Archive for “training young athletes” Category

Sprinting Mechanics – How to Run Faster: Paul Aanonson

Coaching Sprinting Mechanics must not be ignored in speed training!

SPEED’, the buzzword in the world of sports. Those who have mastered the art of sprinting dominate those who have yet to develop it. Speed wins, every time.

Top speed sprinting is one the most complex, high-velocity human movements in sports. Top speed means 10+ yards after acceleration. Sprinting is a skill and it CAN be learned. To coach a skill, you must first seek to understand the movement and then master the mechanics.

True speed can be an elusive skill to master, and as a result, is often not strongly emphasized in programming. All too often, I hear the phrase, ‘you can’t coach speed’. This statement is likely made because many coaches simply don’t know how to train speed, never mastered the skill themselves, don’t seek to understand its full value or have never been properly educated on how to include proper sprinting mechanics and athletic movement in their coaching. More familiar methods, such as strength training, provide visible weight room results and PRs that look good on paper and pass the ‘eye test,’ but don’t always translate to the field. An athlete with impressive weight room stats, who can’t move quickly and efficiently, will not succeed on the field.

Why does learning sprinting mechanics matter?

As coaches, we need to create well-rounded programs that focus on all aspects of athletic development. Sprinting is a pillar of sports performance. The foundation for ALL my performance training is ‘Building Better Athletes, Not Weight Room All-Stars’.

Teaching Sprinting MechanicsWhen developing athleticism, one question must be answered. What type of movements are performed during the sport and how can we develop speed, power and explosiveness within these skills? Once we determine this, then we can program to improve movement skills, like sprinting, with drills and exercises focused on mechanics, mobility, power and strength.

Unfortunately, lost in the obsession of building bigger and stronger athletes, is the mastery of skills like sprinting, jumping, cutting and improving overall movement. An athlete’s ability to squat 400 lbs (even if the bar speed is explosive), only matters if they can actually apply their strength and power to on-field movements. If it doesn’t transfer, it doesn’t matter.

I’m certainly not here to say that strength doesn’t matter. Strength training is undoubtedly another pillar of athletic development. Speed and strength go hand in hand to create a successful athlete. Instead, I’m here to challenge and bring awareness to the amount of energy and importance our industry places on strength. Think about the amount of training time that is allocated to learning Olympic lifts like the power clean. Compare that to the amount of time spent on coaching and developing movements like sprinting mechanics. One skill (sprinting) is performed on every play of every game, and one is not (i.e. power cleans). If the time dedicated to learning how to properly move and sprint does not outweigh, or at least equal, the time dedicated to learning Olympic lifts, we are failing our athletes.

Learning how to sprint requires breaking down the movement into steps (as seen in the video below), developing good habits and efficient fluid movements. SPEED CAN BE LEARNED by training posture, body position and mechanics and utilizing specific drills, along with teaching athletes how to efficiently produce force during the action of sprinting. Drills help athletes simplify the complex skill, allowing them to focus on just one aspect.

The goal when coaching sprinting mechanics is not perfection. Every athlete will have slightly different quirks and movements, but the question to always ask is whether or not they are moving efficiently.  Perfection is the enemy, while efficiency is the ally. Everything from how and where the foot lands, to the position of the head, must be performed with intent and purpose. Most athletes never learn to run correctly and the result creates bad habits during their developmental years. It is our job as coaches to determine if they need to relearn the skill of sprinting or just improve a few aspects, then communicate it with simple cues during speed workouts.

Not every athlete is born with equal natural abilities and each individual has a genetic ceiling. As coaches and mentors, it’s our responsibility to help athletes reach their full potential by providing the tools, confidence, and skills to reach peak performance on the field. I have successfully coached the art of sprinting to well over 2,000 athletes. It is a process, it takes time, and you must be confident and able to break down movements and sprinting mechanics for each individual.

Teaching proper sprinting mechanics does not have to be intimidating. Take the time to fully understand the movement and break down the individual steps. Like any other skill, the more you practice, the more confident you’ll become coaching, cueing and helping your athletes develop into proficient, powerful sprinters.

Along with the Simple Speed Coach ‘How to Sprint’ video, I’ve included a simple overview to help you follow my 9 coaching cues shown in the video.

How to Sprint Video Overview:

Step 1: Neutral Head: Chin neutral, eyes up.

Step 2: Sprint Posture: Neutral pelvis w/ forward lean, rod from ear through hip.

Step 3: Hip Flexion: Thigh slightly below parallel to the ground.

Step 4: Knee Extension / Flight Phase: Violent motion of leg extending towards the ground.

Step 5: Ground Anticipation: How the foot strikes the ground.

Step 6: COG: Where the foot lands.

Step 7: Recovery Leg: Action of the leg as it drives up and in front of the body.

Step 8: Arm Action: Powerful and efficient arm swing.

Step 9: Relax: Utilize only the muscles needed for fluid motion, breathe.

*STRIDE TO TURNOVER RATIO

Stride is determined by recovery leg action (Step 7) into Hip Flexion (Step 3). Turnover is the velocity through the leg cycle.

Teaching sprinting mechanics can be an incredibly enjoyable and fruitful process as you develop athletes.  Take the time to thoroughly understand sprinting mechanics before you begin your instruction, and enjoy watching your athletes get faster and faster.

 

Paul AanonsonPaul Aanonson, MS, CSCS, FMS – Paul is the owner of Simple Speed Coach and has directed the sports performance program for North Colorado Sports Medicine since 2008, training over 2,500 athletes. He oversees the return to sport rehab program and has mentored and prepared over 130 collegiate graduates through his internship program. Aanonson graduated from South Dakota State University with a B.S. in Exercise Science and received a M.S. in Sport Administration from The University of Northern Colorado. He was a four sport all-state athlete in high school and a FCS All-American return specialist for the South Dakota State University football team.

 

For even more detailed information about sprinting mechanics and speed development, check out the IYCA Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course.  The CSAS is the most comprehensive and scientifically sound speed certification in the athletic development profession.  It truly prepares you to teach and develop speed.  Click on the image below to learn more.

speed & agility certification

 

Metabolic Conditioning for Athletes, Part 2 – Phil Hueston

In Part 1 of this series on metabolic conditioning, I explored what energy is and how the body’s energy systems work. In this article, let’s have a practical look at what metabolic conditioning is and why we should do it with athletes.

The 3 Forms of Metabolic Conditioning

Metabolic Conditioning comes in three basic forms, two of which relate directly to exercise and training:

1. Anaerobic-based – According to Plisk, this is “Motor unit activity, substrate flux and force-speed production patterns such that anaerobic bioenergetics pathways are preferential.” (1) In other words, this form is based on muscle and system functions that prefer the ATP-CP system. Using it preferentially tends to lead to further preference. Your systems will get better at using this form, with a preference for it.

It’s peripheral in nature. We’re talking about muscles and the movement systems of the body. This includes voluntary and involuntary movement, so that twitch or tic you get is also dependent on this system. Think of it as the conditioning that strengthens muscles as well as the endurance of the body.

It buffers the hydrogen ions that accumulate in cells via the production of lactate (not lactic acid, as most folks like to say.)

As fast-twitch, or Type 2X fibers begin to fatigue, we see a slight transference from the ATP-CP system to the Glycolytic system. So, you can remain in an anaerobic metabolic conditioning state even as the principle energy system begins to fail.

2. Aerobic-based – Aerobic energy production is more “central” in nature and provides overall work capacity and endurance for activities of varying speed, intensity, and duration. While arguably more critical to quality and span of life, it can be accomplished through means that are not traditionally “aerobic.”

Aerobic metabolic conditioning integrates cardiovascular parameters into the conditioning process. These include heart rate, cardiac output, blood flow distribution, arterial pressures, total peripheral resistance, left ventricular stroke volume and arterial & venous blood oxygen content.

3. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – All energy expended for all activities other than eating, sleeping, and exercise or sports.

According to Levine “changes in NEAT accompany experimentally induced changes in energy balance and may be important in the physiology of weight change.” (2)  It can account for 270 to 480 calories per day, on average.

Energy. Metabolism. Energy metabolism. They’re all neighbors. Co-workers. You get the idea.

Why metabolic conditioning for athletes, anyway?

Yeah! Isn’t metabolic conditioning really for older, chubby people who are sick of looking like whales at the beach?

Yes and no. Yes, it helps with fat loss. No, it’s not just for the crowd trying to avoid the Porky Pig look.

What are the real benefits of metabolic conditioning for athletes?

Let’s take a look.

For a lot of coaches, metabolic conditioning is just a way to “kick the asses” of their athletes. Some athletes have even been conditioned to buy into this idea. I, for one, would greatly appreciate if those coaches would find work in another industry. Waste management, maybe.

Metabolic conditioning can be tough, and it probably should be, if it’s really going to be effective. Your metabolic conditioning program should challenge your athletes, but it should also make them better!

A quality metabolic conditioning program can provide the following benefits to athletes:

1. Serious calorie burning – While probably a bigger concern for the fat loss athlete than for competitive athletes, it’s an important consideration. While calorie burn during your training session is important, it’s really the boost in metabolic rate after the session that’s important.

Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) contributes to the “afterburn effect.” This occurs because the body is in an oxygen debt after intense exercise and is in the process of repairing muscle tissue. Add to this the lactate factor and EPOC becomes a pretty big deal. Metcon can enhance EPOC and keep the metabolism jacked.

Improvements in lean mass for athletes come with several other benefits. When an athlete’s metabolism is more efficient, he/she uses nutrients more efficiently. Protein and nitrogen uptake are improved and the rate of calorie expenditure per unit of work performed is positively affected.

Athletes can also become more “metabolically flexible.” (3) This means their bodies become able to perform at high levels using either carbs or fats for fuel. Conversion of fats to usable fuel gets more efficient and energy levels don’t vary as much.

2. Improvement to cardiovascular capacity – While steady state, low intensity exercise like jogging or a bike ride can have real impact on cardiovascular function and aerobic capacity, metabolic conditioning has been shown to improve VO2 max better than traditional aerobic exercise.

Perhaps more important, recovery times from high-intensity activities improve. That means when your athlete goes all out, they recover the ability to go all out again in a shorter time.

3. Improvements in hormonal profile – Metabolic conditioning has been shown to improve the profile of hormones that are involved in lipolysis, or fat burning. Metcon seems to intensify the positive hormonal profile results from just strength training. Recent research has shown an improvement in free testosterone in men who perform HIIT, or high-intensity interval training. (4)

4. Improvements in lean mass – Metabolic conditioning can help spur dramatic improvements in lean mass. While you’re unlikely to see large-scale increases in total mass or muscle size, metabolic conditioning contributes to reductions in body fat.

One benefit of the lean mass changes resulting from proper application of metabolic conditioning is one that many athletes understand, but few really talk about. After all, it’s become a little bit politically incorrect. I’m talking, of course, about the intimidation factor.

Few things are more intimidating to a less-conditioned athlete than the raw, hungry look of a lean, muscled athlete. Even athletes who aren’t “huge” look far more intense and scary when their muscles are showing. Any football player who has lined up across from someone whose muscles are on full display can attest to that…

5. Sport – or context-specific skill development – Especially with metabolic conditioning targeting the ATP-CP system, sport- and context-specific skills are often ideal for inclusion in programming. Because the work time is relatively short and the rest time fairly long, athletes can focus on perfecting skills like jumping, landing mechanics and direction change without losing any of the other benefits of metabolic conditioning.

If you have athletes preparing for combines, showcases or other recruiting-related or similar events, using metabolic conditioning to improve those skills is ideal. Drills like the Pro Shuttle, 40/60 yard dash starts, 10 yard splits, L Drills and others can be connected with other activities to increase metabolic conditioning while perfecting important skills.

You can even tie in sports skills like hitting a ball, ball handling skills, shooting or sprawling for wrestlers or shooting for soccer, lacrosse or hockey players with other conditioning activities to achieve the desired met con effect.

6. Improvements in brain chemistry – After accounting for stress and other life factors, we know that intense exercise like metabolic conditioning will improve the neurotransmitters in the brain, CNS and even the gut. Endorphins are released during and after intense exercise. Serotonin and dopamine levels are improved through exercise that pushes us near the point of physical exhaustion.

With regard to gut hormonal health, metabolic conditioning may be just what your athlete needs. Shorter duration, higher intensity exercise is believed by some alternative medicine doctors to “shock” serotonin receptor cells in the gut lining and improve the flow of gut serotonin. Long duration exercise, however, has been shown to damage gut linings and potentially lead to leaky gut syndrome. (5)

7. Improvements in cognitive function – There is so much research showing how exercise, particularly intense exercise, improves the cognitive function of the human brain that it should be a “no-brainer” by now. Sorry, bad joke. Neural pathways involved in working memory, recall, analysis and problem-solving all benefit from exercise. Some of the influence is hormonal, while some is structural and energy-related.

Another important way cognitive improvement happens is via an increase in Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF. BDNF is a brain protein which acts on specific neurons to improve long-term memory. It also has positive effects on the hippocampus, cortex and forebrain. All these areas are crucial to learning, memory and higher thinking. BDNF also has the ability to stimulate neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells from stem cells.

Moderate to intense exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on levels of BDNF in the brain and blood. This indicates a neuroprotective function for metabolic conditioning. (6, 7)

Are you with me that metabolic conditioning isn’t just for overweight, swimsuit model wanna-bes yet? You should be, or at least open to the idea.

Metabolic Conditioning workouts should be designed with the needs of the user in mind. The activities in which the exerciser will engage outside the gym should influence what is included in the training program. In the next part of this series, I’m going to show you how I use metabolic conditioning in my athlete’s programs.

We’ll review some general guidelines for designing these modules. I’ll also give you some sport-specific examples of skill-building through metabolic conditioning and a few ready-to-use programs for you to swipe and try.

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

 

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

 

  1. Plisk, S.S. (1991). Anaerobic metabolic conditioning: A brief review of theory, strategy,
    and practical application. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, 5(1), 22-34
  2. Levine, J.A. (2004). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Nutrition Reviews, 62(7), S82-S97.
  3. Brooks, GA, and Mercier, J. Balance of carbohydrate and lipid utilization during exercise: The “crossover” concept. Journal of Applied Physiology 76(6): 2253-2261, 1994.
  4. Herbert, P., HIIT produces increases in muscle power and free testosterone in male masters athletes. Endocrine Connections, Vol 6, Iss 7, Pp 430-436 (2017)
  5. R. J. S. Costa, R. M. J. Snipe, C. M. Kitic, P. R. Gibson. Systematic review: exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome-implications for health and intestinal disease. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 2017
  6. Szuhany KL, Bugatti M, Otto MW (January 2015). “A meta-analytic review of the effects of exercise on brain-derived neurotrophic factor”. Journal of Psychiatric Research
  7. Phillips C, Baktir MA, Srivatsan M, Salehi A (2014). “Neuroprotective effects of physical activity on the brain: a closer look at trophic factor signaling”. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience.

Metabolic Conditioning for Athletes, Part 1 – Phil Hueston

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

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

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

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

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

What is energy, exactly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nucleoside. Ribose.

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

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

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

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

Blast off – Phosphagen (ATP-CP) System

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

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

It’s a real Jerry Maguire kind of moment…

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

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

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

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

The “in-betweener” – Glycolytic System

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

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

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

metabolic conditioning for soccer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going the Distance: Aerobic System

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

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

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

Here’s how it happens:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming next…

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

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

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

 

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

Building Agility From the Ground Up – Brett Klika

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Body awareness activity: Body Letters

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

Visual awareness activity: *Group Tag (Hand Signs)

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

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

Directional awareness activity: *Quick Feet Reaction

 

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

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

Temporal awareness activity: *My Gears

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

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

Spatial awareness activity: Hop Guesser:

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

Proprioceptive awareness activity: 4-Way Balance 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Top 10 Tips for Training Young Athletes – Jim Kielbaso

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

kids meeting athletes

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

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

Periodization as a Strategy, Not a Tactic – Karsten Jensen

Do you apply periodization to the training of your athletes? Or do you believe that periodization does not apply to youth athletes?

Periodization is a controversial topic within our field. Below are some of the critique points that I have come across in recent years:

  • Periodization is not scientifically proven.
  • Periodization is overrated and over studied.
  • Periodization is too rigid and does not work for our athletes.
  • Periodization is too time-consuming.
  • Periodization is too complex and only for people in lab coats

These critique points may be true if your understanding of Periodization is limited to Periodization as a tactic. However, Periodization is fundamentally a strategy.

From my personal experience as a strength coach, author, and lecturer over the last 25 years, I have found it incredibly useful – even absolutely necessary – to distinguish between principles, strategies, and tactics in order to really understand a particular topic.

Thus, the purpose of this article is to

  • Highlight the difference between principles, strategies, and tactics as it applies to Periodization.
  • Show that you can reject any one example of Periodization as a tactic, but you cannot reject Periodization as a strategy (and this insight will be extremely helpful)

What is a principle?

A “principle” is a basic truth, law or assumption (thefreedictionary.com).  first principle is a basic, foundational, self-evident proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption.  

What could be deemed a first principle of athletic development? I recommend that you answer that in detail for yourself in a way that resonates with your work.

My background is strength and conditioning, not coaching a specific sport. Thus, here is a suggestion for a 1st Principle of  Athletic Development as centered on the physical side:

Optimal development of bio-motor abilities (physical qualities) to support the ability to practice and compete (the specific sport/s) – with maximal quality – at the desired level, at a given age.

You could say that a principle is vague. However, the above phrase invites critical questions and consequences:

  • What does optimal mean? It is the balance of all involved abilities that support the young athlete’s ability to practice and compete.
  • Supporting the ability to practice and compete with maximal quality implies prevention of injury and the nourishment of motivation, joy and confidence.

Thus, the 1st Principle defines the overall objective of our work as coaches.

How are we going to achieve this objective?

 

Figure 1: The overarching task is defining the 1st Principle. The strategy is chosen to achieve the 1st Principle. Tactics are used to execute the strategy.

 

A Strategy is Chosen to Achieve the Objective That is Defined by the 1st Principle

A strategy is the larger, overall plan designed to achieve a major or overall aim. The strategy will be comprised of several tactics.  A strategy is broad, big-picture and future-oriented (1)

The training literature contains multiple but related definitions of Periodization. (2)  Fundamentally, the word periodization means “a division in to periods.”  

If you do a web search with the word periodization, you will find books on sports training, history and geology.

Thus, “periodization” is a word similar to “categorization” (dividing items – for example, apples divided into categories) or classification (for example dividing athletes into age groups, levels or weight classes).

From the definition of periodization as a ‘division into periods” it becomes clear that, fundamentally, periodization is a strategy for organizing long-term training by dividing the training into shorter periods.

We can take this definition a step further and suggest a more training-specific definition of periodization:

“Periodization is a division of a longer training cycle into periods with different goals, structures, and content of the training program.  When these periods are sequenced in such a way that the training adaptations in one period prepare the athlete for the training in the next period, then the selected physical abilities are optimized at the goal-attainment date.”

The above definition highlights why periodization as a strategy is virtually unavoidable unless your training programs always:

  • Are geared toward the same training adaptation
  • Have the same structure
  • Have the same content

Tactics

Clearly, there are more decisions to be made before we have a finished program. These more detailed decisions are the “tactics.” The strategy can be executed with different tactics.  Tactics are plans, tasks, or procedures that can be carried out. Tactics may be part of a larger strategy.

So far, Linear Periodization, Reverse Linear Periodization, Undulating Periodization, and Block Periodization are the only systems that have been researched in controlled studies. These systems are all periodization tactics.

I have never seen a critique of periodization as a strategy. When I have seen a critique of periodization, the critique has been of a particular periodization tactic.

As a trainer, you can look at any one of those systems and decide whether or not they are not ideal tactics for the athletes that you work.

However, once you make that choice, you still have to decide how are you going to organize your long-term training?

Conclusion

This article described a hierarchy of 1st principles, strategy, and tactics. It made the argument that periodization is fundamentally a strategy. Yet, the critique of periodization is typically centered on tactics rather than principles or strategies.

A “next step” in exploring periodization is the question about how to divide the long-term period into shorter periods as well as a deeper look into the characteristics of the mentioned periodization systems.  More to come….

  1. https://www.diffen.com/difference/Strategy_vs_Tactic
  2. Jensen, K. Appendix 1. Periodization Simplified: How To Use The Flexible Periodization Method on the Fly. www.yestostrength.com

 

Karsten Jensen has helped world class and Olympic athletes from 26 sports disciplines since 1993. Many of his athletes have won Olympic medals, European Championships, World Championships and ATP Tournaments.

Karsten is the first strength coach to create a complete system of periodization, The Flexible Periodization Method – the first complete method of periodization dedicated to holistic, individualized and periodized (H.I.P) training programs.

Karsten shares all aspects of The Flexible Periodization Method (FPM) with his fellow strength coaches and personal trainers through The Flexible Periodization Method workshop series (Levels I-VIII).  Find more information at www.yestostrength.com.

Jumping Progressions – Jordan Tingman

When a new athlete comes into a collegiate program, one thing I have noticed is their lack of ability to properly execute correct jumping mechanics. When jumping incorrectly, an athlete is at a much higher risk of injury, but also is at risk of not achieving their full athletic potential.

 

These are the flaws I noticed most often in jumping technique:

  • Valgus knees on load and explode
  • Lack of postural strength
  • Poor eccentric strength
  • Not getting to full extension on explode
  • Loading with the upper body dropping forward and not with the legs
  • Incorrect arm swing on load to explode
  • A lack of single leg strength

When helping an athlete learn how to properly execute a jump of any sort, there are simple steps to break down any jump to ensure they are executing each rep efficiently.

Regardless of how much you break down a jump, overall strength training and core training are required to build strength and kinesthetic awareness to each individual, so pairing these jumping progressions with a complete strength development program would be the most beneficial. Without a strong base of strength and body awareness, power will almost always leak somewhere.

Many of the ideas in this article have originated from watching the videos and ideas of Coach John Garrish at North Broward Preparatory School in Florida.

Step 1: Eccentric Loading

(LOAD)

The first step to any jump is to eccentrically load the legs.  Many athletes tend to load into a valgus knee position during the rapid eccentric pre-stretch, so practicing this step on its own can be very beneficial. If you are still having problems with valgus, giving them a tactile cue, such as a band around the knees, can help them feel whether they are pressing out against the band and away from a valgus knee position.

+With hands on hips, have the athlete start in a normal athletic position.  On cue, have them rapidly bend at the knees and hips to create tension in the legs, loading them while maintaining proper alignment in the knees.

+If your athlete is struggling to even maintain correct loading in this position, stay here until they master it with proper technique.  Too often, we are in a rush to progress, but there is rarely a need to rush this process.  

This short video demonstrates how to perform this part of the movement.

Step 2: Vertical Jump from Non-Counter Movement (NCM) Load

(LOAD/PAUSE/EXPLODE) (NCM Vertical Jump)

After your athlete properly executes the load position, the next step in the progression is to explode. A great way to make sure your athlete is properly executing each step of the vertical jump is to add a pause following each position.  This is not how an athlete will actually jump in competition, but it’s an excellent way to slow the process down so that athletes can concentrate on fundamentals.  

+ Start the athlete with hands on hips and cue the load position explained above.  Have them pause for one second at the bottom to maintain a correct loading position.  On your “Explode” cue, have them rapidly straighten their legs to jump as high as they can without arm movement.

+ One thing to look for while the athlete is EXPLODING, is full leg and hip extension.  Are they straightening their legs out and getting their hips through? Full leg and hip extension ensure proper firing of all leg and glute muscles. Often times, athletes will only lockout at the knees and miss getting through with the hips, limiting full power potential.

+ Another thing to look for is whether the athlete is extending with their legs or their upper body.  Many times, an athlete lacking strength will overcompensate by violently throwing the upper-body backward vs. extending through the legs and hips.  Watch the sequencing of the jump to see if they are using the upper body to a greater extent than the legs.  

Step 3: Vertical Jump from NCM Load to Stick

(LOAD/ PAUSE/EXPLODE/STICK)

Once the athlete has properly completed steps 1-2 efficiently, we can add in an eccentric “stick” landing at the end. Continue to cue the athlete through each part of the jumping progression, then at the end of the EXPLODE the goal is to return to the initial LOAD position by sticking the landing.  Have them hold this position until your call.  You may have to demonstrate what this looks like so they understand how to stick the landing under control.  Explaining that it will look like a gymnast sticking a landing helps many athletes visualize what they should look like.  

+Ensure the knees are driving out upon landing rather than in a valgus knee position. Correct knee positions in the final stick.

Step 4: Add in Arm Action

Once your athlete has efficiently completed steps 1-3, you can add in violent arm action on the load to explode. Have the athlete violently throw the arms long and back behind the pockets on LOAD, then violently reach them up in cadence with EXPLODE.

Step 5: Make it quicker

You can have your athlete start on your call, but allow them to move through the entire sequence on their own with proper mechanics.  Make sure you are still correcting any imperfections while they do it on their own.  Once the athlete has gone through the progression, he/she should start to self-correct so there’s no need to over-coach at this point.  Still, when you see an athlete making the same mistake over and over again, it’s important to give them feedback because they may not even know they are making the mistake.  

Step 6: Try it with different jumps

+You can use these progressions for a wide variety of jumps including Broad Jumps, Lateral Jumps, single leg jumping variations and so on.

+Incorporate mini hurdles

+Try a jump combo (ex. Depth jump to stick to box jump to stick)

When eventually adding in boxes, make sure it’s a box that the athlete can safely jump to rather than struggling to land on top. The box should be just high enough that the athlete should be able to fully extend the hips and jump onto the box, landing safely in an athletic position on top of it.  There is no need for athletes to pull their feet up and land in a deep squat position on top of a box.  This will only get athletes thinking about pulling their feet up instead of executing the actual jump with good technique.  

Once your athlete can successfully complete a jump, you can try adding in different variations such as medicine balls to perform a slam to vertical jump or a lateral slam to lateral jump.

This video shows several examples of the jumps discussed above, but you can get creative and more sport-specific as your athletes progress.

Jordan Tingman – CSCS*, USAW L1, ACE CPT, CFL1 is a graduate of Washington State University with a B.S. in Sports Science with a Minor in Strength and Conditioning. She completed internships with the strength & conditioning programs at both Washington State University and Ohio State University, and is currently a Graduate Assistant S & C Coach at Eastern Washington University.

 

The IYCA Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course is the most comprehensive and scientifically sound speed & agility certification available.  With several hours of video instruction and a 249-page manual, you’ll be an expert in teaching and developing speed, agility, and explosiveness in athletes of all ages.  Learn more about the CSAS certification by clicking the image below.

 

Plyometrics – 3 Ways They May Be Hurting Your Athletes: Phil Hueston

I cringed and threw up in my mouth a little when he said it. “I know my girls are ready to play. We do thirty minutes of plyometrics at every practice, three days a week.” The earnest young volleyball coach went on to tell me he’d done his research and had “adapted” the program done by a certain university women’s volleyball program.

By adapted, he meant he threw away all the functional strength training, core training and stability-oriented training that laid the foundation for the plyometric work. He meant that he ignored the tissue quality, corrective exercise and active recovery work done by that university’s female volleyball players.

What he meant by “adapted” was that he took what was about 5-10% of a training program meant for year-round, single-sport athletes who were grown adults and made it essentially 100% of the training program. Thirty minutes of jump training, plyometrics and knee pounding fun and games.

At the start of every practice.

For 11-year-old girls.

The “old me” would have wanted to throat-punch this guy. I know that because the “new me” kind of wanted to as well…

But I took a deep breath and said: “tell me more.” And he did.

His description of his “program” gradually morphed into his complaints that his girls weren’t taking the program seriously. He knew that because of the number of ankle and knee injuries his team was suffering. “We do the plyos to prevent injury.”

In my head, I could hear myself saying, “no coach, you do the corrective exercise, core training and strength training to prevent injury. You do the plyometric training to improve athletic expression, hone context-specific athletic skills and improve explosive power.”

But hey, he did have a degree from the University of Search Engines…

So how do coaches and trainers go so wrong with the use of plyometrics in training programs? Good question! There are several key ways that we can hurt athletes with plyometrics. They are:

  • Choosing inappropriate activities for the athletes in question
  • Excessive volume
  • A lack of foundational strength & power

Let’s look at these 3 areas, along with some simple remedies for “plyometric overdose:

1. Choose your weapons carefully – Choose appropriate activities to train plyometrics. There are a number of factors impacting selection. These include age, gender, developmental level, training age, sport, and overall training and practice load.

If you’re working with 6 – 8 year-olds, your best bet for a plyometric activity may be a simple quick step drill or a single-leg “hop around” activity. Working on low-level, static plyometric activities with your youngest clients can help them develop movement skills in the frontal plane as well as a degree of reactive “stiffness” in the ankle and knee.

Once established, this increased ability of connective tissues to receive stress, create stored potential energy and then release it will become a key element in overall increased force production.

For older athletes, carefully increase the intensity and complexity of the activities. Pay close attention to developmental levels and responsiveness to coaching. Progress from static quick steps to transitional quick step movements in the frontal or sagittal plane, allowing your athletes to learn how to manage reactive and responsive forces in small amounts first.

Try progressing your athletes to “2-to-1’s” as they exhibit mastery in lower level plyometric activities. This one is simple. Have your athlete start in an athletic stance and perform a ¼ to ½ squat followed by a moderate height/intensity jump. Landing on one foot, the athlete is directed to “stick and hold” the landing for 2-3 seconds. It’s easy to progress and very effective.

Progressions include the coach calling out the landing foot as the jump is initiated, jumps over a low hurdle, jumps in the frontal or transverse plane, and the addition of either a ball to catch or other secondary, low-degree-of-difficulty activity.

In what will undoubtedly be my “burn-him-at-the-stake” statement, I will say without hesitation that I never use Box Jumps with my clients. The Box Jump might be the least useful “plyometric” activity I can think of. If you want a great expression of high-speed hip flexion and panic-driven self-preservation, fine. But as an expression of plyometric power and ability, the Box Jump (at least as it is taught and used in most gyms and programs I’ve seen) is weak, at best, and dangerous/counter-productive at worst.

That being said, I’ve got a gym full of plyo boxes, so what now? Don’t jump ON the boxes.  Instead, teach athletes how to decelerate and reactively explode coming OFF the boxes. Try these:

Stability Tempo Deceleration Jump – the athlete gets on a 12-18” box and “steps” off, landing on both feet. The goal is to decelerate the landing at a controlled and decreasing speed as the athlete nears the bottom of the squat position. So, moving slower as they get nearer the floor. Progress to single leg, lower to higher boxes as mastery is acquired.

Depth to Broad Jump – using the same start as above, the athlete explodes out of the bottom of the landing position into a broad jump. Progress to single leg, lower to higher boxes and jumps in the frontal plane.

Zercher-Loaded Seated Vertical Leap to Parallel Landing – Sit the athlete on a 18-24” box, holding a 10-30 lb slam ball or sandbag Zercher style. The athlete is instructed to drive through the heels and perform a vertical leap, minimizing forward lean during the takeoff process. Land into a parallel squat position.

If girls with minimal training exposure are the target audience, age and gender combine to influence activity selection. Q-angle in girls increases as girls enter, and pass through puberty. So girls in the 6 – 9 age group will likely exhibit less Q-angle related movement deviations than girls in older groups. Take what you observe, place it within the template of what we know and decide on activities accordingly.

2. Minimal effective dose – Contrary to one of the most popular (if largely unspoken) mantras in the fitness world, more is NOT better. In fact, when it comes to plyometric training, more is probably far worse than not enough, and certainly not as effective as just right.

So work on the Goldilocks concept – not too hot, not too cold, just right.

Plyometric activities should be dependent on the phosphagen, or ATP-PC energy system for fuel. So rep counts for most high-intensity plyo activities should be kept in the 3-8 range. If you need proof of that, watch an athlete perform an “A” skip over about 25 yards or so. Note the execution speed (rather than the speed across the ground) as the athlete gets into the 15-20 total rep range. You’ll notice the movement pattern change slightly and the execution speed of each rep begins to slow. What began as an effortless, flowing movement becomes more labored.

And yes, I’m aware that Olympic, pro and elite athletes may be exceptions to this rule. How many 10- or 15-year-old pro athletes are you training?

The “A” skip is a fairly low-level plyometric activity with a moderate level of pattern complexity. You can imagine how quickly the energy system, reactive pattern, and stabilization for a frontal plane single-leg hurdle hop might break down, right?

I’d much rather get 6 well-executed movements than 20 reps of gradually decreased proficiency due to system fatigue.

The other simple thing to remember is that, even when performed well, plyometrics are subject to plenty of multi-planar forces. They are, then, high-risk as well as high-reward.

So from the simple standpoint of risk mitigation, fewer, better-executed reps makes more sense than a pile of crappy ones.

Plyometrics are not conditioning activities. They are context-specific, skill development activities. Use them wisely and sparingly.

3. Foundation firstPossibly the most oft-committed sin of programming plyometrics is that of putting the skill before the foundation. Movement must dominate and strength levels must be adequate to deal with the increased ground reaction force.  If you want your athletes to become great jumpers, weak legs just ain’t gonna cut it. It astonishes me how many coaches (sports or strength/performance) just don’t realize that.  Let the intensity of your plyometric activities increase as the stability, strength, overall movement quality of your athletes rise. Without adequate stability and strength, the risk of injury from plyometric activities begins to outweigh the benefits. For most of my athletes, single leg stance is the first skill to master. It doesn’t sound like much, but SL stance is critical to the brain creating the proper recruitment patterns for knee stability. Younger athletes will struggle more with it, but you should be able to challenge your older athletes pretty early in your program. One of my favorite ways to connect stability patterns to movement is to connect a stability tempo exercise with a strength tempo lift, followed by a low rep plyometric activity. By using movement patterns with some overlapping neural pathways, we connect the stabilization patterns to the explosive ones, increasing quality and results overall.

The bottom line is that without a foundation of strength, plyometrics are not only risky, but they’ll also never be as effective as possible.


Strength is king and every other athletic skill is subject to it.

Plyometric exercises are a great way to express and develop athletic power. I’ve suggested some ways to avoid the potential pitfalls of plyo training, and I hope this helps improve your programming.

In any case, let’s do less “adapting” and pay more attention to the details – and our athletes.

Keep the faith and keep after it!

 

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

 

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

Is the Guru Always Right? – Brett Klika

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds are, we’re both right.

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

Medicine Balls

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

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

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

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

Back-pedaling

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

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

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

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

Resistance Tubing with Handles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quickly answer these questions:

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

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

These tools can be different for everyone.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 6-9

Game/exploration-based fitness activities:

Frog Hops:

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

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

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

Ages 10-13

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

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

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

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

Ages 14-18 years old:

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the 1-foot eyes-closed version:

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Use your hips, not your knees!”

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

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

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

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

It’s easy to chalk this disconnect up to:

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

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

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

“Pre-load” Vocabulary When Coaching Young Athletes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Body Part Callouts Video 

Body Moves Video

Stop!

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

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

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

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

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

Identify the Obstacle

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

“Backboard!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Creating Athlete Buy-In with Joe Powell

How do you get athletes to like and trust you?

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

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

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

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

You Can’t Microwave an Athlete – Jim Kielbaso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what are you supposed to do about it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squat spot

Photo Credit: RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Skill Reinforcement: “Ooh, Shiny” Doesn’t Work – Phil Hueston

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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)?”

  1. 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 phil.hueston@hotmail.com

 

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

Physio Ball Exercises: Training Options – Joe Powell

Physio Ball Exercises – The physio ball is an extremely versatile piece of equipment that is used for a multitude of purposes across a broad range of professional fields. It is commonly referred to by a host of different names which is fitting given its wide range of usage. You may know the physio ball as an exercise ball, swiss ball, balance ball, or therapy ball, among many other names depending on its intended use. Within the strength and conditioning field alone, physio ball exercises can be used for a wide range of purposes. The versatility and practicality of a physio ball, paired with its relative affordability for large quantities, makes it a staple in many weight rooms.

Purpose and Practical Uses:
For S&C practitioners, physio ball exercises are most commonly used for improving stability, balance, coordination and even strength training. Due to the fact that it is a ball, and thus an extremely unstable surface, it is not an ideal piece of equipment for improving general strength and power for an athlete. However, the physio ball can still be used for strength training by focusing on the core and its associated muscles, as well as improving posterior chain and inner thigh strength.

Athletes undergoing rehab assignments often benefit from using a physio ball, as the unstable surface helps activate deep or weakened musculature from injury or infrequent use.  It is also used as a prehab or injury prevention tool when placed into a training program. The physio ball relies on the athlete to activate specific musculature used for balance and stabilization and therefore, can be used for pre-activity activation as well. Common musculature that can be activated via stabilization are the transverse abdominis, multifidi group and the hip rotators.

General Physio Ball Exercises to Perform:
Core exercises: rollouts, circles, alphabet, numbers, knee tucks, pike-ups, V-ups, back extensions, oblique crunches, oblique iso-holds, P-Ball exchanges (hands to feet) and prone marches








Lower-body Physio Ball Exercises: Groin squeezes, rear foot elevated squat, single-leg groin push away, straight-leg bridge, bent-leg bridge and hamstring curls






Upper-body Physio Ball Exercises: Upper back work (I,Y,Ts) (thumbs up raise for mid trap, pinkies up raise for rhomboids), partner movement stabilization high plank, and wall slide shoulder activation



Modifications for usage:
The physio ball may be used in conjunction with other equipment (i.e. dumbbells), however, just because it is possible does not necessarily mean it is always appropriate. Whenever using another piece of equipment with the physio ball, be very cautious of problems that may occur because of its unstable surface. The physio ball is not recommended for use to gain absolute strength or power, however, it can be used as a means to sub-maximally resistance train.

A great modification for usage is to teach certain exercises such as a squat. When the physio ball is against the wall it allows for a beginner, or someone who needs no added resistance, to achieve appropriate depth while still being supported by the ball.

Programming Purposes:

As previously mentioned, the physio ball is not the ideal tool to build absolute strength and power for athletes, so basing your entire program around it is not recommended if those are your goals. However, physio ball exercises can serve a great purpose and are an excellent supplement to most workout programs.  Based on their low cost, a physio ball is also a great way to add programming options on a limited budget.  They also give coaches the opportunity to develop young athletes without traditional weights.

The most practical usage of the physio ball will typically be late in the workout after any explosive lifts or multi-joint strength/power exercises are completed. Physio ball exercises are typically reserved for accessory work, placed within super-sets or monster-sets, and are great for any type of circuit training. The majority of the exercises utilizing the ball will be bodyweight, and experienced athletes can do higher-rep schemes to reach volitional failure.  Depending upon training age and caliber of athlete, the physio ball may be purposefully used earlier in a workout to fulfill needs that benefit proprioceptive qualities.

As with any piece of equipment, the sky is the limit in terms of usage. Be creative and imaginative with its use, but always make sure to have a valid reason behind anything you do with an athlete.

Joe Powell is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Utah State University.  He formerly held a similar position at Central Michigan University where he also taught classes in the Department of Health and Human Performance.  Joe is a regular contributor to the IYCA Insiders program and has been a huge part of bringing the Behind the Science series to the IYCA.  He is also the author of the IYCA Guide to Manual Resistance Strength Training.  Get more of Joe’s contributions in the IYCA Insiders membership.

Athlete Development Model – Jim Kielbaso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Creating a Program for the Multi-Sport Athlete – Jordan Tingman

Multiple-sport athletes in the high school setting are extremely common. However, coaches may find it hard to create a training program that can cater to the various requirements each sport demands.

As strength and conditioning professionals, our job is to create a comprehensive training program for these athletes. The goal is to build their baseline of training, make them fundamentally sound and progress their movement throughout their program.  Multi-sport athletes should be able to learn their weaknesses, balance them out structurally and exercise different degrees of motion to become a better overall athlete. These concepts are key when creating a program that will increase performance but also decrease the likelihood of injury.

Getting Started
As you get started with a new, multi-sport athlete, ask these questions:
What have you done to train in the past? What sports do you play? Have you ever worked with another strength and conditioning professional/had any formal training outside of your sport?

No matter the age of the athlete, it is important to consider the training age of the individual that you are working with to help you gauge the intensity of the program.  More often than not, the high school athlete has limited resistance training experience, speed and acceleration work or conditioning anywhere outside of their school sport coach.

Asking what sports they play can help you understand the demands that are being placed on them and the types of movement preparation or accessory exercises you may want to incorporate into their training program.

What injuries or structural issues have you had in the past?

Many athletes have experienced some sort of pain or injury throughout their young career and need help regaining strength or motion, so it is important to create programs that will aid in resilience. Having a complete knowledge of their injury history allows you to prepare for specific imbalances or overcompensations that we can help fix.

What are some things you would like to improve?

Try to have the athlete get specific.  Drill down by asking follow-up questions like “Are their plays you feel like you can’t make that you’d like to be able to next season?”  Depending on their goals, they may want to focus on gaining greater performance in specific areas and you must create a program that can cater to those needs.

If they’ve trained in the past, what kinds of training have they enjoyed/hated in the past?

Incorporating their interests is a great way to engage and empower an athlete. If they have had no formal training, ask what types of things they enjoy doing in their sports practices or have a list of ideas ready to discuss with them to gain a better idea of what they like.

How often can they train with you each week?  What is their practice schedule?

This will help you know how long you will be training with them, what your program goals can be and how to program around the demands of their practice schedule.  Athletes often forget how much they’re doing outside of training and don’t understand how it all affects their results.  As a professional, you’ll have to explain this to them and help them balance all of their competing demands.

Assessment
Before starting any training program, you’ll want to have an assessment session to help you parse out any glaring concerns. You can not build a program for an individual before you have watched them move and observed their limitations.  This can be a formal assessment or simply an observation during a dynamic warm-up.  Here are some things you can do to see how the individual moves:

Take them through a basic dynamic warm up:
High Knees, Butt Kickers ,High Knee Hugs, Pendulums, Quad Stretch and Reach, Runners, Lateral Lunge and Pivot, Figure 4 + Air Squat, Carioca, Skips, Backward Run, Side Shuffle, 2 10 yard sprints

Watching an individual move through a dynamic warm-up can help you spot imbalances or movement deficiencies immediately.

Squat Assessment: Air Squat, PVC Front Squat, Back Squat, Overhead Squat


Press Assessment: PVC Overhead Press

Lunges: Lunge in place, forward lunge, backward lunge, side lunge

Mobility/Flexibility: Ankles, Hamstrings, Hip Flexors, Back, Shoulders

These are just a few exercises that can be used to spot imbalances/deficiencies before you start a training program. Understanding their needs and limitations will help you create a program that will build a better athlete.

Start Programming!
Once you have all of the things you need to know about your athlete, you can start programming.  Considering that the individual has most likely never trained outside of their sport, we need to build up their base of strength, mobility, stability, speed, change of direction and conditioning.  Because you’ll probably have very limited time with a multi-sport athlete, keeping introductory programming simple and straightforward is the most effective way to make progress.  If you plan on working with this athlete throughout the year, you’ll want to keep the volume relatively low so they can make progress without creating unnecessary fatigue.

The goal should be to elicit a training response without compromising their performance.  This can be tricky, so you’ll want to have an open line of communication regarding their competition and practice schedule.  Working them extremely hard right before an important competition can ruin their performance and possibly set them up for injury.  Instead, you’ll want to time the training sessions in a way that doesn’t overly interfere with important events.  For example, if games are played on Tuesday and Friday, training sessions would probably take place on Wednesday and Saturday so there is ample time to recover before the next competition.  Not only will this help the athlete, it will keep you in good graces with the sport coach.

It’s especially important to balance the fatigue of areas that are used heavily in a sport.  For example, you don’t want to use high-volume lower body training on an in-season track or soccer athlete who is running every day.  Similarly, you don’t want to get a baseball pitcher’s upper body sore/fatigued when they have to throw a lot the next day.

Dynamic Warm up: Get their blood flowing. Whether or not they are currently in season for a specific sport will change the way you approach the dynamic warm up. You can make it extremely basic or add elements that relate specifically to the sport they are currently playing.

Movement Prep: Use belly breathing, flow progressions and stretch variations that move through a range of motion focusing on structural imbalances, glute activation and activation of specific muscle groups desired.  Pick specific exercises that the individual can work on to increase their range of motion in troubled areas.  Your assessment will reveal these areas and allow you to pick the most important exercises for each athlete.  There are a million exercises to choose from, but you need to be extremely efficient with multi-sport athletes because they don’t have a lot of extra time and energy for training.  Address the “big rocks” first by picking the exercises that are most important.

Speed/Change of Direction: Footwork of any sort is always beneficial. Incorporating reaction drills, line drills and change of direction/acceleration drills can help prime the nervous system for training.  Communicate with the athlete and/or coach to ensure you’re not doubling up on drills that may be done during practice.  For example, a soccer coach may do a bunch of sprint work in practice.  If that “box is checked,” don’t spend as much time on linear speed work.  Instead, you may want to include more agility or reactionary work.

Resistance Training Elements: Hinge, squat, push, pull and core are simple highlights of a training program that can be done easily and efficiently. You can use dumbbells, medicine balls, kettlebells and resistance bands to build up strength before loading an athlete with a barbell.  Examples include:

Hinge: Power Exercises, Kettlebell Swings, Trap Bar Deadlift
Squat: Squats, Lunges, Single Leg Variations
Push: Overhead Presses, Bench
Pull: Row, Pulls, DL
Core: Pick exercises such as anti-rotational, core Stability, anti-extension core work.
Assistance Exercises: Include any-sport specific exercises each season that you would like to work on or movement correctives that you see fit for the individual. Fixing imbalances and utilizing smaller muscle groups can help achieve correct functional movement.

The goal of resistance training for multi-sport athletes is to focus on building up the overall strength/athleticism, not building up a sport-specific athlete. Focus on joint stability and mobility through different exercises without creating unnecessary fatigue.  You’ll want to stick with moderately heavy weight, but not take sets to failure very often.  An example would be using 80-85% of a 1RM for just 3-4 reps.  Not all exercises need to be done with heavy weight, but using a relatively high intensity with low rep ranges allows the athlete to maintain or improve strength without creating excessive fatigue.  Higher-rep lower body training, for example, can cause excess fatigue that may be great in the off-season, but can over-tax an athlete during a season.

Simple plyometric exercises: Hops, bounds, skips, pogo jumps, jump to stick, squat jumps, single leg variations, vertical jumps, medicine ball throws and tosses.

Conditioning (if necessary and time allowing): Depending on the time you have with your athlete in a training session, conditioning may or may not be a priority. Challenging your athlete with various types of conditioning that they have not been exposed to is a way to train them differently, build up their work capacity and can be a great finish to a training session.

Mixing up the Training Stimulus
Try to stay away from solely using barbells and dumbbells for every exercise. For example, instead of a walking lunge using a kettlebell in a goblet carry or various carry, try a medicine ball held to the chest, or in a different position, or using a weighted vest.  Changing it up can also be beneficial when working with younger athletes because it keeps them interested and focused on the task when it’s something they haven’t done before.  The body doesn’t care if it’s a 15 lb medicine ball vs a 15 lb weight vest, but this can keep an athlete engaged in the training because it’s interesting.

Key Notes When Training the Multi-Sport Youth Athlete
• Build up the athlete as a whole from the bottom up, build a sound-moving body, not necessarily a better football, softball, baseball, soccer player.
• Find movement or muscular imbalances that you can fix that will help them perform better in all of their sports
• Mix it up often, using various training stimuli to better train the overall movement
• Teach them to move through a full range of motion and slow things down to emphasize proper musculature firing and technique.
• Proper core stability and firing, joint stability and strength are important when it comes to injury reduction and should be highlighted in every program
• Teach healthy recovery protocols early on
• Create enough stress to stimulate adaptation without inducing unnecessary fatigue

Allowing athletes to play multiple sports is a great way to prevent overuse injuries, but training them to become better all-around athletes can be the best way to produce long-term health and success.

Jordan Tingman – CSCS*, USAW L1, ACE CPT, CFL1 is a graduate of Washington State University with a B.S. in Sports Science with a Minor in Strength and Conditioning. She completed internships with the strength & conditioning programs at both Washington State University and Ohio State University, and is currently a Graduate Assistant S & C Coach at Eastern Washington University.

 

The IYCA’s Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning textbook covers how to train the multi-sport athlete in great depth as well as many other topics related to developing athletes.  The PASC book includes contributions from 17 top professionals including college, high school and professional-level coaches.  Click on the image below to learn more:

 

Rethinking Long Term Athlete Development – Jim Kielbaso

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually, the stages looked like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social/Environmental

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

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

Members Of Female High School Soccer Team

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

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

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

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

Parental Support

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

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

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

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

Coordination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

complete athlete development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Sport Specialization: Getting Them To Listen – Brett Klika

Early sport specialization has been a hot topic for years, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.  As strength and conditioning coaches, it’s baffling when we see parents and coaches embracing the notion of early sport specialization despite the mountains of data, expert opinion, and well- reviewed evidence highlighting the downfalls.

Our heart breaks when youngsters in these situations get injured or depart from sports and physical activity altogether. The last thing we want to have to say is “We told you so.”

But, well…. “We told you so.”

Despite us “telling” parents, coaches, and our local communities about the importance of long term skill development and a well- rounded approach to athleticism, it feels like many don’t listen until it’s too late. Overcoming this communication breakdown is essential for youth strength and conditioning coaches if we are going to truly create a positive impact on the kids in our community.

How do we get the world of youth athletics to not only hear our message, but embrace it?

I discovered this communication disconnect early in my career directing the youth athletic program at Todd Durkin’s Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego. I would send kids home with printed manifestos on the importance of long term athletic development. I would share the latest research and training paradigms with coaches and parents during team meetings and “parent night” promotions.

Despite some success, I quickly realized that the volume of information provided was not the limiting factor in creating change. It wasn’t until I changed the delivery method that I was able to actually impact more parents, coaches, and teams.

The overwhelm of daily life leaves adults with a limited capacity for absorbing new information. With the opinions, recommendations, and even outright facts we hear every day, we have to apply a filter for what we trust, understand, and believe to be relevant. It’s essential we keep these three components in mind when talking with parents, coaches, and other influencers in the community.

Get Them to Trust Your Message
Obviously, parents wouldn’t let their children work with us if they didn’t trust us. However, trust is hierarchical. When it comes to information, a parent may trust what we say more than someone on the street, but the family doctor, a former or current pro athlete, or someone they hold in “celebrity” regard is going to invoke their greatest level of attention.

If this isn’t you yet, it’s important to find out where the parents and coaches you work with get the information they trust. Can you develop a relationship with these people? Letting local pediatricians and orthopedic surgeons know about your program can create both a network of trust and referral.

You may need to go broader and find/share interviews or articles with celebrity athletes or professionals associated with them that back up your approach. I’m not saying it’s fair, but a parent will pay more attention to a short interview from the Rock saying, “The People’s Elbow thinks kids should be kids” than a 5-page research-cited thesis from you on the same topic.

Developing relationships with and sharing information from people high on a public information trust hierarchy increases the likelihood this information will be absorbed. It also slowly increases your social validation as an expert and one day you won’t need the middle man!

It’s also important to continually seek opportunities to write, speak, and educate. The more your name and face is in public, the more people recognize you as an expert and take heed in what you say.

Get Them to Understand Your Message
Founder of Precision Nutrition, John Berardi once wrote “With everything you send to a parent or coach, envision them reading or watching it while waiting at a red light with a minivan full of screaming kids, radio blaring, and coffee in hand. In other words, keep it short and simple.”

Long term athletic development, or LTAD, may be the hottest water cooler talk of our industry niche. However, this term means nothing to parents. They acknowledge and react largely to what is in front of them.

For information to be absorbed and understood, it needs to be delivered concisely and in the simplest terms. If you use video, shoot for 60 seconds or less with clear visual-based information. Boil down a complex concept into terms a grade-schooler could understand. Remember, the goal is not to impress colleagues. It’s to create a ground level understanding for people with no background in our field. Just imagine if you were learning how the stock market works in 60 seconds or less. How would you want that information presented?

For written information, use a single-sided page with large-font bullet points. Infographics are more shareable across all platforms and are by far the most effective. As far as the info, consider hard statistics, clear research findings, and bold data.

Make Your Message Relevant
In order for coaches, parents, and even ourselves to value information, relevance is key. Our information should inherently answer the question “Why do I need to know this?” While general concepts provide valuable insight, adults are surrounded by general concepts. In order to make it through the filter, information must be presented in a near “first-name” basis.

For example, if sharing general statistics on injury and early sport specialization, parents may or may not raise an eyebrow. They know the information is pooled through various ages and sports across the country. However, sharing sport-specific or age/sex related statistics particularly after someone on the team has become injured has a much greater impact.

I have actually contacted local leagues and gotten injury numbers for the reported concussions, ACL injuries, and shoulder/elbow pathology and compared them to national standards. These were some of the most impactful pieces of information I ever shared.

If there is a simple movement, mobility, or other evaluation found in the literature linked to injury prevention or performance, share it with parents. I’ve done these during live “parent nights” for teams knowing 90% of the room will fail. It puts the notion of “Why is this important to me” right in front of everyone’s face.

Most importantly, listen to parent’s questions and answer them. Write down the 10 most common and answer them through the “trust” and “understand” filters. When parents solicit questions, then trust and understand the answers, it’s a win.

As you can see, educating the public takes much more than posting rants about early sport specialization on social media and bashing the local coaches who buy into it. As youth strength and conditioning coaches on the right side of the cause, we have to be lighthouses of trustworthy, understandable, and relevant information. This station is arrived at through constant learning, educating, and most importantly, listening.

Strive to improve how you share your message and soon your entire community will join your mission to inspire the kids of today to become the happy, healthy, active adults of tomorrow!

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

 

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.

Laterality in Sport – Overcoming Unilateral Dominance – Antonio Squillante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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