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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.

Popular Adult Programs for Youth Speed and Power Development?

Are programs like CrossFit or P90X appropriate for youth speed and power development?

By Mike Martin

Adult training programs are often inappropriate for youth speed and power development

When it comes to youth speed and power development, as a former high school teacher, coach, and now current owner of my own sports performance training business, I have a pretty good feel for what middle school, high school, and even collegiate athletes in my area are being given for training programs to “improve” their speed, agility, and vertical jump at their respective schools. Believe it or not, quite a few coaches and teachers are using P90X, Insanity, Tap Out, and CrossFit as speed and jump training programs. A quick search of internet message boards also reveals a common theme that programs such as these are fine for improving speed and vertical jump performance in youth athletes.

The problem is that these types of programs are meant for adults. As we all know, taking an adult program, implementing it on a population it was not intended for, and using it in a way it is not suited for, is certainly not going to help our athletes get more explosive, and it may even injure them.

A review by Johnson et al., of youth speed and power development and plyometric programs for young children ages 5-14 noted that a structured plyometric training program performed twice a week for 8-10 weeks, beginning at 50-60 total jumps and gradually increasing intensity, resulted in an increase in running, especially 30 meter sprint, and jumping performance (2). Additionally, Donald Chu PhD, recommends 60-100 foot-contacts of low-intensity drills per session for a beginner entering off-season training. He also stresses recovery between jumps and sets of jumps as crucial for plyometric training to improve power instead of muscle endurance. As an example, he recommends a 1:5-1:10 work to rest ratio for optimal power development, meaning if 5 hurdle jumps took 6 seconds to complete, the proper rest interval should fall between 30-60 seconds before the 2nd set is started (1).

On the other hand, the adult training methods in the above programs are based around repeated jumps for time or to exhaustion, and they are completed with very short rest intervals, counter to what research shows is the best way to improve speed and power through plyometrics.

Here’s the bottom line: Just because the aforementioned programs include jumping doesn’t make them suitable for youth speed and power development.

1. Johnson, Barbara, A., Salzberg, Charles, L., and Stevenson, David, A. A systematic Review: Plyometric Training Programs for Young Children. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 25(9) September, 2011

2. Chu, Donald, A, PhD. Jumping Into Plyometrics: Human Kinetics, 1992. Champaign, ILL.

Mike Martin, MS, CSCS, owns Next Level Athletic Development in Harrisonburg, VA and train athletes of all ages and abilities with a special emphasis on baseball players.

Training Young Athletes with a Low Balance Beam

kids fitness, young athletes

By Dave Gleason

What is one of the biggest keys to having success in training young athletes?

Variety.

The dictionary defines “variety” as something differing from others of the same general kind. As coaches we are striving to incorporate repetition of skill sets via variety. Using a template system to ensure all required developmental elements are contained in our programming, the optimal environment for our youngest athletes (6-13) is a broad base of activities and exercises to take advantage of the plastic nature of their CNS (Central Nervous System) and their ability to adapt and learn.

Training Young Athletes with the Low Low Balance Beam

Far more than just an implement to train static and dynamic balance, the low beam can be utilized as a fun way to explore new movement as well as alternative modes of performing previously practiced skills.

Kinesthetic differentiation and body awareness, increased range of motion, static and dynamic balance, contra-lateral coordination, movement exploration, and systemic strength is a short list of training elements that are accentuated with a low balance beam.

A beam 1-inch high by 4-8 feet long and 4-inches wide is a fantastic addition to any coach’s toolbox. Here are some training ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

Beam Monster Walks (Lunge Walks) – Placing multiple beams together in a single straight line, the athlete performs a lunge walk landing the left foot on the balance beam and the right foot on the ground. The athlete will return placing the right foot on the beam and the left foot on the ground. Progressions/variations may include lunge walking with both feet on the beam, staggering, paralleling, or creating patterns out of the beams and stepping over and across the beam with each step.

Beam Bear Crawls – Placing multiple beams together in a single straight line, the athlete performs a bear crawl keeping his/her hands on the beam only with their feet straddling the beam. Progressions/variations may include keeping feet on the beam and hands on the floor (straddling the beam), only right hand and foot on the beam and vise versa, moving backward, moving laterally, staggering, paralleling or creating patterns out of the beams.

Beam Crab Walks – Placing multiple beams together in a single straight line, the athlete performs a crab walk keeping his/her hands on the beam only with their feet straddling the beam. Progressions/variations may include keeping feet on the beam and hands on the floor (straddling the beam), only right hand and foot on the beam and vice versa, moving forward, moving laterally, staggering, paralleling, or creating patterns out of the beams.

Up/Up/Down/Downs – In a push-up hold position with the athlete’s body orientated perpendicular to the beam and their hand on the floor behind the beam, the athlete will “step up” on to the beam with their hands. Once completed, the athlete “steps down” placing their hands back on the floor. Variations can include stacking the beams for a higher step and orientating the body position parallel with the beam.

Galloping/Skipping – Placing multiple beams together in a single straight line, the athlete performs a gallop with the lead foot on the balance beam. Progressions/variations include skipping, galloping with the lead foot on the floor, and using two parallel lines of beams.

Now that you are beginning to think about how you can infuse low beam training into your programming, be creative and have fun with as many variations of movement you can think of. Observe your athletes closely, and you will quickly devise an endless variety for your youngest athletes to learn from.

When in doubt, remember you can always count on your athletes to discover and create!

When training young athletes, keep changing lives—one at a time!

Working With High School Coaches: An Insider’s Perspective

Shane-Nelson

By Shane Nelson, MS

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the IYCA International Summit in Louisville, Kentucky. To say the very least, it was an incredible experience and one that I’ll remember for a very long time. I was completely blown away by the knowledge of every speaker I was fortunate enough to listen to and their graciousness and willingness to share this knowledge, both on stage and off.

I had a four-and-a-half hour drive home after the event, so needless to say, I had plenty of time for reflection. One of the recurring themes I heard over the weekend from speakers and attendees alike was the fact that, in their opinion, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to gain access to athletes through coaches or school systems in general. This sentiment was repeated more than a few times, and it really struck a chord with me. I knew right away that I wanted to share my own personal experience on this subject and hopefully offer some insight to other sports performance coaches on how to tap into this market.

I am in a unique situation in that I am both a high school strength & conditioning coach and a personal trainer and sports performance coach. So I’ve sat (and continue to sit) on both sides of the fence regarding this very topic. And I can tell you with 100% confidence that it’s not as hard as you’d think to be granted access to these athletes. Will it require some work? Absolutely. But the rewards are large and many.

High school coaches, by their very nature, are protective of their athletes. The last thing they are going to do is turn their players over to someone they don’t know anything about. And why would they? Most of the high school coaches I’ve ever dealt with (especially the “old school” types) see personal trainers and sports performance coaches as individuals who are only in business to make a profit, with little regard for the athletes they work with. What’s more, these same individuals still believe it’s 1985 in terms of training protocols, so the thought process is, “What do these guys know that I don’t?” They are very ignorant of the training modalities of today and the benefits of them. Terms like functional stability, suspension training, corrective exercise, and force-absorption training are foreign to them. They have no comprehension as to the benefits of all of these and the huge difference they can make on the field or court.

So how exactly does a sports performance coach get a foot in the door with a coach or school? Well, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s going to take some work. Here goes…

money

Barrier #1 – The idea that sports performance coaches are only concerned with making a profit.

Solution – Volunteer your time in some capacity, any capacity, for FREE. Start in the town you live in. If you have children who attend school there, that’s even better. But it’s not necessary. Attend a few varsity football, basketball, or baseball games and take note of what the hometown team is lacking. Is it power? Top-end speed? Lateral speed or the ability to change direction quickly? If you feel that you are in a position to help correct these deficiencies, contact the coach and let him know. A friendly email that begins with something like this may work wonders: “Hi coach, my name is _________, and I’m a performance enhancement coach here in town. I’ve been following this year’s team all season, and I’ve been to every home game. As a trainer, I see a couple things that, if improved, would make a world of difference to the success of the team. I’d love to sit down and speak with you about these if you have time.” The fact that you’ve invested your time watching his team and are now reaching out to assist him with facets of the sport that are beyond his expertise will speak volumes to him.

When he contacts you about this, (if for no other reason than to ask you your thoughts on what you feel his team is lacking) take that time to educate him on how you can assist him in getting his team to the next level. Offer to come in and speak to him or the team about whatever your specialty is (speed training, Olympic lifting, etc.) at no charge. Find out when the football or baseball team (or whatever team you’d like to work with) workouts are held and contact the head coach to see if you can come in during this time to assist. Generally speaking, most of these workouts are held right after school, somewhere between 3:00 and 5:00. If you’re in the business of training kids of this age, you’re probably not very busy during these hours anyway because your client base is in school and then in the weight room. My point is that it’s probably not going to kill your business to spend an hour at your local high school during this time.

Here’s something very important also to consider: There are A LOT of high schools out there that don’t employ strength and conditioning coaches, so usually it’s the head coach of the team who runs the strength training program. This is especially true at the smaller schools out there, those that don’t have the funding in the budget for one. These schools are not fortunate enough to hire someone to run the training programs and thus are the schools and coaches you should seek initially. Here’s why…

One of the reasons the strength & conditioning coaching position was created for me at the high school I work at is because the varsity football coach was getting burned out due to the grind of the football season and then having to be in the weight room the entire off-season. His exact words to me (and I’ve heard similar words from many other coaches) were, “I need a break from the players, and they need a break from me. When they hear the same voice all season long and then again the entire off-season, they begin to tune you out. They need to hear another voice in the weight room.” The problem for the coaches at the smaller schools is that there is no money in the school’s budget to hire someone to run the weight program. These are the coaches who are looking for help. They may not even realize that they are, but I promise you they’ll take it if it’s offered tactfully and with the right motivation. A great time to do this is right after the team’s competitive season draws to a close and off-season training is about to begin. This is how you get your foot in the door.

It is very important, however, that this doesn’t come across as merely a sales pitch. Coaches will be very much on guard, so you have to be sincere in your approach. They need to know that you care about the kids in their program. By donating some of your time at their facility, they will begin to see this. At that point, you can begin to make some suggestions and modifications to the current training program. Give the coach time to see that you have a very specific skill set and you’re using it to make his team better or more competitive. Make him feel like he and his players NEED your help to attain their goals. Once this occurs, you are now in a position to offer “additional” training a couple evenings a week at your facility.

Explain to the coach that this will be when very specific types of training (functional, explosive, speed training, etc.) will take place. The key here is to make sure that this additional training will complement (and not replace) the training that is happening at school. Most coaches want their athletes to train together as a team as often as possible. They don’t like it when select players are missing team workouts because they are training on their own with “personal trainers.” Therefore, offer to train as many of the kids at one time as your facility will allow. This makes it very inexpensive to the kids, enables them to keep training as a team (which coaches love), and makes it profitable for you. If you’ve left a positive impression with the coach, he will most certainly be a sounding board for you and will do everything in his power to make sure his athletes are getting to your facility to train. Before you know it, the football team won’t be the only team training at your facility. The basketball, baseball, soccer, softball, and every other sports team at the local high school will be knocking at your door.

Barrier #2 – Many coaches aren’t in tune with the training modalities of the 21st Century.

Solution – You’d be surprised by the amount of high school coaches out there (especially football) that still operate under the assumption that all you need to do is bench, squat, and power clean to be successful. In their minds, things like power sleds, TRX bands, and medicine balls are nothing more than gimmicks. They need to be educated as to how these devices can be used to make their athletes more explosive and thus better at their sport and position. Coaches also need to be made aware of the concept of muscle imbalances (and the potential injuries as a result of them) and mobility drills and exercises to alleviate them. If you are well-versed in these, you need to get your name out there with these coaches because I’m telling you most of them don’t have a clue about either of these. Once they learn something about these, however, they quickly come to realize the importance of them and will use you as a resource to implement them with their athletes.

This is your chance to make an impression on the coaches at the local high school. When you’ve been granted permission to come in and speak to the coaches and athletes (or better yet work with them a little bit in the weight room), bring some of the tools that you utilize in your facility. Demonstrate a couple drills or exercises that you use and discuss what they do and why they are important to a particular athlete in a particular sport. Take some time to let the athletes perform some of the exercises. This would also be a good time to speak to the coaches and athletes about muscle imbalances and injury prevention. Most coaches and high school athletes aren’t aware of techniques such as foam rolling and mobility drills (and the benefits of each), so a quick tutorial on these two topics will go a long way with both populations.

The bottom line in this discussion is that you can gain access to high school athletes through their coaches with the right approach. For the last two years, we’ve sent several of our football players to an outside facility for this type of training. The biggest reason the head football coach and I agreed to do it is because the owner approached us in the manner I discussed and runs a program that coincides with what we are doing in the weight room. Another major reason I agreed is because, as the strength coach, I am responsible for training athletes on many of our teams. Therefore, I don’t always have the time to dedicate to this type of thing after school. Not to mention the fact that there are restrictions as to the number of contacts a coach can have with players during the week in the off-season.

I hope this article has shed a little light on the mindset of a high school coach. As I said, I sit in an interesting position, as I am a coach, but I’m also a personal trainer. In fact, a facility just opened in my hometown recently, and they’ve asked me to start training athletes there in the evenings. Beginning after our kids return from spring break, they will be training with me at this new facility. And I will be reaching out to other local coaches then as well.

Good luck! If you have any questions, feel free to email me at shane.nelson@duneland.k12.in.us.

How to Build Trust When Training Softball Players

4 Steps to Successfully Training Softball Players by Building Trust

By Susan Wade, M.Ed., CSCS

Successfully training softball players is made easier by following these 4 steps

Over the last few years, I have experienced a higher demand for training softball players in strength and conditioning, especially for pitchers and catchers. This, I believe, is due to the growing popularity of softball and the increased number of overuse injuries. Ever more softball athletes are competing on more travel teams, playing for more than one team at a time, practicing longer and more intensely, and (for pitchers) playing more innings per game.

Typically, coaches are hired for their experience as a “winning” coach, and they tend to focus on skill development. There are, however, a few exceptions. I have encountered a few coaches who incorporate running drills, a few push-ups and sit-ups, and a brief warm up drill, but few possess the knowledge to run a safe and effective conditioning program. However, on the positive side, I am seeing a slight shift towards independent or travel teams seeking to hire expertise in this area.

As a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, or high school coach, an important—maybe even the most important—component of sports is to keep our athletes healthy, motivated, and injury free. Over the past twelve years, I have learned that healthy high school athletes have more playing time, continue to grow and excel, and may even earn a scholarship to a college and become college softball players.

However, overuse injuries are on the rise with softball athletes. On a weekend of tournaments, it is not unusual to discover that your athlete pitched four-to-five of the six games played, usually back-to-back and with no rest. Most coaches will support their decision by saying, “There is no stress to the arm in softball.” As a result, the athlete is completely depleted of energy and faces a setback only to face the same regimen the following weekend.

So what can we do as sport performance trainers when we are faced with a fierce battle of over-proportionate playing time, practice schedules, increased volume, and heightened intensity? I will share with you one component that is often overlooked when training softball players.

Education is the foundation of success when training softball players

First and foremost, I believe our responsibility as trainers is to educate our athletes, coaches, and parents on many facets of training and overuse injuries. Too often we are caught up in the program of proper exercise progressions, recovery time, hydration, and nutrition. However, there is a key component to training softball players—and any athletes in general—throughout their high school career: It is the need to build lasting and trusting relationships. Once you have earned their trust, they understand to put faith in your expertise. The athlete starts to recognize warning signs when their body is over worked and perhaps will avoid injury. This is the most important part of my job as a strength and conditioning coach. In fact, this component has grown my business immensely over the last several years because of the care I have for each individual athlete. This ensures repeat business, loyalty, and the best advertising, word of mouth. So how does it work?

Step 1: Ask questions of the parent

During my first consult meeting with a prospective athlete, I will ask broad questions to the parents such as:

  • What are your goals for Taylor?
  • Where do you see her by the end of this year/next year/end of high school?
  • What is she lacking, in your opinion?
  • What are her strengths?

Most parents tend to be all in when it comes to practice regimens and training schedules for their son or daughter. So asking about it provides information about their education or lack thereof. Much of the discovery during this time is current or past injuries and other extra-curricular involvements and commitments, including school workload, academic goals beyond high school, and other “fun” components of their life. In my time training softball players, I am beginning to understand some of the pressures that are on the typical high school athlete.

Step 2: Ask questions of the athlete

It usually takes some time for them to open up and have a dialogue, but I have learned to be an insightful listener and to create a relaxed environment. It is extremely important for the athlete to feel comfortable in order to share insights about themselves. Establishing a trusting environment is critical. Often, I will get opposite goals and ambitions from the athlete. This usually manifests after a few weeks of training. At that point, I will have another discussion with the parents—or the coach.

Step 3: Have a conversation with the coach

This provides an opportunity to discover the current intensity of the sport, additional background of the athlete, and perhaps the coach’s opposition to outside training. This is one component that I strongly suggest to sports trainers. We must work together for the benefit of the athlete. Often, we are on opposite sides from the head coach when it comes to training softball players and other high school athletes, but after having a conversation, I can more fully understand the coach’s philosophies, background, and training experience (or lack thereof). This piece is a huge component of your success. If you want to work with more high school and middle school athletes, the key is to have the coach trust what you are doing! It won’t happen without it. (More on this topic later.)

Step 4: Assess each athlete and individualize their training program

I have learned many assessment tools including the FMS, Top Trainers, Physical Therapists, and Educators. I have taken bits and pieces from all of these areas and compiled my own assessment for throwing athletes. This is the first step in writing a program specifically designed for each athlete. Each athlete has their own program designed for their individual needs and goals, which goes a long way to building additional trust.

When considering training high school athletes, the ability to build relationships is the most important component for your business. For many athletes, you may be the only person they can trust.

You may have heard the saying training athletes is a “people business.” I prefer the saying, “We are in the relationship-building business.” Whether you are training softball players or baseball, hockey, or lacrosse athletes, building athletes begins with building relationships.

Swim with the Current or Stand Like a Rock?

Stand by Your Principles, but Have Fun Along the Way

Alex Slezak

By Alex Slezak – M.Ed, Youth Fitness Specialist

If you are a young coach, then the 60 seconds you are going to invest to read this will save you a lot of mistakes. If you are a veteran coach, then you will certainly understand the value of what I am about to share.

Thomas Jefferson famously said, “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Now take a minute to read the quote again and let it really sink in. Do you see the wisdom in that saying?

As a fitness professional, you will see styles come and go. If you are around long enough, you will see training with bodyweight, kettlebells, deadweight, elastic resistance, suspension trainers, and all kinds of other fads. These fads are matters of style, and that is not a bad thing, so learn and experiment with them. As trends change, as Jefferson indicated, swim with the current.

However, be careful never to compromise your training principles just to be a part of the latest thing. If you want to be a respected coach, you must develop a core set of beliefs and principles and stand by them like a rock. When you have these principles, then and only then, can you utilize different tools and fads as the means to deliver your training principles. Do not be fooled by letting the “latest thing” dictate your training. Instead, let your principles guide you through the fads and trends as they come.

Think about the heavy hitters in the industry like Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, Dave “The Band Man” Schmitz, or Steve Long and Jared Woolever from Smart Group Training. These men all have sound principles with which they deliver their training. They never waiver from their principles, and it is why they are so respected in the industry.

So learn a valuable lesson from Thomas Jefferson’s wisdom and invest your time developing rock solid principles to guide you, and have some fun going with the current of the “latest thing” while it lasts.

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

3 Ways to Grow As a Coach While Building a Team

Don’t Be an Island: Building a Team and Growing Professionally

By Wil Fleming

Wil Fleming knows the importance of building a team

Five years ago, when I was just opening my gym with my business partner, Ryan Ketchum, building a team was the last thing on our minds. Between the two of us, we had great ideas and great intentions. We even knew our roles: Ryan would train the adults and I would train the athletes. I can honestly say we thought that we were enough—enough to go it alone. 

In fact, looking back, we thought of ourselves as islands.

Don't be an island when you're building a team

Like an island, we had what we needed to survive: knowledge of good training techniques, a great facility, experience, and the will to succeed.

It turns out that our “island” philosophy actually worked for a long time. Our business grew and thrived for three years.

However, we were missing something.

Like an island, we were not getting an influx of new resources, new ideas, or even challenges to our own ideas.

Not only was our time becoming limited, but our abilities as coaches were becoming more and more limited, too.

That all changed two years ago when we hired our first full-time coach to train with us. For the first time, we were challenged on our ideas. A new influx of thoughts and interests were brought to our facility.

Since that time, we have grown so much. I am also a far better coach than I would have been on my own.

Today, I encourage you to grow your team. Building a team is not just to help your business grow but also to help you grow personally and as a coach. When looking to grow your team, I have found the following three things to be important for your own personal development.

Meet regularly when building a team

Building a Team Rule 1: Meet Regularly

For some reason, the staff meeting is a dreaded idea. Coaches resist and resist, but upon implementation, they realize that they have missed out on so much. There will be plenty of clerical things to go over during your team meeting, but always make time to discuss training. Bring up an interesting article, pop in a training DVD, or read a section of a book. Then discuss! These discussions have helped us grow as a team and helped me hear questions that I would have never considered before.

Building a Team Rule 2: Find passionate people

This sounds like a no-brainer, but often we look for people with the right experience or right education. Both of those are important, but they pale in comparison to identifying a new coach that has passion.

Building a Team Rule 3: Allow your coach to find his or her stride

Inevitably, there will be a time when your coach will have demonstrated enough that you will allow him/her to begin writing programs. Their first programs may be rough and might not look like what you have written, but stay the course. When you allow your coach to find their stride, they will begin to implement training protocols and movements that you would have never thought of. When this happens, the fun begins! You can ask why they chose the movements you wanted, or how to do them, and then your learning experience will explode.

Building a team is about so much more than growing your business; focusing on your team can make you grow as a coach as well.

Programming for the High School Strength and Conditioning Athlete

Assessment, Education, and Planning for High School Strength and Conditioning Success

Josh Ortegon high school strength and conditioning programming

By Josh Ortegon

As a High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist, there are many factors to consider when designing a year-round strength and conditioning program. Skill level, other sport demands, time available for training, and available resources such as equipment and space can all be powerful influences.

When following the Long Term Athletic Development model, high school athletes will fall into one of two stages of training: the “train to train” (TTT) phase or the “train to compete” (TTC) phase. The TTT phase may begin as early as ages 5-6 and normally should taper around age 13-14. It is an important time for physical fitness training as the athlete enters and moves through puberty. During this time of rapid growth, there are also special considerations such as a common decrease in athletic abilities and motor skills.

The TTC phase is the time to begin ramping up training and competition. The athlete is typically looking to enhance performance. This stage commonly begins at or around 14+.

High school athletes overlap the end of the TTT phase and enter the TTC phase. One reason for the big range in age is to accommodate athletes who develop before or after their age group. Being in the high school setting, I see the TTT phase as the most critical period of development. The High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist needs to understand the implications for programming that result from the growth spurt. At the same time, rising pressures from coaches, parents, and athletes to specialize in one sport are also common.

Assessment is key in your high school strength and conditioning program

Evaluation is key in any program. Evaluating each athlete will help the high school strength coach to see the strengths and weakness of the program and help track the success of the high school strength and conditioning program over time.

Using the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), the hop and stop, and a sprint, agility, and jump test are great places to start. With the rise in injury in our youth, the FMS is an important tool in identifying asymmetries and inefficient movements in athletes. These faulty patterns may be a contributor to poor performance as well as a potential factor in increasing risk of injury.

The hop and stop, developed by Dr. Paul Juris, measures the asymmetry between force production and force absorption and can help determine the likelihood of an ACL injury. This is extremely valuable in all developing athletes but especially in female athletes who are at increased risk for non-contact knee injuries.

For speed and agility testing, a short acceleration and a longer distance test work great. I have found the 10- and 40-yard sprint as well as the pro shuttle for agility to be excellent tests. I prefer the vertical leap for power testing, but if testing tools are limited, a standing broad jump test is acceptable, as well.

During the end of the TTT phase, teaching proper lifting technique as well as acceleration and agility/multi-directional movement skills is essential. While proper progression and loading of the Olympic lifting movements, squats, deadlifts, and pressing exercises are essential to develop strength and power safely and effectively, extra attention should be noted in the areas of mobility, core stability, and movement pattern development.

This is also a great time to educate athletes about concepts like proper nutrition, the importance of quality sleep, and recovery and regeneration techniques. These all represent activities that can be performed independently to improve performance and help prevent injury.

Implementing these concepts into a program can be the most difficult part of a High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist’s job. The variance of skill, coach-ability, training experience, and tools available are all obstacles the high school strength coach must overcome in programming and implementation.

We are going to break down this example of a high school strength and conditioning training program for a football team into 4 phases: pre-season, in-season, post-season, and off-season training phases.

Full year football high school strength and conditioning program

8-Week Pre-Season Football High School Strength and Conditioning Program

Below is a breakdown of an 8-week pre-season program for a football team. The pre-season program consists of three training days. Weeks 1-4 include three lifting sessions and three speed, agility and conditioning sessions. In weeks 5-8, the final lifting session is replaced with team competitions to prepare for the upcoming season.

Week 1-2

Day 1: Acceleration, Lower Lift

Day 2: SAQ and Conditioning, Upper Lift

Day 3: Speed Endurance, Full Lift

Week 3-4

Day 1: Speed Endurance, Lower Body Lift

Day 2: SAQ and Conditioning, Upper Lift

Day 3: Speed Endurance, Full Body Lift

Week 5-8

Day 1: Acceleration, Lower Body Lift

Day 2: SAQ and Conditioning, Upper Body Lift

Day 3: Speed Endurance and Conditioning, Team Challenges

16-Week Football In-Season High School Strength and Conditioning Program 

Below is a breakdown of a 16-week in-season training program for a football team. We get a bit more specific in this phase as we must get ready for Friday night. With the conditioning being done in practice, it is important for all coaches to be on the same page.

Monday: Sprint/acceleration training, Full Body Lift (high intensity, low volume), In-practice conditioning

Tuesday: In-practice agility and movement training

Wednesday: Full Body Medium (medium intensity, low volume), In-practice conditioning

Thursday: off / restoration techniques

Friday: Game

Saturday: Active Recovery

8-Week Football Post-Season High School Strength and Conditioning Program

Below is a breakdown of the 8-week post-season program. After a slight break, usually based around Thanksgiving break, it is time to get back into training. This is the time for very general strength and conditioning, preparing the athlete for the 16-week off-season training. The eight weeks will be broken down into 3 weeks of training, one week recovery and game play / challenges, and 3 weeks of training. The final week will consist of a testing week. The training weeks will also have to be scheduled around Christmas and New Year’s break so there may be variance to your program based on the school schedule.

The program will consist of 3 training days per week and 2-3 major full-body lifts each day with metabolic conditioning and physical preparation each day. This is also a great phase to teach proper lifting technique and incorporate new lifts or skills into your program.

16-Week Football Off-Season High School Strength and Conditioning Program

The off-season program tends to be the phase that gets the most attention. This is time to make your largest gains on strength, speed, and power. This phase is broken down into 7 training weeks, a de-loading week, 6 training weeks, a test week, and a full week off to rest in preparation for pre-season training. Obstacles in this phase will be holidays, family vacations, and other summer activities.

The off-season training program will consist of 3 training days per week with a rest day between day 1 and day 2. The first 7 weeks will focus on strength and hypertrophy training in the weight room and acceleration training on the field. Again, general preparation is the focus as we begin to get more specific at the end of the phase.

First 7 Weeks

Day 1: Speed/Acceleration training, Upper Body Strength

(day off)

Day 2: Speed/Acceleration, Lower Body Strength

(day off if possible)

Day 3: Full Body Lift. Weeks 1-4 there is not speed or agility training. Weeks 5-7, the volume in the weight room will be decreased as it will be preceded with speed endurance training.

After 1 week off, we enter the final 6 weeks of training in the off-season phase. This phase becomes a bit more specific to the needs of football. Weight room training begins to focus more on power production and strength gains. The breakdown of the 6 weeks is as follows:

Next 6 weeks

Day 1: Speed/Acceleration Training, Upper Body lift

(day off)

Day 2: Speed Endurance Training, Full Body Lift

(day off)

Day 3: Agility/Movement training, Lower Body Lift

Upon completing this phase, we have a testing week to compare to the previous test week at the end of our post-season program.

Developing a full-year training program for high school athletes can be difficult for the High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist. However, while there certainly are many obstacles, there is a way to provide a skeleton to base your training program around. The program must be flexible and always evaluated and adjusted according to the needs of your athletes. While this provided skeleton may not meet the specific needs of your team, I hope it provides you with things to consider and can serve as a tool when developing your full year programming.

High School Strength and Conditioning Programming Considerations

Josh Ortegon high school strength and conditioning considerations

By Josh Ortegon

JV vs. Varsity: Variations in High School Strength and Conditioning

Generally speaking, “curriculum” refers to a series of related courses, often in a specialized field of study. High School students follow a curriculum in most of their classes whether it is math, physics, English, or other related subjects. Strength and conditioning programming for the high school athlete is no different. A progressive physical curriculum that builds on itself from year to year with the goal of developing skills will increase students’ overall fitness levels, improve athletic performance, and help prevent injury. All these are skills that will help them become active and healthy adults or potentially contribute to sports success at the next level.

Skill Development Is a Long-Term Process

Many high school strength programs do not implement developmental and skill-specific programs that progress their athletes from grade to grade. Many times the programs implemented with the ninth graders, who are commonly brand new to strength and conditioning, are the same programs implemented with the older, more experienced athletes at the school. This would be no different from expecting students to learn calculus prior to taking algebra. However, the repercussions are not a failed grade or a poor SAT score but failure to reach full athletic potential or even injury.

Learn multiplication before calculus high school strength and conditioning

Sometimes the high school strength and conditioning specialist (HSSCS) is involved in the fitness programs being implemented among middle school athletes. As a result, the transition to the high school program is seamless for such athletes. However, more frequently, ninth grade may be the first time the HSSCS has an opportunity to work with those athletes. In this case, there are many things to consider before implementing a program, including training history, developmental stage, and previous history of injury.

High School Strength and Conditioning Considerations: JV Athletes

Just like the sports program, the ninth and tenth grades are spent building a foundation and learning simple skills that provide the athlete with the tools necessary to be successful at the varsity level. Understanding that many high school strength and conditioning programs separate the JV from the varsity in the weight room, the HSSCS can be specific to the needs of each level. Below are a few bullet points to consider when developing your strength and conditioning program for JV athletes:

  • Proper warm-up: All training starts with the warm-up. JV athletes should have a full understanding of the warm-up, how to perform it and even how to lead it on the field
  • Mobility training: Understanding that at this age many kids will begin to go through their growth spurt, mobility training is important to prevent injury and improve suppleness.
  • Developing ancillary capacities: This goes right along with learning the warm-up. This is the time to educate the athletes on rest, recovery, regeneration, nutrition and mental preparation.

Single leg work with JV athletes high school strength and conditioning

  • Single leg training: SLT can be one of the fastest and most effective ways to get an athlete into training. It takes very little coaching to get an athlete to lunge, step up, or perform any other single leg exercises. They are also essential in improving sleep and injury prevention.
  • Skill development: Learning the lifts properly is important to not just safety but elicit a positive training response. The JV years are an optimal time to teach proper lifting mechanics preparing athletes to add load.
  • Conditioning and acceleration technique: Most would agree that in order to get faster, it is necessary to get stronger. Additionally, in order to train specific conditioning, we must have general conditioning. These years are great to teach proper acceleration mechanics and skills as well as develop a strong conditioning base.

High School Strength and Conditioning Considerations: Varsity Athletes

The varsity years are the time to reap the benefits of the base that was built during the ninth and tenth grade. Many times, but not always, the athlete has gone through the growth spurt and is developmentally ready to load in the weight room. The previous two years of work will serve as an optimal foundation upon which to move to the next level of strength and conditioning. In other words, these students have “aced” algebra and are now ready for calculus. Below are a few bullet points to consider when developing a strength and conditioning program for varsity athletes:

  • Acceleration training: With basic acceleration technique learned, this can be a time to start modalities such as sled sprints or other forms of resistive sprinting. Most often, around 10% of body weight is an appropriate load for resisted sled sprints.

Go heavy with varsity athletes high school strength and conditioning

  • Loading the lifts: After two years of preparation and technique training, now is the time to increase intensity and volume. As long as proper technique is continued, there is a benefit to loading Olympic lifting and their variations as well as other core lifts like squats and press variants.
  • Programming: This goes along with the previous point. Programming that will focus on peaking for competition and competition seasons can be implemented. With proper technique and the ancillary capacities sharpened, loading can be varied for a desired result.
  • Overtraining concerns: Precautionary measures must be implemented to prevent physical and mental “burnout.”
  • Movement training: Movement skills can now be developed to be specific to the desired sport. Athletes are still encouraged to play multiple sports, but movement training can become specific to a particular sport at the given time within the year.

Training programs must always fit the developmental stage of the athlete. For the HSSCS, this can always be a challenge. The needs of the incoming freshman are not the needs of a senior who has gone through a program the last three years. There are always things to consider in program design but we must always equip our athletes with the skills they need to become healthy, active adults and not just implement a sport- specific model that alienates those who do not move to the next level of athletic participation.

5 Ways to Increase Support for Your High School Strength and Conditioning Program

Josh Ortegon--buy in to your high school strength and conditioning program

By Josh Ortegon

Getting Coaches to “Buy In” to Your High School Strength and Conditioning Program

Having sport coaches support your strength and conditioning program is essential for the High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist (HSSCS). A high level of “buy in” from coaches is important in order to creative cohesiveness in the program. This can be easy for a coach who has been in the program or the community for a long time and has created solid relationships with coaches. However, for the new HSSCS, it can be difficult until the program and relationships are established. Here are a few tips for the HSSCS to help foster that buy in and build the foundations of a great program.

Track Your Results

Track results for high school strength and conditioning program buy-in

Nothing will create a strong belief in your program by sport coaches like results. While every coach wants to see improvements in speed, agility, and vertical leap, tracking other screens like the FMS or the Hop and Stop test are important, as well. Showing coaches the increases in speed and power will help demonstrate the effectiveness of the program. Similarly, showing how you are helping keep those athletes healthy and on the field will help demonstrate how you are taking the program to the next level. After all, speed and power are wasted if the athlete is on the sidelines due to injury.

Meet with Sport Coaches to Explain Your High School Strength and Conditioning Program

Nothing shows your care about the program like taking extra time to meet with coaches. This, for me, has been invaluable in creating strong relationships with coaches and demonstrating the goals of the strength and conditioning program. Many times, sport coaches have no idea what the goals of the high school strength and conditioning program are and therefore have no way to support the program and encourage their athletes to participate.

Provide Sport Coaches with Ideas for Practice

This goes hand in hand with the previous tip. When you meet with sport coaches, go over extra work they could do with their athletes during practice. You can also both get on the same page with other important subjects like nutrition and sleep habits. I would recommend to go as far as to visit a practice and go over warm-ups, cool downs, and in-practice conditioning. One example would be to meet with the girls’ soccer team and the coaches and go over a specific warm-up to help prevent ACL injuries.

Work with Your Certified Athletic Trainer

athletic trainer high school strength and conditioning

Injury prevention is within the scope of the High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist and should be a priority within the program. Working with the school’s Certified Athletic Trainer to track injuries and their trends within the school is important to create “buy in” not just with the coaches but with parents as well. You and the AT can go over strategies to prevent these injuries and how to transition injured athletes back into the strength and conditioning program. Being able to document that your program is decreasing injuries in the athletes that participate will help to further validate your program.

Ask Sport Coaches for Their Input

Asking sport coaches what they feel their athletes are lacking helps them feel like they are a part of the program. Simply asking, “What do you feel your athletes need to work on?” can make them feel like you are all on the same team and help strengthen your relationship with the coaching staff. Everyone wants to know their opinion is valued. Even though most coaches are not educated in the area of high school strength and conditioning, they may provide insight as to what they have seen in the past. Whether it is noticing the team is tired in the fourth quarter or they are not mentally strong, coach feedback will help you customize your programming and further build your relationship with that coach and the team.

Developing Athletes for Multiple Sports

Josh Ortegon: Developing Athletes

By Josh Ortegon

A Holistic Approach to Developing Athletes in Multiple Sports

One would think that with the sports specialization “epidemic” in the United States, there would be very little need for an article discussing better ways for developing athletes in multiple sports. In reality, MANY of our high school athletes are indeed playing multiple sports in high school. Thanks to the information provided by the IYCA and other educators in the strength and conditioning field, more and more coaches and parents are being exposed to the Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) model and promoting the multi-sport athlete.

I have the very rare opportunity to be on both sides of the sports performance training industry working as a private strength and conditioning coach at my own facility and being a High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist (HSSCS) at a small school in South Carolina.

Due to the size of the high school (about 300 students), most of our athletes play multiple sports in order to field full teams. As such, I have worked out effective strategies for properly developing athletes who play multiple sports. Here are some tips for training the multi-sport athlete in the high school environment.

Incorporate the Functional Movement Screen (FMS)

FMS is a powerful tool for developing athletes

One important goal of the HSSCS is to keep athletes safe and help decrease the risk of injury. The multi-sport athlete could be arguably considered “in-season” at all times, with most playing club or travel sports in the summer, as well. This high amount of sports participation increases the likelihood of injury. The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) can be a valuable tool in helping the HSSCS identify potential risks and inefficiencies the athlete may demonstrate. Such information is critical in making the most of the limited training time available.

Give Developing Athletes Homework

Giving athletes exercises to do at home is a great tool for the highly motivated athlete at any skill level. One way to do this is to provide “travel packets.” In these packets, athletes will find mobility sequences, soft tissue/self massage programs, and bodyweight exercises that can be performed independently at night. This is a great reason to start a YouTube page for any strength and conditioning program.

Get Them Stronger

high school strength program for muti-sport developing athletes

With the multi-sport athlete, the focus in the weight room should be strength. Most of these developing athletes participate in the in-season conditioning that the sport coach requires. After all, coaches usually cannot tailor the program for a few specific athletes. Programming for strength gains around competitions with multi-joint exercises such as deadlifts and squats with single leg and shoulder strengthening exercises can help the HSSCS take advantage of this key developmental stage.

Implement a Sport-Specific Agility Program

Very rarely will I use the term “sport-specific” but I feel it is necessary here. There will usually be a two week transition period for athletes who are moving from season to season unless they go deep into the post-season (which is always a good thing). For example, after football season, the athlete may have brief transition period moving from football to basketball season. During this time, it is important for the HSSCS to implement an agility program that will meet the needs of the basketball player in order to improve performance and also assist in the prevention of injuries. In the previous example, the athlete would perform the agility program on the basketball court to get used to the surface along with movements specific to basketball.

Meet with Coaches

The topic of getting coaches to buy into a program will be addressed in future articles, as it is a critical topic that is imperative in helping build a strong sports culture at the high school level.

Meeting with coaches to discuss the needs of the multi-sport athlete is not just good for the athlete, but will also build cohesiveness and improve communication among the staff. This is a time to share the need for athletes to “do their homework” as well as address any other issues that may arise. Getting your school’s Athletic Trainer involved is a great idea, as well.

Reinforce Proper Nutrition and Rest

Fruits for developing athletes

Multi-sport athletes are seemingly on the run all the time. Constantly having practices or games after school along with academic requirements and an ever-increasing social calendar can lead to decreased sleep and recovery as well as inconsistent eating habits. Such behaviors increase the risk for injury, over-training, and increased fatigue. Working with other school staff members, educating multi-sport athletes on the need for appropriate sleep, hydration, and nutrition is an important key in optimizing health and preventing injury.

A great tip would be to organize a “field trip” to the school cafeteria to educate athletes on appropriate lunch choices.

Bottom Line for Developing Athletes

I love the fact that this article is about multi-sport developing athletes. It is a refreshing topic in a time where sports specialization is impacting youth at an alarming rate. With that said, the multi-sport athlete has their own needs and risks that the HSSCS must plan around in order to trigger optimal results.

Nature vs. Nurture in Youth Athletic Development

Improper Youth Athletic Development, or Is It Mom and Dad’s Fault That Your Athletes Aren’t Fast Enough?

Phil Loomis

By Phil Loomis

When it comes to youth athletic development, the hottest question in the last decade has been one of nature vs. nurture, or genetics vs. environment. Posed another way: Are Justin Verlander and Calvin Johnson elite athletes because they were lucky enough to have the right parents? Or are they superstar athletes because they were exposed to an ideal environment that afforded them the opportunity to develop their talents?

Calvin Johnson Lions: Nature or Nurture in youth athletic development?

In a recent interview, Dr. Joe Baker, a Professor of Applied Exercise Science at Queens University, hammered home several points to which all young athletes, coaches, parents, and youth sport organizations should pay close attention.

First, Baker says coaches should focus efforts on the factors that are able to be controlled or influenced within the training environment. “While genes are important,” Baker said, “[you can] forget about them because you have no control over that part of the equation.”

Next, Baker emphatically asserted that genes are not deterministic. Because of the complex interaction between genes and the training environment, it is impossible to determine whether a person has the “right” genetic make-up to become an elite athlete until well after such athletes have already been through the optimal training environment.

This is good news for coaches. We can dramatically improve our young athletes’ chances for future success IF we concentrate on creating an optimal training environment for youth athletic development while also providing high-quality training. This also means athletes can stop blaming parents for any relative early lack of athletic talent (at least from a genetic perspective—environment and training opportunities are well within a parent’s control).

What exactly is the ideal/optimal training environment? The popular “10,000 Hour Rule” has been touted in the media and is the subject of many books, most prominently Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.1 The theory is that in order to become an expert in any field (athletics), it is necessary to devote 10,000+ hours of specific practice/training to one domain (sport).

Malcolm Gladwell

Sadly, far too much focus has been placed upon an arbitrary number, and the real message has been lost. The culture in which athletes practice and the quality of the training are much more important than the sheer quantity of time spent devoted to deliberate practice.

If an athlete shoots 10,000 basketball jump shots a week for five years with lousy technique, he or she would likely be a very flawed and inconsistent shooter. On the other hand, if that same athlete were to shoot just 1000 shots a week for five years with very strong fundamental technique along with great effort and concentration, he or she would become better and a more consistent shooter than the athlete who “lives” in the gym but never seems to improve or perform when the pressure is on. Plus, that athlete could spend extra time improving speed and endurance while the other guy is clanging away on the court.

It is not the amount of time devoted to a task but the quality of that time that determines how well the skill will be developed and honed.

That said, to serve all athletes and ensure we are providing the coaching required, all sport development should be based upon long-term goals. Coaches need to implement systems for proper youth athletic development within their sport that will allow them to break down each season with developmentally appropriate goals for the team as a whole and for each individual athlete. Scheduling and practice development can then be used to lead the team and the individuals where they need to be at the end of the season.

Other environmental factors must also be considered. Culture and even birthplace play a role. From a cultural perspective, if an athlete wants to be a football player, the United States is the place to be. Soccer in Europe and hockey in Canada are also examples of how culture influences sport development. Even within those broad areas, smaller regions tend to be better suited still (baseball in the South and Southwest, Lacrosse in the Northeast) through the availability of facilities, better coaching, and even tradition (football Alabama, lacrosse Duke, basketball Kentucky).

Where the athlete is born also influences future success. Smaller suburban centers are more likely to produce elite athletes. Just 1% of the U.S. population resides in cities between 50,000 and 100,000 residents, yet cities of this size produce 16.8% of all Major League Baseball players, 11% of PGA golfers and 17.2% of American born National Hockey League players.2

The best way to explain these demographics may be accessibility. A young athlete in Toronto, Canada, might find it difficult to find ice time because of the demands on facilities. Ice time is likely booked months ahead of time. With higher demand for space, facilities may charge more, thereby squeezing out certain athletes due to budgetary limitations. This also excludes many athletes who may just want to try the sport or just play for fun.

In this scenario, athletes are eliminated from the talent pool strictly due to financial constraints or lack of opportunity. It is then reasonable to suggest that given this information, athletes with the most long-term potential may never even get an opportunity to compete.

If birth location can make a difference, what about the potential influence of date of birth? Currently, most athletic training and competition programs are based upon chronological age much like our academic system. However, athletes of the same age between 10 and 16 can be 4 to 5 years apart developmentally. Though the use of chronological age may be easier to manage, it shouldn’t be a reason to perpetuate a system that is clearly flawed.

Consider the following evidence:

  • Of the 28 members on the U.S. Boys U15 National Soccer Team (all with birth year of 1998), 17 were born in the first four months of the year and only one of the athletes was born after September.3
  • Of the 66 members on the U.S. Girls U15 National Select Soccer Team (birth year 1998), 30 were born in the first four months of the year and only 11 after September.4
  • Of the 18 members on the U.S. Boys U12 National Select Baseball Team (all born in 2001 except for one born in 2002), 11 were born in the first four months of the year and only three after August.5
  • Of the 54 members on the Men’s Junior National Hockey Team (born in 1994 or 1995), 20 were born in the first four months of 1994 and only six after July of 1995.6

It is highly unlikely that there are fewer athletes with long-term potential born in the last quarter of the year than in the first quarter. However, upon inspection of national select team rosters, earlier births are disproportionately represented. If a young athlete is unlucky enough to be born at the tail end of a league or program’s “cut-off” date, it could be considered a huge disadvantage. The current system for developing and selecting athletes in this country rewards early-maturing athletes who may not have the ability to be elite performers. Later-developing athletes are excluded, cut, and consequently leave the sport or are segregated to recreation programs that limit training opportunities and instruction from advanced coaches. These late developers may have substantial long-term potential but are frequently eliminated from the talent pool prematurely.

Another key component of creating the optimal training environment is the concept of deliberate practice versus deliberate play. The current youth sporting culture in the U.S. has this backwards to a large degree. In the early stages of athletic development (6-13 years of age), deliberate play must dominate sport/athletic exposures. Rigorous play over practice early in life is more effective because this is a period of discovery. Young athletes are forming attitudes (likes/dislikes) toward sports, fitness, and unstructured play. Typically, athletes who are provided rich opportunities for unstructured play are not constantly hammered with negative consequences (losing, getting cut, yelled at by coach) that could deter them from long-term participation.

Art of Coaching

At this stage, young athletes are and should be more intrinsically motivated (fun, being with friends, etc.) and the coach’s task is to “fill their emotional buckets” so that physical fitness is viewed favorably, as well. Such individuals do not require or need much in the way of “feedback” from coaches. Rather, the coach’s goal should be to create a safe environment where it is acceptable to take chances and experiment with movement. This is the proving ground from which elite athletes are molded.

On the other hand, deliberate practice offers highly specific and rigorous training. Kids start to train like adults and that brings along with it plenty of social consequences and pressures. Kids at this point are motivated more by extrinsic factors such as winning, scholarships, awards, trophies, and recognition. A little bit of the joy begins to leak from those “emotional buckets” as time with friends and family is sacrificed due to pressures to take sports more seriously. If too much emphasis is placed upon extrinsic factors, the risk for athlete emotional depletion goes up. With no joy or passion, the drive to excel will also be vanquished.

Beyond this complex mish-mash of environmental influences, what are the essential cogs for developing elite athletes?

Most simply, the pursuit of excellence begins with kids who are intrinsically motivated. The process must be encouraged rather than dominated by coaches, i.e., the coach cannot “want it” more than the athlete does. The essential cogs to the athletic development machine are commitment and motivation from the athletes. Young athletes must be driven by a desire to master the task and the willpower to persevere through the inevitable ups and downs inherent in sport.

From a coaching perspective, and for appropriate youth athletic development, it is essential to match the environment to the needs of the performer. In other words, the coach must meet the young athlete “where he or she is.” As an example, a skilled athlete who fatigues easily demonstrates the deterioration of skills at the end of games or even a competitive season does not need MORE skill practice. Instead, the coach must provide stimulus to improve stamina and endurance in order for that athlete to express skill consistently throughout an entire game/season.

Coaches also need to maintain the delicate balance between being comfortable and uncomfortable. Athletes should be provided opportunities to succeed and build confidence by being exposed to appropriate challenges. However, when the time is right, the coach should encourage such individuals to test themselves on that uncomfortable edge so that improvement can continue.

Finally, all coaches must firmly comprehend that talent development is not a linear process. Young athletes are in a constant state of growth flux. Bodies are always changing. Athletes can be completely different people from day to day due to the maturation and growth process. Emotional and social development is also a factor that must be considered. Kids are experiencing many things for the first time when everything in their life is in a constant state of discovery, experimentation, and formation. Often the “outstanding” 12 year-old may hit a wall and lose all sense of coordination, oftentimes without explanation. But this “regression” may be just what that athlete needs in order to make the next leap forward in development. These factors are largely outside our control, but we do have to understand them so that we are prepared in order to adapt the training environment to meet the current needs of that athlete while considering the long-term potential of youth athletic development.

From an athletic standpoint, it is critical that our athletes be highly adaptable. This means they must have robust and broad athletic exposures during the developmental years. Athletes who posses a large foundation of non-specific athleticism can cope with predictable and unpredictable situations and are able to succeed in any environment.

As an example, the International Track and Field Association recently introduced a change that involves when the athlete has to release the pole when clearing the crossbar. That may not seem like a drastic change, but many athletes have spent their entire careers training one way. If a change is introduced in your sport, how well will your athletes adapt to it? Will they be able to handle the change? Without highly adaptive athletic ability, it would be very difficult and could result in a significant drop in performance. Sports rules are always subject to change, especially given the increased attention paid to player safety. Prepare for the unexpected in sport—change is inevitable!

In summary, athletes have yet to reach their ultimate ceiling of potential where the perfect genetic profile is a prerequisite for future success. The ability to identify a single gene (or sequence of genes) that is responsible for sport performance (say a baseball pitching gene) is just not possible. Even if such a scenario were to become a reality, we still will not know for sure until after such individuals prove themselves to be an elite athlete. This would only be possible after the developmental process has been “lived through.”

Genetics is important but should not be a major factor in determining appropriate youth athletic development

Genetics should not be a consideration when developing young athletes because it is a factor that lies well outside of our influence and would be rather pointless to pursue.  Kids have enough trouble getting adequate sleep, eating enough fruits and vegetables, and gaining a diverse athletic foundation outside of a sport-specific environment. Once these areas have been addressed, we can start to tackle more advanced concepts like post/pre competition nutrition, examining genetic profiles, and addressing an individual’s muscle fiber composition. But in reality, most kids will never get to that point during their school years (K-12). Leave the advanced stuff alone until college where the universities have the personnel, resources, and facilities to adequately address them.

Our time is better spent meeting the kids where they are by improving the environment and overhauling a developmental infrastructure that has become strikingly flawed! When these areas are adequately addressed, we have a better chance of providing those who do have the essential cogs (mental durability and the will to master their craft—intrinsic motivation) for athletic success to reach their ultimate potential by following a long-term model of youth athletic development.

-Phil Loomis

Youth Athletic Development/Nutrition Specialist

References:

1. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0316017930/ref=rdr_ext_sb_ti_hist_1

2. Joe, Baker and Steve Cobley. Talent Identification and Development in Sport: International Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

3. http://www.ussoccer.com/teams/youth/us-under15-boys/player-pool/2013-player-pool.aspx

4. http://www.ussoccer.com/teams/youth/us-under15-girls/player-pool/2013-player-pool.aspx

5. http://web.usabaseball.com/12u_national_team.jsp

6. http://worldjuniors.usahockey.com/page/show/842465-2013 u s national junior evaluation camp roster youth athletic development

Are We Really Getting Stronger?

strength training

By Mike McGurn

 

All sports I can think of require basic strength levels, and strength training has recently become a much sought after attribute in the athletic community. Kinesiologists, physiologists, athletic trainers, and professional strength coaches all tell us that if all we did was increase muscular strength by 35-40% in an athlete without changing any of the other attributes needed for the sport, there will be a definite improvement in performance levels.

The doubters may disagree and question how getting stronger can be of benefit in sports where the technique is the priority. Surely though, being a lot more stable or injury resistant when performing the activity is a major benefit.

I have always found that there is a massive transference from doing a proper strength program into improving all the other physical components that a sport requires. Various journals and abstracts on Muscle Activity tell us ‘without sufficient strength, factors such as skill, flexibility, and endurance cannot be used effectively.’

Strength Training 2

This is not ground breaking information, nor will it allow me to claim that I have discovered some amazing new angle in the fitness industry that I can exploit to become a millionaire overnight! The truth is, millions of athletes all over the world are now participating in ‘strength training‘ programs.

The questions I have is whether these programs are actually improving strength or if they are one among the many overhyped fitness programs masquerading as the next best thing. Some so-called strength programs I witness these days resemble a gadget assault course, with all sorts of non essential equipment being used.

Another aspect of these diluted strength programs that winds me up are exercise machines. Equipment manufacturers saw a niche in the fitness market with their highly engineered exercise machines, and boy did they have an impact. Gyms, health clubs, and sports clubs embraced this concept and were covered in rows of fancy machines which had the sole purpose of allowing you to do one exercise!!! Of course we know that this type of equipment is nowhere near ideal for developing useful strength.

There are many other short term fads which are likely to go away as quickly as they appeared.

So how do we get back to actually building strength? I once heard the quote, ‘to get stronger lift heavy rocks.’ That isn’t too far wrong. 

I call my approach to gaining real functional strength ‘the bullseye theory,’ which can basically be summarized by saying that throwing 3 aerodynamic darts to try and hit the bullseye is much more favorable than throwing 15 broken ones!  In other words it is better to concentrate on a few aspects of training and do them well, rather than trying to cover a multitude of areas. Trying to do too many different things only leads to athletes spreading themselves too thin and diluting what they are doing. This means that despite busting themselves in the gym, they don’t really improve at anything in particular.

This is where I feel a lot of high school strength programs are seriously flawed. Some strength programs I have observed have up to 15 different exercises. The reasoning was that in order to make the athlete stronger, every muscle group needed to be activated individually. This is simply not the case.

In general, when it comes to dedicated strength training, I believe athletes need to focus on only three core movement patterns: Olympic lifts, squats, and deadlifts.

Strength Training

If all our athletes ever do in the gym is work on these patterns and their derivatives, and focus on them all the time, they will drastically improve their strength and athletic performance. My opinion is that to improve athletic performance Olympic lifts are king. Clean and snatch often and do it hard.  Supplementing these lifts with squats and deadlifts will go a long way in developing strength in our athletes.

It really is that simple, a strength program does not have to be complicated to be effective. Rather than trying to implement 15 exercises in a program to make sure all the bases are covered, focus on the few that give the greatest return.

 

Mike McGurn has been a strength and conditioning coach for 18 years. He is currently based in Belfast in Northern Ireland.

 

 

Corrective Exercises for Overhead Throwing Athletes

Eric Cressey’s Favorite Exercises for Overhead Throwing Athletes

Some of Eric Cressey's favorite corrective exercises for overhead throwing athletes

With over 80% of the clientele at Cressey Performance consisting of baseball players, we’ve come to appreciate some of the unique demands of overhead throwing athletes. And perhaps no adaptation in these shoulders is more important to consider than the loss of scapular upward rotation.

Research has demonstrated that baseball players (and presumably tennis, swimming, volleyball, and track and field throwing participants) lose upward rotation of the scapula over the course of a competitive season. Very simply, this is a fancy way of saying that the shoulder blades can’t rotate up enough on the rib cage during overhead movement.

This is a big problem, as the scapula is the “socket” in the shoulder girdle’s “ball-and-socket” joint. If the socket is too low and the ball (humeral head) is too high, we can irritate the rotator cuff, biceps tendon, or superior labrum. This problem is exacerbated when the rotator cuff isn’t strong enough to help keep the humeral head down as the arm is elevated and when the lats get really gritty, short, and nasty from overuse. We’ll get to some great exercises for overhead throwing athletes in a second, but first, consider how this shoulder instability happens in the first place—and how we should correct it.

We’ve all heard the analogy of the shoulder being unstable like a golf ball sitting on a golf tee. If the golf tee can’t rotate up effectively, then the congruency between the two can’t be maintained, and that’s when shoulder instability develops. With that in mind, we need good exercises for overhead throwing athletes especially that teach the scapula to get up, and that means driving it with overhead reaching. Here are four of my favorite movements to accomplish this:

 

 

 

 

 

You can also work in lateral lunges with overhead reaches, spiderman variations with overhead reaches, and a host of other exercises to help build this upward rotation proficiency. Try out these exercises for overhead throwing athletes, and you’ll notice a huge difference in how they actually perform in overhead positions!

 

If you are interested in learning more about how to design complete programs that create complete athletes make sure to check out one of the IYCA’s most popular products, COMPLETE ATHLETIC DEVELOPMENT 2.0. This resource brings together the very best in the performance industry and gives you an inside look at how the are training their athletes.

 

cad2_total_mockup850

http://completeathletedevelopment.com/

 

 

Your Comfort Bears No Fruit

Alex Slezak – M.Ed, YFS, YSAS, HSSCS

I have been very fortune to have met and been mentored by many world-class tennis coaches. On a recent visit to what I believe is one of the best junior tennis training facilities in the world, the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, MD, I heard Coach Chuck Kriese saying repeatedly, “your comfort bears no fruit.” Now I was really interested in this saying because when it was said to young athletes they seemed to work harder. Interesting isn’t it?

There have been all kinds of books like The Talent Code and Talent is Overrated, which basically state that deliberate or deep practice is the key to continually improving at what you are doing. In my very concise definition deliberate practice is basically engaging yourself to the outer edges of your abilities, which ultimately is what makes you improve. Practicing this way is not easy either, it takes a tremendous amount of mental focus and it is hard to work right at the edge of your ability. I think Coach Kriese summarizes it all by saying, “you have to become comfortable at being uncomfortable.”

comfort

Now most of us do not like to practice in this manner because it is mentally and physically demanding not to mention we fail a lot while working at the edges of our abilities. So we retreat to what is comfortable, known, and where we are most successful. The problem with practicing at a comfortable level is that it is no longer deeply challenging. The whole reason to practice at anything is to improve performance and improvement comes from challenging your abilities. I think you see where I am going with this. The young athletes at the tennis center cannot hit balls back and forth and train at a level of comfort all day because it will not make them better. They are constantly reminded that they need to push their limits to continually improve and they understand that. So when Coach Kriese reminds them “your comfort bears no fruit” they are reminded to refocus their physical and mental practice efforts.

Think about how much more you could get out of your athletes or students by teaching them that they need to consistently practice at a level that is mentally and physically demanding in order to continually improve. Now think about yourself when you are training athletes, are you comfortable or uncomfortable in your coaching? I think comfort is a good thing for coaches especially if they are comfortable implementing proven methods and strategies. The coach’s job really is about knowing where the edge for a particular athlete is and taking them there. A coach should not be taking their teaching abilities to the edge each training session. However, I think as teachers and coaches we need to step out of our comfort zone, not in training our athletes, but in educating ourselves. It might be reading a new book, going through an IYCA course, or trying new methods in our personal workouts, either way as coaches our comfort in what we know will not bear the fruit of improvement. The only way to bear fruit of becoming a better coach is to continually grow by becoming comfortable at being uncomfortable.

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

Kettlebell Shoulder Stabilization Exercises for Athletes: Part 2

 Kettlebell Exercises for Athletes: Heavier Isn’t Always Better

By Pamela MacElree, MS

I hope you were able to test out the arm bar and the high windmill that I went over with you in the previous post on kettlebell shoulder stabilization exercises for athletes. If you were new to these exercises, did you notice the drastic difference in the amount of weight you initially thought you might be able to do the exercise with and the weight you could comfortably control? Don’t worry! After some serious practice, you should be able to start moving up in weights.

Kettlebell Shoulder Stabilization Exercises for Athletes #3: The Turkish Get-Up

The next exercise in the series is the all-famous Turkish get-up, one of the most challenging full-body exercises. The Turkish get-up is one of the most challenging shoulder stabilization exercises for athletes as the body moves through multiple planes of motion, requiring coordination and strength between the core and lower body.

For this example, let’s assume you will be doing 1 repetition with the kettlebell in your right hand. To start the Turkish get-up, lay on your right side for the safety of your shoulder. Grip the kettlebell handle underhand with your right hand and overhand with your left, hug it close to your chest, and roll back to your back.

Kettlebell exercises for athletes: Starting Position of the Turkish Get-Up

Once you are laying flat on your back, press the kettlebell up from the floor on one side. It is OK to use both hands to press the kettlebell if needed. Flex your right leg as well. Throughout the remainder of the exercise, your right arm should remain vertical and perpendicular to the floor.

Shoulder Stabilization 2

Keeping the right shin vertical, drive through the right heel and sit up at an angle onto the elbow. Keep the kettlebell directly over the shoulder throughout the exercise.

Shoulder Stabilization 3

Progress to resting your weight on your left hand with a straight arm. Remember to keep the kettlebell directly over the right shoulder.

Shoulder Stabilization 4

Keeping your weight mainly on your right foot and your left hand, pick your hips up from the floor into a bridge.

Shoulder Stabilization 5

Retract the left leg underneath the body and bring the left knee to the ground, close to your left hand. Notice the hips will go from facing the ceiling to facing forward.

Shoulder Stabilization 6

At this point, the kettlebell should sit directly over the right shoulder, the left shoulder, and the left hand, while both shoulders are active. Bring the torso to an upright kneeling position.

Kettlebell exercises for athletes: TGU lunge

Position the body so that it is safe and comfortable to stand from the kneeling position. You can move the right foot and the angle of the left lower leg to be able to stand up with good mechanics.

Kettlebell exercises for athletes: Turkish Get-Up halfway mark

Once you reach the standing position, you have completed half of the exercise. Now, reverse each step. You can watch the video to see the reverse part of the Turkish get-up.

Just as with the arm bar and the high windmill, it is extremely important to keep the arm that is holding the kettlebell vertical and perpendicular to the floor as the body moves underneath it.

There are several ways to do the Turkish get-up, and while all are valid, each must be executed with proper form in order to be both safe and effective. The above explanation is just one variation.

Kettlebell Shoulder Stabilization Exercises for Athletes #4: The Gladiator Press

Our last in the series of kettlebell shoulder stabilization exercises for athletes is the gladiator press. You’ll notice in the video and in the photos that the gladiator press starts out very similarly to both the arm bar and the Turkish get-up; in fact, the gladiator press can be done as part of a Turkish get-up.

In the gladiator press, you will perform all of the steps of the Turkish get up exactly as listed above until you get to the hip bridge position. Once you get to the hip bridge position, you will shift your bodyweight to be on the straight leg.

Kettlebell exercises for athletes: Crucial move of the Gladiator Press

Take your time here. Be sure the left hand is sitting directly under the left shoulder to support your torso and the weight of the kettlebell overhead. Gradually move the right (top) leg to rest directly on top of the left (bottom) leg.

Shoulder Stabilization 10

From here, if you can maintain the position, slowly lift the top leg into the air.

Kettlebell exercises for athletes: Gladiator Press extended

Once you have reached this position, you can return to the starting point by simply reversing the steps to get here. You can also return the top leg to the floor to create the hip bridge position and continue on with the Turkish get-up.

For all four of these exercises, it is recommended to start out with a slightly lighter weight or even bodyweight to get comfortable with the complexity of the movement as well as to determine if you have any imbalances in shoulder stabilization from one side to the other.

Keep the repetitions low on these kettlebell exercises for athletes and place them in the beginning of workouts when the mind and body are both fresh. As you progress to heavier weights, it is always safe to use a spotter.

Drinking Water From a Fire Hose

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

Remember the hot summer days, before we knew what BPAs were, when you would turn the garden hose water on in the backyard and let it slowly trickle out to get a drink? Every once in a while, my friends would crank the water on full blast while I was drinking it and get a good laugh! I hope the title Drinking Water From a Fire Hose gives you an even better visual and maybe makes you crack a smile just thinking of it. But what I have to say next is actually pretty serious. A good tennis coaching friend and I were talking about the world of today, and he used the analogy that there is so much information coming at us that it really is “like drinking water from a fire hose.”

Think about how many emails, newsletters, YouTube channels, Facebook Pages, and websites there are that are constantly bombarding us with information. There is so much information that it makes your head spin. What makes it even worse is that not all of the information is good. In fact, there is a lot of it that is just downright terrible. The people with true wisdom are the ones who can discern diamonds from the rhinestones in terms of the value of information. If you want to get ahead of the curve, stop trolling the Internet trying to learn everything there is and focus on learning from the best in small chucks you can process. In other words you have to turn down the source of the water so you can consume what comes out the end of the fire hose. The IYCA is a great place to start because they have done all the work for you. They went and asked the best in the business to share their diamonds of knowledge with you.

water hose

Finally, use this analogy of drinking water from a fire hose with your athletes. It will make perfect sense to them and maybe even make them think twice about picking up their phone every once in a while. Think about how much they get bombarded with in a day. You do not need to bombard them with more rhinestones. Instead start focused on providing them with diamonds. Kids know the difference, and they will dial right into you and achieve results much faster. Once they are able to discern between diamonds and rhinestones, they will never accept anything less of others or themselves.

Alex operates a tennis & fitness training business in Pittsburgh, PA. You can learn more by visiting his website at www.AlexSlezak.com.

Grieving the Loss of Free Play

By Phil Loomis 

Do you recall the days of your childhood when you would meet your friends outside in the morning and play all day long? You made up teams and played tag, baseball, and dodge ball, capture the flag whatever you felt like that day. It was unstructured and while there may have been rules you and your friends made them up to suit your particular situation. Many “experts” are lamenting the lack of free play in current society.

“Remarkably, over the last 50 years, opportunities for children to play freely have declined continuously and dramatically in the United States and other developed nations; and that decline continues, with serious negative consequences for children’s physical, mental, and social development,” Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College.

Gray has presented research showing a correlation between the decline of free play in developed nations and the rise of depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism in children, teens, and young adults.

Gray also notes that the modern segregation of kids into same-age groups, common in today’s classrooms and schoolyards, may not be optimal for child development. He says that during age-mixed play, older, more skilled participants “provide scaffolds that raise the level of the younger participants’ play” and stretch their abilities to higher levels. He cites other studies in which older children were observed exposing younger children to more complex concepts of literacy, math, and sociability. By interacting with younger children, older students develop increased capacities to nurture, lead, and learn by teaching. [1]

Free Play

On Professor Gray’s last point I agree wholeheartedly! When I was a kid I always had to bring my brother along whenever I would play with my friends, he was 5 years younger than me. We didn’t take it easy on him and he learned how to compete and “survive” against more mature stronger kids. But he was better for the experience; he endeared himself to my friends because he always dusted himself off and got back in the ring. He also developed an enthusiastic group of supporters. It was fairly common to attract half dozen or more teenagers to his little league games. Not only did he earn respect and how to interact with older kids he also developed into quite an athlete. By the time he was in 7th grade I would always pick him first to be on my team and he would run circles around the stunned older kids.

In my 10-14 youth classes I occasionally make allowances for younger siblings (age 9) to make the scheduling easier for the parents. And inevitably the older sibling will “look out” for the younger by giving them a few coaching tips. It’s also very common that non-related older children will take the younger kids “under their wing” by providing a pat on the back or other subtle but powerful boosts to their confidence. This all occurs without any prodding from me I just watch it happen and make a mental note of it, and it’s a beautiful thing for a coach to see!

And therein lies the power of free play the kids take ownership and learn how to create their own culture. As coaches we need to provide a general outline for kids while still allowing and encouraging them to create and find their own unique way of doing things. What I mean by that is there is no one-way or even right way to throw a football, kick a soccer ball, or evade a defender. Kids if given the opportunity will find the way that works best for them and that type of instinctive and reflexive execution of skill is a key element of advanced athletic talent.

Think about the great athletes of all time do you think they honed those skills by playing nearly year round in adult organized leagues? I believe the skill and drive to excel was born at an early age on the playgrounds with friends and neighborhood kids. Once that passion and raw talent is in place then it can be harnessed by coaches and directed by parents. The current youth sport culture compels parents to get their kids involved in leagues and travel teams at a very early age. The idea, though flawed, is that if they don’t start their sport “clock” early their more advanced peers will leave them behind with no hope of catching up. That line of thinking is actually backward but that is a story for another day.

All kids are grieving the loss of free play! Back to my 10-14 class, I was wrapping up a session with the group and while we do all of the necessary speed, agility, core, mobility, and strength training (by the way you can still make this type of training fun) I still like to reward them with free play at the end of the class and they always look forward to it. One of the girls as she was leaving saw two brothers in the next class pulling all kinds of equipment to the middle of the floor. She curiously asked me what they were doing? I said they are building a fort for an active game that we play. She responded with an incredulous look on her face, as if to say, “hey, you’ve been holding out on us!” Yes, even the athletic kids like and crave unstructured creative play.

There is a time for more dedicated focus for young athletes in a single sport/endeavor but only when the time is right (late to-mid teens…), and even then there should be a plan in place to counteract those demands (off-field training and more free play). Until that time free play with as little structure as is necessary should dominate their physical culture.

 

Phil Loomis 
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist

 

Reference: 

[1]http://www.stonehearthnewsletters.com/kids-lack-of-free-play-harmful-journal/human-behavior/

FMS and Kids

By Jared Woolever of Smart Group Training

Does the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) work with kids?

Both Steve and I were lucky enough to attend the IYCA Summit (International Youth and Conditioning Association) recently. We have been to the past three now, and we are pleased with the direction this organization is heading. This year, however, we were lucky enough to have a booth set up. We were able to talk and interact with all the coaches, trainers, and educators. The question we heard the most has to be about the FMS and its application to children. Does it actually work with kids?

The answer is YES! The FMS works incredibly well with kids. We use the FMS with a heavy majority of the kids coming in to train with us. The information you can get is extremely important and guides you in finding their strengths and weaknesses.

The cool thing about using the FMS with children is the corrective strategies. After identifying a dysfunction, applying the corrective strategy tends to clean up the issue, and FAST.

The majority of the time, when working with our youth athletes, we are able to clear up movement issues relatively quickly. Since they are younger and haven’t been dealing with dysfunction and compensation for years and years, youth athletes tend to clear patterns very quickly. We still take the same approach we always do to fix patterns, but the adaptations tend to happen a little quicker when dealing with youth instead of adults. Here is a rundown of what we do from start to finish in developing each program:

1. Screen each athlete and get medical history - We only work with middle school and up, so as long as they are mature enough, we will run them though a functional movement screen. We also want to use the medical history to find out if they have asthma, previous injuries or surgeries, etc…Feel free to add in some performance based measures if you like as well. Strength, power, body awareness, balance, and coordination are also key factors we’re looking for in our youth athletes.

2. Analyze Screen - After taking the time to run the screen, use it with your programming. The screening process should have given you insight to what the athlete’s limitations are. Now base your program around correcting those weaknesses or dysfunctions.

FMS

3. Apply Red Lights - This simply means we eliminate all exercises that can potentially cause harm. If we know the athlete cannot perform a certain task, we will take out any exercises that will only set them up for failure. We want to empower our athletes with a sense of accomplishment, so using the screen to restrict certain things is a vital part to the programming. If they can’t squat, DON’T SQUAT.

4. Apply Correctives - Like I just said, if they can’t squat, DON’T SQUAT. Applying the red light means we take it out. No need to train a pattern that is dysfunctional, so taking it out is the first step. Now, in this portion, we’re going to apply a corrective strategy. Without getting into too much detail about the hierarchy of what we fix first, we find the appropriate corrective strategy to build the athlete and get them to squat. The corrective portion is where we are going to work the limitations found and begin to improve overall movement and build a solid foundation to work from.

5. Strength/Power/Endurance - Does the athlete lack strength, power, or endurance? After identifying the weakness, exploit it. I’m going to train an overpowered athlete different than an underpowered athlete. The strength and stability demands are going to be different athlete by athlete, so base your program around what they need to address most. Again, this all comes back to proper screening and testing.

6. Rest/Recovery - This portion is often overlooked. The kids nowadays are overworked and lead stressful lives. I want to address this in my programming. It’s beneficial to know if your athletes are working off of little sleep, getting slammed for midterms, or taking multiple honors classes. These little things can lead to a buildup of stress. These little stresses can indirectly effect what we see in the movement screen, so we need to address this. We work them hard, so ensure you focus on rest and recovery as well.

The FMS is extremely useful in youth populations. We use it with great success and will continue to use it while designing our programs. This simple screen allows us to gather a deeper look into who we’re working with and what we can do to help them get better. The screen is a great tool from young to old. After all, it’s just movement we’re looking at. The screen was designed off fundamental patterns we learned as we developed, so the principles are the same. We need to push, crawl, reach, squat, lunge, etc… So essentially, FMS is good for just about anyone…young to old.