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A Strength Coach Career Path – A Winding Road

As the popularity of sport continues to boom across the globe, so too does the interest in pursuing a career linked to our favorite past times. Coaching, athletic training, front office personnel, and you guessed it, strength & conditioning/athletic development, have all seen meteoric rises in popularity among young adult choosing a college major and career path. Unfortunately, the number of people interested in the field compared to those who actually earn a living in it is quite unbalanced. So, why do so many individuals get turned off to these career paths and change their route altogether?  That answer is complicated and multifaceted, but perhaps the most simplified response is that there simply aren’t enough jobs to satisfy the overwhelming demand.  Because of this imbalance, it is very difficult for mediocre coaches to land a good job and stay employed.  And, when the going gets tough (because it absolutely will) the pretenders often get going… on to a different career.

To begin a career in the word of athletic development, whether it be in the high school, collegiate, professional or private sector, a hopeful coach typically has to go to lengths above and beyond what is required in other fields just to land an entry-level position. Unlike other majors, there aren’t any “exercise science job fairs” just before graduation where we land our dream jobs. This alone is a turn-off and exit sign to many hopeful S & C coaches. Essentially, many strength and conditioning hopefuls finding themselves out of the game before they even started. Internships, clinics, conferences, apprenticeships, and more free hours worked than many prisoners locked away in a penitentiary, are all commonplace for young professionals in hopes to land a graduate assistantship, and then possibly if all goes well a full-time job.

Much like life, nothing is promised in the world of strength and conditioning. Many things can go wrong along the journey to achieving one’s dream job.  I’m not here to paint a picture of doom and gloom, or to scare you off into another career.  Instead, I’d like to let you know that you’re not alone, and offer you my story as a way to inspire you to persevere through difficulties.

The road hasn’t been easy for me.  While your path won’t necessarily be the same as mine, I feel like my experiences may be able to help you to land your dream job in athletic development. I certainly haven’t had the most conventional career path, but as I reflect on it, I realize that things have fallen into place for good reasons.

What’s Your Why?

As I began my journey into S & C, the question I heard over and over from coaches, mentors, and speakers was “What’s your Why?” Three words can essentially define your entire motivation to succeed. My why was first discovered immediately after my high school sporting career had finished. I was in incredible shape after the last wrestling meet of my life, and I felt that I wanted to stay that way.   I also need to fill a void that now existed in my life. Being active my entire life, the decision was easy, and I decided to start lifting weights. Even as an ignorant teenager who sought out muscle magazines for guidance, I was able to see results quickly and I was hooked.

I also became a little bitter wondering what could have been if I had begun weight training years prior. My high school had an abysmal “weights class” that’s probably similar to many people’s experiences.  We’d basically go into the weight room with no guidance and wait for the allotted time to expire so we could all go home. It finally hit me that I was ripped off by not having a solid program in place. I immediately thought about pairing resistance training with sports, but I had no idea there was actually a career path for this. I quickly realized that my why was to be the person I wished I’d had when I was younger.

I eventually attended college at Central Michigan University and began my path toward becoming a performance coach.  After discovering that “Athletic Training” wasn’t actually learning about “training athletes” (they really need to come up with a better name) I was left incredibly frustrated and 2 credits at about $750 was wasted in my foolish attempt to take classes to become a “trainer.” Luckily, an instructor explained the difference, and I was able to start moving in the right direction.  

Never Give Up

My program was mainly designed for cardiac rehab or for those heading to PT or PA school. I started to wonder if there was a different option when I was told I should look into the “personal training” minor.  There was no mention of anything related to strength & conditioning. We had an internship supervisor, so I eagerly set up an appointment to try to find any experience in the field that I could. I was actually scolded for trying to find an internship before it was time to graduate and that I had better not seek one out until that time. I was absolutely dumbfounded and discouraged, but I refused to settle. I listened to my gut, and my first big break came shortly thereafter.

My first break came when I applied for a scholarship for 1st generation college students. During a meeting with my advisor, I explainedJim Kielbaso and Joe Powell what I wanted to do for a living.  She had no knowledge on the subject, but she referred me to Dr. Roop Jayraman who listened to my career goals and stopped me in my tracks. You see, I was applying for a scholarship that would lead me to a free Ph.D., when I told him that I wanted to “train athletes.”  He very kindly told me this scholarship probably wasn’t what I wanted, but he referred me to his friend Jim Kielbaso at a place called Total Performance.   He showed me the website and I felt like I struck gold because the training center was located a mere 10 minutes from my hometown. He gave me Jim’s contact info and set up an interview for a summer internship.  That summer changed everything for me.  

I ended up doing a totally volunteer internship at Total Performance Training Center with Jim during the summer before my senior year, and it was exactly what I needed. I finally found what I had been looking for.  It went well enough that he invited me back to work as a part-time employee whenever I could get chunks of time away from college. At the time, CMU had a very short list of internship sites for those entering the fitness field.  So, I chose to spend my post-education “required internship” at Total Performance since it was the only place that offered what I was looking for.

When my time at Total Performance was nearing an end, I was admitted to graduate school as a teaching graduate assistant at CMU where I would help teach labs for health fitness classes.  I accepted the position, and this experience really helped me hone my knowledge of exercise principles, anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics. Sure I had studied these topics before, but I firmly believe you truly understand a concept when you have to teach it. I couldn’t fake it in front of the class, and I began to get more comfortable with the science and application of exercise.

It’s not what you know, or even who you know. It’s who knows you.

Nearing the end of my first year of grad school I had two unique opportunities present themselves. Option one actually involved going on tour with the “Vans Warped Tour” rock festival. Option two was applying for an internship with the University of Michigan football team. Jim Kielbaso knew the coaching staff at Michigan and trusted me enough to pretty much get me the phone interview that secured the gig.  He also pushed me toward this option even though being on a “rock tour” sounded pretty awesome at the time.  

This was how I learned my next valuable lesson – “It’s not what you know, or even who you know. It’s who knows you.”

I know this is the case because I was told by my boss at Michigan (and now one of my mentors), Mark Naylor, that my resume looked terrible. But, because Jim vouched for me, I got a chance and was welcomed aboard at Michigan. (HUGE lesson learned here in building a resume which will be addressed later on). It was at U of M that I realized exactly where I wanted to do; I needed to be in a collegiate weight room. (Lesson in interning as much as possible to find out what fits you best in the S&C world).

As my time at Michigan was nearing its end I was preparing to return to CMU for my last year of grad school. I had done a good job, and Coach Naylor made it clear that in order to stay alive in the field I needed to find a way inside CMU’s weight room and become a part of the football program. CMU had undergone a coaching change and hired new S & C coach, Jason Novak. Jason had come to CMU after 11 years in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans. Coach Naylor did not know Coach Novak personally but had common connections. A former U of M player who now plays for the Titans happened to be the connecting factor. It turned out that a football player who didn’t even know my name helped get my foot in the door.

It once again came down to not what I knew, but who I knew and who knew me.

I interviewed for a graduate intern position and before I knew it I traded in my Maize and Blue for Maroon and Gold and was able to become a part of the strength staff at CMU. During my interview with Jason Novak he said something that will stick with me for the rest of my career. He told me he was given some incredible opportunities as a young coach and felt lucky to have some people along the way who simply gave him a chance. He also encountered those on the opposite end of the spectrum, and he had vowed to himself that he would help those out just as he was helped out when he was young. I swore to myself that when I was in a position to do so I would do the same. It’s something that I’m grateful for and just one of the countless reasons why I admire Coach Novak so greatly.

I spent the entire second year of grad school taking classes, teaching classes, and spending any free minute helping train the football team. I counted as one of the 5 strength coaches associated with football, which meant I could full-on coach and be with the team on the sidelines of games. It was a taste of exactly what I wanted to do for a career and it only strengthened my appetite to make it in the S & C field.

At the end of that year, I found myself finished with school, a masters program in hand, and no full-time coaching job lined up. This was a pretty difficult time for me because I felt like I had done everything I was “supposed” to do and things just weren’t happening.  Fortunately, there was an opening as a fixed-term faculty in the school of health sciences and I was offered a semester-by-semester contract where I taught undergraduate classes and a lab for the physical therapy students. While it wasn’t a full-time S & C gig, it allowed for me to continue working with CMU football so I embraced the opportunity with optimism.  During this year, one of my colleagues at CMU got his big break and became a full-time coach at Florida International University. His good-fortune proved to be a turning point for me as well. Since our staff was now shorthanded, I began getting compensated for being a strength coach as well as seeing my role in the S & C department increased significantly.

My time at CMU eventually evolved further than even Charles Darwin could’ve foreseen. I began as a confused undergrad who spent $750 on a course that focused on taping ankles, to being a “professor figure” and coach at my alma mater. Life was pretty good, so I spent another year at CMU.  In doing so I became a fixture in the health fitness undergraduate program, teaching and helping students in the very same situation I found myself in just a few years prior. I loved my dual role teaching and coaching, but I was burning the candle at both ends. I was putting in countless hours, working for peanuts, and it started to get to me. 

I missed out on several opportunities before I was finally able to hit pay dirt and catch my biggest, most unlikely break yet.  I interviewed for a job at Utah State University and ended up being offered an assistant coaching position with strength coach Dave Scholz. I accepted it and suddenly found myself saying goodbye to those I loved and cared for most to take an opportunity 1600 miles away. I packed up everything I could fit in my Toyota Corolla and traded in the great lakes for sprawling mountains. My life was flipped upside down, but as crazy as it may sound, it felt so very right because I had been preparing for this opportunity for years.

The point of sharing my journey was to highlight some of the moments that changed my life, share some lessons I’ve learned, and to demonstrate that things can eventually work out.  You may be struggling to open a business, land a job or make your next big move.  Wherever you find yourself, the best piece of advice I can give is never, ever give up. I was told no. I had to blaze my own trail, and I had minimal guidance until I worked hard enough (and was lucky enough) to find it.  My journey is far from conventional, but with persistence, pride and passion for everything I did, I was able to make it work. There is no set “way” in this profession, rather there is a set of intangibles we have in all of us that will serve far more important than a resume ever will. The funny thing is that if you understand that last point and work harder than the person next to you, the resume and references will have a way of filling themselves out.

In the next installment, I plan on sharing more about the lessons I’ve learned and some of the things I wish I could have done differently.  Until then…..

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.

Bodyweight Training Progressions – Jordan Tingman

bodyweight training exercises - plyo push upsAsk any strength coach, and they will tell you that most athletes lack strength, control and mobility in many basic bodyweight training exercises. Utilizing bodyweight training, “can result in both physical strength and stamina” (Harrison, 2010).  This is why bodyweight training progressions are such an important part of any strength training program.

We often think that bodyweight training is very simple, so we don’t spend much time thinking about it.  We want to rush into more advanced training methods because they seem more exciting.  Unfortunately, when we skip over fundamentals, it catches up to us down the road.  Spending time teaching and perfecting bodyweight training exercises has the potential to pay big dividends as athletes mature, so this should be an integral part of any youth training program.

When it comes to younger or female athletes, upper body exercises such as the pull up or push up tend to be difficult. With the squat, maintaining proper posture is difficult for many athletes due to a wide variety of mobility or kinesthetic awareness issues.

Instead of being taken through a proper progression, we often see athletes struggle through sloppy reps or force themselves into positions they can’t maintain.  Fortunately, there are ways to modify these exercises that allow athletes to perform them correctly while utilizing the correct muscles.

This article will highlight three of the basic bodyweight training exercises that are often performed incorrectly, and it will describe simple progressions to ensure long-term success.

Push-up:

A few of the most common flaws seen during the push up are lack of upper body strength, elbows flared out, improper hand positioning and lack of core strength to maintain stability and posture throughout the movement.

Here is an example of a proper bodyweight push up:

  • Plank position in the core is maintained throughout the entirety of the exercise.
  • Elbows are at a 45 degree or closer angle from the body, emphasizing proper use of upper body musculature, and not overstressing the shoulder joint.
  • Hands placed just under and outside the arm-pit, not even with the head like is commonly seen.
  • Body is lowered in a controlled manner until the elbow joint is below a 90 degree angle.

If an individual lacks upper body strength, the push up can be modified by elevating the surface in which the hands are placed.

This surface can be anything that is elevated and allows the individual to maintain proper core stability throughout the movement.  This could be a box, bench, or bar on a squat rack.  As strength is developed, slowly lower the angle in which the push up is done until the athlete can perform a standard push up.

If an individual lacks a lot of core stability, a banded hip-supported push up can be used.  Attach a band around the safety catches and position the athlete so it’s under the hips during the push up. This alleviates the weight of the hips and aids in maintaining the plank posture throughout the movement. This can be progressed by using smaller bands until the individual can maintain hip posture throughout the entire movement.

If an athlete can maintain core position and effectively use the upper body muscles, but simply isn’t strong enough to perform many reps, an eccentric or isometric component can help.

Have the individual perform a 3-5 second eccentric and hold in the bottom position for one second before pushing up.  This builds strength and control in all positions of the movement.  If the athlete cannot perform the concentric portion of a push up at all, performing eccentrics can build that strength.  Athletes can perform 4-8 negatives, simply lowering slowly, then “rolling” back up to the top position for the next rep.  

As a coach, you can vary the amount of time of the eccentric or isometric portion, and vary the reps depending on the capabilities of the athlete.

Pull-up:

One of the hardest, but effective bodyweight training exercises is the pull-up.  Due to a lack of upper body strength, many athletes cannot perform even a single pull-up. Those who can perform a pull up tend to do it incorrectly. The most common issues include:

  • Lack of scapular retraction
  • Inability to start each rep with full arm extension 
  • Inability to get the chin above the bar with each rep

Placing a band around the J-hooks of a squat rack will give assistance to the most difficult position of the movement. Ensure that when the individual lowers their body, they still extend their arms into the bottom position.

To strengthen different positions of the pull-up, add an isometric component at the top or middle of the exercise. This reinforces proper positioning and strength in a variety of the positions of the pull up.  Emphasizing the eccentric component throughout the full range of motion is also very helpful when building strength in the movement.

As mentioned in the section about push-ups, you can manipulate the eccentric or isometric times and the number of reps to make the exercise more or less difficult.  This will be dependent on the capabilities and strengths of the athlete.  For example, an isometric hold at the top plus a 5 second negative is a great way to develop strength in young or large athletes who struggle with pull-ups.  

Squat:

One of most popular bodyweight training exercises is the squat, but it is also the one most commonly rushed through.  The most common mistake we see here is adding a load before the athlete can even maintain correct posture in an air squat or goblet squat.

We look ask these four questions when coaching the bodyweight squat:

  • Are they maintaining an upright posture throughout the entire movement?
  • Are their heels staying in contact with the ground throughout the movement?
  • Are they properly hinging at the hip before descending into a squat position?
  • Are they able to maintain an upright posture until the parallel position of a squat?

You should be able to answer “yes” to all of these questions before loading an athlete with a barbell.

A good initial assessment is to see whether the athlete can properly execute an air squat.

In this video, the arms are out to assist in maintaining an upright posture throughout the air squat.

Feet are slightly outside of shoulder width with toes slightly pointed out. This position can vary from individual to individual depending on what their bodily mechanics look like. If their heels are coming off of the floor, their foot position may be the first thing you need to manipulate.

If an individual has trouble maintaining an upright posture to the parallel position, a good way to work on this is to have them air squat to a target.


In this video, the individual is squatting to a box slightly below the parallel position.  This reinforces the hip hinging aspect of the squat and allows the coach to cue the athlete to maintain an upright posture until the box is touched.  You can also hold the bottom position (without putting any pressure on the box) to reinforce this position and strengthen the lower back.  

You can load this movement by adding a goblet hold while the individual squats to a box. Ensure the individual does not relax the core or rock back onto the box to gain momentum before standing up.  Again, an isometric hold at the bottom can help athletes feel correct posture.  

Squatting to a box may also allow the coach to assess issues in the squatting pattern.

Then once they can maintain an upright position to a box- you can take the box away and allow them to perform a Kettlebell Goblet Squat:


If the athlete shows instability while performing this movement, add a tempo to the eccentric portion and/or an isometric hold at the bottom.  This will reinforce correct body positioning throughout the squat.


While there are many different modalities that you can use as a coach, bodyweight training is an excellent way to lay a solid foundation.  In order to slowly progress athletes in these movements, the bodyweight training progressions above can help ensure long-term progress and success.  You can also use these exercises as a part of a complete strength training program that will continually reinforce the foundation you have developed.  

Citations:

https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Fulltext/2010/04000/Bodyweight_Training__A_Return_To_Basics.5.aspx

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.  She is now working as a Graduate Assistant S & C Coach at Eastern Washington University.

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist certification is the only course available that directly addresses the needs of the high school athlete.  Learn more about the HSSCS HERE:

The Stretching Conundrum, Part 1 – Dr. Greg Schaible

Stretching for athletes can often be a polarizing topic among rehab and performance specialists. 

On one end of the spectrum you have people who seemingly hand out stretches for every injury, and think it’s the solution to every problem. On the other hand, you have people who believe that you should never stretch, and that there are no benefits to stretching whatsoever.

Before we start talking about what is right and wrong, we first need to appreciate what stretchingstretching really is, so we can discuss the potential reasons why one may choose to stretch or not to stretch.

Ultimately, people feel the need for stretching because they feel “tightness.”

The problem here is that “tightness” is felt for a variety of reasons. There are really three reasons someone would feel “tight:”

1) A muscle is concentrically oriented, or in a state of chronically sustained contraction at low levels for a prolonged time period.

2) You just performed an intense workout, and as a result, there some eccentric microtrauma to the musculature which occurred. Your intent is that the stimulus hopefully results in recovery and a net gain of strength/hypertrophy in the long run when programmed correctly. 

3) As a protective mechanism to create rigidity or control depending on the environment, task, and situation. Example: when driving in a snowstorm, the external environment can create uncertainty or lack of control. As a means of creating a more internal perception of control, the body starts to grip the steering wheel tightly.

In all three scenarios, stretching may not be the most advantageous thing to be doing.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that many people’s current understanding is that muscles either get “long” or they get “short.” While this is a simplistic way of viewing things, it does not do the body justice, and it leads to confusion when we talk about the proper application of stretching.

Muscles are either concentrically oriented or eccentrically oriented, not necessarily long or short. 

We already knew this intuitively, with the various types of muscle contractions, but this knowledge is usually not applied properly. 

This concept makes logical sense, though.  If muscles truly got longer, then we would develop a lot of “slack” in muscle tissue because the distance between origin and insertion of the muscle does not change with static stretching. 

You certainly would not want the guidewires in a bridge to develop “slack,” as the integrity of the structural support system would be lost.

So the ability to stretch further is just building an increased tolerance to an eccentrically oriented position.  The Golgi Tendon Organs learn to accept a new position.

This happens through graded and repeated exposure to stretching. However, I see two problems with this:

1) Changes in sensation are momentary – If you are stretching to provide relief to the sensation of tightness, without addressing the cause of the tightness, you are operating at the effect level instead of addressing the cause. That’s why sensation of tightness does not always go away when gradually exposed to a stretch. Maybe it does in the very immediate short term, but you have to keep applying that stimulus in order to maintain or improve. Furthermore, because you are gradually exposing the muscle to greater and greater eccentric orientation, the muscle eventually becomes exposed to prolonged low load, long duration. This can change the passive integrity of structures responsible for stability over an extended period of time. 

2) If the sensation of tightness came from a workout and eccentric damage, it does not make much sense to aggressively eccentrically elongate the muscle as means of recovery.  Eccentric activity is what caused the soreness in the first place, so additional elongation is not the answer. Simple active movement would suffice.

3) Stretching does not take into account the orientation of axial skeletal system (origin and insertion). For example, an anterior rotation of an innominate and anterior rib flare would indicate the paraspinals and quads to be in a concentric orientation of muscle via the position of axial skeletal system. The hamstrings and abdominals would be eccentrically oriented. Note: This also happens in the frontal and transverse planes not just sagittal. 

The length-tension relationships of musculature is also important to consider. The reason for differences in length-tension relationship differences is the axial skeletal positioning. Stretching does not change the position of origin and insertion. Active contraction of the eccentrically oriented musculature does, as it provides reciprocal inhibition to concentrically oriented muscles to start experiencing eccentric control. 

So this begs the question – is stretching a complete waste of time?

No, absolutely not.

Many people simply do not understand why and when to utilize stretching, and as a result, it’s performed in a meaningless or potentially even harmful way.

Stretching does not need to be overly aggressive for most people. Before ever stretching, the position of the axial skeletal system must be taken into consideration. Establishing conscious and active exercises which force individuals to display control and competency over movement within normal ranges of movement is generally the first order of business.

If the individual still wants to lightly stretch because they find it helpful to provide “looseness” or “ease of movement” in the short term, it’s certainly fine. However, there are usually other factors to consider that will more effectively and efficiently create lasting changes within someone’s movement quality such as controlled variability, strength (eccentric, concentric, isometric), force output, and capacity.

Here are a couple examples:

Hamstring Hooklying Bridge

This activity works on controlling and improving hip extension without lumbar extension. Someone who has limited hip extension may present with the quads, paraspinals, lats in a concentrically oriented position which means that the hamstrings, glutes, and abs are eccentrically positioned. This exercise reverses that equation by concentrically utilizing the hamstrings, glutes, and abs. The purpose of the pause and breathing is to work motor control in that position with different demands placed on the musculature.

Likewise, if we wanted to work on more dissociation of the femur from the pelvis. We can try and secure the pelvis with the abdominals by performing a posterior pelvic tilt (concentric activity of the abs). Then try to hold that position as the athlete performs a leg lowering activity (eccentric activity of quads). The longer the lever arm, the more demand it places on the abdominals to secure the starting position.

Wall Press Abs Bilateral Leg Lowering

There are many different examples of the two exercises listed here. Depending on the presentation and skill level of your client, you will need to know how to alter the activity and give progressions or regressions based on motor skill level. However the concepts remain the same, and you can certainly get creative with these exercises.

In part 2 of this series, we will cover more about how you can program these concepts as well as some of your more typical methods into athletes training cycles.

 

Dr. Greg Schaible is a physical therapist and strength coach specializing in athletic performance. Greg is the owner of On Track Physiotherapy and owner of the popular online education resource Sports Rehab Expert. Greg works with athletes and active individuals of all ages. As a former athlete himself, he attended The University of Findlay and competed in both Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field where he earned honors as a 5x Division II All-American and a 6x Division II Academic All-American.

Rethinking Long Term Athlete Development – Jim Kielbaso

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually, the stages looked like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social/Environmental

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

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

Members Of Female High School Soccer Team

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

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

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

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

Parental Support

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

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

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

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

Coordination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

complete athlete development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Extend Your Positive Influence Beyond Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Handshake
  • Post Workout Nutrition
  • Family Challenges  

The Handshake

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

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

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

Nutrition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Challenges  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Top 12 Posts of the Year on IYCA.org

The Free Content Section on IYCA.org has become an incredible library of quality content.  We picked out the Top 12 pieces from 2017 so you can go back and revisit anything you missed.

The contributors to the IYCA have also been outstanding this year, with professionals like Mike Boyle, Brett Klika, Ron McKeefery, Brett Bartholomew and others bringing you excellent material.  Here are the Top 12 pieces from 2016:

#12  Making a Difference – Ron McKeefery:  Legendary S & C coach Ron McKeefery talks about how important it is to make an impact on the athletes we train – right in line with everything we talk about through the IYCA.

#11  4 Simple Strategies for Increasing the Value of Your Programs – Brett Klika:  Brett’s contributions to the IYCA in 2017 have been outstanding, and this article is more of a practical business discussion on how to make your youth training program unstoppable.

#10  Strength Training Program Blueprint – Mark Naylor:  University of Michigan S & C Coach, and contributing author in Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning, Mark Naylor shares a simple way to organize your daily strength training template.

#9  Young Girl Forced Into the Splits – Bad Coaching Not Always That Obvious – Jim Kielbaso:  This was one of the most talked-about pieces of the year on IYCA social media.  This situation really hit a nerve with many coaches, but this article discussed the fact that many poor training practices are not as obvious as this.

#8  Finding Your Niche – Eric Cressey:  Eric has created one of the strongest baseball-specific training programs in the world, and he believes every coach should move toward this model.  Interestingly, though, Eric didn’t find this nice, it found him.  This piece talks about Eric’s path and some of his thoughts on finding yours.

#7  What I Learned From Coaching Kids, Again – Mike Boyle:  While most people think of Mike training elite athletes, he understands the importance of training young athletes and the IYCA mission.  Considered one of the most influential strength coaches in the industry, Mike Boyle contributed a couple of articles to the IYCA this year.  In this piece, he discussed some of the most important aspects of training young athletes.

#6  Acceleration Mechanics – Jim Kielbaso:  In this video, you can watch IYCA President Jim Kielbaso teach acceleration mechanics to a group of athletes preparing for the NFL Combine & Pro Days.  You’ll see and hear exactly how he breaks it all down in a real life situation.

#5  Haley Perlus on Mental Toughness on The Impact Show:  This was, hands-down, the most listened-to episode of The Impact Show in 2017.  With guests like Mike Boyle, Brett Bartholomew, Dan John and others, it’s impressive that Dr. Perlus had more traffic than any of them.  Maybe that’s because she dropped some serious knowledge in this episode and shared a straightforward plan for improving mental toughness in athletes.

#4  Plyometrics: The Truth & How to Use Them – Joe Powell:  In 2017, Joe Powell emerged as one of the hottest contributors to the IYCA.  He is a huge part of the monthly IYCA Insiders content, as he and Chris Beardsley tag-team the IYCA Behind the Science series.  He has also produced several additional pieces in Insiders, but this very thorough and practical article on Plyometrics was his most popular.

#3  Youth Athletic Development Fundamentals – Brett Klika:  We couldn’t pick just one piece from Brett Klika, and this 25 minute video was an absolute MUST for this list.  If you haven’t watched Brett break down the fundamentals of youth athletic development, spend some time watching now.

#2  How to Choose the Right Sports Performance Program – Brad Leshinske:  Possibly the most “useful” article of 2017 was this piece that could be added to every sports performance web site in the world.  It’s a perfect way to explain quality programs to potential clients without you having to “sell” yourself.

#1  Early Sports Specialization is Making Youth Less Athletic – Dr. Greg Shaible:  Long Term Athlete Development is one of the foundations of the IYCA, and this article by Dr. Greg Shaible explains exactly why early sports specialization is not the best path for most athletes.  Because this article encapsulated many of the most important principles the IYCA teaches, it is listed as the top piece of the content for 2017.

 

Pre-Puberty Performance Plan

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

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

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

Supercharging the Sensory System

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

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

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

 

What can we do?

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

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

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

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

Auditory Warm-Up Using Partner Cross Sound Tag

Movement variable warm up using Guided Discover

Zoo moves

Switch tag with visual cues

 

Developing Speed and Strength

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

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

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

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

 

What can we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conditioning

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

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

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

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

 

What can we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freddie Walker: Behind the Scenes – Pitt Strength & Conditioning

Freddie Walker University of Pittsburgh assistant strength & conditioning coach Freddie Walker was a presenter at the 2017 IYCA Summit and is one of 17 authors in the new Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning book.  Coach Walker has been a college strength coach for several years, but he also has a background working with young athletes.  Freddie spent two years working in high schools and with athletes as young as eight years old.  In his current position, he has worked with multiple NFL draft picks and some of the finest athletes in the world.  All of this experience gives him a unique perspective on athletic development.

In the video below, Coach Walker gives us a tour of the Pitt strength & conditioning facility and talks about how they create and organize their athletic development programs.  Getting a behind-the-scenes look at how top programs like this are organized can help high school and youth coaches learn how to organize their programs in the most efficient manner possible.

One of the most interesting and important things he says in the video is “We’re not weightlifting coaches or training power lifters.  Our guys are not here on a weight lifting scholarship, they’re here on a football scholarship.  So, everything we do is always geared toward what they need for football.”

This through process is sometimes missed by coaches who are enamored by numbers or who believe their training program is more important that the actual sport.  None of this means that you should train young athletes the same way Freddie Walker trains his athletes, but listening to top professionals discuss their programs can always teach you something.

Coach Freddie Walker authored a chapter on Athletic Assessments in the IYCA Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning book.  Click on the image below to pre-order your copy today – available only to the IYCA community.

IYCA Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning book

Mike Boyle – What I Learned From Coaching Kids, Again

In the past few months I have gone back to coaching kids. It’s something that I haven’t done in quite a while, really since the early MBSC days 15 years ago. The sad truth is the higher level you work at the more spoiled you get.  I’ve been spoiled by training primarily professional and Olympic athletes. I’ve always said that coaching great athletes can give you a false sense of your coaching skills. Dealing with athletes that have a higher training age and more athletic ability inevitably makes you take some things for granted.  Dealing with better athletes can also make you think you are a lot better coach than you might be.  Coaching kids brings you back to reality.

coaching kids at MBSCPresently I am working with players on my daughter’s hockey team that vary in age from 13-18. They are all reasonably good athletes but have a wide range of ability and experience. The majority had never been in a weightroom or picked up a weight prior to the start of our experience. As always though experience is the best teacher. And as always, the best laid plans go wrong. I must admit, I had grand visions. I am such a great teacher/ coach that I would whip this group into shape in no time. Well, maybe not. Instead, coaching kids taught or re-taught me some valuable lessons.

Things I Learned or Remembered

In-season Training– In season is a tough time to introduce any group to strength training. I was not fortunate enough to have a pre-season period. Because we were starting in-season both the girls and their coaches were worried about soreness, about muscle pulls, and about decreased performance. As a result we went with our old stand-by, the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid. Trust me, it was me that looked stupid. Thank god no one watched the first few workouts. It was like herding cats without a whip. All I could think of was “thank god no one is watching this mess.”

In order to get the workouts done after practice at the rink we went as basic as possible with nothing but sets of dumbbells that we brought to the rink and stored. We had about ten minutes after practice to get our lifts in. On the bright side, we needed no warm-up as the players came almost directly from the ice. The program consisted of two sets of squat jumps, 2 sets of split squats paired with two sets of push-ups followed by two sets of 1 Leg Straight Leg Deadlift paired with Dumbbell Rows. Ten reps for everything except squat jumps which were 3×5.  

Even in this simple setting it is tough for one coach to teach 20 girls in 10 minutes.  On day two we established a rule. Don’t talk. Try to keep quiet and do your work for 10 minutes. It worked. Things began to slowly improve. Nothing I was proud of, but a system started to fall into place. After a few workouts we amended rule 1 to read “no talking to anyone holding a weight.” This meant they could talk between sets, but not to the person lifting.

We managed to string together 1-2 workouts per week and at least get acquainted with the basics.

Big lessons? Small goals, small victories. Rome was not built in a day. The big key for me was to not get frustrated and to keep the girls improving and engaged. I had my eyes on the off-season.

Off Season

Fast forward a few weeks and we began our off-season workouts. I always say in-season training is like going to the dentist. Being an in-season strength coach is like being the dentist. People dread seeing you. You represent extra work, extra time, extra rules. Off-season is entirely different. Now, as a strength and conditioning coach, you are viewed as a person that can make a difference. We stayed with our KISS concept and continued to attack basic patterns. I quickly realized that pairs were going to be good and tri-sets bad. We could not focus on two things at once, much less three. Tri-sets were designed to get more rest between heavy sets on major exercises. Tri-sets allowed us to stay research based and get 3-5 minutes between heavy sets. If the workout challenge is neural/ motor learning, this isn’t an issue. For beginners, pairs make more sense. As coaches we can concentrate and focus on point 1 above, Keeping It Simple _________.

Basic patterns matter- we work on clean / front squat combos nearly every day. I don’t know if there are two more important exercises for young athletes. Please note, we have 15 lb bars and 5 lb training plates. Most of the girls are just getting to the 45 lb bar after about a month.

Three Big Lessons

Lesson 1- KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. In my case the stupid one was me. In order to get any learning done we needed rules. Enforce rule 1- “You can’t talk to anyone else.” As I said, after day two I softened slightly and I amended rule one. “You can’t talk to anyone who has weight in their hands.” With kids you need to really work on focus and attention. It is a constant battle. Be positive, but keep emphasizing focusing on the work and minimizing chatting with kids.

Lesson 2- Design the program for the group, don’t fit the group to the program. Ask yourself  questions like “ are they learning or lifting?” Learning takes lots of repetition. Lifting needs control of things like volume and intensity.  Ask yourself another simple question. Is the motor pattern the challenge or, is the load the challenge.  Fro most kids the challenge should be the motor pattern. You are working on teaching exercises, not strength training. There is a difference.

Also, forget mobility work and stretching if you only have an hour or less. Time is king and basics take time. Splits squats are mobility. Squats are mobility. A good basic routine is a mobility routine.

Lesson 3- When coaching kids, you might really need two programs. Program 1 is a learning program for beginners with a limited number of basic exercises done for more sets. Program 2 is a strength program. We have tried one-size-fits-all, and it doesn’t work. This summer our program will be based on proficiency and training age. Those who have been with us for multiple summers, and are proficient, will have one program. Beginners will have another. Proficiency in my book means “can they do a clean and a squat.” If they can’t, teach them. Limit variety and increase the number of sets. Nothing teach like repetition.

Side note- repetition and repetitions are not the same. We want more perfect sets. Not a few high rep sets. Create motor patterns, not stress. Three sets of five gives us fifteen quality reps, and three opportunities to coach. Two sets of ten might provide more volume but less coaching opportunity and more opportunity for technique to deteriorate.

The big takeaway? Coaching kids is tough. They will challenge all your coaching skills, and that can be really good for you.

Mike Boyle is the owner of Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning and runs the popular web-site StrengthCoach.com.  He has been the strength coach for the Boston Red Sox and Boston University.  Mike has been called one of the most influential coaches in the industry for his ability to teach, coach and explain training processes.  He has written multiple books and has spoken all over the world at conferences, clinics and seminars….and he also loves coaching kids.  Mike was a guest on Episode 3 of The Impact Show – the official podcast of the IYCA.

 

Be sure to register for the 2017 IYCA Summit, April 27-29 in Detroit, MI.  Click the image below for details.

Haley Perlus on Mental Toughness

haley perlus mental toughnessHaley Perlus got interested in mental toughness and sports psychology as a competitive downhill skier.  Her coach used an interesting tactic to motivate her, and it impacted her in a way that made her want to dedicate her life to learning more about it.  Since then, Dr. Perlus has worked with hundreds of athletes including professionals and Olympic competitors.

Dr. Perlus has a way of breaking down mental toughness into easily understandable points that coaches, trainers and even parents can use to help athletes prepare for practice or competition.  This episode of The Impact Show will give you a deeper understanding of sports psychology and will probably get you interested in learning more about some of the techniques involved in mental training.

Please listen below directly from this page or go directly to iTunes to subscribe to The Impact Show.

If you’d like more information from Haley Perlus, check out the IYCA Mental Toughness Course she produced.  It has gotten rave reviews from our members, and it will give you the knowledge to make a difference with your clients immediately.


Acceleration and Strength: The Physical Attributes We Truly Covet

JC Moreau, Founder and Director, Strength U

 Perhaps the most common question I get from coaches and parents is “how do I get my son or daughter faster/quicker/jump higher?” They are often surprised by my response, as well as what I am about to discuss in today’s article. My answer is typically “get them stronger” and that is usually met with a look of confusion, so I elaborate.  In the past, I’ve written about the values of squatting through a larger range of motion than simply to 90 degrees, I explained in greater detail how strength is undeniably effective at developing speed, quickness and vertical jump height in athletes, especially young ones. What I did not discuss was the next part of my answer to that question.

I typically answer that my primary concern is typically more about developing the athlete’s ability to accelerate and decelerate and that this is largely accomplished with strength work in addition to drills that focus specifically on these skills, rather than top end speed. The reason for this is quite simple. Nearly every sport requires quick bursts of speed over 1 to 15 yards or the ability to stop on a dime and then change direction and accelerate again.  In other words, the world’s greatest 400-meter sprinter will be quite average at soccer, football, baseball, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, or any other running sport if he or she cannot stop quickly, change direction, and quickly accelerate. If you are having a difficult time envisioning this, simply think of the great running backs in the NFL or point guards in the NBA. Many of them do not run a 4.4 40 yard dash (VERY few do). However, most can hit top speed in a few steps, stop, cut, and hit top speed again very quickly and efficiently.acceleration

So how do you develop these things?  By training acceleration and deceleration mechanics, and strengthening the movements and positions that maximize the athlete’s ability to perform these skills.

Strength is a big part of this for a couple of reasons. First, acceleration and top-end speed are both a result of how much force can be produced through the foot at foot strike and how efficiently the body can utilize that force. There are many factors that play into this, but strength, posture, and body position are the most critical. What I want to focus on in this article are the acceleration drills we like to work on in order to maximize the force that is created and ideally learn how to create more and/or waste less. Assuming two athletes are the same size and exhibit similar strength and muscle fiber composition (ratio of fast to slow twitch), there are a few mechanical and structural factors that will impact the ability to accelerate and/or decelerate. Those we tend to focus on are body position/posture, knee drive, foot position, and arm swing.

When elite level sprinters run to 100-meter dash they are typically not upright until at least 35+ meters into the race. The reason is simple: in order to accelerate, the body has to be in a position that allows the athlete to apply force into the ground in both vertical (downward) and horizontal (backward) directions. This is a simple concept because most athletes will quickly understand that if you push straight down you will go straight up.

One of the first things all athletes must be taught is the correct body position required for ideal acceleration. To do this there are several drills and training aides that can be used and the most simple and readily available is a wall. By simply leaning forward at somewhere between 45 and 60 degrees, and keeping the body tight (as if doing a plank) from head to heel the athlete is now in a great position. From this position we have the athlete work on basic leg drive with the knee up and heel under the glute of the raised leg, all with a dorsiflexed foot. We want maximum knee and foot lift and tell the athlete to envision a rod coming out of the opposite knee. We want the foot to be above this rod while maintaining posture.

From here we do individual ground strikes and then progress to alternating strikes and eventually to multiples of 3, 5, 7, 9 etc…, or for times of 5-15 seconds. Remember we are not training for conditioning we are training to develop the ability to produce violent, powerful ground strikes while maintaining ideal postural integrity and a dorsiflexed foot, since the more force we put into the ground the more we will get back. So far so good, right?

Hopefully, but I am regularly reminded just how hard it is for most young athletes to maintain this position for more than a few seconds without beginning to move their feet forward (thus changing the angle we established), sticking their butt back (breaking at the hips which leads to tremendous energy leaks), or tilting the head forward and looking down, which also tends to lead to several postural issues. Since this position is critical, it is important to both stress the correct form and ALWAYS correct these flaws and also identify if the issues taking place are due to either a lack of postural control (strength/stability) or a lack of mental focus. In most youth athletes, the cause can be rooted in both. As such, postural strength issues must be addressed since a lack of correct body positioning and alignment will compromise full acceleration potential. Also, the inability to focus long enough to complete this mundane yet vital task may make speed the least of their concerns, but this is another topic altogether……
To develop the athlete’s ability to maintain perfect posture over extended periods of time we must focus on this area in all phases of training.  We can develop the musculature required to hold many of these positions by performing simple glute bridges and planks (done properly with the core gently braced at all times). I have found too often that athletes plank incorrectly and just hold their bodies up. In order to improve activation, the coach may palpate the athlete’s entire core (low back, obliques, glutes, hip flexors etc…) to be sure all muscle groups are activated.

In addition to these, I have found that focusing on postural integrity during everything from warm-up to cool down also makes a huge difference. As a result, anytime the athlete is standing is a good time to drive home the importance of standing tall with the shoulders back, core braced, head in a neutral position, and other aspects of good posture expressed.

Once the acceleration position has been refined and the athlete understands the basic reasoning and concepts that necessitate it, we move to starts. The tricky thing about having the body in the required position is that the only way to get it there is by leaning into or against something such as a sled or thick resistance band or by starting from positions that put you into a forward lean. The most common way we do this is with a traditional 3-point “40 yard dash” start, a falling start, or a single leg falling start. The point of emphasis must always be to explode out and to stay low. In the 3-point stance start, the trailing leg does very little other than cycle through (and ideally does so quickly in order to be in optimal position to take the next step). However, the lead leg is the one that must explosively push the athlete out because it is ultimately a series of strong, powerful, efficient “pushes” that lead to impressive acceleration. In his latest book Coach Mike Boyle describes a start drill he coaches that uses a large crash mat for his athletes to literally jump out and land on to teach the aggressive drive required to fully grasp this concept1. The athlete simply gets into a starting position and explodes out of the position so aggressively that he or she will essentially dive onto the ground. This is where the mat comes in handy!

If you can get your athletes to correctly perform these drills while maintaining postural integrity and slowly develop the habits of correct arm drive and foot position, dramatic improvement in 10 or 20 yard dash times will result. These times are what separate the 4.6 athlete from the 5.0 athlete, but more importantly will have far greater carry over than performing “top-end speed drills” such as those taught by many speed camps and used by track athletes such as B-skips, etc. Over the years, I have found that developing proper arm swing and dorsiflexing the foot takes a tremendous amount of repetition in those who do not naturally do these well. For this reason I recommend incorporating some very short drills to work on these during warm ups as a way to get almost daily exposure to them in a college or in-season competitive club sports athletes.

Every quality that coaches and parents desire for their athletes is rooted in strength—either the ability to produce force or the ability to maintain postural integrity. So when a parent or coaches preaches first-step quickness, speed, and agility remind them that each of these is largely dependent on getting stronger AND learning how to transfer that new found “horsepower” into more explosive, deliberate, and efficient movements. How fast an athlete steps has little to do with the step and almost everything to do with the drive leg’s ability to produce force and do so quickly. That is what results in a fast and explosive start.

The same principles hold true for developing the ability to pull away from a defender or close the gap on a player ahead of you. So whether you are a coach or parent, the next time you are looking for “speed development,” remember that it is actually strength and movement development that you desire because perfect running form without these traits is like a beautiful race car with a golf cart engine. It may look sleek and fast, but will take three days to reach full speed!

1 Advances in Functional Training p. 173, Boyle, Mike 2010

 

The mechanics discussed in this article, as well as dozens of additional drills and coaching cues, are covered in great detail in our Certified Speed & Agility Specialist materials.  The CSAS has been recognized as the most thorough speed certification in the industry.  Learn more about the CSAS by clicking the image below.

Be “That” Coach

Being called Coach means more than just coaching. It means changing lives.

That’s what the IYCA is here to help you continue to do. 😉

Our mission is to empower coaches all around the world to not only do what they love doing, but to reap the rewards of seeing their athletes excel.

We want to see you prepare thousands of youth for the next step. Hundreds of athletes for collegiate sports. Maybe even some for professional, or olympic sports. 😉

But most importantly, you are helping form the next generation. You are helping young athletes become leaders, entrepreneurs, thinkers, innovators, and the next generation of coaches.

Coaches are building up the next generation.

And we want to help you be (even more) awesome at that.

Great coaching is done, (as you know!) one day at a time. One program at a time. One session at a time. (Of if you are a coffee drinker like the coach in the video above, one cup of coffee at a time). 😉

It is done in small steps. Small increments of progress and change.

So thanks for what you are already doing. And keep moving forward!


Are you ready for the next step?

One of the best ways to take the next step as a coach is to learn from industry thought leaders and great coaches. That’s why we started our exclusive member program for coaches—IYCA Insiders. If you’re ready for the next step, join the IYCA Insiders and get a chance to “peek behind the curtain” to see what some of the best in the field are doing.

Join IYCA Insiders for $1 today

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What Not to do When Starting a Summer Camp

Our IYCA Ultimate Performance Camp & Clinic Checklist makes it easy for anyone to get their first summer camp going. It is a step-by-step approach to getting all the essential tasks done that will make your camp the best in town…

And it’s 100% free. 😉

Interested in putting together a great summer camp this year?

Here is what you should avoid.

Wait till the last minute

This seems obvious. Waiting till the last minute will diminish the value of your camp, and likely make it sub-par. It takes effort, planning and a timeframe to allow for that to happen. Start now with planning your camp for the summer. You won’t regret it.

Not set a deadline

Establish a registration deadline for both early birds and regular registration. This is essential in creating a sense of urgency for signing up. Without a clear deadline and expectation for registration, it will be hard to gauge the baseline numbers for your camp.

A deadline 2 weeks prior to camp will allow you to get all the supplies needed to launch a dynamite program

Try and Do it Alone

Camps are a lot of work, don’t try to do it alone. College and High School athletes love opportunities to get experience working with kids. Leverage your current staff to optimize the process, and look for high school volunteers or college athletes to help implement the program.

You probably want to build community relationships with league coaches, middle schools, high schools—and leverage them to help you market. Getting the word out needs to be a joint effort. I recommend that you look for 2 internal opportunities and 1-2 external opportunities to get the word out about your camp.

The One-and-Done Approach

Camps aren’t meant to be a one-and-done opportunity. You may offer multiple camps per summer, but if you really want to grow your program, offer camps on an annual basis. This will help you spread your word of mouth marketing and generate a fan base.

Getting traction with camps can take time. If you fail your first year, evaluate “what worked” and “what didn’t work” and learn from the process. Get feedback from attendees and staff. Even though you’ll be exhausted, it’s best to do this immediately after the camp while everything is fresh on your mind. Once you had a good list for what went well and what didn’t, you can start planning next year!

Each year it will get better, parents will expect it and kids will look forward to it.


Want to minimize the work in planning for camps and clinics?

Some people may enjoy the novice approach of figuring out on their own, and that’s ok! But if you want a tried-and-true system for planning a camp or clinic, download our Camp & Clinic Checklist today to help you get started.

Download Checklist


About the Author: Julie Hatfield

Julie Hatfield (1)Julie is the Executive Director of the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA). She grew up as an athlete and played collegiate softball at Juniata College. She currently owns and operates her own youth fitness business pouring into young athletes. Her areas of expertise are youth sport performance, youth fitness business and softball training/instruction. Julie grew up on a dairy farm and can challenge the best of the best in a cow-milking contest. 😉

Monitoring Readiness in Athletes: Part 1

Athlete monitoring has risen to the forefront of the physical preparation industry over the last several years. Monitoring and readiness is part of a continued evolution in a field that is never static. Athlete monitoring is a way in which sport scientists and coaches are using information gathered from the athlete to gauge how physiologically, psychologically, and emotionally ready their athletes are for training and competition.

Sport scientists and coaches are relying more and more heavily on both objective and subjective measures to help adjust and determine training protocol for both athletes and clients. There has been a steep rise in the implementation of monitoring technology in physical preparation from the professional all the way to the high school level. GPS units, heart rate variability monitors, velocity based measurement, and multiple phone apps have become an integral part of physical preparation programs across the United States. We are going to take a look at monitoring in three distinct parts:

  1. Why we monitor and considerations for monitoring
  2. How we monitor at the high school level
  3. What difference can monitoring make in the development of your athletes?

Capture

Part 1 of this blog is going to focus on why we monitor and considerations for monitoring. The “why” is the most
critical component of any method that you may choose to implement in your program. If there is not a clear understanding of why something is being implemented into your program, then I would advise you to immediately pause and determine what that “why” is for you.

I am going to be giving a high school perspective as to why we believe that monitoring has become extremely important with our athletes. The “why” for why we began to monitor became very clear for us before we began to implement any monitoring strategies at Battle Ground Academy.

The demands on today’s high school athlete are tremendous. Many of these athletes are participating in rigorous academic programs, highly competitive high school and club athletic programs, as well as consistent physical preparation training. It has been my observation that this athlete’s readiness levels are some of the most variable a coach will experience. These athletes rarely experience true off-seasons due to multiple sport participation, private skills training, and club participation. This leaves this athlete under a tremendous amount of stress on a routine basis, and it puts the physical preparation professional into the role of a stress manager.

My concern for my athletes ultimately came from growing to understand the intense physiological, psychological, and emotional demands that not only came from their sports, but the chronological and developmental age of the athlete. An athlete’s high school years can be some of the most stressful and challenging of their lives. Once again, they are experiencing rapid changes physically, mentally, and emotionally that can make the demands placed on them through athletics participation a daunting task. Expectations, realistic or unrealistic, have also become a major stressor for these athletes. Our society has set the bar high in term of expectations both academically and athletically during these formative years.

Through the data tracking of our athletes, we would see a great amount of variability in the strength levels on a regular basis. All of our long term trends would be very solid, but we could see that at times there could be as much as a 17% fluctuation either positive or negative in a core lift from one week to the next in what we measured from an athlete!

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This was not the standard fluctuation of course, but it was not unusual to see significant weekly fluctuations in strength levels. Looking at this data ignited the “light bulb” moment for me. Most of us who have been in the profession for a while most likely came out of programs with a strict percentage based mentality that did not really take the daily readiness of the athlete into account. We programmed volume and intensity into the program, and hopefully it lined up with where our athletes were that day.

Throughout this process the “why” for us became this: we want to meet our athletes as close to where they are as possible from a readiness standpoint on a daily basis. We want to do what is best for our athletes, and also what will help them achieve their goals in the safest and most efficient manner possible. I typically find that this is the goal of any coach who wants to implement a monitoring program with his or her athletes. The next step was to discern how we were going to implement a monitoring program that can be executed in an efficient manner. We first needed to consider what some challenges or limiting factors may be at the high school/youth level.

The most obvious challenges for most are going to be financial cost, time expenditure, and athlete compliance. All of these can be difficult because they are outside of your control for the most part. Finances are usually set at a certain point by a multitude of different factors dependent upon the situation. Time can be limited by access in an educational and private setting for different reasons as well. Finances and time are usually very scarce commodities in the world of physical preparation, and it must be taken into account to understand what type of monitoring program is right for your situation. Athlete compliance is the third area that is very important. Monitoring and measurement can be useless if the athlete’s in non-compliant. Non-compliance can be a lack of reporting or dishonest reporting by your athletes. There has to be athlete buy in to make all of this work!

Another factor to consider is making sure that data collection is in line with the amount of data that you can manage successfully. Collecting data for the sake of storing data in your computer is a futile exercise at best. There needs to be a plan in place to both collect and use the data.

It is important to implement any change in your program in stages, and implementing a monitoring program is no different.

It is important to implement any change in your program in stages.

It will be an adjustment for strength coaches, sport coaches, and athletes.

It is important not to place excessive demands on all involved in the early stages of building your monitoring program.

It is also important to help your athletes correctly understand the information you are asking for as well as explain the relevance of the information being collected.

It is vital that you repeat this process with everyone who is going to be involved in the process to ensure its success. This includes sport coaches, administrators, as well as parents.

Part two of this three-part series will look at methods from technology to programming that can be implemented at the high school level to monitor, evaluate, and adjust to help your athletes achieve optimal results.


 

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About the Author: Fred Eaves
Ed.S, M.Ed, CSCS, RSCC, IYCA, USAW, USATF, BIOFORCE Conditioning Coach Certified, 2015 NSCA H.S. Strength Coach of the Year, 2013 Samson Equipment & AFM H.S. Strength Coach of The Year

The Fastest Way to Get Quality Leads

We are all looking for ways to get new leads.

Look around, the people in your sessions are your greatest fans, they believe in you and what you do. They may even be, your ideal client. They should be. What if you could have more people just like them?

Is there any client that you would want to clone? Remember— it isn’t just about the kids here, it is about the parents too. How do you get great parents, great kids and long time customers that believe what you do, walking through your door?

Leverage the people you already have to find more leads like them. Here is this process broken down into steps.

Identify 10 Ideal Clients

Identify 10 of your Ideal Clients, these are the parents & kids who believe in what you do, they are walking-talking billboards. They may be other coaches, parents, or staff members. Write down these 10.

Schedule a Meeting

Block off time to spend with each of these clients. It shouldn’t take more than 15-20 minutes, but it needs to be private. It can be either on the phone or in person. Tell them in advance what the conversation is about.

“Hey (NAME) I was wondering if I could speak with you for about 10 minutes later today or this week?  You are such a great client and member that I wanted to pick your brain a little bit about what we are doing here, but also if you had any recommendations of who would be a good fit for our (Gym/Facility/Family atmosphere)”

Note: If they say yes, schedule the time. If they say no, make a note of it.

Ask & Be Transparent

This is the most critical step.

It is as simple as asking. Be completely transparent about what you are trying to do.

Here is a script for you to tweak :

“Hey __(Customer Name)___, so I think you and  (Athlete’s Name)  are such a great fit for our business and what we are trying to do here. You have been with us for awhile now and I wanted to know how we can improve and what you think about our values and what we offer”  (Let them talk first. Get their feedback and address it)

“Well, we definitely appreciate your feedback, so please keep it coming”

“Since you are literally our ideal client, and I really wish I could clone you and your family, I was wondering if you could possibly help me out?  We really want to grow our business, but not with just anyone…with people like you…are you interested?”   

“That is great, I was wondering if you could give us 3 names of people who you would love to see in this program with you, or maybe even a coach that you think would be open to what we have to offer” (Client gives you a couple names)

Note: It isn’t essential that you get the referrals contact information in this approach

“Thank you so much, would you be willing to bring them to a session in the next week, completely free?  That is essentially all you would have to do”   (Answer: Yes)

Note: A new lead could possibly bale on you the first time, but likely won’t bale on a friend- try to get them to come together for the first time

“You are the best, I will follow up with you in a couple days if I haven’t heard anything (Promotes accountability)– but I really appreciate your effort in this, and the great part is, when your friends come in we will do the rest of the work. If one of them (Purchase/join/etc) we will give you a gift for your hard work every time”   

Note: A gift isn’t essential, but if you are going to give one, you need to know what it is in advance and pay it EVERY TIME

Follow Up

This is a critical component of every referral program, and many ‘drop the ball’ here. Schedule a time to follow up with this client. It can be days later, but no more than a week. If you haven’t seen their referrals in your sessions,  it is now good to ask for contact information.

This process is just that, a process. Write it down and document it for months and years to come.


Do you have a referral strategy that rocks?  

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Author: Julie Hatfield

Julie Hatfield (1)Julie is the Executive Director of the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA). She grew up as an athlete and played collegiate softball at Juniata College. She currently owns and operates her own youth fitness business pouring into young athletes. Her areas of expertise are youth sport performance, youth fitness business and softball training/instruction. Julie grew up on a dairy farm and can challenge the best of the best in a cow-milking contest. 😉

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What Coaches Must Be, Have, & Do to Make a Difference

There are many reasons to become a sport performance coach. Whether it is an undeniable passion for working with kids, a need to fulfill a void that you never had during your athletic years, an experience with a great coach, or even an experience with a bad coach….

…whatever the reason, the kids in your community need a strong, confident leader and an educated leader. It is the “educated leader” that I think we miss the most. It concerns me. Does it concern you?

Unfortunately, the uneducated performance coaches aren’t likely reading this blog, so my question is…what can we do to educate more coaches, more trainers, more parents and more athletes so that we can have a bigger impact, reduce injury and create strong, healthy athletes?

What Coaches Must Be

Education begins with an individual: an open mind to evolve, grow, forego past assumptions and adopt new ways (or improve upon old ways). Leading by example is a surefire way to educate those that you come in contact with.

Providing informational sessions, newsletters and a strong culture, based in the concepts that you can find in the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist Credential, will give you the confidence and courage to program & teach all athletes.

What Coaches Must Have

It is really easy to get side-tracked and pulled into multiple directions. The best performance coaches know their vision, and it’s a compelling and powerful one!  When you have a compelling vision, others will believe in you and ultimately follow you, not the other way around.

The best performance coaches know their vision

When we look at the latest trends and fads, one thing stands true—they are all temporary. Build a vision that can last. Invest yourself in your vision. Live it. Love it. Learn to say NO to the paths that do not lead your in the direction of your vision.

What Coaches Must Do

Knowledge is power…right?  So why do we so often keep it to ourselves? One of the biggest challenges that you may face, is educating others who may/may not be open to it.

That high school coach who has been doing the same routine for 30 years, or that volunteer parent who played Division I athletics and trains the kids like mini-adults, they may need a voice of reason when it comes to coaching youth.  

Share your knowledge, but do it gently. In order to educate, sometimes it’s more important to listen. Find a common cause or purpose that we all can rally behind.

Here at IYCA, we love the saying, “A high tide raises all ships.” Take that approach to coaching. Do your part to raise the tide and make the industry better, and our athletes better.

With a common purpose at the forefront, work on gently integrating your techniques, thoughts and vision. It isn’t about trying to be “right” or the “best” coach for the job. Don’t try to compete, work along-side them, and watch the tables turn.

You will win some over…but then again, there will be some that you won’t. Let that go.

And…Never Quit Learning.

It is easy to throw your hands in the air and stop trying to educate others. Understand that not everyone will be receptive to the concepts that we teach here at the IYCA, and that you teach in your programs.

Remember, for every one coach/trainer that you get to impact, there are potentially hundreds of kids that they may coach in a lifetime, so keep educating yourself and others, the kids need you, we need you.


Want to get started on your path to Youth Fitness today?

Check out the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist Credential and take action!

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Author: Julie Hatfield

Julie Hatfield (1)Julie is the Executive Director of the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA). She grew up as an athlete and played collegiate softball at Juniata College. She currently owns and operates her own youth fitness business pouring into young athletes. Her areas of expertise are youth sport performance, youth fitness business and softball training/instruction. Julie grew up on a dairy farm and can challenge the best of the best in a cow-milking contest. 😉

2 Keys to protecting self-esteem

FullSizeRender-ShaneThe following video is of a spontaneous pep talk given by Irish IYCA 2015 Coach of the Year Shane Fitzgibbon on the importance of not negatively comparing ourselves to others. The audio quality isn’t fantastic, as it was unintentionally recorded as part of a physical training session. However, upon reviewing the footage, the message is too important not to share. In the video, Shane explains the benefits of focusing on self-improvement and the dangers of comparing oneself unfavorably with someone else.

Key take-home points:

  • Don’t compare your weaknesses to other person’s strengths
  • Seek improvements to your abilities, for your sake, and not out of comparison to someone else.

The entire transcript is below the video.


“Some people are more active outside of school than others. Some do one sport; some do three or four sports. Some people don’t do any sports. Maybe they’re fantastic musicians. Whatever way you come in, you come in… All you need to consider is, what you are going to be like at the end of these sessions? Are you going to be stronger and faster than when you started? It doesn’t matter if you’re stronger or faster than anybody else.

We often do this – you’re old enough now, in sixth class to understand this:

For example, let’s say I look at Ryan, and I think he’s a pretty impressive guy. I would always compare what he’s good at with what I’m bad at. It’s like it’s built into my brain. We always compare someone else’s strengths against our weaknesses. We can never win that. Ever. Yet, we do this to ourselves all the time.

So why not give yourself a chance? Why not compare your strengths to his strengths? They might be different strengths. But, they’re yours. Do you understand?

Don’t say “he’s good at football and I’m terrible at football.” Don’t say “he’s good at sprinting and I’m terrible at sprinting.” Maybe he’s brilliant at football, but I am brilliant at chess, or math, or something else. It’s completely different. Maybe if he picked up a guitar or a violin, all the dogs would be howling, and the cats would be running for their lives….

Anyway, that’s the first thing – We shouldn’t compare ourselves to others with physical activity, because we’re all different. But… what are you going to be like when you finish? Are you going to be a stronger you at the end, than when you started? That’s all that matters. Does that make sense?

So, if you say to me “I’m not good at this,” or “I’m not strong,” or “I don’t do this” … Fine! Whatever way you come in… If you collapse during the wheelbarrow race, fine! Bu… in 10 weeks, are you going to be able to finish it? You have to decide that. Whether you’re going to improve or you’re not. But not to keep up with someone, else. For you…. Only for you.”

7 Lessons from 7 years in business

Today marks 7 years of business for Force Fitness and Performance. We opened our doors in 2008, and over the past 7 years I have learned so many things about running a gym and sports performance program.

The following is a list of the 7 things that have shaped the business that I run today. These 7 lessons have allowed me to recently open a new 10,000 square-foot building, and assemble a great team of coaches and managers around me.

1) Relationships are everything

The relationships you create in your business are the most important thing to the long-term health of that business. If you’re working with child athletes, then the relationships you create with parents and coaches are hugely important. Creating trust and caring with those people is going to make your business strong for the long term. Even more so, the relationships you create with your athletes and clients means having a fun time, with great conversation every single day.

One lesson that we teach in the gym to create strong relationships with clients is Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Dreams (F.O.R.D.). Popularized by John DiJulius III, learning this lesson will revolutionize how you connect with your clients.

2) Principles trump methods

When my gym first opened, my business partner and I were combing through the Perform Better catalog like children planning the biggest Christmas ever. We ordered everything we thought a great gym should have, including a couple of BOSU balls. In the seven years since, the BOSU balls have been used only a handful of times. When we opened, unstable surface training was all the rage—since then, research has shown it not as effective as originally thought.

In seven years, many new pieces of equipment have come out. There have been just as many that have disappeared from the consciousness of individuals and mainstream training.

If I had trumpeted my gym as a place to get the best training, including training with a BOSU ball, when we first opened, today I would be in big trouble, as a BOSU ball, other equipment, and training methods are just methods and tools—these can change over time. Instead, we talked about making athletes faster, stronger, and more resilient through our programming and coaching (those are our principles). The methods of training come and go, the principles should stay relatively the same.

3) Bigger is not always better

This may sound contradictory coming from a guy that opened this article talking about his new 10,000 square-foot gym, but please hear me out.

When starting out and opening a gym, bigger is definitely not better. Every piece of equipment and every square foot means that more revenue must be made in order to take steps toward long-term success. My advice to you is to open your gym with half of the equipment you think you need, and with three-quarters of the square footage you believe you need.

The second part of bigger is not always better comes when your business is growing. At a certain point, you must decide whether your gym and your dream business is one that must have 300+ clients to be profitable, or if your dream scenario is a gym that needs 50+ clients to be profitable. Neither is inherently better than the other, but each comes with certain extra stress points. One means being responsible for a team of coaches and their mental, emotional, and financial well-being, while the other might require more hands on work from you.

4) Training “Elite Athletes” is not a business model

Full of young gusto, I was certain that my business would train “elite athletes.” If I opened the gym and trained people the right way, then of course the best athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB would show up.

Unfortunately, everyone else, including you, thought the same thing. There are only so many athletes of that level going around, and not many of them live in my local town. A more sustainable business model is working with young athletes and adults that need me. I’m not working with elite athletes every day, but I do have some elite clients that I love training.

5) Grow with the right people in the right seats

Once your business begins to grow, you will come to the point that you can no longer train every client that comes in your door. Doing so would stretch your time too thin and eliminate any hope for a family life. When that happens, you will begin growing your team.

The book Good To Great shares that great companies have the “right people in the right seats.” It isn’t enough to have the right people on your team; they need to be doing the right things as well.

We have great coaches, but at times we put them in the wrong setting, such as placing them in group training when they should have been doing PT, or with adults when they should have been with athletes. They are still great coaches, but they were in the wrong seats. This is especially important when it comes to your administrative or office staff. Don’t get someone who is great with people and then make them do a job that keeps them in the office all day with no interactions with others. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes work has to get done that someone might not enjoy, but their job must feature the elements that make them tick.

6) Focus on the internal before the external

I made a very conscious and deliberate decision that I wouldn’t become an Internet trainer; that is, I chose to focus on the coaching happening inside my building first and foremost. Then as the opportunities arose, I could talk about what we are doing and teach other coaches.

To focus on writing and become a theoretical coach is to neglect the clients that you have.

7) You are a business person now

Remember, when you start a business you are no longer a trainer alone. Surround yourself with people that know business and are more successful than you. Learn to be a leader of your team and learn to understand the accounting as well as financial aspects of your business.

I have seen more businesses fail, and the toughest times in my business have come when one tries to reject the duality of being a business owner and coach.