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Observations on Skill Development in Young Athletes: Part 2

5 Fundamental Observations on Skill Development in 10-to-13-Year-Old Athletes

By Phil Hueston, NASM-PES; IYCA-YFS

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

In Part 1 of this article series, I shared some of my observations regarding skill development in athletes (and others) aged 6 to 9, or the “Discovery” phase of the IYCA Youth Fitness spectrum.

Specifically, these observations revolved around “athletic adaptation skills,” or the movement skills required to complete certain training and exercise activities with proper form repeatedly so that the intended training affect can be successfully attained.

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

Each aspect of the “athletic skillset” (defined by us as: strength, power, speed, agility, quickness, balance, coordination, mental acuity and tactical decision-making) requires certain athletic adaptation skills in order to be properly developed.

In this article, I’ll share some of my observations on athletic adaptation skill development in 10-to-13-year-olds, or the “Exploration” phase of the IYCA continuum.

Shifting “Brain-Scapes”

This age group, not unlike the Discovery age group, is moving between two different “Operational Stages,” according to Piaget’s model. They shift from the “Concrete Operational Stage” (typically ages 7 to 11) to the “Formal Operational Stage” (typically 12 and up). In the former, thinking becomes more logical and organized, but the Concrete Operational child has not yet developed the theoretical and abstract reasoning capabilities associated with the Formal Operational Stage.

Kids in the 10-to-13 age group are developing a sense of right and wrong independent of parental and institutional direction and control. This is important because it is linked to their ability or capacity to assess the importance of actions, experiences, and outcomes based on their own developing measures of fairness, rightness, or value relative to things outside themselves.

For these happy humanoids, empathy for and consideration of the impact of their actions on others is influenced by the cognitive changes occurring during this time. As reasoning moves from inductive logic (specific to general) toward deductive logic (general principle to the specific), they begin to develop thoughts around moral, social, ethical, and even philosophical ideas, issues and concepts.

At the same time, they are barraged by a cacophony of new thoughts—often hormone-driven ideas and responses to unfamiliar emotional instincts. When this is compounded by the mixed messages in popular media and even from coaches, parents, and educators about their place in the world and their relationships with each other and themselves, it becomes easier for us to understand why they might shrink from pressure and new challenges—whether they are social, academic, or physical in nature.

As coaches, we can have a hugely positive impact on these kids if we let them know that we understand not what they are going through, but THAT they are going through it. These individuals are developing empathy and relating it to people and the world around them. Often, however, they don’t sense it being reflected back to them in a way that they can understand, even at a sub-conscious level. How often does a 12-year-old hear, “I went through it, too, you know,” or “I was your age once, too. Suck it up!”?

Yeah, that’s what a 10-to-13-year-old wants to hear when they seek someone who can help them process the thousands of new thoughts, ideas, urges and concepts that are flooding their brains and formulating their minds. Because that won’t make the hormone-charged, synapse-overloaded pre-teen and early teen years even worse. No, not at all (insert sarcastic facial expression here).

So, what do they need, and what do we notice about athletic adaptation skill development in these little critters? Here are a few of my own observations around this particular form of wildlife:

Insight 1: Open with a YES!

You cannot hope to aid a 10-to-13-year-old athlete in developing athletic adaptation skills if your first coaching response to anything they do is “no-based.” Think about it. Sports coaches, teachers, and even parents begin their corrections (mostly) by pointing out the error. The implied meaning is “what you did was wrong.”

What goes on in a 10-to-13-year-old brain when this happens? It depends. A small percentage of kids in this age range will respond by focusing on the desired outcome and how they can achieve it, and redouble their efforts toward that end.

More likely is a value judgment of themselves based on the relationship to the child of the activity in question and its importance to them and the significance of and emotional connection to the person making the correction.

Parents have significant influence both in defining the importance of an activity and in the emotional connection to the athlete. This makes sense, given the large role played in the lives of most kids by their parents.

Coaches will often be in a position to really screw a kid up. The role of “coach” in most youth sports has been inflated to a judge-jury-playing-time-executioner role. This means the athlete is likely to be striving inordinately to please someone who may or may not have a clue how to teach, assess, correct, or re-teach any skill remotely related to the sport in question.

So, opening your corrective and improvement communication with a negative is likely to reflect off these experiences and add a negative proprioceptive input. While the athlete is looking for a connection of general principles to the activity THEY are performing, your negative opening may well derail that process, meaning it has to essentially begin all over.

How to Get It Done: Begin every single corrective/improvement communication with a positive comment! No matter what their form looks like, open with a positive. No matter how poor their “exercise math” is, open with a positive. No matter how many ladder drills they fail to master or games they don’t win, open with a positive.

In our facility, we use this rule of thumb. If an athlete is attempting to squat, for example, and absolutely every aspect of that squat is God-awful, we focus on the fact that they’re squatting… period. Or even that they are still upright. It doesn’t matter, just open to the upside!

“I love your energy today! You’re crushing it! Now, let’s have you try something a little more here, OK?

“That’s great, now we’re cooking with gas! Hey, let’s add this to that exercise, OK?

“Hey, I saw that you crashed and burned five times on the ladders. I love that you got up every time. Let’s add something to your movement that will help with that, OK?

Insight 2: Make It Theirs!

Coaches, parents and teachers love to throw the “accountability” bomb around. I call it that because it usually blows up in someone’s face—adult or kid. The idea that we’re “holding someone accountable” is usually wielded like a blunt instrument to get kids to do things they would NEVER agree to as necessary, important, or even acceptable if we tried to connect it to an outcome they desire or can get excited about.

They are being “held accountable” (ugh!) for things that parents, teachers, and coaches have decided are important to accomplish—without ever consulting the newly developed abstract thinker to determine if it is what they think is important.

Remember, they are rapidly developing a logic anchor to the world around them. As they create the images and ideas in their minds of what is right and wrong, they want to be in the “right” column. If all that matters to be right is doing what they’re told, or just “getting it done,” mastery becomes far less important than completion. At this point, mastering athletic adaptation skills, critical for improving movement and increasing the “measurables,” (the reason they were brought to us in the first place) becomes less important than getting through this uncomfortable event.

Fairly-arrived at ownership or responsibility is important in this age group. Give it to them sometimes and you’ll have cooperation in most other situations, as well. The idea that things won’t always be dictated from outside their thinking and control makes 10-to-13-year-olds far more willing to do some things they might not love, with the understanding that they have a purpose.

True story: I once heard a coach tell his 12U travel baseball team, “I need to hold you accountable for doing what it takes to win,” while forcing them to run laps around the entire field. The problem? It was after practice, late in their season—and it was punishment for losing a game.

What 11-year-old would agree that running laps would be an acceptable part of trying to have fun playing baseball—baseball that their parents paid upwards of $2,000 a season for the kids to play!?

Mind you, I’m not suggesting we create achievement and development programs based on what 10-to-13-year-olds think is “important.” I can’t imagine an entire middle school curriculum based on text messaging, video game mastery, and underarm farting.

But I can absolutely see an athletic development program built around aspects of what we do that our 10-to-13-year-olds prefer. For example, in our facility, we have a group of 10-to-13-year-olds who have taken to deadlifting. Yes, deadlifting—and not just for form. These kids like to pull weight! So, do we turn them loose to lift? No, we guide their form and technique development and base increases in weight attempts as much on the quality of their lifts as on the amount of weight moved last time. This is an accountability measure that is shared between our coaches and our kids that they have agreed to. Very important distinction and critical to our ability to coach them positively.

How to Get It Done: You’ve heard of “Build-a-Bear?” How about “build-a-board?” Grab a white board and markers. Grab your 10-to-13-year-olds. Using your programming template for any part of your session (core activation, SAQ, strength, etc.), have your athletes build their own workout.

Begin by telling them “I really want you to be psyched for this session. I trust you and think you’re up to this. Let’s build your workout together, OK?”

Yes, you’ll get some fart jokes. Yes, you’ll get some suggestions for “a million” of something. Keep going. Give them wide-berth guidance (“I need a pushing exercise.” “Can we add a lunge type?”)

Once created, this is theirs. Then, accountability looks more like cooperation.

Insight 3: Don’t Cue out in Space; Cue in “Personal Space”

There is so much going on with these athletes during these years that yelling corrections across the room will likely not pull them out of the grab-ass game they might be in with their friend, or the boys-at-school discussion that might be derailing their workout.

When cueing the Exploration age group, get into personal space. Get close enough to touch them. If appropriate, place a hand on their shoulder. Speak to them, not in front of them. Look them in the eye, then use your eyes to lead theirs to the improvement you want to make.

If another athlete is distracting them, you can easily disrupt this by standing directly between the athlete you are cueing and the “distraction.”

Remind the athlete how important this particular improvement is to them. Connect it to their sport or their experience. Have fun with it.

True story: There is a young man (call him “Tom”) who works with us whose father was a (largely failed) college and semi-pro athlete. This young man is a skilled 12-year-old baseball player who works hard when called for and has fun always.

Each time Tom comes off the turf, his father is in his ear (and face). “I’m not paying for you to fool around. You’re here to work. You can’t be last. You need to be first.” You know, the typical crap that comes from this type of dad.

Tom was doing some lunges during one workout and was clearly distracted. His form was awful, and he just wasn’t paying attention. I had noticed dad railing on him for something during the previous water break.

One of my coaches went over to Tom, put a hand on his shoulder, and gently turned him away from his dad. Once neither coach nor client could see dad, my coach leaned in and told Tom, “You’re doing great. Now let’s see if we can work on your focus at the same time as you do these.”

Brilliant! Turn the thing we wanted Tom to do into a “new” skill, layered in to the improvement of the lunge pattern. Amazingly, the “focus” was just the thing needed to improve the lunge pattern!

How to Get It Done: Just do it! Open every communication regarding correction and improvement with a positive note. Try it for one whole coaching day. The results will be remarkable!

Insight 4: They’re Starting to Care About Doing It Right

Remember, in the formal operating stage of cognitive development (Piaget) and in what Bandura calls the “modeling process,” children learn via comparison and attempts to reproduce what they see. Combined with the shift to deductive logic (general principle to specific incident or example), this becomes a critical period for teaching certain functional movements that benefit from consistent, repeated performance.

Squats are a perfect example. If we successfully teach good squat form at this age, we are likely to prevent form issues, and perhaps even injury issues, for a lifetime. Add to that the satisfaction of the athlete seeing his or her performance improve (bigger squat weights, more praise from you, and recognition) and we are likely to take what is often considered a “grind” exercise and move it to the “cool” (or at least “I don’t hate them”) category.

How to Get It Done: Care about both HOW and WHAT. Praise the athlete as he or she begins to master the parts of an exercise—foot position and movement sequencing on a squat or hand position and body control on a push-up, for example. (How.) Take note when a new weight with good form is mastered, or when more bodyweight exercises with good form than in a previous session. (What.)

Even if you don’t do “lifts” with your athletes at this age, you can easily tell an athlete about your observation of improved form, overall output, and session results. And don’t forget to mix in the science with the high fives! The science tells them that it’s important to the overall purpose; the high fives tell them it’s important to YOU!

Insight 5: They (Mostly) Don’t Love or Embrace “the Grind!”

If you read part 1, this is familiar territory. As 10-to-13-year-old athletes grow into the role of “athlete,” they become aware of the habits of other athletes, most notably high school and especially college and pro athletes. ESPN, Stack, and numerous other sports-related media outlets repeatedly cover the training of pro athletes as well as college athletes.

Often, this training is sport-specific, highly complex, and grueling. Parents and coaches see this and assume that it is the way to give their child “an edge.” They don’t have the knowledge, experience, or background to understand that training that is appropriate for an athlete 18 or older is not so for their 12 year-old.

But we as Youth Fitness Professionals DO. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us NOT to succumb to the pressure applied by these stories to “step it up a notch” and push these kids like the older athletes featured in the stories about “the grind.”

In my mind, there are two main reasons why an Exploration-age athlete would tolerate, or even pretend to enjoy “the grind.”

Parents and/or Coaches Have Created an Artificial Urgency Around It

Dad, coach, or even mom (think dance and cheer extremes) want them to “like” it. They may have made accepting the “grind” far more important in the athlete’s life than that athlete would ever have believed or felt. The parent or coach may reinforce this vicarious or extrinsic drive by applying false reasoning involving an athlete or other figure that the youth athlete likes or holds important.

In our area (Toms River, NJ) we have two prominent pro athletes who “grind” with us—Frankie Edgar (UFC) and Todd Frazier (3B, Cincinnati Reds). Both of these guys work hard with us, pushing through some grueling workouts and doing a lot of work to protect their bodies from the rigors of their respective sports. For them, this grind is not only acceptable, but necessary to a degree.

Why? They are professionals, getting paid to do this.

While they both enjoy their sport, there is no mistaking that their hard work is committed to being better at something at which they earn their living! It is our task as youth fitness professionals to be able to see the difference, translate and relate it to parents and coaches and then have (and be able to effectively advocate for) a better and more effective path to better fitness and athletic performance for the 10-to-13-year-old athletes in our charge.

Funny Little Secret: Both Todd and Frankie like to have some fun in their workouts. Not every minute of every workout, but when something happens that is funny, they’ll take a minute to appreciate the humor—then it is back to work.

It Is “in the Way”

If a 10-to-13-year-old knows that the only way he is going to get to play some baseball or that she is going to get near a basketball is by completing some coach-inflicted “grind,” (usually some poor imitation of a web-searched pro or college “workout”) they will muddle through the crap to get to the good stuff.

Countless times, I have been at practices that began with “core workouts” that included hundreds of sit-ups, 5-minute planks or (my favorite) 5–10 minute “wall sits” for hockey, lacrosse, or soccer. (Yeah, coach, that’s going to make your team tougher, faster, etc.!)

Some of the most successful sports coaches I’ve known over the years did little to no conditioning work at their practices. Their trick? Engage every player during practice, keep the pace high and link every activity that isn’t directly sport-skill related to some skill or aspect that, by improving, improves the athletes’ play. Brilliant!

Interestingly enough, very much like the 6-to-9-year-olds, these fun-loving bipeds love the idea that they are “grinding,” or working hard! That is, as long as it is more fun than the crappy practices most have to endure.

Getting Away from the Grind

We all know that, in order to improve an athlete’s movement skills, we have to have a program that includes working on those skills. We also know that conditioning is important to sports and that a certain level of hardening of the body against injury is beneficial. But the “grind?” It isn’t needed at this age, nor is it wanted (by the athlete) or even advisable.

Allowing children to explore movements that relate to their sports and experience the feelings and skills that result is the most desirable path for the youth sports fitness pro to take.

How to Get It Done (1): Want to develop better core activation skills? Create a situation wherein the athletes work with a partner in an activity that has both an objectively rated outcome and a subjective aspect.

Pair your athletes. Have them work together performing partner plank and partner single-leg squat “handshakes.” For the plank handshake: Have them get on the floor prone and head to head, about 3 feet apart. Once in a plank, instruct them first to complete 10 alternating side “handshakes” with good form. The objectively rated outcome is the speed of completion of 10 full handshakes. Once complete, have them repeat the activity, this time adding a creative aspect, i.e., a “really cool” handshake or series of handshakes. You, as the coach, rate them on a scale of 1 to 10. Include the plank form quality as part of your “scoring,” so that there is attention to form while the funk goes down (and it will!)

Once you complete 2-3 rounds of planks, move them to their feet and repeat the process with single-leg squats with a handshake. Scoring criteria here can include depth of squat, ankle-knee-hip alignment, closeness of the handshake to the ankle, creativity, etc.

How to get it done (2): If you have a sled, create a cooperative scenario in which the group of athletes has to work together at maximal output to complete a specific number of pushes over a specific distance. Alternative 1: Complete a specific number of pushes, adding a small amount of weight at the end of each run. Use small increments to keep the fun factor going. Alternative 2: No sled? Metal plates move pretty well on turf! Create the same scenario, or do relay races with the plates (or sled). You can even add a quick exercise at the end of the line before the “pusher” returns to the start line. Layer in multiple exercises at the opposite end of the relay path. Simple things like lunge jumps, squats, hand-release push-ups and squat thrusts or burpees work well in sets of 3-6 reps each.

Remember that life is a journey, not a destination. It is the journey that provides the learning and real satisfaction. Relate this idea to your 10-to-13-year-old athletes, “mathletes” and “non-letes,” and they will thrive. The bonus built on truth here is that YOU will thrive as well, and become a go-to resource for your community and its kids.

If you create a space where these ever-changing kids can feel safe, have fun, and achieve without the outside pressures of school, youth sports, confusing media and other messages and their topsy-turvy social world, you just might find they’re capable of quite a lot.

Allow great effort rather than insisting on it. Foster learning and development rather than expecting it in some imperial manner. Support more from them instead of expecting and requiring it.

They are very likely to surprise you.

In the next article, we’ll take a look at 14-21-year-old athletes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Art of Coaching, Part 2: Trust the Process

Focus on the Process to Get the Desired Result

Part 2 of a 3-Part Series

By Julie Hatfield, IYCA Brand Manager

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It is only natural to want instant results. After all, as fitness professionals and coaches, it is our job to get results, and the faster that happens, the more we can build credibility, strengthen our reputation, and recruit more athletes through our programs and businesses. Still, the best coaches know that results come over time through sound training and consistency.

So, how do we get these results?

It is what I tell my athletes I coach: If we focus on the process, the bits and pieces are working together simultaneously. If we get the bits and pieces, we will get our desired result.

Focus on the mechanics of your skills, building strength and confidence, communicating with your athletes, building trust and relationships, and keeping your eyes on what is important: your athletes. If you do this, not only will your athletes succeed, but they also will come back time and time again, build your reputation, and keep your programs growing.

So, where do you start? Look at youth athletic development as a progression similar to grade school. It is only normal for our kids to start in kindergarten and work their way up, not the other way around. It is a step-by-step process that leads our kids to becoming better and learning. The tricky part is, not all students progress at the same rate and same level. The same is true for coaching. It is important to be able to coach to different learning abilities, skill levels, and motivation levels. This isn’t easy, and there isn’t one way to do it.

I have spent most of my career working on my methods, and although the core of them stay true to the IYCA ways, they are malleable depending upon my athletes. Part of focusing on the process is being able to understand that each athlete has their own unique process for learning, moving, and achieving success. Some learn quicker than others. Some are more athletic than others. Some have all the heart in the world, but no skill. Others have all the skill in the world, but no motivation. As coaches and trainers, we must be able to adjust without losing the essence of our goals.

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As a business woman and coach, I have always believed that the most important thing in this industry is education, both for our athletes and for our coaches. The insight I have gained through the Youth Fitness Specialist Certification directly correlates with my ability to coach to the uniqueness of each athlete. It is about the process. Specifically for us, it is about the process of educating ourselves to better educate and teach our youth.

Educate yourself, know your processes, be willing to change, and success will come to you and your athletes.

The Art of Coaching, Part 1: Finding Balance

IYCA Brand Manager Julie Hatfield Shares 4 Tips for Finding Balance When Coaching Youth Athletes

Part 1 of a 3-Part Series
By Julie Hatfield, IYCA Brand Manager

Julie Hatfield

One of the most challenging things we face in the world of coaching and training is finding balance. Every coach and trainer must strike a balance between fun, skills, and conditioning. A coach’s job is endless and daunting at times. There are many challenges that we face, and no matter the athletes’ ages or skill level, it is a true art to be able to find the balance that can catapult your team and athletes to success.

That said, the number one priority is that your kids are finding enjoyment in their training. From enjoyment comes the will to succeed. Adding balance to your routine, practices, and sessions can help instill that excitement and enjoyment.

Here are some things to consider:

Let Them Play

Depending on the age of your athletes, they have minimal time to just play. It is an unfortunate reality that most kids do not climb trees, run around their neighborhoods, or play actively with their friends. Nose deep in homework, commitments, and the digital world, this concept has been lost in the structure and organization of our hustle-and-bustle world. Implementing tag games, competitions, relays, and childhood games not only refreshes their minds, but it also promotes movement and enhances enjoyment of their sport.

Teach Them Skills

Skills are an important part of each sport or training session. Teaching your athletes the specifics of their sport goes far beyond just telling them what to do. Find the resources and knowledge to actually educate your athletes on WHY they need to be doing what they are doing. Not all athletes care, but they all should understand why we do certain things certain ways. Fundamentals and mechanics are the foundation for all training. Teach them correctly and teach them well. Without that, success will typically be a challenge.

Keep Them Moving

When it comes to instruction, we spend so much time on skills that athletes stand around waiting to move. This instruction is pivotal, but therein lies the real art of coaching and finding the balance between teaching and moving. Combining your skills instruction with movement is a key element in creating athletes who can move well and perform well. Resources like the IYCA’s Big Book of Programs and CAD 2.0 are great resources to help do that.

Be Prepared, But Be Open to Change

The last bit of advice is to be prepared at every session. Our lives are busy, but we need to be sure to have a plan for every training, every practice. Write it down, but be ready to adjust it if needed. If you have a plan going in, finding the balance is much easier. Mix in equal amounts of time for skills and drills, fun, and movement for a consistent and balanced approach. Create routines, but implement new things every day. Enjoyment comes from challenges and seeing and doing new things. A new drill, a new lift, or a new game all add value and excitement and engagement in your program.

Addressing Nutrition Within Your Youth Strength and Conditioning Program

Josh Ortegon

By Josh Ortegon

I will be the first to admit that I am not an expert in nutrition. But I will be willing to admit that I have influence over the athletes we train, I have a “serviceable” knowledge of proper nutrition and even most important, I have great relationships with people who excel in the area of nutrition and I refer to their expertise any chance I get.

Proper nutrition and diet is essential for the highs school athlete. Kids are consistently boarded with media selling them fast food, the newest supplement, sports drinks full of sugar and pseudoscience to the point that the typical high school athlete, or family for that matter, have no real source for consistent, credible nutritional information and support.

Athletes are on the run all the time! Constantly having practice or games after school along with their academic requirements and their always increasing social calendar will lead to decreased sleep and recovery as well as inconsistent eating habit that will keep them at risk for injury, over-training and increased fatigue.

Proper nutrition is a gaping hole in the average high school athlete’s lifestyle. Below are 3 tips for the high school strength coach to assist in improving the nutritional habits of their athletes.

Get to Know Who Runs the Lunch Room

Building a good relationship with those who are in control of the lunch menu or who handles the cafeteria is a great place to start. Some schools do not have a lot of options when it comes to what they serve for lunch but building that relationship will help establish credibility where you could possibly help make more healthy food choices available for the students at the school. Sometimes that could be as simple as making healthier choices available or even putting them in a visible area within the lunchroom.

Field Trip!

There is not a kid in grade school that didn’t get pumped up for a field trip! Once you develop a relationship with those in charge of the lunchroom I would greatly recommend a “field trip” with your athletes to educate them on what proper nutritional choices are available to them. Once your athletes are educated, they can then be held accountable. Of course I understand that high school kids can be stubborn and even if they were offered food choices from a private chef they would still find issues with a high school lunchroom. Many times I will recommend 3 or 4 items they can bring from home to supplement the offering in the lunchroom.

Bring in a Speaker

Developing a relationship with a certified sports nutritionist is a great way to bring credibility and useful information to your team and school. One successful strategy is to bring them in during a parent’s night or a preseason meeting to take 5 or 10 minutes to go over simple strategies for proper nutrition and the importance of fueling your body correctly. A simple tri-fold or pamphlet to hand out with nutritional tips and guidelines is an excellent “take home” for parents.

As the strength and conditioning coach, we spend more time with athletes than almost ANY staff member. We are also lookup up to as a source for wellness, general fitness and nutrition. Being able to use that influence within our team is essential to educating the parents and athletes on the importance of a well-balanced diet and how to make healthy choices during the hectic school year.

Joshua Ortegon is co-founder and the Director of Sports Performance Enhancement at Athlete’s Arena in Irmo, SC as well as a High School Strength and Conditioning Coach and Consultant. See more at www.JoshuaOrtegon.com and www.AthletesArena.com

Youth Nutritional Strategies for Maintaining Energy

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By Christopher R. Mohr, PhD, RD

Glucose is the body’s primary source of energy, fueling the brain and working muscles. The glycemic response of a food—or the measure of impact of a food on blood sugar (glucose)—determines the amount and length of energy offered from the food or meal.

Key Youth Nutritional Principles

  • Glucose gives the body energy. Glucose can come directly from glucose itself or the breakdown of other foods to ultimately provide this energy “currency.”
  • Foods that are high in fiber, protein, and/or fat slow the glycemic response of food providing a slower and more consistent delivery of energy.
  • Different carbohydrates are digested at different rates of speed, which affects how the body responds both during activity and throughout the day.

Practically Speaking

Sometimes our bodies run low on energy—at the office, at school, on the soccer field, or out running errands with the kids. This is when a purposeful pick me up—or a sensible snack—in an appropriate portion can give you that energy boost. It’s where a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts, or maybe a Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, come in; between the fiber, protein and fats, they provide the low glycemic index that’s necessary to bridge the gap with sustained energy before you get to the next meal. Data suggest that eating a food that has a lower glycemic index may improve cognitive performance.

In a very practical sense, the fruit and nuts are also perfect because they’re portable, non-perishable, and, most of all, taste amazing with the variety of options. And they’re good for parents and kids alike, so everyone can enjoy them.

Take Home

Controlling glucose is an important tool in terms of sustained energy. This can be for the athlete on his bike, to the stay at home mom or corporate athlete in her office. Everyone, regardless of their specific situation, can benefit from sustained energy.

___________________________

Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD

Mohr Results, Inc

http://www.MohrResults.com

Filters for Developing Youth Athletic Success

The 4 Steps of Developing Youth Athletic Success

By Jim Herrick

Many years ago while in college, I remember one of our engineering labs using a large machine to filter sediment. Basically, after our professor would pour a mixture of dirt and rocks into the top of this machine, it would separate the pieces by size. The sediment fell through a series of grated trays, each one with progressively smaller holes than the one above it.

4 different sized rocks as an analogy for the stages of developing youth athletic success

The largest rocks would catch and stay on the top filter, the next biggest pieces on the tray below, and so on. At the bottom of the machine you would find only the finest grains of sand that had made it through each successively tighter filter.

In so many ways, this machine parallels how athletic development sorts itself out over time. Each level of sports tends to have its own critical filters as young athletes move through youth leagues to high school, college, and beyond. Obviously, not every sport progresses in exactly the same direction, but there are some clear filters to athletic success that span a large number of them

Most have certain “big rocks” that must come first for early success, with a series of more refined skill sets that follow with each progressive level. These days, many parents and coaches are drowning in the sea of athletic opportunity for their young athletes. Travel teams, town leagues, tournaments, sports training programs, private skill lessons, and more are at almost everyone’s disposal.

To best navigate all the available options, it is best to keep in mind that athlete needs at different age levels will vary. However, those needs are often more predictable than one might guess, and developing youth athletic success is a 4-step process.

The Biggest Rock: General Coordination and Movement Skills

Developing youth athletic success in 4 stages

Check out any youth sports game in your town, paying particular attention to those who rise above the rest. Most frequently, it is the young athletes who have most rapidly and completely developed coordination skills who excel early in the development process. These young athletes can shoot with greater accuracy, swing a bat, club or racket more fluidly, and accurately perform other coordination-dependent skills better than their age-level peers. The early coordination advantage also shows up in running technique, which enhances movement accuracy and efficiency.

The need to develop more fluid and athletic movements is the first filter to reaching success in sports. This “coordination domination” period will last somewhere until around 10-13 years old.

The Second Biggest Rock: Bodyweight Strength and the Impact on Speed

When considering the next level for developing youth athletic success, many young athletes will find that most every top player has passed through the coordination filter, which now makes the ability to cover more ground (meaning increased speed) much more important. There are a number of different ways to navigate through this filter because this may require a need for strengthening, weight management, or both.

Excess weight gain most likely will come from unhealthy nutrition habits in many cases, although playing a sport or position that doesn’t require a lot of movement may also be part of the problem. For others, not staying active when out of their main sport season can contribute, as well. Alternately, some young athletes grow at a rapid rate and struggle to keep pace with relative strength. This creates a situation where they will appear to play slower in comparison to peers who were once equal or behind them speed-wise.

These issues typically first manifest themselves during the middle school years, and by looking at the alarming obesity and sports dropout rates for this age group, it is probably fair to say this is the hardest filter for young athletes to pass through.

The Second Smallest Rock: Technical Movement, Strategic, and Sport-Specific Skills

Once an athlete shows enough coordination, strength, and speed to reach the high school level, they are now confronted with much more of the technical side of athletics. Becoming proficient at playing beyond oneself by absorbing team concepts and game strategies becomes essential as athletes hope to thrive in the systems of established high school or AAU programs. This is where combining the mental side with the physical can help a young athlete really stand out. Sport-specific skills (puck handling, dribbling, passing, etc.) must also become more refined, forged through the countless hours of practice necessary to separate a player from all the other coordinated, fast athletes at this stage. As the game once again speeds up, learning and applying advanced speed development techniques provides another critical advantage for those who are driven to push through to the next filter.

The Smallest Rock: Body Composition and Power Maximization

One thing that has been clearly evident in all sports for both males and females is that elite athletes are bigger and stronger than ever before. However, getting bigger and more powerful should not interfere with the coordination, flexibility, or speed skills previously developed. When nutritional factors and recovery strategies are considered, success at this stage requires an almost around-the-clock commitment to success. Only the most dedicated will be able to pull it all off.

Of course, none of the previous filters ever go away completely. In fact, for most sports, these filters require constant improvement as the athlete continues to develop. However, the biggest takeaway for coaches and parents is that every piece of the athletic puzzle has its time and place. Developing youth athletic success actually does follow a relatively predictable path. With smart planning and implementation, those who take a long-term approach are far more likely to see the ultimate success of which they dream.

Dos and Don’ts of Off Season Training for Youth Athletes

3 Goals for Off-Season Training for Youth Athletes

Alex Slezak discusses off-season training for youth athletes

By Alex Slezak M.Ed, Youth Fitness Specialist

“The more you sweat in times of peace, the less you bleed in times of war,” is a saying that is certainly full of wisdom. Off-season training is one area where athletes can get a tremendous bang for their buck. This article aims to provide wisdom, based on knowledge and experience, for training in the off-season.

Before we get into specifics, we have to define what the off-season actually is. The off-season is a period of time when an athlete is not participating competitively in their sport. Team sports like football, basketball, and baseball have a clearly defined off-season. Seasons in other sports such as tennis are not as easily defined. And with the oftentimes overly demanding schedules of many youth sports teams, many young athletes jump from travel to all-star and then varsity high school teams hoping to get ahead, never leaving any time for an actual off-season.

You don't need much equipment for your off-season training for youth athletes

It is critical for all athletes, professional to youth, to have some sort of off-season built into the year. Playing sports at competitive maximums is taxing on the human body. High school pitchers undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery, tennis players with wrist and rotator cuff issues, and knee/ankle problems from the repetitive stresses of jumping and landing on the basketball or volleyball court are all predictable consequences associated with overuse and lack of rest for young athletes. It is what would seem to be common sense: You cannot race a car hard every single day at the track without something eventually breaking down. The human body responds in much the same way.

If you cannot play your sport in the off-season, then what can you do? First, I am not going to tell you that you cannot play your sport in the off-season. What I will tell you is that you should not be competing in your sport in the off-season. In fact, competing in your sport is the definition of being in-season. This downtime is an opportunity to perform technical skill work or practice but at a much lower intensity and volume than during your competitive season. For example, this would be the time a basketball player could improve dribbling skills or a tennis player technical stroke work. The key takeaway here is you are not playing your sport at competitive max or “racing speed.”

So what should the training be like when an athlete is not in season? Off-season training for youth athletes should focus on improving foundational movement patterns and general strength and conditioning. In fact, this should be the bulk of the work done in the off-season. This work helps establish a base for the future. Improving fundamental movement patterns like jumping, landing, decelerating, squatting, hinging at the hip, pushing, and pulling all improve overall athleticism. The conditioning work done to the aerobic system in the off-season provides the base for the higher-intensity demands to come in the pre-season and competitive seasons. The improvement of general strength creates the potential to sprint faster, jump higher, and throw harder during the competitive season. You simply cannot build these qualities in the middle of a competitive season. Instead, you must build these qualities in the off-season so they can be expressed during the competitive season.

Each sport and athlete has specific needs, and if you are serious about getting the most out of the off-season time, I would hire a knowledgeable and experienced trainer. The gold-standard for anyone working with youth is to be certified by the IYCA, but the bottom line is to do your homework and find someone who thinks long-term and has your best interest in mind. With that being said, in a typical 4-12 week off-season, three of the most common goals are to develop the aerobic energy system, improve general strength, and clean up movement patterns.

Regardless of the sport, a well-conditioned aerobic system is essential. Obviously, a well-conditioned aerobic system will benefit someone like a distance runner or soccer player. However, what most people do not understand is that a fine-tuned aerobic system provides benefits in almost all sports. This is because the aerobic system (energy with oxygen) is responsible for replenishing the fuel for the anaerobic energy system (energy without oxygen). In other words, football and tennis players need their aerobic system to replenish the anaerobic systems that allow them to perform bursts of high-intensity work intervals. This is a tremendous advantage late in the game during the competitive season, and it can only be accomplished by doing some work dedicated to improving the ability of the cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen to working muscle. Although training for peak aerobic performance has been shown to compromise anaerobic performance in elite athletes, this potential drawback is not typically significant enough to be of concern to a young athlete who has far more to gain in terms of positive body composition and overall fitness levels.

Aerobic training is done at 130-150 bpm during the off-season

Another benefit of aerobic training in the off-season is that it promotes recovery. Delivering oxygen-rich blood throughout the body aids in rebuilding tissues that take a beating during the competitive season. In addition, it is relatively easy on the nervous system. The nervous system is typically taxed heavily during the competitive season with all the quick movements and maximal muscle contractions. Conversely, aerobic training is characterized by sustained or repeated submaximal efforts, providing low-level neurological stimulation. Examples of aerobic training include long runs, swimming, or biking at a heart rate of 130-150 beats per minute,

Off-season training for youth athletes should also have an emphasis on lifting heavy things and putting on some muscle mass. The force a muscle is able to produce is directly related to its cross-sectional area. If you want to be able to run, jump, and throw harder next season, strength training is essential. Strength training simply means you are going to stress the muscle by lifting something heavy, and your body will respond by making it bigger and stronger. An athlete does not have to go to the weight room or have access to fancy equipment to strength train. In fact, for most youth athletes, bodyweight is the best place to start. After all, if you cannot move your own body weight appropriately, adding 50 pounds on top of your back is asking for an injury.

When strength training, the focus should be on movement patterns rather than on specific muscles. For example, you want to improve strength in fundamental movement patterns such as squatting, hip hinging, pushing, pulling, and core stability. This is easily done with body weight, free weights, sandbags, and resistance bands. It is not easily done with the machines you find in most gyms that isolate specific muscles and joints.

Building a solid foundation of strength in the off-season is followed by learning how to express that newly developed strength during the pre-season and fully expressing the strength in the competitive season. The key here is to focus on improving general strength in the off-season and then working during the pre-season and competitive season to apply it.

The final objective of the off-season is to clean up movement patterns. This is the time to make sure you can absorb force correctly, clean up fundamental patterns, and develop good posture. This aspect of training is becoming even more important in today’s society. Think about the amount of time children spend sitting on the computer, texting on their phone, and sitting in classrooms. It is causing an epidemic of bad posture and inefficient movement in those compromised positions. Even worse, training and competing in them is a major contributing factor to several youth sports injuries such as spondylolysis (stress fracture in the lower back) and shoulder injuries. When you spend all day hunched over and your lower back is in excessive curvature, you develop poor posture, and this can set off any number of ailments when training load is increased.

Pyramid of athletic development shows the importance of developmental off-season training for youth athletes

The above pyramid of athletic development shows why movement patterns are so important to develop in an off-season training program. Clearly, movement is the base for all sports skills. You cannot layer fitness and sports skills on top of dysfunctional movement without eventually paying the price, and the off-season is the best time to develop those skills since time and effort playing sport are at a minimum.

It is impossible to prescribe an all-encompassing general workout for the off-season because the needs of each athlete and sport are unique. Some athletes may need to spend more time developing strength and others improving conditioning. However, below is a very general look at the typical week of training in the off-season. Planning training or periodization is a science in and of itself, but one of the biggest things to notice below is how the training is spaced out. An athlete cannot work hard 3 or 4 days in a row and then take 3 or 4 days off. Training is nothing more than applying stress to the body. The body then adapts to the stresses placed upon it. The real physical changes happen between rather than during workouts. Understanding the importance of rest and proper nutrition between workouts will maximize success and allow you to train both hard and smart.

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Dynamic Warm-Up

Aerobic Training

Dynamic Warm-Up

Strength Training (AM)

Sport-Specific or Agility Work (PM)

Dynamic Warm-Up

Aerobic Training

Dynamic Warm-Up

Strength Training (AM)

Sport-Specific or Agility Work (PM))

Dynamic Warm-Up

Aerobic Training

Dynamic Warm-Up

Strength Training (AM)

Sport-Specific or Agility Work (PM)

Off

Recovery & Regeneration

If you look at everything presented about off-season training and put it in the context of the bigger picture, it becomes clear how important it is when thinking long-term. If you understand that, then I will let you in on a little secret about developing champion athletes.

Most parents and coaches are only concerned with the short-term. They want to win the big game next week, win the tournament this weekend, or make the U-12 all-star soccer team. They may achieve those things, but they take shortcuts to get them, such as skipping the off-season. Those shortcuts eventually catch up.

On the other hand, the true champion athletes are focused on the long-term from the very beginning, and they never take shortcuts. They do the work in the off-season, and over the course of years, they develop outstanding conditioning and strength while often avoiding injury. They also are the ones who may have missed out on winning the championship in 7th grade, but they eventually end up with scholarship offers and notable accomplishments when it counts.

To conclude, I hope this article sheds some light on just how important off-season training really is to in-season performance. If you pay the price of time and sweat during the off-season training, you certainly will reap the benefits during the heat of the battle in-season.

Alex Slezak is a Youth Fitness Specialist and Tennis Coach in Pittsburgh, PA. He has authored books and articles for such organizations as the IYCA and works in the trenches training youth daily. He frequently develops programs for off-season training for youth athletes. You can find more information or contact Coach Slezak at www.AlexSlezak.com.

Why Games for Young Athletes Are Beneficial

Why Games for Young Athletes Are More Important Now Than Ever

By Scott Abramouski

Games for Young Athletes provide many life lessons

We all know intuitively that games for young athletes are beneficial; after all, the very young athletes are still discovering the world and what their bodies are capable of. Focusing on the fun of the game rather than the outcome of fitness allows the kids to receive a huge training effect while having fun, which will make them want to do it even more. But today, perhaps more than ever, games for youth athletes are an extremely important training tool that calm the fears of parents while preparing young athletes’ bodies and minds for what they will encounter later in life.

With athletes beginning to train at earlier ages, coaches and trainers have found they’ve had to deal with more questions and stronger opinions from parents on how their children should be trained. These questions and opinions often cause parents to doubt the programming their child is receiving or the athletic participation of the child. If a parent is told their child should not undertake a weight-training program until high school, they may strongly avoid any resistance-training program, which can actually hinder their child’s athletic development in terms of functional movements and strength benefits. Everyone wants what’s best for their young athlete, but often misconceptions about what’s best get in the way of finding the proper program, meeting the proper coaches, and placing the athletes into the correct situations.

Alongside proper training and nutrition, the athlete must develop on a cognitive level in order to influence their attitude and drive later on in sports. Playing in a game setting, even if the games are unrelated to their favorite sports, provides the intangibles that no other situation in life can provide. The positive, as well as the negative, experiences that youth athletes have to combat while playing various games help create a well-rounded, motivated individual. The five characteristics that result from playing games with youth athletes are a positive attitude, mentorship, dealing with pressure, teamwork, and playing by the rules.

Positive Attitude

With the ongoing adversity that our athletes come across in their daily lives, there is nothing better than some positive influence and attitude implemented into their lives. The successes children can have from winning and from the constant memorable events within a game situation can advance them in the right direction. The athlete’s self-esteem will increase with interaction and completing task-oriented goals. Even losing has the possibility of motivating the athletes to work harder in other arenas and ultimately become victorious on their next go around. We have to remember that even some of the best baseball players strike out over fifty percent of the time.

Mentorship

Coaches, trainers, and parents alike can all agree that one of the hardest tasks for young athletes is for them to engage and give their full, undivided attention. With the lack of authority or trust in their superiors, sometimes youths will look elsewhere for learning guidance, which could make them disinterested.  During games, our athletes look up to these mentors and place trust in them, knowing that if the game play is executed correctly, there will be a positive outcome. It is important for our children to listen to their coaches and trainers without negative reinforcement; that way, they will want to better themselves.

Dealing with Pressure

As we grow older, maturity and pressure situations parallel one another. Test taking, job interviews, and state championship games are all examples of some of the pressure we are confronted with. It is ultimately how a person deals with these situations that will define their characteristics and ability to persevere. If youth athletes become accustomed to high-pressure situations and have experience dealing with them, willingness to accept more difficult tasks will rise. Limiting stress, relaxing, and feeling prepared for difficult game scenarios will provide the athletes with confidence, control, and centralized concentration.

Teamwork

Teamwork is experienced throughout life at every stage. The ability to understand the positive benefits of a joint and equal effort from all the team members is a huge step in developing young athletes. Just as the team needs all the individuals, the athlete must understand that their personal needs are not met without the team. No football team is going to expect to win with just one player on the field participating. Teamwork will also help advance the social skills of the athletes and help them communicate with one another. It is the lack of communication and mistrust in all ages of sports that has been seen to greatly hinder a great team from winning even one game.

Playing by the Rules

For athletes, playing by the rules can be frustrating, but it is crucial for the flow and integrity of sports. Athletes learn the importance of rules and value them highly simply by breaking them. The earlier athletes understand rules for their given sport, the better off they are. This way, they can understand why circumstances may not have gone in their favor or why something they did may have lost them the game. The thrill of victory is heightened when you know you outplayed and outperformed your opponent and did so within the rules. Rules in games for young athletes are quite trivial when compared with the endless rules we are faced day in and day out as citizens.

Benefits of Jumping Rope for Athletes

How to Incorporate Jumping Rope for Athletes into Your Programming

By Tim Meyer

If your child plays sports, then you know that the quickest, strongest, fastest, and most agile players are usually the most successful. What if I could give you a simple exercise that, done consistently, could increase just about all of those attributes with a minimum amount of expense and time? You’d jump all over it, right?

Well, that’s just it. Your kids need to jump. Specifically, they need to jump rope!

Benefits of Jumping Rope for Athletes

Let’s take a look at what actually happens when you jump rope.

First, your brain must communicate with your arms and legs simultaneously to turn the rope and hop off the ground. So, right off the bat, we are working on neuromuscular patterns, body awareness, and coordination. Once you integrate more complex jump rope patterns, you further increase the level of effectiveness of the exercise. These issues are highly overlooked in the athletic development of young athletes, yet they are critical to their success.

Next, let’s break it down into the physical world to see how it can help us from a movement standpoint. Moving from the ground up, jumping rope strengthens the muscles of the feet, ankles, and knees, lending active stability to the joints of the leg. Sport movements like sprinting, cutting, jumping, and landing significantly stress the ankle joint. The stronger the muscular support, the less stress on the joints and ligaments, and the decreased likelihood of injury.

In addition, jumping rope is a precursor to bigger jumps—and bigger landings. Consistently landing from a jump incorrectly is a surefire way to get injured. Jumping rope properly teaches the athlete how to land and absorb impact with “soft knees” and by landing on the toes before transferring pressure to the balls of the feet.

Finally, it is a speed and strength developer. Jumping rope strengthens the Achilles tendon and trains the gastrocneumius and soleus (calf muscles) to be able to absorb force and quickly transfer it back into another jump. In other words, jumping rope is a highly effective yet low risk plyometric activity.

Programming Jumping Rope for Athletes

Try integrating this simple jump rope progression into your programs. It should only take 10-15 minutes. Rest for 15 seconds after each “style,” 1 minute after each round. Complete three rounds.

Regular hops: 30 seconds

Scissor hops (feet split on each jump): 30 seconds

2-foot side-to-side hops (skiers): 30 seconds

Jumping jacks: 30 seconds

Single leg hops: 30 seconds each

Get your young athlete to jump rope and you might just see a real change in how athletic they can be!

Coaching an Unfamiliar Sport

How to Field Questions and Prepare for Coaching an Unfamiliar Sport

By Brad Leshinske BS CSCS

What do you do when coaching an unfamiliar sport?

As sports performance coaches who are often found coaching an unfamiliar sport, a question we sometimes get is, “Did you play this sport that you’re training my son or daughter in?” If you’re training many athletes, chances are you haven‘t played every sport your athletes are training for. If you are in a special niche, that may be a different story. But for those who coach many sports, this is an important question you may face. How do we answer or recognize that it’s not necessary to have played the sport in order to be an effective trainer or coach?

When a parent or coach asks this question, there are many ways to respond. Take a look at the following scenario:

Coach – I really liked how you trained the basketball team, and I noticed they got great results with your training. I was wondering if we could meet and discuss training our swimming team. I have some concerns about whether you are prepared to train swimmers since you haven’t swum competitively before.

Sports Performance Coach – I would love to sit and speak with you about your program and how we can help. While I was not a competitive swimmer, I know that swimming requires core strength, explosive power, and strong and healthy shoulders.

Coach – That sounds great. Let’s meet.

At this point, you have gotten yourself in the door, which is a great first step when coaching an unfamiliar sport. The next step is to get yourself familiarized with the sport. As sports performance coaches, we have to understand the movements and demands that various sports put on our athletes, especially as they get older and more competitive. For instance, grammar school is about great movement, body awareness, and technique. For high school, you can focus a little more on sport demands, especially in athletes’ junior and senior years. With college athletes, you have to be the most specific in your protocol for training. So in your meeting you need to express a few things:

Coaching an unfamiliar sport is easy, as long as you are at least familiar with the demands of the sport

  1. Know what movements are necessary to help their athletes. For example, swimming is approximately 33% plyometric depending on what race they are involved in, shoulder health is a huge concern, core strength and power are very much needed, and muscle endurance for some swimmers is hugely important.
  2. You have to assure the coach that all sports need strength and conditioning and movement skills. When programming dry-land training with water sports, you have to get the coach to realize that efficiency in movement will help their athletes in the water, and the power you build in their bodies will help them excel in the race they are preparing for.
  3. Conditioning is always a demand of any sport, and a good coach will realize that.
  4. Tell the coach that in-season lifting and maintenance of their strength and movement skills is very important. We know that as the season continues, strength and technique, if not maintained, will degrade. The goal of any sports performance coach is to make sure their athletes not only get better in the off season but also maintain strength and skill during the season.

All this is not to say that you can be completely unfamiliar with a sport and still be an effective coach. Like mentioned previously, you must know the sport and its demands. A coach shouldn’t expect you to have played every sport that you train, but they have every right to expect you know the demands for the sports you do train. If you can come into the meeting with knowledge of their sport, it shows that you care about them, their athletes, and their sport, and it gives them confidence you can train their athletes.

Coaching an unfamiliar sport should not be something you fear or avoid. Instead, you should view it as a challenge to overcome and an opportunity to expand your knowledge and improve your craft as a coach.

About the author: Brad Leshinske BS CSCS is the founder of Athletic Edge Sports Performance in Evergreen Park and Owner of Athletic Revolution in McCook, IL. He has trained over 4000 athletes in 9 years in many sports. He also serves as an adjunct professor at North Park University in the Exercise Science Department.

Ranking IYCA Products: Best Youth Coaching Resources

I get a lot of questions regarding what IYCA product other coaches should buy. To my inbox, in person, and on Facebook, the question is always, “I am thinking of buying Product X and product Y. If you had to rank them, what would it be?”

Continuing education is one of my favorite things to spend money on. I know that there is a big return coming on the money spent on products that help me improve as a coach. So in truth, any information gleaned from a text or DVD is valuable for me, but if I had to rank them here is how it goes.

Youth Fitness Specialist Level 1

This product really is what sets the IYCA apart. There is no more complete text about training athletes from ages 6-18. This text defined for me what youth athletes need when it comes to training. It underwent a recent update and has been improved even more from the original.

IYCA High School Strength and Conditioning Coach Certification

This was the first product I was ever involved in creating and is the most practical text I have ever read about training high school athletes. There are dozens of done-for-you high school training programs. If they don’t fit the bill for your training situation, there is a huge text book giving you the tools to replace movements with ideal choices. The fact that it was written by Mike Robertson, Eric Cressey, and Toby Brooks makes it even better. Normal texts talk a lot about theory but this one really does tell you how to apply theory to make great high school athletes.

The IYCA Youth Speed and Agility Specialist

Written by Dave Jack, Latif Thomas, and Toby Brooks there is not a better text about speed and agility available anywhere. It is required reading for all interns with me, and for all the coaches that work in my facility. The section on lateral speed alone is worth the investment. That being said I have never read a more practical de-construction of the mechanics of acceleration and high speed running than what is provided in this text.

IYCA Kettlebell/Olympic Lifts/Resistance Band Instructor Courses

I grouped these together because there is always a weak point in coaches arsenal that needs to be improved. The IYCA has provided 3 manuals that can help you eliminate those points to become a better coach. There are no better kettlebell instructors than Jason C. Brown and Pamela MacElree at teaching kettlebells in an easy to process way. When it comes to resistance band training, no one surpasses Dave Schmitz in his knowledge, I have seen him train elite football teams with only resistance bands, creating some of the fastest and most explosive athletes I have been around. The Olympic Lifts course is designed by me, and in my honest evaluation, it is the only product that comes from someone with an elite Olympic lifting background that uses the lifts primarily to train athletes and not competitive Olympic lifters. Each of these products can help make you a better coach in a chosen weak point.

There are plenty of other awesome products from the IYCA. The Youth Fitness Specialist Level 2 and Level 3 products can only elevate your knowledge, and are the most thorough texts I have ever seen on a given subject matter.

Youth Training Variety for 6-9-Year-Olds (Discovery Classes)

Programming Fun, Function, and Youth Training Variety for 6-9-Year-Olds

By Dave Gleason

Dave Gleason shows how to program youth training variety for 6-9-year-olds

Programming for our youngest champions can be a tricky endeavor. Our primary focuses for our Discovery Classes are to a) create a broad, wide-ranging base of activity and b) allow our champions to explore movement through fun.

That said, in order to teach movement patterns without running the risk of repetitive motion injuries it is imperative to use as much variety as possible. The phrase we often use when describing how to effectively program in this manner is “repetition through variety”.

Now the question is how to provide this concept without seeming randomized or having no rhyme or reason.

Here are two things to consider:

  1. AR Programming Templates. Our proprietary programming template system will not only save you time, it will ensure your sessions will incorporate all of the important elements of training young children every time.
  • Body Awareness and Movement Exploration
  • Object Manipulation
  • Coordination Enhancement (Rhythm, Reactivity, Spatial Awareness, Kinesthetic Differentiation and Balance)
  • Game Play and Cooperation

Pick two to three activities for each category. The categories are a constant. What changes are the activities, exercises and games you choose for your young athletes. There will be high likelihood of crossover meaning you may choose an exercise that covers more than one category. Your decision to choose the proper category depends on your goal(s) for each class and or individual. This is the art of coaching.

  1. The Desired Movement. A prime illustration is triple extension of the hip, knee and ankle. Commonly called a squat by most trainers, triple extension can be achieved in several ways. Here is an incomplete list:
  • Squat
  • Alternating Lunge
  • Lunge Walk
  • Lateral Lunge
  • Back Lunge
  • Back Lunge with Rotation
  • Split Squats
  • Jumping

Do not forget that all of these examples can be very effective for your younger athletes, however they need to be administered in a FUN context. Consider “monster walks” for lunge walks, embellishing the role of a monster! Play “Levels” when administering the squat or split squat with cueing of “high, middle and low”. Your athletes will be required to move to each level as you call them out verbally or by hand signals.

Use repetition through variety in your programming for effective and FUN classes and your younger classes will not only grow rapidly…they are a feeder system to your older classes!

Keep Changing Lives!

Youth Training Templates for Ages 6-9

Easy-to-Follow and Very Fun Youth Training Templates

By Dave Gleason

Dave Gleason shares some tried and true youth training templates for ages 6-9

As a coach, I’m sure you agree that although each kid is unique, having a tried-and-true youth training template to work off can spark a lot of fun and innovation in your sessions. So I’m going to do my best today to give you something valuable that will serve you for a long time.

The athletes in our Discovery classes are generally ranging in age from 6-9 years old. There are commonalities as well as the potential for vast differences between the participants in this stage.

Using our program templates we can ensure that all participants in this stage are having a remarkable experience while they are discovering human movement. The self discovery aspect of this stage is crucial. Taking advantage of a plastic central nervous system our programming should be wide ranging and varied in order to develop a broad base for future mastery of movement skills.

Keeping that in mind, there are certain factors we need to be mindful of when creating your programs. Using a template system sets you and your young athletes up for ultimate success.

Below are the parameters to work with in the form of a template with examples of activities and or further elements to consider when creating your programs.

There always exists the risk of an activity being able to be applied to more than one category. This is perfectly acceptable as long is there is justification for where you place a specific exercise… this is the art of coaching.

Body Awareness/Movement Exploration

Monster Walks (Lunge Walks)

Bear crawls

Monkey Walks

Monkey Bars

Dragon Walks

Log Rolls

Side Shuffle

Carioca

Object Manipulation

Medicine Balls

Battle Ropes

Hula Hoops

Sandbells

Dodge Balls

Tennis Balls

PVC Pipes

Resistance Bands

Kettlebells

Coordination

Rhythm

Rhythm Machine

Clap Jacks

Reactivity

Helicopter Variations

“Coach Says”

Mirroring

Balance

Static

Holding Positions

Dynamic

Balance Beams

Around the World

Scramble to Balance

Spatial Awareness

Tag Variations

Dodgeball Variations

Kinesthetic Differentiation

Jump to line

Target games

Game Play/Cooperation

All of the above plus an endless supply of childhood movement based games such as:

 

Gaga

Dodgeball

Sorting/gathering games

Tag Variations

Capture the Flag

Duck Duck Goose

Tug o War

Target Games

Make sure you allow you young athletes to be creative and take ownership over what they come up with.  Some of your best activities will come from the minds of your athletes.  Continue to observe with a watchful eye because you never know when you will be shown an absolute gem of an exercise!

Keep changing lives!

Your Human Capital: The Key to a Fruitful Youth Fitness Career

Education Can Catapult Your Youth Fitness Career

By Alex Slezak – M.Ed, YFS, YSAS, HSSCS

Alex Slezak discusses ways to improve your youth fitness career 

In Economics 101, you learn about all different types of capital. One example that applies to fitness businesses is financial capital, which is the money used by businesses to lease a facility or spend on advertising. Another example is capital goods such as the kettlebells, bands, and equipment utilized to deliver your services.

Today, I want to talk about a much lesser-known type of capital: human capital. Human capital is the measure of the economic value of an employee’s skill set, and it is extremely valuable. In fact, Human capital might be the most important form of capital for fitness professionals.

Why is human capital so important to our niche? The youth fitness market is a service-based career. Regardless how fancy your facility, savvy your advertising, or cool your training equipment, ultimately people are paying for your services.  The more you know and the more experience you have, the better you are at delivering your service. You simply cannot fake being knowledgeable and good at what you do.

To put this in concrete terms, the concept is simple: The more human capital you possess, the more valuable you are to your employer and/or your clients. It is not the facility or any set of tools that really sets coaches apart from one another; rather, it is their human capital.

So how do you grow your human capital and become more valuable? You invest in yourself. You can start by approaching your career in a whole new mindset. Have an inquisitive mind each and every day. Look at every day and every challenge not as going to work but as a way to improve. If you are an intern, learn as much as possible because it will build up your human capital. If you are already employed, view the situation as though you were getting paid not just to do a job but also to learn and invest in yourself.

When it comes to investing in your own human capital, nothing will pay off more than educating yourself. Spend your free time reading blog posts from the IYCA or books from people in the industry with tremendous amounts of human capital. In addition, do not be afraid to spend some of your hard-earned money on attending workshops or conferences or on purchasing reputable certifications or courses from organizations like the IYCA. Although spending money is a barrier (and the aforementioned blogs are a great way to learn without spending money), the value of building your human capital will more than make up for the amount you spent.

If you follow the suggestions I’ve given, you will be impressed at how quickly your human capital can grow and how much more valuable you can become to your clients and/or employer. In a service-based industry like the youth fitness market, human capital is what separates the contenders from the pretenders . If you keep growing, your youth fitness career will, too.

Time Management in High School Football Training

Putting Athletes on the Clock: Time Management in High School Football Training

By Shane Nelson, MSS, CSCS

Shane-Nelson

Time management in high school football training is always a big issue. In fact, when working with large groups of athletes in any sport, we are always limited in terms of time and space. This is especially true in high schools, where several teams are competing for time in the weight room after school. High schools usually don’t have the luxury of scheduling teams in the weight room during the day or late into the evening. Therefore, coaches and athletes must make the most of the time they get in there, which is typically about an hour or so after the school day ends. By their nature, coaches are constantly doing everything they can to make the most of their time—high school athletes, on the other hand, not so much.

I’ve worked with the football team at my high school for around five years. Through trial and error, the head football coach and I have come up with a system of time management in high school football training, which I’ve carried over to the other sports I work with, that holds them accountable for getting the required number of sets and reps during the lifting session, while at the same time leaving little or no time for them to lose focus and goof off.

Using a timer for better time management in high school football training

In our weight room, we have a 3-foot by 4-foot timer that we use to time our various stations. In our current mesocycle, we set the timer at fifteen minutes and it counts down to zero from there.  There is a horn that sounds to begin and end the “quarter.” The football team uses that term to stay in a football mindset. Below is our current Monday/Thursday lifting routine. We also lift on Wednesdays; however, the lifts are different. The four “quarter” concept is still the same.

Station One       Station Two            Station Three        Station Four              

Bench Press 5×5   Squat 5×5                  Bicep Curl 4×8          Speed/Agility

RDL 5×6              Bent Over Rows 5×5    Tricep Pushdown 4×8

.                                                           Step-ups 4×8

In general, we have four people in a group, and four groups at a station, which allows us to work with up to 64 athletes at a time. As you can see, the athletes must stay focused on the task at hand in order to complete 10-12 sets in 15 minutes.

Here is how the athletes rotate through the stations. In station one, one person is bench pressing as he is spotted on each side. The fourth person in the group is doing RDLs. The group rotates as the lifts are completed.  The bench presser moves to spot the right side of the bench. The spotter on the right moves to RDL, the RDL moves to spot the left side of the bench, and the spotter on the left moves to the bench press. This circuit must be completed five times in 15 minutes. Station two is completed in similar fashion. We like this approach because the athletes are recovering between sets as they are spotting and then performing a lift with an entirely different muscle group. Station three is completed in a separate room, and the athletes circuit the three lifts with the fourth lifter spotting the step-ups. Station four is run by another coach in our fieldhouse and consists of 15 minutes worth of various speed/agility drills.

Throughout the entire workout, our timer is prominently displayed in the weight room, and the athletes can see how much time remains in the “quarter” at any time. Because of this, they all know whether they are on pace or need to pick it up to get the lifts done in the allotted time.

I highly suggest this type of approach to time management in high school football training really for anyone who trains large groups of athletes at any one time—not just with football players. I’ve experimented with many different approaches over the years, and this one seems to work really well. I’ve tried giving the kids the entire hour to get the prescribed sets and reps of a workout done. From that, we found there was a great deal of time spent walking around and talking with each other. I’ve also tried the other extreme where I’ve used our timer and timed every set (say 15 seconds) and every rest period (say another 15 seconds) between sets. To me, that approach seemed overly micro-managed.

The best part about our current setup is that it keeps our kids engaged and motivated. It gives them a sense of urgency as the clock ticks down. They know what the expectation is during each quarter, and overall, we’ve had a tremendous off-season so far.

I’m fully confident you will find great success with a similar approach to time management in high school football training. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Until next time,

Shane Nelson, MSS, CSCS

Incorporating Acceleration Training for Athletes into Every Workout

Simple Warm-Up Provides Acceleration Training for Athletes

Josh Ortegon discusses acceleration training for athletes

By Josh Ortegon

Developing proper acceleration mechanics in young athletes is essential to improving their performance, so acceleration training for athletes is important to train whenever possible. This skill should be considered no less important than learning a proper squat, jumping and landing technique, and multi-directional movement skills. The High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist (HSSCS) typically has limited time to spend with the athletes under his or her charge and therefore must take advantage of every opportunity to coach this skill.

Many times, acceleration training for athletes is neglected by placing too much emphasis on peak speed and high-speed mechanics. While being able to hit and maintain high top end speed can be a positive quality for an athlete, very rarely does an athlete hit and maintain top-end speed during play. As a result, being able to accelerate properly (often out of a change of direction) can be much more beneficial to the athlete’s performance.

One of the most effective ways to incorporate acceleration training for athletes into programming is to build it into the warm-up. Here is an example of how to incorporate acceleration mechanics into the warm-up:

1. Movement Prep

Cradle walks and other movement prep is crucial for incorporating acceleration training for athletes

5-10 yards of the following:

  • Stiff legged leg march
  • Single leg walking dead lift
  • Leg cradle
  • Walking quadriceps stretch
  • Elbow to instep
  • Backward lunge to twist
  • Knee hug to a lunge

2. Linear Progressions

(Measure out 40 yards with a cone at the 10-, 20-, 30-, and 40-yard marks. If space is limited you can shorten the distance or use a gymnasium. The only consistency needs to be 4 equal-distance phases.)

Perform the following:

  • Linear march 0-10 yard mark
  • Linear skips (A-Skips) 10-20 yard mark
  • High knee trot 20-30 yard mark
  • Accelerate through the 40

3. Linear Buildups

Acceleration training for athletes can take place outdoors

(Measure out 40 yards with a cone at the 10, 20, 30 and 40-yard mark)

Perform the following:

  • High knee trot 0-10 yard mark
  • Accelerate “1st gear” 10-20 yard mark
  • Accelerate “2nd gear” 20-30 yard mark
  • Accelerate “full speed” through the 40

The amount of time spent on this will be determined by how much time is available in the workout. If time is limited, the athlete should perform only a single set of progressions and build-ups. Often, if acceleration is the focus of the workout or if more time is needed working on the skill, it is typical to perform four sets of each.

With proper setup and instruction, the warm-up can be narrowed to 10-15 minutes from onset.

After this, the athlete may transition into a strength workout or continue into more linear training like resisted starts, sled sprints, or wall drills.

To get the most out of this warm-up, we suggest teaching it to the sports coaches and explaining to them the benefits of this warm-up prior to practice or incorporating some of these drills into a full pre-game warm-up and adding in some multi-directional specific warm-ups.

Like most skills, acceleration training for athletes requires repetition to build proficiency. With practice and in combination with an appropriate strength program, any athlete can learn to improve their acceleration, and the entire team will enjoy improved performance!

How to Become a Strength and Conditioning Coach

Opportunities Abound—Consider Your Strengths

Jim Kielbaso explains how to become a strength and conditioning coach

By Jim Kielbaso

The field of strength and conditioning has exploded over the past 10-15 years, and more people are wondering how to become a strength and conditioning coach than ever before. Unfortunately, most young professionals simply don’t know what options are available, where to start, or what it will take to get there. Because of this, many professionals end up moving on to other career pursuits. The purpose of this article is to give you a basic understanding of the strength and conditioning profession, what is available, and which paths are typical for each scenario.

Opportunities Available to the Strength and Conditioning Coach

How to become a strength and conditioning coach: 4 main tracks

Strength and conditioning job opportunities are typically found in four main career areas:

  1. Professional sports
  2. Collegiate sports
  3. Private setting
  4. Volunteer or part-time positions

Entrepreneurship has become an ever-important aspect of this profession, and having a great business idea can open up additional career paths such as speaking, writing, web-sites, product development, product sales, and more. Those areas are not the typical paths, so we won’t be spending much time talking about them. Keep in mind, however, that an entrepreneurial spirit can open the doors to a wide variety of additional opportunities in this field.

The Power of Networking

Most strength and conditioning coaches who have been in the game for more than a few years have worked very hard to get where they are. Almost all have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a related field and at least one major certification. Many coaches have a master’s degree, own multiple certifications, and have done internships or graduate assistantships to gain experience and connections in the Strength and Conditioning world. Like any other profession, some coaches simply fall into incredible positions and may even be ill-qualified for the job. Most, however, are “connected” to another coach. When that coach gets a new job, he often takes “his people” with him.

University of Tennessee Strength Coach Ronnie McKeefery puts it best: “Networking is an absolute must when you’re trying to break into this field. Knowing the right people can move your resume to the top of a large stack or even let you know about job openings you otherwise wouldn’t have known about.”

There is no objective way to determine who the best strength coaches are—there are no win/loss records attributed directly to the Strength and Conditioning coach—so “who you know” plays a big role in how many opportunities come your way. Unfortunately, many good coaches lose their jobs because they are connected to a sport coach who loses his/her job. That’s part of the game, and it’s the state of the profession. If that’s not appealing to you, you may want to find a job outside of college or pro sports.

More and more, sport coaches are learning about strength and conditioning and developing their own opinions about training. If you hope to work with a sport coach like this, your training philosophy better match his/her opinion of what works: The sport coach is in charge of the team and he/she may carry a lot of weight in the hiring/firing process; if you do things in a way that contradicts the coach’s beliefs, you’re probably not going to be hired. This reality has gotten many coaches to reevaluate what is important to them, and compromises have been made in order to keep jobs. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it is a part of the profession.

Nearly Endless Options

If you’re just starting out and have a real passion for strength and conditioning but haven’t gotten too far into the business, you need to know that there are many options and paths to choose from. If you just want to be part of the scene, there are endless opportunities. There are a lot of schools, teams and athletes that would love some free or very inexpensive help. If you want to get paid, however, there are fewer opportunities. And, if you want to make a lot of money, your path is even narrower. That’s not to say that there aren’t good jobs out there, but there are a lot of quality coaches vying for a relatively small number of coveted jobs, so it’s very competitive. No matter which path you choose, you’ll probably have to pay your dues, unless you’re one of those lucky people who fall into a perfect situation.

“Putting in a lot of hard work and spending time developing as a coach is an absolute requirement,” says McKeefery. “This is a tough job, so you have to be willing to work. If hard work and long hours are a problem for you, this probably isn’t the job for you.”

You also need to keep in mind that not everyone is a good fit for this profession and different personalities fit better down certain paths. You don’t want to be the square peg trying to fit into a round hole, so it’s a good idea to figure out which path presents the best opportunities for your strengths. As you read through the rest of this article, you may connect with certain aspects of each job. Try to be very honest and objective about which environment you are best suited for. The coach who is perfectly suited for college football may be the wrong person to work with professional basketball players. An incredible Olympic sports coach may be terrible in a business setting.

You also need to understand that each situation has pros and cons. Working with professional athletes may be your dream because you love Sports Center. That dream could be completely shattered when you find out the realities of the situation. You may start out being driven in one direction, but don’t be surprised if your outlook changes as you mature in the profession.

Let’s take a look at some of the opportunities available in the field and the most common paths taken to get there. While you read, think about which situations you’re best suited for. Also keep in mind that there are always combinations of these positions available, and you may have an opportunity to create your own job in certain situations.

How to Become a Strength and Conditioning Coach in Professional Sports

(Salary range: $500/month–$300K+/year)

How to become a strength and conditioning coach for professional sports

To some people, this is the pinnacle. To others, it’s a terrible situation. There are a very limited number of jobs available in pro sports, so you’ll certainly have to pay your dues, get to know the right people and be in the right place at the right time to make it happen. Professional sports have evolved to the point that the athletes often have more power than the coaches, and some coaches aren’t right for that environment.

The path to success in professional sports is generally to pick one sport and go full tilt in that direction. You’ll probably get pigeon-holed early on as a hockey guy, football guy, basketball guy, etc., so be sure you like the sport you’re dealing with. That’s not to say you can never switch sports, but once you’re in, you’re kind of in.

Like college coaches, many pro coaches start out as a Graduate Assistant or intern for a collegiate program. From there, they often intern or volunteer for a pro team to get a foot in the door. Sometimes a player you’ve worked with puts a word in for you to get you into an organization. Once you get a foot in the door, it’s much easier to move ahead. It’s pretty common for a part-time coach or intern to be promoted to assistant coach if he/she is doing a great job. From there, many assistant coaches move up to a head coach spot when one opens.

MLB seems to have the largest number of opportunities, but many of them are internship positions with minor league teams. Inexperienced coaches have the opportunity to get jobs in pro baseball, and it can be a good learning experience if you are lucky enough to work under a good coach. It can also be frustrating because moving upward in an organization is difficult and competitive. The people at the top of the ladder typically stay there for as long as they can.

In baseball, you generally go from being an intern with a minor league team to being a minor league coordinator and finally to MLB head strength coach. Many teams hire from within, so it’s often a game of attrition: How long can you wait for a good job to become available?

“I spent time in three different organizations waiting for an opportunity to present itself, but it never happened,” says Nick Wilson from the University of Detroit Mercy. “I stuck around baseball as long as I could, but when a college position became available, I knew I had to jump on it.”

Your ability to connect with coaches and athletes will often outweigh your knowledge, so keep in mind that you have to be the right fit if you’re going to make it very far in baseball.

The NBA, NFL, MLS, and NHL are a little different because there aren’t many lower-tier or minor league positions available. The path noted above (intern–>assistant–>head) is similar to the path taken in collegiate sports. The big difference is that most “farm” systems of these sports simply don’t have full-time strength and conditioning coaches… yet. That may change in the future.

To get into one of these sports, you typically have to pay your dues for a while, making very little money, working very hard, traveling A LOT, and connecting with the right people in order for it to pay off. More importantly, you typically need to ride the coattails of a coach or high-profile athlete to get into a good position. For example, you may be a volunteer coach for an NFL team just at the time that the assistant Strength and Conditioning coach gets a new job. If you’ve done an outstanding job, you might get the Assistant position. From there, you may become great friends with the Defensive Coordinator. The next year, that coach may get a head coaching job for another team, and he may bring you with him because of your relationship. That’s a typical situation, but it doesn’t always work perfectly.

You also need to understand that pro Strength and Conditioning coaches are often hired and fired depending on how the players feel about you. It’s not uncommon to see a coach get hired or fired in pro sports because a star player either loved or hated him/her. It’s also not uncommon for someone to get hired by a professional team because he/she had developed a relationship with an owner or high-level manager. That’s certainly not typical, but you just never know how things might work out in professional sports.

If pro sports is your true passion, you’ll probably need to start out by volunteering for a team. Call the strength coach and ask if you can be involved in any way. If you’re lucky enough to get your foot in the door, take advantage of that opportunity by working your butt off. Hard work will often impress someone, and that could give you the opportunity to take the next step in that sport.

You’ll almost always need a strong educational background to land a good pro job, but there have also been plenty of ex-players or personal friends that get hired.

The NFL typically has one head strength coach and one or two assistants. Many teams are going with a speed coach instead of an assistant. Because of the schedule, NFL jobs require the least amount of travel and often have the most authority over the actual training the athletes engage in.

The NBA typically has one head strength coach, and some teams have intern positions. Travel can be grueling because you’re on the road most of the year. Not many NBA strength coaches have the authority to “make” a player train, so developing relationships is very important.

Not every NHL team has a full-time strength coach; many are also athletic trainers, and most have additional responsibilities such as minor league training or making travel arrangements. The MLS is still in its infancy. Most teams have someone working on fitness, but the quality of the position varies greatly from club to club. MLS and NHL have plenty of room for growth in this area.

How to Become a Strength and Conditioning Coach in College Sports

Salary range: $500/month–$300K+/year

Becoming a college strength and conditioning coach is easier than getting into pro sports

There are certainly more opportunities in college athletics than professional sports simply because there are more colleges than pro teams. Many colleges also employ more than one strength coach, and some employ several. There seem to be two distinct paths here: football and everything else. There are now several basketball-only Strength and Conditioning Coaches, but the majority of college coaches can be divided up by football and what they call “Olympic sports.”

In either situation, you always need a degree and national certification (usually NSCA or CSCCA), and most coaches now have a Master’s Degree and experience as either a Graduate Assistant or intern. If you want to get into college Strength and Conditioning coaching, you’re definitely going to need to pick between football and Olympic sports and work on getting a G.A. spot or internship. Getting a G.A. position at a large school is quite competitive, so you’ll need to make connections early and talk to college coaches about upcoming opportunities. Many G.A. positions are filled internally by former athletes, so you need to network heavily to get your foot in the door.

If you’re just starting out, try to get your experience at the biggest school possible, especially one with a good athletic program. That’s not to say you can’t get a fantastic experience at a small school with a great coach who gives you lots of responsibility; you can. Unfortunately, Athletic Directors (who are frequently doing the hiring) are often pretty uneducated about this, and they love to see successful sports programs on a resume, even if you didn’t do that much there. So, when choosing a Graduate Assistantship or internship, look for a big school or one that will give you plenty of hands-on experience.

“Having a resume is not good enough anymore,” comments McKeefery. “My last job listing, I had over 400 resumes, and 97% of them had a degree and certification. Having the education is a given. You must have practical application and experience.”

You may also want to look at the track record of the coach getting his people better jobs. Some coaches don’t help very much in this department, while others do everything they can to help people succeed.

Similar to pro sports, football Strength and Conditioning coaches often attach themselves to a coach and ride him as far as possible. With that in mind, a perfect scenario would be to become the assistant strength coach at a large school where the assistant football coaches have a good shot at being a head coach in the future. Keep in mind that when that coach moves on, you may be taken along for the ride.

If you really want to get into football strength and conditioning and you think you’re the right fit, contact as many football strength coaches as possible while you’re an undergrad so you can land a good G.A. position. G.A. positions are often filled a year in advance, so do plenty of networking by attending clinics and making phone calls to meet coaches.

Once you get a G.A. position, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s going to be happy times for two years. On the contrary, most G.A.’s get worked to the bone, so get ready to put in some serious work. A Graduate Assistantship is basically a two-year interview just to get a recommendation. Of course, you get your graduate school paid for, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get a job. You still have to do a great job and impress the head coach just to be in the position to have a favorable recommendation.

In general, Olympic sport strength and conditioning coaches are more laid back and focused on teaching an intern or G.A. how to be a great coach. These G.A.’s still work their butts off, but it’s generally a different attitude. There are often more jobs available because many schools have multiple Strength and Conditioning Coaches working with Olympic Sports, but those usually aren’t the huge-salary jobs. There are many excellent opportunities for quality female coaches in this setting, because many female sports want a female strength coach. There is a lack of quality female strength coaches, so good ones can often have plenty of opportunities.

The road to a big-time job can be long and full of ups and downs. The big-money jobs are typically associated with college football, so you have to be attached to the right coach and be willing to make a move when the timing is right. A typical path to the top involves several moves, so your family needs to be on board early in the process. It is common for a G.A. to get an assistant coach position and work there for a few years before getting a head job at a medium-sized school. If things work out well at that school, and your head football coach wins a lot of games, you might get the opportunity to follow him to a big school and a big-time job. From there, the program better keep winning, or you can lose that job as fast as you got it. Some guys will win a National Championship one year and lose their job the next (yes, it has happened), so don’t get too comfortable in any position.

Keep in mind that head strength coaches often do the hiring of assistant coaches at large schools. Athletic Directors are usually involved and will probably be part of the interview process. A.D.’s at smaller schools are much more involved in the hiring process. In both situations, a call or recommendation from another influential coach can often go a long way toward getting you an interview. If you don’t know anyone at the university, it’s very difficult to get noticed in a stack of resumes.

Don’t be too discouraged if you don’t even get an interview for a job. Many jobs get posted but have basically been filled internally. It’s not often that a great job gets posted and the school has no idea who they’ll be hiring. Again, networking is the key here.

How to Become a High School Strength and Conditioning Coach

Salary range: $10/hour–$100K/year

How to become a high school strength and conditioning coach

The high school scene for strength and conditioning is very interesting and very different from state to state and region to region. There are some states such as Texas, California, and Ohio where strength coaching jobs are fairly common in high schools. In other states, there may not be any school-sponsored positions. High school jobs are often filled by volunteers, assistant coaches, or sub-contracted employees who fill part-time positions to help a school. Most often, physical education teachers fill the role by default. Still, there are schools in certain areas that have multiple full-time coaches with large budgets and the full support of the administration. Private schools usually lead the way in funding these positions.

Helping at a high school can be done for a single team or an entire school. If you’re volunteering your time, you need to decide how many kids you’re willing to work with or how much time you can put in. Interestingly, many high school sport coaches are even more controlling than college coaches when it comes to strength and conditioning, so you have to be prepared for different personalities.

“I believe High School Strength and Conditioning is a great opportunity for newcomers to strength and conditioning,” says McKeefery. “If you combine that with a teaching position, you have a stable income and time at your disposal. With that financial stability, you can use the extra time to network while being able to practically apply what you learn with your athletes.”

Unfortunately, the high school scene has been inundated with sub-par programming from poor coaches. This often happens because the sport coaches choose a program based on marketing hype or because an unqualified coach fills the position. With all of the information available today, it’s almost unbelievable to see what some sport coaches come up with, but it’s the reality of the situation.

Landing a Job

To get a job at a high school, a strength coach usually needs to win the respect of a sport coach or A.D. Sometimes a degree and experience are necessary. In other situations, you just need to be the friend of a coach. If you’re looking to be a part of a program and have the time to volunteer, it’s possible to get your foot in the door of many schools.

Some schools fund the strength coach through school funds while others pay with booster club money. If you think this is a setting you can see yourself fitting into, think about getting your teacher’s certification. It doesn’t mean you have to teach, but it certainly opens a lot of doors in public schools.

How to Become a Strength and Conditioning Coach in a Private Setting

Salary Range: $10/hour–over $200K/year

How to become a strength and conditioning coach in a private setting

Over the past 10 years, more and more opportunities are springing up for strength and conditioning coaches in private settings. You can be a personal trainer who works with a few athletes, or you can run a complete business focusing exclusively on athletes. Entrepreneurs have established businesses like these all over the country, often focusing on a specific niche of the market. Some businesses focus on football combine training, while others are geared toward soccer or hockey players. Some deal mainly with younger populations, and others strictly run camps. You can pick your niche or spread out and train lots of different athletes. The key here is that you get to create your job and decide who you’re going to work with as long as you can get them to pay for your services.

You can operate an independent facility or be part of a large network of training centers. Athletic Republic is the largest chain in the world with over 160 centers, but there are also smaller chains. Athletic Revolution offers franchising opportunities for those who like control over how their business looks and feels.

Some training centers make good money, but most have found that this business does not have a very high profit margin. You can make a very nice living, but there aren’t many people getting rich in this business. Even the most successful facilities in the country supplement their income with personal training, nutritional supplements, or information products. It’s a difficult business, and the use of a consultant or outside expert is highly recommended when getting started. Many new facilities go out of business quickly because of bad decisions made early in the process. I have consulted with several facilities, and it’s amazing to see the mistakes that put people out of business. Again, Athletic Revolution (and personal training franchise Fitness Revolution) can provide business solutions to ensure you are efficiently running your business and allowing you more time to spend in the coaching aspect.

The surge of private training centers has created a lot of jobs for young coaches, however, and this segment of the field is expanding faster than any other. It is a great option for a young coach who may not fit into the college scene, can’t get a foot in the door in pro sports, or doesn’t have the demeanor to work with large groups of high school athletes. One of the most difficult aspects of this job is that you need to be nice enough to get people to pay for your services and stick with you yet demanding enough to get results. People who can talk comfortably with different athletes and parents and have the ability to make training somewhat enjoyable can just about write their own ticket in this industry. Many college and pro coaches lack these skills, so don’t underestimate how difficult it can be to run a successful sports performance business.

Most private facilities require a degree in the field and a certification from a nationally accredited agency such as the NSCA, NASM, or ACSM, but each business will have its own requirements. Doing an internship at a facility is probably the best way to get a foot in the door, but completing a graduate assistantship or internship at another facility is also a great start. These facilities often have a decent amount of turnover, so they hire on a fairly regular basis. When there is a job opening, the owners often hire coaches they don’t know very well, so opportunities abound, especially in metropolitan areas.

You’ll usually make the most money in the private setting when you own the business, but there is certainly a downside to ownership. The first, and most obvious, is the financial risk of spending a lot of money on a business and having it fail. Other downsides include having to do marketing, paperwork, accounting, and hiring and firing of employees. It can be difficult to find good employees you can trust, and this is a huge source of stress for many business owners. The upside is that you’re more in control of your career, and you can reap whatever financial rewards come your way.

It’s OK to be an employee if you feel that is where you fit the best. Not everyone needs to own a business, and the additional money may not be worth the stress.

Many gyms or fitness facilities have personal training programs, and these trainers always have the option of working with athletes. It’s a great option to do personal fitness training most of the time (to pay the bills) and train a few athletes as well; this is a very common situation. You don’t have to train athletes exclusively to make this work. You have to weigh your options and choose the best path for yourself.

Interning or getting experience at a private facility may also help you move into the college or professional setting. For example, Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI, has had several interns/employees move on to full-time college positions, paid college internships, or GA positions at major universities. Sometimes this kind of experience can really benefit you because you bring a different outlook to the table. Again, it all depends on your personality and determination.

How to Become a Part-time or Volunteer Strength and Conditioning Coach

Salary Range: Negligible

How to become a volunteer strength and conditioning coach

If you just want to be involved in athletics, there are a ton of opportunities to be connected without it taking over your life. A great option is to have another well-paying job that you enjoy and volunteer with athletes on the side. You may even get paid a little for your time, but it doesn’t have to be a full-time job. This can often keep things interesting for you and not turn training into a burden because you have to do it all day, every day. If you only spend a couple hours a week volunteering at a high school or with a sports club, you’ll probably continue to stay excited about it and keep the enjoyment factor high.

Many high schools, and even colleges and pro sports teams, love volunteer help from qualified coaches. Limited budgets often cause staffing problems for athletic programs, and a qualified volunteer can be a huge help in many situations. That doesn’t mean you can just call up an NFL team and ask to volunteer in the weight room. You still have to be qualified, and you need to network. Once you get to know a strength coach, you might have the opportunity to talk about being involved in some capacity. If you’re not asking to be paid, it’s always easier to bring this up.

Wrap-Up

I hope this article sheds some light on how to become a strength and conditioning coach, including the most common paths in the strength and conditioning profession and what type of person would excel at each. Of course, every coach has his/her own path, and there are many ways to achieve a goal. The point of this article was to show you the most common paths taken by coaches to get to each position.

To sum it all up, here are the things you need to do to become a strength and conditioning coach:

  • Get a great education: at least a bachelor’s degree, probably a master’s degree
  • Get certified by a nationally recognized organization
  • Learn from great coaches and hone your coaching skills
  • Network with as many coaches as possible
  • Seek opportunities and jump on them when appropriate
  • Work hard and put in long hours
  • Do an outstanding job training athletes day after day
  • Have a little bit of luck

If you do all of those things, you’ll certainly have opportunities in this field. If you have the right personality and meet the right people, you’ll probably get a decent job. If you work really hard, do a great job, and have a little bit of luck, you just might hit it big and become a leader in the field. Whatever you hope to achieve, I hope this article sheds some light on how to become a strength and conditioning coach and helps you choose the path that suits you best.

High School Strength and Conditioning: Small Schools, Big Profits

Huge Potential in High School Strength and Conditioning Programs for Small Schools

Shane Nelson discusses High School Strength and Conditioning with small schools

By Shane Nelson, MS, CSCS

As the high school strength and conditioning coach at Chesterton High School, a growing town in northwest Indiana, I’m fortunate to work in a school district that takes a great deal of pride in its athletic programs. Several years ago, our athletic director and administration decided it was time to have a strength coach, someone who has a firm understanding of strength and conditioning both in theory and in practice. This was a good idea for many reasons, as it brought new ideas and enthusiasm to the table, and it also gave each sport’s head coach (or an assistant) a lot more free time during the off-season. It was not a very hard sell to many of the coaches when they were asked if they’d mind turning their off-season conditioning programs over to someone else, giving them more time to spend with their families, while at the same time giving their players a break from seeing them during the entire off-season. It was a win/win situation across the board.

Keep in mind, I work at a large school. In fact, we were recently moved up to the 6A class in football, which is the largest class in the state based on school enrollment. In addition, we are a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference, arguably one of the toughest conferences in the state of Indiana. Our school was not the first of its size, nor the first in our conference, to hire a dedicated strength coach for its programs.

Since starting in this position, one of my early goals was to try to get our younger kids involved with and excited about strength and speed development. I accomplished this through running speed/agility and strength training camps. I began the speed/agility camps in 2010 and focused on grades 4-8. I began the strength training camps in 2012 for kids in grades 5-8. It quickly became clear to me that kids (and their parents) really loved these 12-week camps. The students were seeing results and having a lot of fun! Time and again, we’d receive comments or emails from parents describing how their child loved the camp and couldn’t wait until the next one. We would regularly have between 50 and 70 campers signing up per session.

Somewhere along the way, I had a conversation about my camps with a woman whose son I had been training. I didn’t know it at the time, but this woman happened to be a school board member of a rural school district about 15 miles from mine. This school district is very small. In fact, it is in the smallest class in the state of Indiana based on enrollment. She told me that there wasn’t anyone in her school district that was doing anything like this, and she asked me if I’d be willing to run this type of camp for their kids. I agreed to do it, and after agreeing on the nominal fee for the use of their gymnasium, we ran a very successful camp there as well.

Shortly thereafter, an old friend of mine who lived in another rural town about 25 miles from mine heard about the camps I was running and asked if I’d be interested in running one in her school district. Ironically enough, this school district is also in the smallest class in the state of Indiana. I told her that I would, and within a day or two, she contacted me with the phone number for the school’s athletic director. When I contacted him, he was very excited and had been expecting my call. That spring and summer, I ran two very successful camps, and the best part was that I wasn’t charged a dime for using their gymnasium. These camps were attended by the son of the superintendent of schools, who really loved what we were doing for his students. At one point, he admitted to me that he wished there was money in the school’s budget to pay for a position like the one I hold. Unfortunately, he explained, the money just isn’t there for small schools like that. For this reason, I was given an open invitation (more or less urged) to run camps at this school whenever I wanted to. His exact words to me were, “Our kids need someone like you to do this year-round.”

That statement got me thinking and brings me back to the point I referenced earlier. Small schools (you know, those “small-town, country, 30 kids in a graduating class” places) offer a great deal of potential to those of us in the sports performance business. As was brought to my attention, these school districts don’t have the funds that the larger schools have to pay for “strength coaches” or “strength and conditioning coordinators.” Therefore, they most likely do not have anyone in their system actively trying to improve the sports performance of their young athletes. This is where we in the sports performance business come in.

Small schools are passionate about high school strength and conditioning, and the money is there

One thing I can tell you about these communities is that they are very passionate about their sports. Like their bigger city counterparts, they are looking for ways to enhance their children’s abilities on the field or court. The problem they face is that they lack the same opportunities to do this. We need to create these opportunities for them. All it takes is making contact with the right person. Superintendents and athletic directors are excellent choices. If you have friends or acquaintances in small towns like this, they would also make great candidates (especially if they have school-age children), because chances are they know the decision-makers in the school system.

If you’re trying to pick up some new clients or add to your current income, I strongly suggest you look at this market. Camps are a great option to do just that. If you are willing to put it on at the school, odds are you’ll be able to do it for a minimal fee. In addition, if you’re lucky (as I was), the school will advertise for you. In my experience, all I had to do was make the camp flyer; the school made copies and gave them out to all their students.

If you start a high school strength and conditioning program in smaller schools like this, you’ll be amazed at the difference you can make for these kids and at the happiness you provide to the parents and school administrators through your desire to make them better athletes. It is a tremendous feeling!

Never Give Up: Athlete Development for Life

Perseverance Serves Young Athlete Development Outside of Sports

By Cory Sims

soccer athlete development

When it comes to athlete development, we need to be teaching our kids more than just strategy and technique. Indeed, it is imperative that we expose them to situations that can instill real life lessons. One of the most important character traits they can develop through sports is perseverance, but it can only happen if we are not too quick to protect and shelter our athletes but instead follow a long-term athletic development approach.

Never Give Up!

I’m not sure there is a better and more succinct statement about perseverance than the phrase, “Never give up.” It means that despite whatever setbacks or obstacles come your way, you may have to jump, crawl, scratch, run, and do whatever it takes to get through. It’s this attitude that establishes a winning mentality that will help you in every area of your life. How we teach our youth to handle adversity at a young age can have an impact on the way they deal with tough situations later in their lives.

I coach youth club soccer, and every year there are tryouts to determine the makeup of teams. The tryouts end up being something like the old playground pick-up games where someone has to have the stigma of being picked last. In this case, that would mean being selected for the “lesser” of the teams. It can definitely be a bit damaging to the psyche of an 11-year-old not to be picked for the “good” team, especially if the majority of his or her friends made that team. There are a variety of reasons why someone might be selected for a particular team, which could be an hour long seminar in and of itself, but regardless of what those reasons might be, we should use these moments as teaching points to encourage athlete development.

A lot of parents will step in and advocate for their child, which is the natural and normal thing to do. In fact, I believe all parents should want what is best for their children. However, I’m not convinced that being on the best team is really in the best interest of each child.

Long-Term Approach to Athlete Development

I prefer to take the long-term athletic development model approach when looking at these situations. Simply stated, this model for athlete development values the growth of the athlete throughout their entire career over the perceived value of playing for a prestigious team or club. Perhaps a young athlete might be better served on a different team where they’d have more opportunity to really master the essential skills of their given sport.

Let’s take soccer for example. Would a tentative child fare well on a team where every other kid’s first touch on the ball was better than theirs—so much so that they were nervous about messing up every time a pass was made in their direction? I know from experience that these players tend to kick the ball away as quickly as possible so as to not be criticized for making an error. How much benefit is that child receiving from being on the so-called good team? Not much if you ask me.

Now put that same child on a team where he or she is one of the faster and stronger players. They will likely feel more comfortable, and in this environment, they can work on developing the foot-skills that will help them at the next level. They will also get an opportunity to develop leadership skills. As it is said, you never feel the sun if you’re playing in the shadows. That is, until you’ve been called on to lead, you’ll never know what it means to inspire others with your actions, words, and demeanor. These are life lessons for both sport and the world outside it.

Be Like Mike

Giving up or quitting because an athlete didn’t get selected to a particular team is the last thing we should encourage (or even allow) our young athletes to do. There’s so much adversity in life, and youth sports should be an opportunity to face adversity in a less turbulent manner. Overcoming adversity makes victory that much sweeter. Think of Michael Jordan, who was cut from his High School basketball team. Instead of quitting, he worked harder than ever before to make sure he made the team the following year, and we now consider him one of the greatest athletes of all time. Soccer star Cesc Fabregas, who has now rejoined his boyhood club, FC Barcelona, was further down the pecking order than international stars Xavi (Hernandez) and (Andres) Iniesta both at Barcelona and in the Spanish National Team. Rather than give up the dream to play at the highest level, he took the opportunity to develop further at Arsenal, so much so that he became their captain. While not a starter for Spain during their 2010 campaign, he ended up making the assist for the goal that won the World Cup. He never stopped trying to improve and it certainly paid off.

If you work hard and persevere, you’ll be ready when that opportunity comes. Instead of encouraging our children to quit because we feel they’re being conspired against and engendering the belief that the world is a bad place because they’ve been picked last, let’s start looking for positives to take from the situation.

First, our young people are staying active in ways they can maintain for a lifetime. Second, if we remove these unnecessary stigmas attached to “good” and “bad” teams, they’ll have a lot more fun. Third, if your athlete is striving to make that better team, give them this opportunity to work harder and smarter to improve their game.

Let’s make sure we’re not getting in the way of providing young athletes the tools they need to become well-rounded citizens. This includes learning to deal with adversity, competition, and disappointment. When children learn that there is a lesson in every setback, they’ll learn to conquer any and all obstacles they face later in life.

I think that there are many great things children learn from sports, but mental fortitude is one of the most important for athlete development. We can teach our children to keep learning, to stay focused, to work hard, to play well with others, and to practice fairness. We can teach them about teamwork, respect for the game, and having fun while trying to win. But if they are going to get anywhere in this world, they need to learn one thing: No matter what life throws their way, no matter what unexpected things arise, they can find a way to win if they never, ever give up.

Improving Youth Fitness: Let’s Get Rid of Sports in Schools

A focus on sports in PE should be replaced with a focus on youth fitness

Alex Slezak

By Alex Slezak – M.Ed, YFS, YSAS, HSSCS

The headline Let’s Get Rid of Sports in Schools was meant to be eye catching to get you to dig into the content of this article. I am not calling for an end to all Varsity and Junior Varsity athletic programs. In fact, as a Varsity coach myself, I think those programs are a wonderful means to get youth active, competing, and learning valuable life lessons. Instead, what I am advocating is eliminating sports from Physical Education curriculums. In fact, just think about what the name Physical Education implies. It certainly is not basketball, football, or soccer. It implies that we teach youth about their bodies, how they work, and how to operate them.

There are two basic models physical education programs have traditionally adopted. The first and most traditionally used is the sport-based model. Basically, this model exposes kids to a bunch of different sports in hopes that a child becomes passionate about one of them and the sport then becomes the means to stay healthy. In my experience, this model flat out does not work. It is like throwing a bunch of darts at the wall and hoping one hits the bull’s-eye. This has been the predominant model for the last few decades, and it has not worked. The proof? Youth who went through this sport-based model are the adults of today who are overweight, obese, diabetic, sedentary, and placing little emphasis on the value Physical Education could possibly have in the lives of their children.

Now let’s look at a different model, the fitness-based model. In this new model, physical education class is basically a private gym for youth. In this model, the kids are taught nutrition, exercise physiology principles, and the value of taking care of their bodies instead of learning to shoot a basketball, which, while fun for some, objectively is far less valuable in the long run.

In this fitness-based model, classes are based on developing fitness and general athletic ability. Elementary students are having fun playing games developing their kinesthetic awareness and coordination. At the secondary level, students are on programs that develop integrated strength, quality movement patterns, power, agility, etc. The non-athletes are engaged in learning how to take care of themselves for their lifetime, and the athletes are doing the same along with training for performance. Everyone is getting better and engaged for uniquely individual reasons. After all, who would not want to be engaged in learning about the body they are going to live in for their lifetime? This is the kind of program that develops children who turn into adults who value taking care of their bodies.

Now, if you still are not sold on this fitness-based model because you love athletics, think about this—if a child does become involved in a sport, they will be more likely to have initial success because of their experiences in Physical Education. In my opinion, there is nothing more motivating to a young child than success early on with something new.

So in closing, let’s stop the fight between athletics and physical education. Let’s allow athletics to teach sports skills and physical education to take on the role of personal training and general athletic development for our youth. In a few decades, we’ll have adults who value their health and the role of physical education in the lives of their children.

Alex is a Physical Education teacher who operates a tennis and fitness training business in Pittsburgh, PA, and is an advocate for improving youth fitness. You can learn more by visiting his website at www.AlexSlezak.com.