by Keith Cronin, PT
No one likes being injured. Every fitness professional, strength trainer, and coach is intimately aware of this fact. Hurt clients are not showing up for training and injured athletes are “riding the pine.” Your job most likely revolves around a lot of “P” words:
- Supporting the possibility of winning the big game.
- Progress towards achieving a clients desired weight goal.
- The potential of making someone healthier or more athletic.
- Being a part of an individual’s perseverance to be happy in all their fitness or sporting endeavors.
And then someone gets hurt. Oh no, now everyone is unhappy…except perhaps me. My job does not revolve around the fun “P” words, they are more concentrated on two concepts: problems and pain. As a physical therapist, I see many unhappy individuals everyday who have been sidelined by pain and injury that prevents them from doing what they love. Understand that when someone is in my office, it is because they have to be there. When they work with a trainer or coach they want to be there.
After all the co-pays, deductibles, and hardship, my job is to get a patient back to you. Occupation aside, I enjoy watching people get back to the lives and activities they love. I played collegiate baseball and was a human injury magnet. I know the pain, the psychological distress, and the negative impact injury has on the daily flow of life. I do not want that for me, I do not want that for my family, and I do not want that for my patients. So how do you keep someone on the field, in the gym, or out on the road running?
Here’s the status quo. So much of medicine is about telling you what you are doing wrong.
- “Exercise more.”
- “You eat too much.”
- “Your posture is terrible.”
- “Get more sleep.”
- “Stop stressing out.”
And too often, so is the tone of the medical field towards that of strength trainers and coaches.
- “Why would you have a 70-year-old woman with osteoarthritis lift dumbbells overhead three days a week? That’s why she is hurt.”
- “Why do you put your kids in 10 tournaments over the summer? That’s why we are seeing so many overuse injuries.”
- “Why don’t you all work on squats as part of strength and conditioning with the team?” Athletes show up to therapy and can’t do a proper squat. That’s why they are hurt.”
This type of message is crap. This helps no one. Barking about what everyone is doing wrong or judging the end result just falls on deaf ears. Pointing fingers for what has gone wrong only makes people feel bad and internally they will shut down. The reality is that people like myself—whether they are physical therapists, athletic trainers, chiropractors, primary care physicians, or orthopedic surgeons—are paid to treat problems. We talk a big game about prevention but outside of talks or talking to patients after the fact, we are not on the front lines making change. You all are! We sit in offices and wait for the inevitable train wrecks to show up while you all interface with athletes and exercisers of all ages, sizes, and shapes.
Whether you are a personal trainer, fitness professional, team coach, specialty sports instructor, strength and conditioning specialist, or athletic trainer, reducing the number and severity of injuries in sports and fitness is paramount. It is important to your clients, to your team, and to your business. Its time you know what I know about the unfriendly side of pain and problems.
Over the course of the next few months, I am going to provide essential information on how to “stay on the field and away from the doctor.” TO BE VERY CLEAR…I am NOT going to be providing information about how to diagnose and treat injuries. Above is a picture of the books I have read through, studied, and been licensed in on the topic of treatment of musculoskeletal injuries. These are just the ones in the office!
What I will do is provide you information to support your profession. If you are interested in topics such as:
- Common traits of injury susceptible athletes
- Reducing knee joint compression to reduce patellofemoral risk
- Importance of long term athletic development
- Warning signs of a developing injury
- Biomechanical breakdown of healthy joints
- What is the best way to complete a lunge
- Stretch or not to stretch?
- Neurodynamic warm-ups
- Five easy ways to prepare any athlete for play
- Stamina vs. strength…which is more important?
- Importance of a balanced body
- Controlled use of plyometrics for reduce risk of injury
This blog is for you. Have questions? Email them in and perhaps I can make an article out of it.
I honestly believe for people to be happy, healthy, and getting the most fulfillment out of anything they do requires strong communication between the worlds of medicine and coaching or fitness professionals.
Let’s start talking.
Keith J. Cronin, DPT, OCS, CSCS
by Wil Fleming, CSCS, YFS
For most coaches, if you give them a goal—whether as different as fat loss, strength, hypertrophy, or vertical jump improvement—that individual can quickly come up with a program that will lead a client to that particular result.
We know the sets and reps. We know the rest times. We know the movements that can get an athlete or client to those goals. It is part of our profession and likely something we learned fairly early on in our college or post-collegiate education.
Say that goal is not fat loss or hypertrophy, but improved speed. Then what?
Yeah, we all know that the quickest way to improved speed is through better strength and power. But after that part, then what?
From my own experiences as an athlete and a coach and in my observations of other professionals, speed is a goal that leads many to forget about programming. Instead of programs, we get workouts with the drill du jour or something cool we saw on the internet.
We need programs not workouts
Developing speed is no different than developing any other quality or skill. Certainly there is a technical aspect that must be coached, but in general, the route to get the desired result is the same. It comes by way of a program, not one workout.
Not any of us would say that any of our athletes are markedly better after one single workout. They are not markedly stronger. They are not leaner. And they are certainly not faster due to the results of one workout. It is only after a series of planned training sessions and the rest periods between the training sessions that we find improvement in our athletes.
Training for speed is no different. We must prepare a long-term plan to help our athletes improve speed.
How to plan for Speed and Agility
Planning your speed training comes down to breaking it into the characteristics associated with improved speed. For me, the easiest breakdown is to create programs based upon three areas in which the greatest improvement can be made:
- Technique (both linear and lateral)
This includes all aspects of speed technique (starting mechanics, arm swing, knee drive, and foot strike) as well as lateral techniques such as change of direction mechanics and re-direction mechanics.
A technique focus should occur at the start of any speed training session. Doing so at the beginning of a session will set the anchor points for the entire session and allow athletes to crisply focus on technique while fresh.
The quickest way to see improvement in timed sprints (combine drills) is to help the athlete improve the first 10 yards of any sprint. We focus on using resisted acceleration in our training. We use resisted starts (with weight vests, bands, or sleds) extensively in both our strength training and speed training programs.
Power focus should occur after the technique portion of training and should emphasize the technique that we taught at the beginning of a session. Following up the resisted portion of training we will move on to pure acceleration work, without the use of resisted techniques.
Any good speed training session will have a portion of the training devoted to developing strength. This does not necessarily mean a weight room session (although that is necessary). In the purely speed development realm, we use simple strength exercises like lunging (lateral and forward/back) and squatting to help the athletes develop the ability to both accelerate and decelerate.
If you are struggling on how to put together a comprehensive plan for speed and agility at any age (6-18) then be sure to check out the IYCA’s new Certified Speed and Agility Specialist (CSAS) course that will be out this January. This is one of the most comprehensive resources available to coaches today.
3 Keys to Developing Speed in Younger Athletes 6-13 Years Old
By Dave Gleason
Speed is an absolute game changer. No matter the age or the sport, faster young athletes can vary the course of any contest. The discussion of genetics versus trainability is undeniably not an “either/or” question any longer. The conversation now becomes how to maximize athleticism in a young athlete as they potentially gravitate toward what activity they are naturally adept at in the realm of athletics.
It has been said that roughly 20% of all young athletes who are particularly proficient at age 10 are also dominant later in life as they near and enter young adulthood. My experience over the past 21 years tells me this percentage may be inflated.
“My son/daughter was the fastest on field two years ago. Now he is at the back of the pack. He needs more speed.” This is not an uncommon lament for the parents of young athletes.
This is not to say that speed training is not important. It is, and it has its place. As coaches, it is paramount to keep the big picture in mind in relation to speed training.
Educating parents on the basics of the human development continuum can fall on deaf ears. Yes, growth spurts and peak height velocity combined with puberty can wreak havoc on a young athlete’s ability to perform; this is not new information. That said, how do we promote more speed for young athletes?
There are several strategies that all lend themselves to faster, more agile young athletes on the field, court, and ice. It is paramount that your programming be rooted in a comprehensive approach to training the entire individual. Due to the growing and changing nature of a younger child, almost anything you do (within reason) will show increases in force production, explosiveness, agility, and top end speed.
While it is likely all “effective,” all approaches are not necessarily optimal.
Here are three keys to developing speed in younger athletes 6-13 years old.
- Discovery – allow your youngest athletes to continue to discover movement by giving them opportunity to do so. Create situations for them to explore movement with as little cueing as possible.
- Skill it, Drill it, Thrill it – Cone drills are great—if the boys and girls you are coaching have acquired the skill sets to run them. Break down the skills first, and follow that up with some fun drills. Anchor those skills with a game that reinforces the skills you were working on.
- Game Play – Athletes must be given the chance to use the skills they are working on with you in a game situation BEFORE they go back to their respective teams. Bigger engine, new tires, and new brakes on your race car would not be followed by a 300 mile race as the first test drive. Let your kids rip it up in focused games that will allow them to experiment with their new-found skills.
Example: Teaching Arm Mechanics
Have your athletes practice swinging their arms while seated on the floor. Use cues like “your hands will move from cheek to cheek.” In a seated position, your athletes will be forced to flex the elbows in order to swing.
Now use silly runs to allow for exploration and discovery.
- 1st run – have your athletes run with fast arms and slow legs.
- 2nd run – have your athletes run with slow arms and fast legs.
- 3rd run – have your athletes run with fast arms and legs, yet swinging their arms side to side.
- 4th run – have your athletes run with fast arms and fast legs utilizing the arm skills they learned while seated.
After each run, ask your athletes how it felt. Ask them if they were running as fast as they wanted to.
Finally, play a game or have a competition where the kids can use their new-found mechanics in a game or competition. Relay races and tag are two of my favorites.
Employing these strategies to teach speed should augment a well-rounded and comprehensive program that fosters movement exploration, integrated systemic strength, muscle activation, active range of motion, coordination, and character shaping.
As stand-alone drills or activities for speed on a short-term basis, these methods will have a diminished effect. Long-term athletic development is the optimal tactic for the children you serve and in the end will lead to a faster, more injury resistant young athlete, which is why this process is the key to developing speed in young athletes 6-13 years old.
Non-contact knee injuries in the female athlete: A practitioner’s desktop meta-analysis
By Dr. Toby Brooks, IYCA Director of Research and Education, Associate Professor, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
This will be a bit of an abnormal article for me. My job is to regularly review pretty much every contribution that comes to or through the IYCA and to edit, approve, or in some cases reject any submission prior to publication in any and all of our available media channels. Consistently, I tell contributors to back claims up with peer-reviewed literature and to substantiate any controversial claims or pull them out altogether. I do the same with my students. Any claim based on scientific fact or published research should be identified and cited.
However, I wanted to veer from our normal course here just a bit and discuss a topic that is germane to many of our coaching membership: ACL injuries in female athletes.
The thing is, I thought it would be best to take the view from 30,000 feet. Rather than dissecting each and every study and determining how they might apply to the training and conditioning of young athletes, I thought it might be best to analyze the major themes that have emerged from the literature over the past three decades. And just to keep it interesting, I am not going to specifically cite one article. Those are for you to find.
We have long known that ACL injury rates among female athletes are significantly higher than their male counterparts. Many medical professionals suggest that females are anywhere between 2 and 10 times more likely to sustain an injury to the ACL that requires surgical management. Seven out of ten of those injuries are the result of a non-contact mechanism of injury. These are established, accepted facts. However, what is not as widely accepted or agreed upon is the reason for the disparity.
Intercondylar notch width, an anatomic variant, has been investigated. Endocrine-mediated factors have been investigated. The ACL actually has estrogen receptors that can, in theory, alter tensile strength depending upon where a female is in her menstrual cycle. Q-angle and the relationship of pelvic width to knee varus (“bow-leggedness”) or valgus (“knock-kneed”) have been examined. And lastly—and in my opinion most importantly—neuromuscular factors related to strength and proper landing mechanics have also been studied.
After more than a decade as an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning specialist working with athletes from middle school to professional sports, here’s my personal opinion: only one of those suggested mechanisms should really be of concern to the Youth Fitness Specialist: motor control.
And here’s why: it is the only one that is trainable.
All the other suggested sources for the differences between males and females—while fascinating—are scarcely alterable in a practical sense.
Notch width is what it is. No amount of intervention on my part as a coach is going to change that. The same goes for endocrine-mediated differences, too. I spent two years working with an NCAA Division 1 women’s gymnastics team. Trust me when I say if I could have intervened to reduce the influences of the semi-regular hormonal swings of the team (women who spend considerable time together tend to cycle together, in case you didn’t know. I didn’t until then.), I most certainly would have. Q-angle might be slightly modifiable if we get the athlete on an aggressive hip mobility program. But for the most part, those three potential sources provide little for the coach or YFS to do to truly intervene and minimize risk of injury.
On the other hand, neuromuscular control IS modifiable. Heck, it is what we who are blessed enough to get to work regularly with developing athletes are striving for in the vast majority of our training. An athlete who is weak and doesn’t yet know how to land properly is at risk of injury. The role of the ACL is to prevent the tibia from moving forward relative to the femur. It is what is referred to as a “static” restraint, meaning it does not require volitional control to get the ACL to do its job.
Before the ACL is ever called into action, the hamstring group functions as a “dynamic” restraint. Unfortunately, in full extension, the hamstring has next to no mechanical advantage through which to stabilize the tibia from moving forward. For example, the force vector of hamstring contraction in full knee extension is more likely to simply compress the joint rather than prevent anterior tibial translation.
However, if an athlete possesses adequate eccentric muscular control in the quads, glutes, and hams, landing with a “soft” flexed knee not only absorbs shock, it positions the knee such that hamstring contraction prevents the tibia from moving forward and thereby prevents the ACL from being loaded. As a result, landing with a flexed knee provides both dynamic AND static support. Unfortunately, landing with a “stiff” extended knee provides only static restraint. The ACL is effectively “hung out to dry” and the hamstring cannot effectively assist.
Case (or in this unfortunate example, cases) in point, two different NFL football players (1 & 2) have recently sustained season-ending ACL injuries due to the performance of a celebratory “sack dance” popularized in response to an insurance company’s “discount double check” ad campaign. Both athletes are world-class and undoubtedly have incredible hamstring strength. Strength is not the problem. However, when performing this move, both athletes landed from a jump with an extended (or at least extending) knee. Without the hamstring able to provide a first line of defense against anterior tibial translation, the duty fell to the ACL. In both cases, the ACL failed. In both cases, the athletes will undergo surgery and have been lost for the season.
So the bottom line for the YFS, whether working with young athletes, male athletes, female athletes, or some combination of the above, is to teach and train athletes to learn to land. Low-level plyometrics and simple motor control drills are critical. Strength is important, but strength without neural control is dormant and ineffective in the moment of potential injury.
Countless training resources have been developed to help train young athletes to prevent non-contact knee injuries. Dr. Frank Noyes of the Cincinnati Sports Medicine Foundation and physical therapist and researcher Holly Silvers of Santa Monica Sports Medicine Foundation have both spearheaded impressive efforts to change the way athletes train and even warm-up in order to protect them from injury.
So while other suggested reasons for the difference between male and female knee injury rates are interesting, none are as readily modifyable as neuromuscular control. And teaching a young female athlete how to land properly is probably one of the most important things you can do to protect her from injury.
So the next time you decide to celebrate a new client, an unexpected bonus, or some other fortuitous piece of information by cranking out a discount double check of your own, modify it slightly with a flexed knee. Teach your athletes to do the same; your anterior cruciates will thank you.
By Dr. Haley Perlus
Many coaches seek me out to offer guidance on motivating female athletes to be more aggressive and overall competitive. Today, although there are many examples of females reaching new athletic heights and gaining respect in sports, certain codes of acceptable behavior and gender norms still exist. For many female athletes who still aren’t sure what they want to achieve in sport, to avoid social repercussions, their motivation to fit in overpowers their desire to perform at their peak.
As a comparison, in and outside of sports, male athletes are valued for being brave, risk-taking, competitive, assertive, and strong. Conversely, female athletes often feel they need to balance the traditional feminine expectations about appearance, demeanor, and behavior, with the mental and physical strength needed for success. It’s a tough situation, but there is hope.
Now that you understand the possible challenges facing your female athletes, there are three things that have been shown to motivate and positively affect their efforts in training and competition. It doesn’t matter if you are a conditioning or sport coach, these three methods are applicable.
#1. Take advantage of social support.
Fitting in and being accepted are strong motivators for athletes. When you provide an environment where teammates can band together and support each other, your athletes will start fighting to uphold team values as supposed to western values. One way to do this is to distinguish your team from other groups. This works to enhance team pride and increase feelings of self-worth. We all want (actually need) to feel worthy and a highly committed and cohesive sport team provides self-worth to its athletes. When your athletes feel worthy and are a valued member of their team, they will care a little bit less about feeling worthy elsewhere.
#2. Motivating female athletes to share and collaborate.
Ask your female athletes what reputation they’d like to have. Then, as a team, you can brainstorm about how to enhance or sustain the identified characteristics. For example, you may collectively choose new words, other than aggression, that encourages maximum effort. Your athletes may set goals they happily agree to strive for, producing your (and their) desired outcome.
#3. Strategically choose leaders your athletes can model.
Bring out team leaders who can reinforce appropriate behavior in sport, but who are also valued outside of sport. These leaders may already be part of your team or you may have to search for athletes who have been there, done that, and can be an inspiration to your athletes. The idea here is to give your athletes people to model who are not only successful in sport, but also have the confidence and self-worth to be their best selves outside of the sports arena.
Reference: Group Dynamics In Exercise And Sport Psychology (2nd Ed) by Mark R. Beauchamp and Mark A. Eys
by Jared Markiewicz, YFS, ACSM-CPT
If you have ever been a part of or watched a high school team for an entire season, I am sure you have experienced this scenario: the team starts strong and looks great only to finish the season clinging on for dear life with half the team sidelined at one time or another with injuries.
However, some teams seemingly always finish the regular season at their peak and then continue to improve in the post-season. They are, for the majority, healthy and their energy levels alone help them to crush their opponents.
Why does this happen and what are the latter teams/coaches doing right?
Answer: Some coaches are far more effective in managing training stress and utilizing effective in-season strength workouts.
I am going to talk specifically about high school based sports programs. The principles I discuss below apply to club seasons and off-seasons. But, high school athletic programs have to smash five days per week of practices plus games plus other academic responsibilities into a 10-16 week window. This is an incredible burden on the athlete but also on the coaches. With properly managed training stress and workouts, though, the injury-riddled team can become the perennial post-season powerhouse.
There are two different groups that can affect an athlete’s in-season success and I want to discuss both.
- Private sector coaching individual athletes who are in-season
- Team sport coaches working with a group of athletes over a brief high school season
Private Sector Coaches
This is where I spend my time since I own a private sector performance facility not directly affiliated with any local high schools.
Our biggest in-season conflict is the lack of contact we get with our athletes due to the massive time commitment associated with high school sports. Therefore, our time with them is precious and we need to do as much as we can to assess and increase performance during the one or two times per week we see them.
The ultimate goal with each of our athletes is making sure they are working hard enough through the season to peak at the end of season. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are lifting heavy weights and trying to set personal bests in our gym. Instead, this means they are working on getting faster and more balanced within their Central Nervous System (CNS) without overstressing their aerobic/anaerobic energy systems so they can practice and perform normally.
Dr. Mel Siff once said, “To me, the sign of a really excellent routine is one which places great demands on the athlete, yet produces progressive long-term improvement without soreness, injury, or the athlete ever feeling thoroughly depleted.” His statement embodies our exact goal with all high school athletes, in-season or otherwise.
Unfortunately, the more common scenario we come across is making sure our athletes aren’t overreaching and heading towards overtraining. This is typically something that is completely out of our hands but we have come up with some unique strategies to combat overreaching and overtraining when we catch it.
In-Season Training Program Strategies in the Private Sector
If you read my previous article about tempo training, you realize I am a big fan and utilize this strategy for every athlete at some point of his or her training. By incorporating long eccentric periods and explosive concentric periods we can improve an athlete’s deceleration patterns while improving acceleration congruently. Think 30X or 31X (3 counts on the eccentric, no hold or 1 second isometric hold and then explosive concentric return to start).
This accomplishes our first mission, which is making sure our athlete is getting stronger as the season wears on. It won’t force the athlete to overexert with massive load but the CNS will learn how to load the body, increase the stretch reflex, and release tension sequentially for maximal force production.
Our super-secret strategy to monitor and manage our athlete’s in-season training stress is…..drumroll please……self-limiting exercises.
Okay, so it is not THAT super-secret but it really does work great as a secondary assessment tool for us.
When we write an athlete’s in-season training program, there will be at least one self-limiting exercise as well as one accessory single arm and single leg lift.
- Self-limiting exercises: jump rope, Turkish get up, bottoms up anything, crawling patterns
- Single arm: alternating dumbbell bench press, single arm row, landmine pressing
- Single leg: split squat, lunge, single leg RDL
We program these at the start of the season and use our eyes as the assessment tool. If we see that split squats or single leg RDLs have suddenly become difficult to balance, the athlete’s nervous system is likely overburdened and likely to get worse if we don’t take action.
At that point we can either regress the movement or substitute a recovery position. If we recognize CNS fatigue in our athlete, our goal is to reset them back to neutral and leave our gym more recovered than when they entered.
Sometimes it is important to just talk with your athlete and ask them how they feel. Most high school athletes that train at a place like ours aren’t looking for a way out, so if they tell us they are beat up, they most likely are and need some recovery.
In our ideal situation, every athlete we work with in-season finishes stronger than ever, is able to play the entire season and peak when it matters most.
Team Sport Coaches
I want to start this part of my article by admitting that I don’t have a lot of experience on this side of the coaching line. However, I have talked with many team coaches over the years from the professional ranks on down to high school coaches.
As with any profession, there are very good coaches out there raising the bar daily and there are many who have fallen behind the times, so my objective here is to raise the level of awareness and generate some discussion about how to improve in-season training at this level.
Team coaches must deal with many athletes that have different personalities and motivation levels. Coaches at this level must recognize which athletes fall into high skill/low skill and high motivation/low motivation categories. There are optimal ways to manage each different category of athlete, which the IYCA does a great job of identifying in their Youth Fitness Specialist certification.
For our sake today, I am going to assume the coach has a good grasp of these concepts.
In-Season Team Sport Programming Strategies
When a coach decides to dive into strength training for his or her team in-season, the goal should be to decrease injury risk and bring the entire team’s strength and confidence up as the season progresses.
By focusing on these qualities in a strength program, the coach has the best chance to keep their top athletes injury free and increase younger or less talented athletes confidence and strength to drive competitiveness during practice. This ultimately increases the chances of winning and develops a culture of strength and success.
One of the most important parts of injury risk management is recognition of and adjustment to each individual’s training stress, particularly during conditioning.
Again, I recognize I don’t have a lot of experience in this field but I do understand energy systems and what is required of athletes in different sports. Very rare is the case where an athlete needs to do long, sustained conditioning. Most high intensity events in sports last no longer than 10 seconds.
So if I have 10 minutes of conditioning with a soccer player, I would much rather do 20 sec ON/40 sec OFF of 10 yard change of direction sprints for 10 reps than 10 minutes of running laps around a soccer field. The carryover to sport is substantially greater.
When coaches condition like this, three things happen:
- It becomes more fun for the athlete rather than seen as a punishment for not paying attention, etc.
- Athletes are faster and better conditioned during games
- There is far less opportunity for burnout or overtraining
So a team coach does not necessarily need to individualize conditioning programs for each athlete, but rather re-think the way they approach their conditioning.
As the team moves into the weight room for their strength portion of the practice, there are some simple methods that can be used to individualize the training while getting everyone better:
- Movement training
- Progressive overload
- RPE scale
Movement training means doing things like squats, hip hinges, lunges, pushing, pulling and carrying exercises. Simple alternatives are usually the best and most effective. Even top-level athletes constantly work on the basics to become the best at what they do and a team is no different. Strength doesn’t need to look sexy to be highly effective.
Progressive overload is something the coach needs to program before the season starts. The in-season training plan should be created so the athletes have a period where they are pushing harder than usual in the weight room. This typically coincides with the regular season winding down so they have time to recover and feel as strong as ever heading into the post-season.
Finally, a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) (i.e. 1-10) scale of difficulty makes it easy to program design for a large group of athletes. When an exercise that is supposed to be a 7 or 8 on the difficulty scale becomes a 6, the athlete needs to add weight or make the movement more challenging.
For a team coach, the ideal outcome of an in-season strength program is seeing the entire team get stronger, faster, more bulletproof over the duration of the season, and have a rejuvenated, healthy team heading into the post-season.
ADAPT and Conquer,
by Dave Gleason, IYCA Director of Youth Fitness
With the rapid rise of youth fitness and sports performance training options, programs and businesses popping up these days, it is important to discuss a very important topic as well as answer an extremely common question.
What is appropriate equipment for training youth athletes?
Before we dive into what can be deemed appropriate versus what equipment should be cautioned against—and certainly before I disseminate a broad list of equipment or once more include descriptions on how to use it—we need to put some parameters around a few things first.
For the purposes of this article, the term “young athlete” refers to boys and girls ages 6-13.
Developmentally appropriate fitness equipment is a loose term. We will discuss the needs of young athletes FIRST and how any piece of equipment can be considered as such.
Stop thinking “appropriate” and start thinking “optimal” for long-term athletic development.
My first point (chronological age) is pretty self-explanatory. However, what should be considered developmentally appropriate fitness and sports performance training for young athletes ages 6-13? The following is based off of tenants of the IYCA Level 1 Youth Fitness Specialist Certification and by extension, the programming templates we use in my facility (samples can be found in the programming section of the IYCA of Youth Conditioning and Fitness text book). 1
Guided Discovery: 6 to 9 years old
- Movement exploration/discovery
- Object manipulation
- Coordination training
Exploration: 10 to 13 years old
- Muscle activation
- Active range of motion
- General preparation
- Coordination training
- Systemic strength
Your equipment is not your program. The relationships and connections you make with your young athletes combined with your programming will create the experience and culture you need to grow a strong business. If your main selling point for your program or business is equipment, you are setting yourself up for short term success at best.
Many types equipment can be utilized in a program if you have your template set correctly. For example, the novelty of a high-speed treadmill will eventually wear off for most young athletes. A piece of equipment such as a treadmill has room for only one user at time. Once more, not ALL young athletes will find it fun.
When I look to make equipment purchases for our facility, the first two factors I think about are a) how many users can participate with the equipment and b) how many purposes can it serve for my young athletes.
I caution against equipment such as scaled-down or miniature selectorized type equipment, exertainment equipment, and conventional weight training equipment such as straight bars, dumbbells, and the like, because most times they don’t pass my initial two questions. Although, most equipment can have its place in the programmatic structure of training young athletes, an increase of physical literacy and physical culture is the number one priority.
Here is a short list of appropriate equipment for this age group:
- Free weights
- Battle ropes
- Dodge balls
- Dynamax balls
- Plyo boxes
- Bosu balls
- Mini hurdles
- Agility ladders
- Jump ropes
- Foam rollers
- Mini bands
- Resistance bands
- Monkey bars
- Climbing nets
- Balance beams
- Hula hoops
- Railyard Fitness System
- Lebert Equalizers
- Balance pods
- Agility discs
Use of these types of tools should be done with the goal of increasing movement capability. For example, agility ladder training for the sake of becoming better or more capable of performing with the agility ladders should not be the goal. Transference to sport and life is the ultimate purpose. Being able to incorporate tools such as an agility ladder can add short-term fun as well.
All of the above equipment choices can have a positive impact, if used correctly.
Think outside the box!
If you have battle ropes in your facility you need not only have your young athletes attempt waves, snakes, or hip tosses to promote object manipulation, spatial awareness and systemic strength.
Equipment for Training Youth Example 1 – Battle Rope Relay
Organize your young athletes into two “teams,” each standing in line behind one end of the battle rope (placed on the ground in a straight line). The first athlete in line picks the rope up and holds it like a baton. On your command, each athlete runs to the opposite line and hands the battle rope off to the next athlete in line.
If the two rope ends find themselves on one side, the game is over. This is opaque competition because there is no clear-cut winner or even delineated teams once the game begins.
Equipment for Training Youth Example 2 – Giant Letter Game
Have each young athlete hold the battle rope. Every athlete must have at least one hand on the rope at all times. On your command, the “team” will create a giant letter or number on the ground with the battle rope. Begin with a simple letter such as the letter “O” and progress as far as you feel your young athletes can go.
1. Brooks T PhD, Stodden D PhD. Essentials of Youth Conditioning and Fitness, Second Edition. Lubbock TX: Chaplain Publishing; 2012.
by Brad Leshinske, BS, CSCS
In the sports performance industry, there are many facilities that offer jump training specifically for volleyball and basketball athletes only. The truth is that jump training is universally beneficial for most every sport. While some movements may be specific to a particular sport, it is crucial that athletes learn to land, jump, and produce force. The big reason for doing jump training is learning to create power through triple extension. Triple extension refers to the ankle, knee and hip in full extension. Triple extension readily apparent in nearly every form of sport, such as a basketball exploding upward to snare a rebound or a football player jumping to catch a pass. Learning to create power in from the triple extension movement is a critical skill for any athlete and is one of the main reasons why plyometric training is so valuable to an athlete.
Plyometric training, commonly referred to as “jump training,” is important because it requires the athlete to not only learn to be powerful and create force, but also teaches him or her how to land and absorb force, as well. Many injuries in sports occur in the landing position. Not many athletes get injured during the jump phase, which is why it is important to teach the landing first. Another reason why plyometric training is great for all athletes is because there is direct correlation to becoming faster. This is because the production of force used to overcoming gravity is related to the force required when sprinting and overcoming that inertia, as well. Learning to apply and direct force downward will teach the athlete to apply that force in other manners.
So what is the progression for teaching jump training? Here are the six stages of teaching proper jump training protocol:
- Landing technique – Learning to absorb force and ensuring proper alignment with the ankle, knee, and hip is great for injury prevention. Correcting these problems will help the athlete avoid serious landing injuries. Exercises that may be utilized to improve landings include:
— Drop squats: starting in a standing position, drop down into a squat with arms back.
— Depth jump holds: from a 6-inch box step off the box with 1 foot and land into a squat position with arms back. Hold the position for 2 seconds.
- Jumping with a landing “stick” – Learning to jump and “stick” a landing is the next thing that we teach. Once the athlete has a grasp on landing and absorption, we then let them jump and absorb the landing. We might use a low box or hurdle. We avoid repetitive jumping in this phase and work on power development and absorption.
- Jumping with a mini-hop – Once the first two phases are complete, we then go into some repetitive jumping. We do this in a controlled manner and generally start with lower hurdles. The athlete will jump and land, do a mini-hop in place then repeat the jump. This does a few things. First it teaches the athlete to react and then it works on the athlete’s stretch shortening cycle, which is a key to creating power.
- Jumping with counter-movement – This is when true plyometric movements take place. Repetitive jumping generally over hurdles is a great way to not only work on the stretch shortening cycle but the reactivity of the athlete.
- Depth- jump to box or hurdle jumps – Utilizing the progressions above, the final stage is combining movements. For example, depth jumps combine the beginning phase of teaching a landing then incorporating a box jump, hurdle jump or any modality you see fit based on the athletes.
- Single-leg jumping – The utilization of single leg training is crucial for overall performance and most importantly injury prevention. With the same guidelines as mentioned above, you can and should incorporate single-leg jump training. Using modalities such as boxes, hurdles, and even just a line on the floor, single-leg training should be a part of your program.
There are other modalities to plyometric training, but the above progression is a basic rendition of how it should be taught. From simple to complex, plyometrics are great for all athletes provided that the YFS understands how and when to progress or regress training appropriately based upon the athlete’s developmental level and abilities. Plyometrics can be used to reinforce proper landing and proper power output, which can help a young athlete become stronger and more reactive.
A phase 1 plyometric training cycle for beginner athletes
|Box Jump||3||3||Box 12-18 inch. Hold landing for 2 seconds|
|Single Leg Hurdle Hop||3||4e||Mini hurdle or line on floor pause between each movement|
A phase 2 plyometric training cycle for beginner athletes
|Box Jump||3||4||Box height of 18-24 inch hold landing for 2 seconds|
|Hurdle Hop NC (non counter movement)||3||4||Use hurdle of 12in. Jump and stick each landing re set and repeat|
|Single Leg Hurdle Hop||3||4e||Mini hurdle or line on floor pause between each movement|
With the examples above, notice the relative consistency throughout. There is not that much “going on” with regards to the program, but the athletes is learning to generate power at the correct rate. It is also suggested to have the athlete perform linear jumping twice a week and lateral jumping twice a week. Lateral jumping is excellent for all athletes in getting more production in unfamiliar directions and learning how to accept load on the body in different positions. Lateral plyometric training is far more simplistic and some of the exercises mimic linear jumping (for example, lateral box jump, lateral hurdle hops, and lateral single leg jumps). The above guidelines stay the same in terms of progression.
Plyometrics are not only a great tool to teach power and force production but also a key in injury prevention. Having the appropriate progression strategy and employing it consistently is a valuable skill when programming for athletes in various sports, ages, and abilities.
Three Areas Where CrossFit for High School Athletes Comes Up Short
By Wil Fleming, CSCS
Recently, a good friend of mine ran a social experiment. At nearly the exact same time, on the same date, and to the exact same group of people (his Facebook followers), he posted two videos:
The first was an anti-racism video, depicting someone standing up against appalling racist and bigoted ideas. This was no doubt something that everyone could get behind and like.
The second was an “anti-CrossFit” video. This video depicted poor exercise technique in a variety of settings and finished with a message knocking the methods of CrossFit. This was sure to garner some comments.
The results were somewhat astounding. While the same number of people saw the two posts in the first hour, there were nearly five times more likes (100 vs. 20) and 25 times more comments (50 vs. 2) on one video over another.
The anti-crossfit video DOMINATED peoples’ attention. Rather than support a message against racism, people were going out of their way to say how “stupid” CrossFit is, or how “dumb” my friend was for sharing the video.
Needless to say, I know that the topic of CrossFit is a hot button.
I happen to think that CrossFit is one of the best things to happen to fitness in the last 10 years. While I don’t use CrossFit or coach it, I do think it has made every other piece of the fitness spectrum a better place. In my business, we strive to create a community similar to the one in most boxes. We foster competition among our members and individually, and to be certain, there is no other piece of the fitness community that is more interested in education than the CF community. Those are the good things.
CrossFit has also exposed many people to new methods of training. As a fan of the Olympic lifts, it is astounding to me to hear people talk about the clean and jerk and snatch maxes in everyday conversation. When more people are exposed to movement variety, I believe that we will have a healthier society.
However, I unequivocally believe that CrossFit is NOT the right path to creating better high school athletes. Specifically, here are three areas where I believe CF is lacking in developing high school athletes.
No Periodized Programming with CrossFit for High School Athletes
One of the hallmarks of an effective program is a planned program—one that systematically helps athletes develop qualities such as speed, strength, and power. Many of the movements of CrossFit should work to address the development of power and strength specifically, but the very nature of the randomness of CrossFit means that this development of qualities cannot be planned.
Effective programs use periodization (linear or otherwise) to bring about this change. Usually, specific qualities can be addressed during specific times, leading to a “peak” or competition season. The demands of CrossFit, even in the sporting sense, are much different than those of field and court sports.
A Lack of Multi-Planar Movement
Athletics happen across the entire range of planes through which humans can move. Athletes must be able to deliver power and express strength through the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. The spectrum of movement in CrossFit is much narrower, and nearly all movements found in typical programs occur almost exclusively in the sagittal plane.
A good program for athletes should address the transverse plane and frontal plane in addition to the sagittal plane. Movements such as medicine ball throws to develop transverse plane (rotational) power and lunging & locomotion laterally to develop change of direction skills in the frontal plane are absolute musts for the complete athlete.
Inappropriate or Incomplete Spectrum and Methods of Conditioning
The entire spectrum of developing a well-conditioned athlete should include development of the aerobic system, anaerobic lactic system, and the anaerobic alactic system. From long duration to short duration, CrossFit actually has been shown to develop individuals who have an increased work capacity.
In terms of the spectrum of conditioning, CrossFit focuses on the development of aerobic capacity and anaerobic lactic capacity more so than anaerobic alactic power. The rest periods used in CF are often far too short to adequately allow athletes to recover, leading almost all of the conditioning work to fall on the longer-duration end of the spectrum. The exception to this would be a well-designed “every minute on the minute” type of training session, although in many cases I see individuals programming EMOM workouts to create negative rather than positive work-to-rest ratios.
The methods are another bit of contention for me, as I believe that when moving into aerobic capacity work, in particular, the modalities used should be simple instead of complex. The use of Olympic lifts as a method of conditioning both defeats the purpose of Olympic lifting and exposes the athlete to technical deficiencies based upon fatigue.
By David Kittner
Developing an Athletic Foundation Through Play
Long gone are the days when kids played outside only to come home each day to eat and then again at night when the street lights came on. Kids rode their bikes, ran up slides, rolled down hills, jumped off picnic tables, jumped rope, played hopscotch and hide-and-go-seek. In addition, pickup games of various sports could be found throughout neighborhoods, parks and playgrounds. Without realizing, kids through their play and non-structured activities were enhancing their development as human beings: socially, mentally, emotionally and physically.
Today, kids are no longer engaged in active free play, they have less physical education at school and their days are much more structured in the evenings and weekends with homework, tutoring, music lessons and youth sports. As a result children are growing up without basic fundamental movement skills and a strong sense of physical literacy. This translates into poor movement patterns, weaker bodies, higher rates of injury and less than optimal performances on and off the ice.
The care free days of free play may be over but all is not lost. There’s still opportunities for parents and coaches to assist their kids in developing an athletic foundation while engaging them in age and developmentally appropriate games and activities.
By incorporating non-hockey specific games of play and physical activity into your on and off ice practices, you can help develop your athletes’ coordination, flexibility, mobility, strength, power, speed, agility, balance, accuracy, endurance and stamina. The key is create a fun, engaging and dynamic learning environment. Remember though you’re working with kids, not miniature adults.
The key to working with kids is to make their activities fun and engaging. The more they are playing and being active the more they are developing their athleticism which over time will make them better athletes, less prone to injury and better performers on and off the ice.
Next are two examples of games you can use both on the ice as well as off the ice that will not only get your kids moving but will be a lot of fun too.
Activity #1 – Circle Tag
Circle Tag helps to develop acceleration, deceleration, lateral movement, reactivity, teamwork, communication and strategically thinking skills.
Make a group of 5 to 8 athletes. The more people you have, the bigger the circle and the harder the game becomes. Have the kids form a huddled circle (holding on at the shoulder, hips or waist) while one player remains outside the circle. One player within the circle is designated to be tagged. The person outside the circle is IT.
How To Play
On the GO call, the player outside the circle who is IT moves in whichever direction they choose in an effort to tag the designated person within the circle. Working as a team the circle moves clockwise or counter clockwise reacting to the movements of the person outside the circle. Play for 15 to 30 seconds or until the designated person is tagged between the shoulder blades. The person who was IT now joins the circle. The person who was tagged becomes IT and a new person to be tagged is designated. Continue playing until each person has had an opportunity to be IT.
To kick the game up a notch, have each player within the circle close their eyes with the exception of the person being tagged and the person that is IT. The circle must now rely on verbal instructions from the person being tagged as to which way to move to prevent from being tagged.
Activity #2 – Scramble to Balance
Scramble to Balance helps to develop coordination, systemic strength, balance, special awareness, flexibility, mobility and reactivity.
Instruct kids to lay face down on their stomachs leaving plenty of room between them and their teammates.
How To Play
Have the kids close their eyes. On the Go call, kids stand up as fast as they can and balance on one foot for 3 to 5 seconds. The kids then lay down and repeat for the other foot.
1. On the Go call the kids stand up and balance as before. After 3 to 5 seconds ask them to open their eyes and have them hinge forward at the hips slowly and with control touching the outside of their standing foot with their opposite hand. Repeat with each foot.
2. On the Go call the kids stand up and balance as before. After 3 to 5 seconds ask them to take a giant step forward with their non-balancing foot 3 to 5 times returning to the start position after each step. Repeat with each foot.
3. On the Go call the kids stand up and balance as before. After 3 to 5 seconds ask them to take a giant step backward with their non-balancing leg 3 to 5 times returning to the start position after each step. Repeat with each foot.
4. Have the kids lay on their stomachs this time with their eyes open. On the Go call the kids stand up as fast as they can, exploding up on one foot and landing in a squat position. Repeat with each foot.
5. Have the kids lay on their stomachs with their eyes open. On the Go call the kids stand up as fast as they can, exploding up on one foot and landing on the same foot. Repeat with the other foot.
By Jared Markiewicz
As a coach, I believe that the chronological age of an athlete means much less than their developmental age. For example, we have three boys that joined our program this summer. They are headed into the 7th grade and are all 12 years old. However, they each spend a great deal of their time playing for club soccer teams, AAU basketball teams, and other top-tier programs in respective sports like golf, tennis and hockey.
Obviously, they are exceptional athletes who are used to being treated like high school or even collegiate athletes. And once we took them through our performance evaluation, their attitude and ability to understand objectives matched that of some of our 16 or even 17-year olds. So clearly they fit better into our High School Performance training model than our Development model (built for 10-13 year olds). However, their performance on the FMS (functional movement screening) would have a coach wondering how they haven’t been seriously injured playing their sports.
Most athletes at this age and ability level have had the exact same childhood these boys had: two or three sports a season since they were 5 (or younger) and non-stop skill work in these sports. What they never experienced or were taught is a movement foundation. They never developed the skills of squatting, hip hinging, pulling or pushing, let alone more advanced skills like stopping, starting, landing, jumping or cutting. How can a high performing athlete be built on a non-existent foundation? The answer: They CAN’T!!! They will either break down (get injured) or hit a ceiling and never perform at the level they are capable.
Conclusion #1: We need movement quality because that will lead to strength and a solid foundation for performance gains.
However, that isn’t the only consideration our 12 year-old elite level athletes need. Most sport coaches never take the time to develop an understanding of the conditioning needs for their particular sport. And rarely will you find a coach who recognizes the need for a massive aerobic system. They instead see conditioning as a way to “weed out the weak.” However, with a large aerobic base, an athlete can spend the majority of their contest using oxygen. When the anaerobic systems are needed, the aerobic base provides increased energy production so there is greater anaerobic endurance. Better anaerobic endurance=MORE POWER (little Tim the Tool Man Taylor there!)
To top it all off, the aerobic system has the greatest training potential. We can make athletes extremely well-conditioned by working solely on their aerobic systems, particularly with kids who are young, like our 12 years olds.
Conclusion #2: We need to incorporate aerobic system training into our athlete’s programs so they have a strong aerobic base and can push the limits of their anaerobic systems as their training age increases.
So, can we accomplish both with one simple method of training? Since the title of this article is “Tempo Training for Young Athletes,” the answer is YES via tempo training. Tempo training focuses on the biggest bang for our buck exercises like RDLs, deadlifts, squats, lunges, push ups, pull ups and rows and sets them to a cadence.
We use three numbers in our cadence (although some coaches use four). If a sequence looked like this for a squat: 211, the exercise would consist of two counts on the “down” (eccentric), one count at the “bottom” (isometric), and one count on the way back up (concentric). Each exercise differs depending on when the eccentric, isometric, and concentric portions occur, but we always sequence our numbers the same: eccentric/isometric/concentric. There are many ways to effectively use tempo training including: movement quality, time under tension, full range of motion explosiveness and sport specific power.
Typically, we use tempo training in our young athlete’s first and possibly even their second program. By slowing the movement down, they get a chance to feel the pattern, ingrain it, and correct any minor issues while performing the exercise. This sets up great movement quality and big increases in core/hip control. Usually it only takes a few sessions of training like this to get a young athlete moving really well.
Time Under Tension (TUT)
Another facet of tempo training that we, as strength coaches, like is that our athletes can spend a lot of time under tension. When they come back after a hard tempo session, we ask them, “Where are you sore?” When they answer, “My butt and my hamstrings,” it is an immediate teaching opportunity. They learn that an RDL or squat done correctly really taxes those muscles and if they gain strength in those areas, they can build a mid-section like a Mack truck! (Mike Robertson taught me the Mack truck line, which I use all the time)
Explosiveness through Full Range of Motion
Most of our athletes walk in with explosiveness but only through shortened ranges of motion. That’s where the isometric part of tempo training plays an important role. When we get an athlete to statically hold a contraction for a second or two, their brain starts to understand that it is okay to put the muscle on a stretch. Moreover, when properly stretched, that muscle fires back much faster than before. As a result, the brain (and thus, our athlete) allows greater range of motion (ROM) and the athlete may then become more explosive through that improved ROM. Explosiveness is usually very high on the list of things athletes want to improve at any age, but particularly with young athletes involved in multiple sports. They never have an opportunity to get strong nor do they learn what it actually means to produce greater power.
When we program tempo-based training for power, we use an “X” in place of the last number in the sequence. For example, we had a number of younger athletes just transition into their fall sports. In their last training cycle, they were doing front squats and RDLs with a tempo of 21X, meaning they go down for two counts, pause for one count, and move as explosively as they can to the top. After they internalize that explosiveness, we ask them to re-create the power using med balls or plyometric exercises. As they apply their newfound power, they feel and see their potential rise. When we get an athlete through our program and to their season using tempo training, we know they have gained weight room strength and translated that to power production in their respective sport.
Now that we understand what can be done with tempo training, we need to discuss the programming guidelines associated including: where we optimally insert tempo work during their training year, how do we elicit different training effects with tempo work and how does training age affect our use of tempo work.
When To Do Tempo Training
I don’t think there is a wrong time to do tempo training, however there are given times in a training year where I think it is absolutely imperative. The most crucial time of year is post-season. Whether an athlete comes back the day the season ends or takes two months off before returning, they are typically rusty due to the lack of focus on strength training late into a sport season. This is the perfect time to re-groove movement quality and set them up for huge gains in the off-season.
The second most crucial time to incorporate tempo training are those last phases of strength training leading into a sport season. We want to start adding some serious velocity and acceleration to the movements and can do so with properly programmed tempo work here.
Conditioning with Tempo Training
This is one of the cooler uses of tempo training that I have found. Instead of just using it to set up strength or power gains, we can use the same movements, change the cadence, and elicit some serious gains in aerobic conditioning, (particularly oxygenutilization).
We designate an exercise (such as RDLs or squats) with equal parts eccentric/concentric movement (i.e. “202” or “303”) for a designated period of time or reps. When our athletes perform this as their conditioning for 4-8 weeks, they will see marked improvement in their ability to maintain an aerobic state during high-intensity training. Tempo training also increases slow twitch fiber density, which houses the big factories for lactate oxidation, allowing the anaerobic system to work longer before anaerobic threshold is reached.
Training Age and Tempo Training
I believe that tempo work can have the largest impact in situations where an athlete comes in at an extremely young training age. This does NOT mean their actual age but instead the amount of time they have been exposed to a quality strength program. With the huge increase in sports being played year round and the best athletes coming to us with a training age of 0, tempo training can quickly advance the most novice strength athlete.
At the beginning of this summer, the three boys described previously definitely lacked training years. Each of them had multiple years of sport-based training under their belt, but a combined training age of maybe 1.5 years. We had them on a steady diet of goblet squats, RDLs, rows, and even push-ups for their first few programs with tempo assigned to help them gain movement quality.
Now they have graduated to the exercises they saw the high school boys doing at the beginning of the summer. They have developed into athletes I am proud to call F.I.T. Strong and have limitless potential to grow. Each boy moves through the weight room with the grace and strength expected of an elite-level athlete.
And it is all thanks to some simple tempo training.
Look out for these boys in the coming years!
ADAPT and Conquer
By Melissa Lambert, M.ED, LPC, YNS, YFS2
It wouldn’t be a typical work day if there wasn’t a knock on my office window from a child demanding that I play a game of basketball with her. She is a talented young lady who does a wonderful job rubbing my face in the fact that she once again crushed me in a game of “21.” However, when she plays with the rest of the kids in her group I hear swearing, threats, and—at times—aggression. What changes for a child who could present so calm playing with an adult and then display intense anger in a full court game with peers?
There are many reasons for the change in behavior that may include trying to fight her way on top in the social hierarchy, wanting to show off in front of her peers, having difficult experiences with other kids her own age, trouble controlling emotions in competitive situations or the pure fact that she hates to lose. These aren’t abnormal behaviors. However, with further assessment, I discovered a lot more underlying factors.
This holds true for all the children and teenagers I work with. Can you imagine focusing in an athletic event when you are worried about the safety of your family or if there will be food to eat for dinner? The reality is your young athletes are also having these thoughts. They just may not be facing the same extreme circumstances. If awareness and attention aren’t given to the level of stress an athlete is experiencing, the less likely the child will find enjoyment and reach peak performance.
The term “home court advantage” has merit when athletes are performing in an environment that is well known with fan support. These factors are non-existent when a team steps foot on another turf. It’s harder to adjust to unknown experiences and maintain composure. This may be one source of anxiety that exists as result of competing in sports, but there are other factors to consider when the young athlete steps foot on the playing field.
According to Weinberg and Gould (2011), stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the physical and psychological demands placed on an individual and their response capability. Failure to meet those demands under specific conditions has important implications for that individual. What is perceived as stressful to one child will look much different to another child. For example, children that present as shy may become anxious when asked to speak or perform in front of others while other children feel comfortable with that level of attention.
Temperament and experiences of each young athlete will determine how they perceive the world. If there is an imbalance between the demand and their confidence in accomplishing the task, the individual will experience a stress response. The athlete will become aroused, display increased worry, have increased muscle tension, and likely have difficulty concentrating. As a result, the athlete may perform poorly rather than achieve the desired outcome. This process can become a vicious cycle if the athlete continues to feel threatened and is not able to meet the demand successfully.
We know stress and anxiety exist among everyone, however with the increased demands put on our youth and decreased time for free play there is a greater risk for sports to become another demand rather than enjoyable. It’s important for coaches, parents and trainers to understand the potential sources of stress and the warning signs. Children who have experienced major life events such as parent divorce, financial problems, death in the family, or trauma tend to be more obvious in presentation. However, other causes of stress include lack of sleep or food, peer and family conflict, being bullied, school work, involvement in too many activities, and pressure to perform in the given sport.
In order for an athlete to perform at his or her optimal level and get the most enjoyment out of sports there are warning signs that adults need to be cognizant of. Coaches and parents serve as educators in teaching skills like responsibility, discipline, or a new skill in a sport. The same applies to handling stressful situations and emotional regulation. Coaches who work with youth should know each child on an individual level and have an idea of their baseline performance. Any change in behavior or performance should be noted immediately. Signs to watch for if an athlete is experiences increased stress or anxiety include frequent urination, muscle tension, sweating, irritability, somatic complaints (headache and stomachache), negative self-talk, trouble concentrating, and difficulty sleeping.
Relieving The Stress on Young Athletes
If an athlete is experiencing stress or struggling to perform, it is the role of a coach to get the athlete back to focusing on the child’s goal. Time should be taken to explore how the youth is feeling and offer suggestions on to how to cope in difficult situation. For example, baseball players often experience slumps in hitting. This is a prime opportunity to work with the athlete on establishing the use of imagery and rehearsing what it feels like physically and emotionally to get a hit. More often than not, the experience is never as bad as how we perceive it to be. Helping athletes understand how their negative thoughts are impacting their performance can be an effective way in practicing mind control.
Athletes can also rehearse positive statements and determine which thoughts are irrational. We tend to view thoughts as facts. A baseball player stating “I can’t hit” or “I suck” is a perfect situation for a coach to challenge those statements. If a player has successfully gotten on base as a result of a hit, the repetitive negative statements are not true for that athlete. Athletes who believe in their ability to cope with a stressful experience and are confident in their skill ability will not view it as debilitative to their performance.
Another productive approach to helping athletes build confidence and manage stress is through creating positive experiences in practice. This doesn’t mean making practice easy where success is given, but rather fostering a supportive environment where skill work is encouraged and mistakes should be made. The more exposure athletes have in encountering stressful situations the more confident they will be in handling it in a game situation. Mistakes in practice are prime opportunities for teaching and learning rather than the use of screaming, criticism and embarrassment. Simulation training is a great tool to use during practice to expose athletes to the stressor. If a child doesn’t handle a soccer ball well under pressure there is opportunity to work on composure while another athlete or coach adds various levels of pressure. Over time, the constant exposure will also help the athlete’s ability to cope in a stressful situation. Rather than panicking and feeling helpless, the athlete will develop increased confidence as long as the athlete has been successful.
Anxiety and stress will always exist among athletes; however, it is crucial for coaches and parents to be observant of the warning signs. An athlete may not be performing to the best of their ability and we need to start asking ourselves why. Anxiety may be a combination of internal and external factors that exist outside of the playing field. Coaches can help athletes get the most enjoyment and reach peak performance by identifying arousal emotions early, tailoring practices towards each individual athlete (expectations should be different), and supporting confidence building through the use of simulation training and finding appropriate strategies to cope with stress.
Weinberg, R.S. & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of Sport and Exercise
Psychology (5th, ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Melissa Lambert, M.ED, LPC, YNS, YFS2
Clinical Manager, Child and Adolescent Therapist
and Director of CT Coast Soccer Performance Training Clinic
By Toby Brooks, PhD, ATC, CSCS, YFS-3
IYCA Director of Research and Education
As an educator, there are few things better than seeing a student transform from being physically present (and perhaps little else) in my classroom early in the semester to fully engaged and hungry for more by its end. An eager young professional in my midst who might lack experience but makes up for it with brimming enthusiasm is invigorating. Such a student not only provides a very palpable and infectious energy to the classroom dynamic, he or she often pushes me to go beyond my own limits of knowledge and expend my intellectual territory. And that’s a good thing.
Throughout the span of my career, I have transformed the way I conceptualize learning and my role in the process. I think it is safe to say that no synopsis more accurately sums up my current stance than the words of Greek philosopher Plutarch who once said “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be lighted.” Indeed.
As the IYCA went from small upstart with a grandiose vision to a viable and growing professional organization, we steadily added educational offerings. It all started with what has now become our Level Two Youth Fitness Specialist credential. From that first offering, we have grown to include certifications such as the highly popular High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist and the Youth Athletic Assessment Specialist programs and practical instructor courses such as the Olympic Lifting and Kettlebell courses. However, despite our growth, we sensed a very real need for some background on the basics.
I have long ascribed to the notion that the decision to pursue a career in coaching is usually one part vocational and 99 parts emotional. The passion for youth coaching is often an unquenchable thirst in your soul that cannot be slaked through other (even related) jobs. Most coaches would tell you that they were born to coach. We at the IYCA don’t disagree.
However, a calling to coach is but a first step. Where organizations like the IYCA come in is to provide the necessary tools to take that burning desire to coach and equip the aspiring coach with the tools, tips, and tricks to be maximally effective. Oftentimes, we found that individuals who pursue training young athletes might not have a thorough background in exercise science. They might lack formal training in university classrooms regarding the terminology used throughout all IYCA and most other industry standard publications, but they still genuinely wanted to be effective.
Going to (or back to) college didn’t seem reasonable—or cost effective—in most cases. So with these eager but inexperienced professionals hungry for more asking for it, I developed the first IYCA Crash Course in Kinesiology.
I have taught musculoskeletal anatomy and included concepts such as planes, axes, and standard nomenclature at both the undergraduate and graduate levels for more than a decade. Based on the regular questions I field for the IYCA, it became apparent to me that I was expecting IYCA coaches to be familiar and comfortable with terminology that many had never formally learned before. I took the basics from my college courses and boiled that down into a concise leveling course that has been crafted to help the aspiring coach get quickly up to speed and not feel lost when digging in to our more extensive educational offerings.
The idea was to provide a one-stop offering that provides the student with a self-paced course in musculoskeletal anatomy, including muscle origin, insertion, action, and innervation for more than 70 muscles in the human body. Additionally, a look at word roots and origins and basics of directional terminology commonly used throughout the literature has been included along with a complete description of planes and axes and how they can be used to describe normal, inefficient, or pathological movements.
So if you have a passion for youth coaching and are just getting started in the field and feel as though you have to look up every other term in the texts you are trying to read, then this course was built for you. On the other hand, if you are a seasoned professional who is mentoring a less experienced colleague, consider the Kinesiology Crash Course as an inexpensive way to encourage your friend.
Just don’t consider it knowledge used to fill a mental bucket.
We prefer to think of it as kindling to feed a growing cognitive fire of coaching theory and practice.
Toby Brooks is an Associate Professor in the Master of Athletic Training Program at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and has served as the IYCA Director of Research and Education since 2007. He has worked as an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning specialist at all levels of professional and amateur sports, including NFL, NCAA Division I, minor league baseball, and more than a dozen high schools across four states. He is past owner of Born Athletic, an athletic development center in Southern Illinois and now finds the most joy in coaching the youth teams of his children, who collectively play or have played basketball, baseball/softball, football, and volleyball. He and his wife Christi reside in Lubbock along with daughter Brynnan (age 11) and son Taye (age 8).
By Dave Gleason
When creating and delivering optimal programming for young athletes in the 6-13 years age range, there are certain factors that are critical to ensure success. In order to have us thinking in the same context, please indulge me while I define success for the purposes of this article.
Success can of course be quantified by measuring your own criteria against the purpose of your training programs (much more on that at a later date, perhaps). As the popularity of sports performance training for children under 13 years increases, we will define success in terms of the following parameters in order of importance:
- The needs of your clients/students based on the human developmental continuum.
- The short, medium and long term goals of the training you are providing
- The long-term success of our program, class, department or business.
Now that we have loosely defined how we will measure success, the second step in determining our ‘non-negotiables’ is to take a look at our priorities. By prioritizing based on internal and external factors, we can decide what the MOST important elements of our curriculum will be. With a clear vision of our priorities we can confidently create a template that will maximize effectiveness and efficiency.
Our priorities will be established by recognizing factors such as:
- Individual session/class time allotment
- Session or class frequency
- Space limitations
- Staffing requirements
- Equipment/tools availability
- Number of athletes/students
With all this stated, there is not a one size all for the following list. Taking into account our purpose, criteria for success, and priorities for Athletic Revolution in Pembroke, MA, we have developed these non-negotiable elements to our programs for ages 6-18.
This list will not be specific with the inclusion of actual activities, but will act as a template for you to use as you wish. These general principles are staples in each and every training session in our facility.
Expectations – Set, Guide, and Anchor the behavior, character, and activities in your programs. For the purposes of this article, I will briefly discuss setting expectations in terms of setting the stage.
Often overlooked, setting expectations prior to every session or class is critical to the overall success as well as building a strong culture. That said, this is non-negotiable for us and well worth the 3-5 minutes we dedicate for it in every session. Setting the stage can take on a few forms.
Global expectation: “We are going to have a fantastic session today!”
Specific expectation: “We expect each and every athlete to listen when the coach/teacher is speaking.”
Another very important aspect of setting the stage for young athletes and students is explaining the rules or the technique required to complete a certain activity. Keep in mind that the delivery of the technical aspect of activities and movements will vary depending on the age group and ability level you are working with.
With a clear understand of expectations for both the student/athlete and the coach/teacher we can discuss the non-negotiable aspects of programming that deal with specific elements of physical training.
Movement Exploration and Discovery – Boys and girls ages 6-9 are still discovering how to move, and in some cases they are actually performing some movements for the first time. Within this discovery process, they require the opportunity to change elevation, roll, crawl, climb, skip, and run. 10-13 year olds are generally in a position to learn how to move better.
In either case, take advantage of the neural plastic nature of the CNS (central nervous system) by keeping your verbal, visual, and kinesthetic cues to a minimum. An over-abundance of cueing can lead to goal confusion and frustration…both of which are detrimental to the physical culture and potential physical literacy of the student or athlete.
Object Manipulation – The ability to handle and control an object through space, whether weighted or not, is another critical aspect of human development.
Coordination Training – Not merely the coordination that we grew up with as either having it or not…coordination training will encompass balance, rhythm, reactivity, kinesthetic differentiation, and spatial awareness.
Systemic Strength – Opportunity to build head-to-toe strength is essential for any young child. Body weight, resistance bands, and appropriate externally loaded activities are acceptable means of training systemic strength. We take great effort to frame our systemic strength activities such that they are task-oriented rather than strict repetition and set schemes.
Game Play – Game play is the most important element of our training systems. We utilize game play in several ways:
- Reward for hard work
- Transition (get them out of their world and into yours!)
- Reinforce specific skills (transference to sport and life)
- Reinforce general athleticism (transference to sport and life)
- Just plain FUN
To recap, our non-negotiable list of training elements are:
- Movement Exploration/Discovery
- Object Manipulation
- Systemic Strength
- Game Play
Will these elements overlap? YES!
Your justification for classification in one category or another will depend on your purpose for the activity and your criteria for success.
What about Serial Assessment Strategies?
We do assess all of our athletes. However in the context of this article, assessment is not on the starting line up of priorities with the little time allotted to most of the coaches, trainers and teachers reading this. We take 5-15 minutes every three months to assess movement capability utilizing a rate technical ability for five different movements…but that is in my facility and it works for our purposes and criteria for success.
What do you want to assess?
Will you assess value based data or movement based?
Will you utilized standardized testing protocols or develop your own?
What will you do with the information?
How will it affect your training program?
These, and more, questions need to be answered prior to the onset of testing and evaluation of your young athletes or students.
Hopefully this short article offers insight as to just what elements of your training program or curriculum is negotiable or not. The art of coaching and teaching dictates that you decide what is optimal for your students and athletes on a short, medium and long-term basis.
I’m confident you will make the best decision for the children you serve!
Keep changing lives!
By Brad Leshinske, CSCS
Athletic assessment is nothing new in the world of sports performance, but the quality of testing and the ability to use the results has changed dramatically in recent years. When the assessment of an athlete is complete, the use of that information is what should be used in the role of programming for that athlete. Depending on the athletes with whom you work, having a system in place for assessment is the first step. In athletic assessment, having a reliable, in-depth protocol that helps identify strengths and areas in need of improvement is most critical.
Within the IYCA, there is a great protocol that can assure the strength and conditioning coach a reliable test and the ability to use the data into the programming system that you use. The use of the assessment results will influence the athlete in a more positive way because the program is individualized. With more athletes becoming single sport dominant, having testing that is specific to what that sports demands is essential for the programming to be individualized as well.
The IYCA has three variants of overall assessment based on age, using the same or similar movement patterns with variance in reps and intensity. Having tests predicated upon age is a great resource, but it does not stop there. The IYCA has also come up with testing protocols based on sport. As the athlete gets older and more focused on one sport, it is vital to assess movement that is used in that sport. Gaining knowledge from both tests will enable a strength coach with the ability to individualize the program.
Athletic Assessment and Your Programs
So how does should such assessment influence programming for the athlete? Besides looking at chronological age (actual birth age) and also taking into consideration training age (years the athlete has been participating in formal conditioning or training), the assessments will show the areas in need of improvement. Take for example, the lunge, which is part of the testing protocol. The lunge is examined in the test with respect to four variables:
- Stride leg knee alignment – looking for alignment in the ankle, knee and hip and making sure there is no lateral or medial knee migration
- Depth of the lunge – making sure that the body is able to go in full range of motion and that the mobility and flexibility is there for the movement
- Vertical pillar of the knee, hip and shoulder – looking for body structure, the ability of the body to be totally vertical from the knee to the shoulder
- Balance and control – making sure the athlete is stable enough for the movement
With those four components of the movement examined within a gross movement pattern like the lunge, we can then find flaws and specifically address them during the mobility portion of a session prior to the warm up or following activity and within the core and lifting protocols. For example, if an athlete has a hard time getting depth for the lunge, the strength coach can prescribe movements to mimic the lunge to improve the range of motion in the specific area that needs it.
This ability to shape your program for each athlete rather than the athlete to the program is a game changer for not only the athlete, but also the strength and conditioning coach. Allowing the assessment to aid in the program process with a reliable test that can be done hundreds of times is important in the development of any athlete, in any age range and with any skill level.
By Mike Robertson
The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, as I’ve been on the floor a bunch and coaching some really fun athletes.
As a result, I’ve been reflecting on some of the lessons I’ve tried to teach my young athletes along the way. Each and every kid is a little bit different and has unique things they need to address to become the kind of athlete (or human being) we know they’re capable of.
Here are five lessons that I feel we as coaches should teach every young athlete we come in contact with.
Lesson #1: Recovery Is Critical
Think back to when you were a teenager.
Chances are you stayed up too late, did dumb things with your friends, and weren’t quite the upstanding individual you are now.
And that’s OK—that’s how we all learn and grow.
But as tough as we all had it, I would argue that today’s kids have it worse in a handful of ways than we did.
Sure, there are a lot of similarities such as school, athletics, and extracurricular activities, but I would argue there’s one big difference between then and now:
Kids today carry a tremendous burden when it comes to social pressures and expectations.
Yes we played sports, went to school, and did other stuff, but there’s never been the amount of pressure on our youth as there is today.
As such, we need to teach them the value of rest and recovery.
Instead of 5 or 6 hours of sleep per night, they should be getting at minimum 7 or 8.
We need to teach them that it’s OK to relax and unwind. Turn the cell phone, iPad, and laptop off for a while and just chill out. (I’m always shocked at how much more laid back and relaxed I am when I just unplug for a while).
And of course, eating to fuel your training is critical (more on this below).
The bottom line is that recovery is critical. If we’re going to be asked to perform at a high level in the classroom, on the field, and in everyday life, that’s fine, but there has to be a balance between performance and recovery.
Lesson #2: Nutrition Is Fuel
This goes hand in hand with my previous point, as nutrition is a huge component of recovery.
And I can’t give you a better example than a kid I used to work with called “Juice.”
Juice played basketball at the high school I worked at. He had a ton of energy and was always fun to be around, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend quite a bit of time chatting him up and joking around.
One day I show up to train the team at 3 pm, and Juice is telling me how tired he is.
Me: “What did you eat today?”
Juice: “Nothing, but I just had a Mountain Dew, so I’m cranked and ready for practice coach!”
Me: “No, seriously, what did you have for breakfast and lunch?”
Juice: “Nothing. I was late for school so I skipped breakfast, and then I had homework to do during lunch so I forgot to eat something.”
I wish this was a joke, but it wasn’t. This kid was going to lift weights and go to basketball practice, having only had a 20-ounce Mountain Dew the entire day.
Athletes can be all over the board with their nutrition, so it’s always a tightrope when getting them focused and dialed in. Some can eat anything and everything and get away with it, while others are far more focused on their body and physique than how food will fuel their performance.
Female athletes need even more time, attention, and care.
There are all kinds of social pressures and stresses when it comes to females and food, so if I have an inkling that a female athlete may have food issues, I’m quick to punt that situation to the appropriate professional.
Suffice it to say, though, we need to give our young athletes a basic understanding of why eating properly is important.
The best avenue I’ve always found was to remind your athletes that food is fuel. What you put into your body every meal is going to determine how well you play on the court or field.
Do you really think that Twinkie, candy bar, or Pop Tart is really going to improve your performance?
And rather than focusing on portion sizes and giving out “diets” (which is where you should lean on the expertise of a dietitian or similar professional), I like to discuss some of the nutritional basics with my athletes:
- Get some lean protein at every meal.
- Get a vegetable and/or fruit at every meal.
- Carbs aren’t the devil, but they’re easy to over consume.
- Ditto on fats, and we need goods fats in our diet.
- Hydration is critical, so shoot for 1/2 ounce per pound of body weight daily.
If we can get our athletes following the basic nutritional tenets I’ve provided above, they’ll be in vastly superior shape compared to many of their peers.
Lesson #3: You Need a Strong Foundation
As strength coaches, this may be the greatest thing we can give our athletes.
If you work with middle school and high school age kids, this is arguably the single best time to come in contact with a kid. They’re incredibly malleable, whether we’re talking about mobility, stability, strength, etc.
But perhaps more importantly, they’re much more open-minded or “mentally malleable” than some of the older clients we come in contact with. They don’t have preconceived notions as to how much range of motion they should have, how strong they should be, etc., so there’s far less resistance when we introduce them to an exercise program.
At this age, we can give them an amazing movement foundation, and I would argue this should be the single biggest focus of our training.
It starts by having them play as many sports as possible while growing up. The proper term for this is long-term athletic development (LTAD), and it’s something we preach to our kids.
Stop it with the year-round sports, travel league teams, and all the other garbage that just makes people feel superior or awesome.
Nobody remembers when they’re in their 30s or 40s that they played on the U-7 travel team. But I guarantee they’ll remember if they ended up having a Tommy John surgery as a result!
In the gym, teach them the basics of movement. Teach them how to squat, lunge, hinge, push-up, row, chin, and enjoy the amazing body they were given.
In the beginning, it’s not even about load or performance; it’s about exploration and allowing them to feel what their body can do.
In fact if you follow the teachings of Professor Zatsiorsky, he’s a huge proponent of the three year rule:
No external loading for the first three years of an athlete’s development.
If nothing else, teach these kids to move really well, and then teach them to move weights, or to move for an extended period of time.
Remember, this is the body they will live in the rest of their lives. Our goal should be to give them a rock-solid foundation that will last them a lifetime.
Lesson #4: Learn How to Breathe
One of the big things we assess at IFAST is how a client breathes.
Not surprisingly, a lot of people these days breathe horribly. The only two places they can draw in air is by “pushing” it into their belly or “pulling” it into their neck by using accessory muscles like the scalenes and SCM.
Not only does this lead to performance issues on the field/court, but it can drive physiological issues off the field. Whether it’s increased anxiety and stress, trouble falling asleep, or issues staying asleep, breathing is something we need to address.
If you follow the R7 approach that we do here at IFAST, we put a premium on quality breathing. Not only will clients get to work on this during their warmup, but perhaps even more importantly, they will also work on it at the conclusion of their workout.
Even if you’ve never done this, have your athletes lie on their back at the end of a session with their knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Tell them to breathe in through their nose, take approximately 5 seconds to get the air in.
Follow that up with a complete exhale through the mouth, which should take about 10 seconds.
Finish by holding that fully exhaled position for 3-5 seconds, and then repeat for 8-10 breaths.
It doesn’t sound like a lot, but teaching a young athlete to breathe is just as foundational as good movement. Not only can they see performance improvements on the field, but chances are they’ll be less stressed out and anxious off it as well.
Lesson #5: The Weight Room Is a Classroom
The final thing I love to teach my young athletes is that the weight room (and especially my weight room) is a classroom.
At the risk of sounding hokey, it’s a classroom, and the class I’m teaching is L-I-F-E.
If you are serious and committed to improve your body and your performance, just think about all the lessons you can learn about:
The list of positive traits goes on and on.
And when an athlete comes into my weight room, I always have two things in the back of my mind.
Firstly, I always want the kids who train with me to have fun. This shouldn’t be another thing they have to do; I want this to be something that want to do.
Secondly, I always want the kids I train to look at me as a role model, or someone they can look up to and trust. I don’t consider myself to be perfect or beyond reproach, but I’m always thinking about carrying myself with a high level of character and self-respect.
Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re a pretty upstanding and legit person. Kudos to you.
But when I look around, not all the kids we come in contact with have a stable social foundation.
These kids need strong and stable individuals who they can look up to and trust, so that they can in turn become better people.
It frustrates me to no end when people talk poorly about young people. Sure, there are always going to be some bad seeds. Growing up, I know I had some bad appples around me.
But throwing this generation as a whole under the bus is a massive cop out.
Rather than simply saying, “These kids don’t get it,” or bitching about how entitled today’s youth is, I think it’s far more beneficial to take a long, hard look in the mirror and consider what we can do to help these kids become the kind of young adults we know they can be.
Take the time to nurture your young athletes both physically and psychologically.
Put them in a positive environment, give them solid footing, and allow them to have some success.
And don’t forget to show them how powerful the weight room can be. I can tell you without a doubt I wouldn’t be the husband, father, business owner or athlete I am today without the lessons I’ve learned in the weight room.
I consider myself to be incredibly lucky. Over the years, I’ve gotten to work with thousands of athletes, and I hope that I’ve successfully passed on some of the knowledge that I’ve picked up along the way.
If you work with young athletes, or if you have young athletes in your home, take this post to heart. Maybe pass it along to someone else you think could benefit from my message.
And most importantly, remember how powerful we are in the lives of today’s youth. Every single day we can make a difference, so do your best to make it a positive one.
All the best,
Explore the Design and Implementation of an Optimal Training Session
By Tony Poggiali
While there is likely no such entity as a “perfect session,” we have tweaked and adjusted our athlete sessions over the past nine years to evolve into a system that works for us. So, instead of calling it the perfect training session, we are going to call it the optimal training session. While this works for us in our situation, it may or may not be conducive to your facility and situation.
The Optimal Training Session: The First 5
For the first five minutes we spend some time hanging out, talking about life, or what they had to eat that day, or how their school day turned out. Some athletes will be performing SMR, while others will be messing around with their buddies. While we started doing the traditional dynamic warm-up protocol early on, we have somewhat changed into more of a game – based warm up. On any given day, we will be playing Frisbee football, Hawaiian football, basketball, dodge ball, tag, baseball, capture the flag, wall ball, tire ball, or cone ball (the last two we made up). While we don’t conform to the industry norm on this one, we have observed that it accomplishes the following during our games:
- Creates a fun and relaxed environment which builds a positive attitude, team building and excitement towards training.
- Provides a dynamic warm-up. Also wakes them up for a morning session!
- Allows coaches to indirectly evaluate athletic performance of the athletes.
- Breaks down barriers between coaches and athletes as well as athletes to athletes.
- Allows athletes to experience/practice various athletic skills without formal coaching.
- Allows sport-specific athletes to expand their overall athleticism.
- Stresses fun and enjoyment (process) versus winning and losing (outcomes).
- Allows “free-range” playing versus structured playing; kids are in control rather than adults
- Builds social skills, especially camaraderie, support systems, bonding and emotional coping skills. Games are also a great way to introduce new kids into our program through unstructured play. Who doesn’t need a few new friends in the process?!
- Teaches problem-solving, strategy and nurturing an athlete’s “physical IQ.”
- “Organized chaos” can lead to long-term adaptations in other settings such as school and home life.
- Kids can make the rules and thus, follow the rules. They start to find out their intrinsic value and leadership skills.
- Experience the unadulterated joy of human movement.
TIME ALLOTTED: 12-15 minutes
The Optimal Training Session: Skill Success
Our major goal with the bulk of the training session is a combination of skill introduction, acquisition, development/improvement, and ultimately, mastery. The biological, chronological and training ages are all consideration when we design our skill protocols. For example, if the skill is linear based, we may spend more time on marching, skipping, and posture for younger kids; for kids with a higher training age, we may advance to resisted acceleration, heavy sled dragging and/or plyometrics.
The design of this chunk of time is based on choosing a “skill of the day” that we want to perform, attach 2-4 drills to that skill, and then execute those drills, always keeping in mind that we are training a skill, not a drill, per se.
Our typical week is broken down into three skill days:
Day 1 (Mon/Tues) – Linear
Day 2 (Wed/Thur) – Lateral/Angled
Day 3 (Fri/Sat) – Change of direction
(This template can be changed at any time, and we always have a “plan B” should issues arise. We also integrate an “All Strength Day” at various times throughout the month. It is usually the athletes’ favorite day.☺).
TIME ALLOTTED: 20-25 minutes
The Optimal Training Session: Strength & Power
The final section is strength and power development that utilizing many of the same ideas formulated and coached during the skill session. For example, if performing a linear acceleration skill day, we may include any of the following for our strength and power movements that day:
- Sled march
- Step –over lunge walk
- Hip thrust and/or bridge variations
- Split squat
- Step up
- Deadlift variations
- Hip hinging variations
There are literally dozens more but you get the idea. We try to pick sagittal plane movement patterns to match our skill movement patterns. We also will have at least one horizontal pattern during this time.
TIME ALLOTTED: 15-20 minutes
The Optimal Training Session: The Last 5
Time permitting, we really want every athlete to leave feeling a sense of accomplishment, confident and full of energy (not exhausted, although it can, and does, happen). In the last five minutes we may play another quick round of a game, or just sit and talk. There is so much to glean from a child by simply showing that you care about them. It is probably the highlight of the hour when a kid opens up and tells the coach something they do not share with others. Those last few minutes may be all they remember to tell their parents or to carry them through the rest of their day. It is our duty to make those moments memorable.
To the last point, the Training Manifesto (below) is visible in our coaches’ area:
ASF Training Manifesto
- Help as many people as possible, in as many ways as possible, as often as possible.
- Our hunger and thirst for improvements in knowledge, skills, and abilities will continually be fed.
- Our number one desire is to be the best we can be, every day to every person.
- We have a full commitment to enhancing the performance and life skills of all athletes we work with.
- We are not afraid to push the boundaries of human capabilities when necessary.
- We are first and foremost developers.
- We will view coaching both as an art and a science.
- Our success as coaches is directly tied to our ability to communicate, inspire, and motivate.
- We embrace our position as role model, mentor, and friend.
In closing, there really is no perfect way, system, or session. I am sure most coaches have gone through multiple revisions to land where they are now. As soon as you think you know everything, you realize you know nothing! It is a never-ending process. This is what works for our coaches and athletes, but will likely always keep evolving and improving.
Motivating Teen Girls to Take an Interest in Health and Fitness
By Betty Kern, MS, CSCS
Have you ever wondered if it was possible to get teen girls excited about exercise and eating healthier? Do you think it is possible to successfully reach that student who “has never liked physical education class or sports?” Here’s what some of the girls from Springfield High School in Akron, Ohio had to say about their “Personal Training Class” (a PE elective for juniors and seniors).
“Joining this class helped me realize that I can do anything if I set my mind to it!”
“This is a class that will get your mind off other subjects…but it wasn’t all fun & games . . . we learned a lot, worked hard and had fun!”
“This class has helped me to get over my bulimia. I’m more aware of my nutrition versus just wanting to be thin and not caring how it happens.”
“This is a good class for insecure girls!”
“I have done better in school because I feel better about myself.”
“During the middle of the semester I could feel my body was more limber, stronger and overall healthier! I am going to miss this class!”
This class has been an amazing experience . . . it has had such a good impact on my attitude! I’ve lost two pant sizes and reduced some major stress. I love this class so much!”
Tasha (three-time Ab Challenge winner . . . took the class three times)
“I love this class! My back is stronger since I started doing yoga, and I haven’t had to take any medication for my acid reflux. I think everyone should take this class. I’ve even got my mom and my little sister doing some of the yoga with me.”
Amanda (who has scoliosis)
“Mrs. Kern . . . thank you for having this class! I used to think that I couldn’t do anything physical . . . but now I know I can do anything I set my mind to doing! I have lost 30 pounds this year!”
“I would have never made it through my senior year without this class! It helped me focus on positive things and feel better physically and emotionally.”
Abbie (took the class 2 time & is majoring in nutrition in college)
As the girls’ quotes indicate, mission accomplished! The impact of this class was amazing. Poor nutritional habits were dropped, healthy habits adopted, inactive teen girls are now exercising daily and keeping a nutrition & exercise journal, self-confidence & self-esteem soared, study habits and grades improved, attitudes towards healthy eating & exercise changed, weight & inches lost, muscle tone gained, new friendships were built, strong & healthy student-teacher relationships developed, and the girls had fun!
So How Are You Motivating Teen Girls?
Why is this class so successful? It provides a unique fitness option for teen girls. An individualized approach is taken within a group setting by establishing, tracking & rewarding personal goals. Challenge competitions allow for success regardless of ability differences. Flexibility in class activities within predetermined parameters helps the girls feel a sense of ownership of the class because student feedback is valued and acknowledged.
The “Personal Training Class” was born out of the desire to help teenage girls make the connection between their lifestyle habits, energy levels, physical fitness, school performance, mood swings, skin problems, weight and health issues. Through conversation, it became apparent that students did not understand the impact of their daily lifestyle habits on these areas. With administrative support, it was decided that it was time to make a difference in the lives of the girls at Springfield High School.
To find out more about Motivating Teen Girls with a Personal Fitness Program watch for the follow-up articles describing more about the program and how to start new programs within the schools or your community facility.
With the obesity and health issues facing our nation, it is time for physical education and health teachers and fitness professionals to implement new programs that reach out to a variety of students to teach them healthy lifestyle habits and that “fitness can be fun.” Go make a difference in your school & community!
Betty Kern, MS, CSCS teaches physical education in Akron, Ohio and is the creator of the PE Fit Programs. You can learn more by visiting www.pe-fit.com.
Admitting When You Don’t Know Something to Become a Better Coach
By Wil Fleming
Nearly everyone wants to be a better version of themselves. Some of us want to BE that better version and work to get there, and some of us want to appear to be that better version of ourselves.
This post is about becoming that better version of you and one simple tip to get to that place.
Let me first take you to a position you have been in before…
Sitting in a room full of great coaches, listening to a coaching idol talk about a high level training topic, and words start coming out of the coaches mouth that you don’t understand.
What should you do?
Should you continue to appear to be the better version of yourself or should you take this opportunity to become the better version of yourself. At that moment you have an opportunity to improve, to become a better coach.
You just have to take that opportunity and grab it. Don’t shrink from it.
Right then and there it is time to stop and ask your questions and get clarity. This is not an OK to stop somebody in the middle of a presentation, but at least grab them after they leave the stage.
Let me take you to another scenario that has happened to each of us…
One of your athletes, or another coach asks you a question about training. You may know the answer, but you might be stretching the truth or your knowledge a bit.
You can do one of two things, you can give the answer as you know it and appear to be correct right then and there, or you can say “I am not exactly sure, let me find that out for you.”
In each scenario you can choose to appear correct or smart, or you can choose to become correct or become smarter. In one case you can grow as a coach and in the other you can stay exactly where you are. It’s literally up to you.
The easiest way to become a better coach is to ask someone else for help, ask for their advice, or get their guidance. The worst case scenario is not that they say “no, thank you,” the worst case scenario is never asking in the first place.
Allow Yourself to Become a Better Coach
I would not be where I am today if I did not stop and ask the experts for their advice. It doesn’t hurt that we are living in a golden age of communication and connection. In a matter of minutes you could get on Twitter, get on Facebook, or search someone’s blog and have access to the best coaches in the world. Ten years ago this was not possible.
Ten years ago I could not message Glenn Pendlay on Facebook on a Monday and be in his training hall learning from him on the same Saturday. Everything about coaching and being a better professional has become extremely accelerated.
Ten years ago I could not ask Coach Dos a training question in the middle of a heated game of Words with Friends. Today I can do that.
Today, this is only impossible if I choose not to ask the question. You and I have no excuse for not being a better coach. You can pose as a great coach or you can be a great coach. There is absolutely no in-between.
Great coaches are not satisfied with just being a good coach now. Look to become a better coach and go ask the questions that will get you there.