am going to lay it on you straight. Athletes that overpull the bar, meaning they pull too long with their arms will ALWAYS catch in a starfish.
Once the hips and knees are extended, just get under the dang bar. Sit, don’t sprawl.
Accessory lifts to fix your power clean
The clean pull is a partial lift that will have the athlete finish in complete hip extension and arms straight but not rack the bar. The clean pull can be done from any of the start positions (floor, hang, blocks) and is a great tool to develop positional power for the power clean. For increasing power as it pertains to the power clean only, the clean pull should be done at 110% of the (X)RM where X is the number of reps the athlete is doing in that particular set.
If an athlete can clean 100 kg for 3 reps they should clean pull 110 kg for 3 reps.
If an athlete can clean 120 kg for 5 reps they should clean pull 132 kg for 5 reps.
The starting position that is used in the clean pull should be determined by what it is that the athlete needs to work on the most. If their pull off the floor is jacked up then they should pull from the floor, if they have issues in the second pull then use clean pulls from a hang or block.
Some awesome work has been done recently to show that the clean pull (sometimes called a jump shrug) can actually produce higher levels of power output than the traditional Olympic lifts, because of this and the lack of impact on the body (no receiving position) the clean pull is a great lift to use for in-season training.
The execution of a clean pull is debated, but for my athletes I do not want them to finish with a violent shrug of the shoulders or over-emphasize finishing on their toes.
Last thing on clean pulls, in Olympic lifting, heavy clean grip deadlifts, and snatch grip deadlifts are pulls too.
Even though we are talking about the power clean and not the full clean the front squat is an absolute must to improve power clean ability. At the moment of impact (the catch) there is great force that is being exerted downward, being able to stand up with it and not get buried requires a strong front squat. Athletes that seemingly are able to pull the bar to heights that would allow for a good rack position but still miss the lift at the rack can benefit from front squats and even front squats against bands to get super strong in the top position of the power clean.
If the front squat helps the ability to receive a power clean the RDL assists the athlete’s ability to make an efficient pull on the bar. Greater hamstring and glute strength is an awesome thing to have when the going gets tough around the knee and before the second pull kicks off.
I used to use the RDL as a big time teaching tool, but instead we use a modified version of the RDL to teach the transition from the knee level to the hip level. (I learned this awesome drill after Coach Glenn Pendlay made me do it for about 20 minutes straight!)
Clean lift off
For athletes that struggle off the floor but not many other places the clean lift off is a great tool to use. Have athletes set up in their start position at the floor level and begin to extend the knees until the bar rises to knee height. Pause for a moment and bring the bar back to the ground under control. This movement will groove the pattern off the floor like no other.
Power clean accessories
My opinion on straps in the clean has changed dramatically, but it comes down to one singular “rule”
If the use of straps inhibits the athlete’s ability to catch the bar in the rack position, do not use straps. If it doesn’t inhibit that position, feel free to use straps.
Personally, I never use straps in the clean, but always use straps in the snatch.
Using a weightlifting belt in the power clean is a mixed bag to me. I would never recommend a belt to someone that already has poor technique because the belt will magically grant confidence (like it always does) to go heavier than the athlete should. If an athlete has great technique and can pull with a neutral spine off the floor, a belt is unnecessary even at higher weights.
Again, personally, I love using a belt in the clean, but not in the snatch. I like the ability to breathe into the belt to create an even stiffer core position.
Shoes for power cleans
Running shoes would be one of my least favorite choices for footwear during a power clean. These shoes typically have a pretty thick soft-rubber sole that can allow power to leach out during the pull. The high sole will also lead to less stability while lifting and at the receiving position.
Minimalist shoes have definitely gained popularity recently and some are even being marketed as “training” shoes. You definitely need to take a look at some of these as they are not all created equal. Some are great and provide a solid base of support, and some are just well marketed running shoes with the same pitfalls.
There really is no better shoe than a weightlifting shoe for performing the power clean. The solid wood sole and wider base helps keep the athlete on balance throughout the lift. There are several brands for sale on the market today (adidas, Nike, Reebok) and some lesser known brands. I have purchased every single kind that you can (seriously I have 6 pairs) and go to my adidas over others.
Power Clean Programs
Get Right Power Clean Program
For many athletes technical proficiency is the limiting factor, even advanced athletes can benefit from increased repetition of the lifts. To add the get right program to an existing program (one that includes strength work in the rest of the week) and improve the athlete’s technical abilities try this out 1-2 days per week.
Loading should be 60% of Bodyweight +/- 10-15 kg
Begin with Imitation movements with the bar for up to 20 reps.
So we are finally to the end, nearly everything I know about one of my favorite lifts, the power clean has been put out into the interwebz. This post was awesome to write and I really hope that it will help improve your athlete’s power clean. If it does in fact help you or your athletes, please do me a favor…
Wil Fleming Gives you the 5 Factors that your High School Athletes NEED to Dominate to Succeed
What You Will Find Inside:
Secrets to Successful High School Athletes
The Pillars of Athletic Development
How YOU can develop great athletes through great coaching
The Most Effective Way for Progressing Athletes with Resistance Bands in 4 Key Areas of Training
By Dave Schmitz
When it comes to progressing athletes with resistance bands, we need to first identify the 4 elements of performance that resistance band training targets the most effectively:
Agility and footwork drills
Strength and Power development training
Depending on which one of these elements of training your session is going to focus on will dictate the resistance bands you use and how you will progress. That said, let me briefly take you through my thought process as it relates to choosing bands to train these elements of multi-directional speed and first step explosiveness with resistance bands
Choosing the correct bands is very important because it will be that first experience that sets the stage for making sure your athletes have a positive experience training with bands. It will also dictate how you progress athletes to stronger bands as training continues. Most athletes want to go heavy, but understand that overloading too much only inhibits the neuromuscular system and leads to compensation.
Progressing Athletes with Resistance Bands on Acceleration Training Days
On an acceleration day, my preference is to move towards using higher level resistance bands once drills are mastered because I am focusing on getting athletes exploding out and there is minimal concern with them handling the return phase of the running drills. As a result, I am not concerned about their ability to decelerate safely because we keep that aspect of training very controlled.
With acceleration training, we will do drills like:
Partner run variations
Tug of war
All these drills primarily focus on force production versus force reduction. As a result, I can ramp up band resistance using black bands with my middle school athletes and purple and green bands with my high school athletes without putting them at risk of being overloaded.
One important thing to remember with acceleration drills is that you always want movement to look good and be explosive. I want pop and burst. If athletes begin to labor or start looking like they are towing the exercise bands versus exploding with the band, you want to increase rest time or decrease band resistance. Obviously, I am not referring to grinding-type drills like partner towing or tug of war drills. These are low velocity drills designed to only work on acceleration strength not neuromuscular reaction.
Progressing Athletes with Resistance Bands on Deceleration Training Days
To me, deceleration training in bands is what sets training in bands apart from any other training device. No other tool can speed up deceleration momentum the way exercise bands can. However, deceleration training in bands is where as a coach you must err on the side of caution until athletes really start to show good body control. That said, I will train in black or purple bands for my male high school athletes and red or black for my middle school or female athletes.
Deceleration drills are pre-loaded elastic band drills, which means the first movement will transfer the kinetic energy from the band into the athlete on the fly. I want athletes to feel confident and not be concerned or anxious that the band could overpower them as they are pulled into having to decelerate. It is similar to doing over-speed training for acceleration: If you make it too much of an overload, the body will inhibit the movement, and you will get too strong of a breaking effect instead of quick transition.
Deceleration drills include:
Run and recover drills
Acceleration Stop Drills
Partner Reaction training
Visual or Verbal Reaction training
I highly recommend you allow athletes to remain fresh during these drills by:
Keeping Reps at 3-4
Do all drills off whistle starts
Keep drill very short amplitude (1-2 Steps) early in training
Keep band tension low
By keeping athletes fresh it will allow you to maximize band strength without inhibition occurring. The goal with deceleration drills is to slowly build up deceleration neuromuscular strength and transition speed. That takes making sure everything is well integrated and timing is perfect.
Also keep in mind that these drills are done well within the 2-yard band stretch parameter. Actually, when you see your athletes exploding out of a decelerated stop, it is a strong indication that they are ready to move up to the next level of band.
Progressing Athletes with Resistance Bands in Agility and Footwork Training Sessions
Agility and footwork training is typically done in conjunction with either an acceleration or deceleration session. It is how I get my athletes’ CNS excited and prepared for advanced training. These drills are characterized as very short amplitude or small-space drills designed to teach athletes how to keep their hips or center of gravity over their base of support.
Agility and footwork drills include:
Low Box drills
Short ladder drills
The key to choosing the correct band for these drills obviously comes down to not overloading the athlete but rather providing them with a small overload so they can still be training at 80% of maximal quickness with optimal balance. Often, I will do many of these drills in partnerships where I have 2 athletes in red or black linked up bands. The distance is always less than 2 yards, so putting a 200-pound athlete in a linked-up black band setup and going 2 to maybe 3 yards should be easily controlled by the athlete and not overstretch the band.
All my middle school athletes use red bands while my high school athletes (male and female) use either linked up black or purple bands. Make sure you teach the drill without bands first before applying the bands, regardless the age of the athlete.
Progressing Athletes with Resistance Bands in Strength and Power Development Training Sessions
When it comes to strength training with bands, you are looking at developing the ability to handle high levels of resistance at the end range of motion. That said, the key to choosing the correct band is to make sure the athlete has tension on the band at the beginning of the movement and is still able to push throughout the full range of motion.
Since most of my strength training in bands is done for either a set time or low reps, I will watch the athlete, and if he or she is not able to push consistently with constant tension on the band at both points of the range, I will adjust band size. The main thing is to not allow the band to snap back on the deceleration phase of the movement. This can result in soft tissue micro trauma or, worst yet, tendon damage. Movements should remain slightly faster on acceleration as opposed to the deceleration phase.
Strength drills that I key in on with athletes include:
Standing Chest Press
Single leg Bench squats
Single Leg Dead lifts
Multiple variations of single arm push-pulls
When it comes to power training, it is all about speed of movement both concentrically (or unloading) as well as eccentrically (or loading). My biggest cue when it comes to power production is how fast an athlete can get through the “point of transformation.” In other words, how fast can they go from a decelerated eccentric loading phase to an accelerated concentric unloading phase without shortening up the range of motion?
I will typically err on the side of a smaller resistance band with power training because I want fast movement with no visual lag time seen at the point of transformation. That means red or black are what I will use with my high school athletes. I do not train power in bands with middle school or low strength level high school athletes. They must first show good strength as discussed above before I will even consider power reaction training.
Athlete Power Reaction Drills include:
Speed Squats (double and single)
Standing Reactive Chest Press
Reactive overhead press
Hopefully this will provide you a guideline for progressing athletes with resistance bands.