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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.

Identify the Goal of a Training Program

By Wil Fleming

 

Know the goal of your program

Knowing the starting point of a training program is only part of the equation. A clear goal of a training program you are designing must be laid out. If we go back to our marathon metaphor, the finish line must be clearly marked. If no finish line is marked you may not run the entire distance, or you and your athlete might cruise right by the finish line without ever stopping to look at your time and results.

Defining the goal of a training program means that you now have something to work towards. Many athletes step into your facility with a clear goal in mind:

“Play college football” 

“Get a Division I softball scholarship”

“Start for the varsity volleyball team” 

“Make the travel basketball team”

Goal of a training program

It is your job to take this information and turn it into a quantifiable training goal.

Would improving speed in a 40 yard dash help that athlete “play college football?” Would gaining lean muscle mass help the young athlete “make the travel basketball team?” If the answer is yes then you have a clear training goal in front of you.

It is important to help your athletes set “point B” goals. While their goals are often clear as day to them, these goals can sometimes be “point Z” goals.

A prime example is an athlete that I have been working with recently. Jeremy is an outstanding young soccer player, by far the best on his local travel team. Jeremy is only 14 years old but his singular goal is to make the United States men’s national team, a team that rarely ever selects athletes under the age of 20 for their roster and most athletes on the team do not see a lot of action until their mid-20′s. For Jeremy this is a simple point B goal, but in reality this is a point Z goal. There will be too many steps along the way for this goal to happen quickly. With young Jeremy it has become important to set point B goals.

His first point B goal was to move up from the best local travel team, to the best travel team in the state. We decided that improving upon his speed and quickness was a great way to take him to this level. Once this was accomplished his next point B goal was to get invited to youth national team tryouts, to accomplish this his training point B became increasing his lean muscle mass to compete with larger players in the midfield. For this athlete the ability to help set point B goals have allowed him to make consistent progress towards a goal.

Once an accurate starting point is assessed determine the goal of the program, and remember that sometimes it is your job as a coach to help the athlete find where their point B is on the way to point Z.

Do You Have All The Answers?

By Phil Hueston, NASM-PES; IYCA-YFS

Phil Hueston

“And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:24

Usually when a writer begins a piece with a Bible quote, the eyes of his readers roll and the “here we go” mutterings begin.

Stop it. Stop it now.

There is deep wisdom to be found in the writings of the Bible, whether you are a believer or not.

After all, the Golden Rule we all teach our kids is straight out of the Bible, isn’t it?

So why would I begin my writing here with that quote? Because I am using it to make a point about learning.

So you’re a “Youth Fitness Pro.” You “know” your stuff: youth fitness, sports performance training and how to make athletes better. The “X’s and O’s,” so to speak.

You’ve read the books. You’ve acquired the certifications (you have the cool letters after your name to prove it!) You’ve attended the seminars where you’ve passed snide remarks about the presenters’ knowledge, evidence and even their speaking style to anyone who would listen.

You’ve found or created a “system” for successful training of youth athletes – you even act as if it sprang from you organically. You communicate it as if this be-all, end-all “magic bullet” is something that didn’t come from the work of the thousands of researchers, trainers and coaches who came before them.

Who knows, maybe the answers formed in your alphabet cereal one morning as the sun beamed through a stained-glass window to give you the “sign.”

You feel really, really smart. You carry a sort of “my way is best” attitude that is the spitting image of the smug, “better than thou” attitude of the prototypical Biblical rich man.

How do I know this? I was nearly one of “those” coaches.

I’d experienced just enough success very early in my work with youth athletes to inflate my ego and walk around with the “I got this” attitude. I started to dismiss the work of others and lean on what I thought was enough knowledge and experience to make me the “go to” trainer in youth sports and performance.

I was becoming an egotistical jerk who thought he knew all the answers.

Then I started actually spending time around some of the people whose knowledge and experience I took for granted. I discovered something that changed my perspective forever.

These successful trainers, coaches and presenters genuinely cared more about their clients and the people they served than they could ever care about being RIGHT. They were humble, they were available to those they serve and they genuinely cared about whether I was getting better.

And man, were these people ever smart! Whip-crack, “holy cow” kind of.

I found myself looking more and more to what they knew for answers to challenging questions and less and less to what I “knew.” Their knowledge base became my knowledge base. Their experience expanded and multiplied my own.

An amazing thing happened…I got smarter and I started serving my “tribe” more effectively. I also started connecting in deeper and better ways with my clients.

I started asking better questions, doing better research and delivering better results than I’d ever imagined! I developed an appreciation for the massive body of knowledge that was still to be explored – by all of us – in this field.

That is the difference between being the camel and getting stuck in the eye of the needle and finding your way to the “promised land.”

Our “promised land” lies in the direction of being connected to a world of people, knowledge, resources and wisdom that can help us fulfill our purpose at its deepest and most meaningful level: help kids and youth athletes (and everyone else we work with) become the best they can be while helping them love the journey – while we become financially secure and successful in doing so.

In the scripture quote above, it’s not necessarily the wealth of the rich man that will keep him from the Promised Land; it is the attitude of superiority, sense of entitlement and the dismissal of those around him that sets him up for failure. It is the deadly sin of hubris - “overbearing pride, presumption or arrogance.”

The same holds true for you, and for me.

When we develop an attitude of superiority, that feeling that “I’m right and that’s it,” we set ourselves up to be shown to be lacking. Suddenly, a situation arises for which you have no ready answer. Instead of having the humility to say “I don’t know,” you dismiss the importance of a clients’ question or concern or, worse, reflexively give an incomplete or incorrect response. Fail.

And who suffers? Our clients.

This air of superiority creates a very narrow circle of advisors and causes others to refrain from offering opinions or correcting us when we are in error. It leads to failures in critical thinking and allows us to settle for poor research and half-solutions. Fail…again.

A sense of entitlement may be the most dangerous of the traits of the “rich man.” This attitude prevents you from being grateful for the people who want to help you succeed and leads to a kind of isolation from the people who are likely to be your strongest allies, if you would simply allow them to do so. Fail waiting to happen.

Dismissing those around us is a by-product of the air of superiority and the sense of entitlement. It’s impossible to be grateful for those for whom you hold no regard.

So how do we reach the “Promised Land” of having the knowledge, resources and support to help our clients succeed and become financially successful at the same time?

Here are 6 ways to get started:

1. Know your strengths - This is not an excuse to pat yourself on the back. Knowing your strengths means knowing how you can begin to serve others while working to get better. If your background is in Olympic lifts, start there. Do you have a deep love and knowledge of mobility? There is your strength…and how you can serve right now.

2. Love your weaknesses - That’s right. LOVE your weaknesses. Years ago, I was really good at strength development and power training. Speed and agility? Have you ever seen me? Let’s just say that I’m no gazelle. My body was built to throw heavy stuff around. My athletes needed SAQ development as well. I chose to love the fact that I needed more knowledge in that area. I looked for every opportunity, every resource on the subject I could get. As a result, my weakness became a strength for me, and my athletes got better.

3. Steal good stuff - Yes, steal ideas that work. Ok, steal might be a bit off. Take great ideas that make you a better coach. Incorporate them into your toolbox. Then show the humility to give credit and praise to the person or people from whom you stole them. Let your clients know how much you respect the person you got an idea from by acknowledging that it’s good and how much you agree with it.

4. Challenge the status quo - Don’t be afraid to ask “why.” A lot. In the fitness and performance world, what we “know” changes quite frequently. Step aerobics, Shake Weights, body part isolation for athletes…trends and ideas change fast.

Real knowledge changes fast in our world, too. Much of what we believed as Gospel 10 or even 5 years ago has been challenged and sometimes disproven by science. Anyone remember “Heart Rate Zone Training?”

5. Challenge the presenters and the knowledge-bringers - Just because someone is on stage doesn’t mean they have finished learning. Just the opposite. It also doesn’t mean the learning is a one-way street. Challenge their claims, their research and the things they claim as truth. Challenge them if you think they are off or wrong. Challenge them if you want them to bring a deeper explanation of their subject matter. Challenge them if you want to understand them better. But check your ego at the door. Challenge them out of respect and a sense of communal improvement and development. I have learned some of my best stuff (stolen, by the way) from presenters and writers whom I’ve challenged.

“As iron sharpens iron, so does a man sharpen another man.” – Proverbs 27:17

6. Follow the Kaizen Path - Get just a little better each day. If you set your ego aside and accept that you cannot possibly know and understand all that is necessary to be great and serve your clients well, you will realize that others are there to help you. Listen to their ideas, challenge them and come up with some ideas of your own for them to challenge. In that way, we all get a little better each day, and the people we serve are the ones who benefit.

1% improvement a day or even each week leads to massive and continuing improvement over time.

The truth is that great coaches earn great success. Coaches who think they know it all or don’t need any help or are somehow “entitled” to success rarely find success. Unfortunately, the clients of those coaches rarely find success, either.

If you can avoid the deadly traits of the “rich man” trainer or coach, you might just be the camel who passes through the eye of the needle into the “promised land” of happy and successful clients and the kind of success that is earned by helping them reach that state.

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

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

Not just another pretty trainer, Phil has been called a “master motivator and trainer of high school athletes” and a “key player in the Youth Fitness industry.”

He works with athletes, “mathletes” and “non-letes” from 6 to 18, helping them all reach their performance potential and maximize their “fun quotient.”

Phil recognized early on that the ONLY task of Sports Fitness Professionals is the improvement of their clients’ sports performance and their enjoyment of the process! He has worked with 1000′s of athletes, assisting them on their journeys to collegiate sports, Division 1 scholarships, pro and semi-pro sports careers and even the first round of the NHL Draft.

Recently, Phil was named IYCA Member of the Year for 2012-2013. He has also co-authored 2 books, The Definitive Guide to Youth Athletic Strength, Conditioning and Performance, which reached #1 Best- Seller status in two separate literary categories, and The IYCA Big Book of Programs.

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

Know What’s In Their Backpack

By Joseph Hartigan, CSCS, YFS

We as coaches have a bigger responsibility to our athletes than to simply deliver a great training session. We are in a unique profession that gives us a platform to influence children for a lifetime and not only groom athletes but build great character.

One of the easiest ways to have an influence over these impressionable minds is to coach with empathy or what we call know what’s in their backpack. Now I’m sure that plenty of your athletes drag their backpacks from school into your facility but that’s not what we’re talking about. What you want to do every time your athletes walk in the door is take a mental inventory of their body language, check their facial expressions, talk to them and check their tone. Are they as engaged and excited as usual or are they withdrawn?

The fact is we as coaches only see our athletes for maybe 3 hours a week and we have no idea what is going on for the other 165 hours. Kids these days have jam packed schedules and they are expected to excel in every aspect of their life with extreme pressure from parents and year round travel teams/coaches. A typical kid may have to wake up at 6:30 a.m. go to school get straight A’s, come train at your facility and expect to perform at the highest level possible, go to travel team practice and be a star for 2 hours, go home and study and do homework for 3 hours so they can get A’s then go to bed at 11:00 and do it all over again the next day. Couple the performance requirements from parents, teachers, and coaches with peer pressure and the ever present bullying epidemic and you can empathize with how stressed kids are these days.

athletes backpack

Picture courtesy of o5com

Knowing what’s in your athletes backpack will allow you to connect with a child and make him or her feel cared about. It is your job as a coach to realize the daily state of your athlete and tailor your coaching style to his/her present need. We must realize that the IYCA’s athlete profile can change on a daily basis both in motivation levels and skill levels, the constant stress and pressure may change the athlete’s daily readiness. So don’t generalize athletes into each category take a daily inventory and coach them as needed.

One of my athletes recently walked into the facility with a scowl on his face at 8:30 p.m. When I and another coach greeted him at the door he just walked past us completely ignoring us. We tried to greet him again and he screamed back at us “What do YOU want! In front of other clients in the lobby.” Now we as coaches had a choice as to how to react. Many coaches would be embarrassed by this and, motivated by their own pride, scream back at the kid and exert their authority position. We just started the other clients as normal ignoring the outburst. During the warm up I pulled the athlete aside and talked to him in a private room. The sophomore broke down into tears, voicing the stress of competitive high school academics, 3 hour long baseball practices, and pressure from his parents. The ensuing talk made this athlete feel cared about, someone empathized with his problems and did not simply pass them off as over dramatic teenage drama. He had the best workout of his life and at the end of the session shook my hand with a smile and looked me right in the eyes and said, “Thank You for your help.”

This athlete was in emotional distress. What would have happened if I screamed back or crushed him in a workout to avenge his attack on my pride? How would this athlete have left my training session? It certainly wouldn’t be a positive experience, he would probably label me as a terrible coach and person, and he might not show up for the next few workouts. Instead the athlete left feeling better than when he came in, he felt cared about, and he felt that no matter how stressed he is or if he can’t perform well on a given day he still has inherent value as a person.

Greet and talk to each athlete as they enter the door. Observe their body language and tone. Realize that their problems are real problems. Don’t bypass a B on a test as not a huge deal, or missing last night’s soccer goal as a non-issue. Again you have no idea how the child’s parents or coaches or teachers react to those situation’s, if the child is upset about it he has most likely already been berated and belittled or preparing him/herself for the coming storm. Know the social pressures of school, the constant and ever present bullying, the exploration of relationships, and the effect it has on these children. Do you remember your first breakup? It is not up to us as coaches to determine what is and isn’t a big deal. Empathize with your athlete, offer some advice if it is wanted, let them know you’re there to help if they need it, then direct your coaching style toward their daily need. Knowing what’s in your athletes backpack will allow you to utilize the platform you have as a coach, build and maintain quality relationships with your athletes and their parents, and help you influence the character of a generation to come.

Joe Hartigan (CSCS, IYCA) is Director of athletic performance and fitness training at Gabriele Fitness and Performance in Berkeley Heights, NJ. Joe has developed his training philosophy through years of practice training athletes ranging from 4th grade to D1 and blended it with his personal experiences while playing high school and Division 1 sports. Joe is currently writing his thesis for an MS in exercise physiology. Contact Joe at joe@gabrielefitness.com

3 Lessons From The NFL Combine

By Jim Herrick

This upcoming weekend, most of the nation’s top pro football prospects will gather in Indianapolis for the 2013 NFL Combine. It is what the league refers to as a ’4 day job interview’, where participants are subjected to a battery of physcial tests, position drills, interviews, and aptitude tests to determine how likely they are to succeed in the league.

Millions of dollars can be earned by top performers, and jobs are on the line for the team’s talent evaluators. Everyone has a huge stake in making sure this event truly measures what it takes to be successful.

And these days, you’ll find combine events for college and pro prospects in just about every other sport, as well.

There are some critical lessons we, as youth coaches and parents, can all take away from these high-stakes events. As you watch the incredible athletic feats demonstrated this weekend, remember that what you see is a product of the thousands of hours these college kids put in since they were very young. And remember too that there is a correct path to reaching the heights of athletic development. When followed correctly, it can add up to serious success in the long run.

 

3 Lessons From The NFL Combine

LESSON 1 – Do Everything You Can To Build Speed & Agility

3 of the 6 main physical tests (40 yd dash, 5-10-5 shuttle and 3 cone drill) measure pure speed and cutting ability. Why? Athletes who can get from Point A to Point B in the least amount of time – whether in a straight line or with some stops along the way – make more plays. This is not exclusive to football, it is true for almost all sports.

How should young athletes begin working on speed?

As early in possible as life, encourage your kids to move and move often. It doesn’t have to be a formal event or practice, in fact that may be detrimental in earlier years, so have some fun with them. Their nervous system will figure things out far better than our coaching cues anyways.

Put them in a coordination and balance rich environment often. Create engaging but challenging activities that enhance their ability to move better while building an early base of stability, which will help even further.

Develop healthy eating habits early on, as well. A large part of being fast involves maximizing your strength while minimizing your body mass. Poor eating habits will not only drain your energy but will also hamper your ability to stay both lean and strong simultaneously.

Get strong, and keep getting stronger at an age appropriate level. In your earlier years jumping, running and other basic bodyweight activities will do plenty. As time goes on resistance will need to increase. Band and free weight exercises, along with advanced bodyweight strength will achieve great results when implemented properly.

Refine speed and agility technique once your kids are mature enough where they can internalize specific coaching. In my experience I’ve seen kids as young as 9 years old learn and improve from specific technique tips, but this is rare. Usually it’s not until 12 years old or later, but the earlier the better as poor habits will be easier to break. Coaches will need to be a commanding force when technique drills are covered, since so much of speed development is about repeating and perfecting movements. Balance the seriousness of technique work with some game-based drills where kids can be kids and have some fun, but be sure to make clear your expectations for focus and effort when you transition back to skill work.

 

LESSON 2 – If Speed is the #1 Most Coveted Physical Ability, Explosive Power Is Clearly #1A

The NFL also has 2 separate explosive power tests, the vertical jump and broad jump. With the understanding that speed is a byproduct of power output, then 5 of the 6 performance tests this weekend will measure power in one form or another.

Power is highly sport-specific. The NFL uses the vertical jump and broad jump because the evaluate a prospect’s ability to tackle and block well. A soccer combine may be more concerned with kicking power, hockey combines may measure slap shot power, and all other sports may have their own variations of power tests too.

For youth performance coaches and parents looking to build sport-speicifc power, you should be focusing on two skills that form the foundation of almost all power movements – hip hinging and hip rotation.
By learning to hinge at the hip joint correctly, you can maximize power output while jumping, skating and sprinting. Young athletes sometimes incorporate too much knee or even lower back flexion and avoid using the more powerful hip muscles. Re-teaching this pattern will unlock their true power potential, and allow them to further improve their explosiveness by properly executing advanced exercises like Olympic lifting and plyometrics as they get older.

Hip rotation is critical to power output in sports like baseball, softball, ice hockey, field hockey, tennis, golf, and lacrosse. Done properly, you will be able to explode through the entire trail side of your movement, from the foot all the way through the shoulders. Being able to maximize total-body rotational power will once again unlock your current potential and make better use of development exercises using tools like medicine balls and functional training machines.

 

LESSON 3 – Elite Athletes Come In All Shapes And Sizes

This weekend you will see both 5’8″, 170 lb and 6’8″, 350 lb prospects, along with many others at just about every size in between. Extended beyond pro football, there is a much wider range of male and female athletic frames, skill sets and abilities.

The lesson? Kids should never focus on what they cannot become, and instead seek inspiration in all the things they can become some day with dedication, effort, and perseverance. No matter what your current size or skill level may be, there are doors of opportunity somewhere for you if you truly want to achieve excellence.

To increase a young athlete’s chances of success, the younger years should be dedicated to taking part in a wide range of activities, and developing basic physcial skills. Pigeonholing them into one sport or activity too early will make it much harder to create the large ‘toolbox’ of athleticism needed to excel later on.

The undersized and lightning quick 8 year old may grow to be the tallest person in his or her 9th grade class. Younger kids whose parents may see as being too stocky could find an active sport they love and completely transform themselves in their teenage years. Not knowing where a child will actually end up, by focusing on variety and foundational skills over a sport-specific track you will maximize their chance of long-term success.

 

If you do watch any of the testing this weekend keep in mind that it took a lot of hard work for each of them to get where they are right now. And also remember that although every kid will not become a professional athlete some day, there are certain traits that all elite athletes need to reach the top that are trainable and can be greatly enhanced over time.

Scoring Your Athletes

By Ryan Ketchum

Let’s face it, parents and coaches want to see athletes tested and measured against other athletes. There is a sense of competition, rightfully so, in training this competition drives athletes to get better and become the best athletes possible.

Not every athlete you see will become a superstar, but each athlete can reach his or her own full potential. To find that potential we must test and measure our athletes. I will leave the testing to the professionals; I am too far removed from being in the trenches to suggest what might constitute a testing protocol. I can however tell you what we have done at Athletic Revolution Bloomington and Force Fitness.

We work with hundreds of athletes in a given month. Some are in our long-term development programs and others are in and out via clinics and academies. The one thing that I can promise you of all of them is that they want to be tested and measured against the best.

There are obviously restrictions to your testing protocols due to space and equipment limitation but you can still perform a few that will also help you generate more interest in your programs and have parents knocking down your door to get their athletes training with you.

The real gold in a testing system is not just in the ability to track the success of your training programs but also in its ability to generate leads. Every test has a leader or a top standard and most likely the athletes you are testing are not at or above that standard. This means that you have a reason to recommend your training programs to them to help them succeed.

Scoring your athletes

The first step in utilizing testing as a lead generator and client magnet is creating your testing system. Basic movements screens such as the FMS or the AR Big 5 can be used to test the athlete’s preparedness to perform other tests and resist injury. After you incorporate this type of testing you can include other tests for power and athleticism such as verticals, standing long jumps, 5-10-5, 20/40 yard dash, MB throws, beep tests or any of the other dozens of tests to measure athletic success.

While you and I know that these aren’t the only indicators for being a great athlete and that any type of training is likely to produce improvements and positive results in the tests the parents and coaches are highly motivated by the results of these tests. There is no need to fight the system; it is simply easier to make it work for you and to your advantage. The athletes will be testing and training with someone, I would prefer that it if it was with a highly qualified athletic development professional rather than a former high school football turned meat head that thinks the best way to improve your vertical jump is wearing those funny shoes and running around for miles at a time.

So, now what? You have the testing protocol lined up now it is time to find the standards. There are tons of online resources for the standards for performance tests or you can create your own based off athlete scores in your program. Either will work because the magic isn’t in the standards it is in the process of the follow up.

Setting up your performance testing days should be relatively easy. The first option is to run your own testing days in house. If you have a facility you can dedicate a Saturday or Sunday to testing days and invite all of your current athletes, parents, coaches in your networks and their athletes. The more new athletes the better. The second option is to leverage your network to contact coaches or league organizers to test their individual teams. Most coaches and parents are eager to get their athletes tested so it should be an easy sell.

Now that you have set up your chance to be in contact with dozens or possibly hundreds of athletes, their parents and coaches you have the chance to introduce them to your programs. During the testing each athlete should be given a testing card. On this card you will have all of the tests, a place to record their results and a place to make recommendations for improvement. After each athlete completes their testing you take their card from them so that you can write your recommendation in on the card for improvements. Depending on the set up of the testing and number of athletes you are testing you can either send this home with them or email it to them later.

On your recommendation you will let the parents know how you can help their athlete improve. Highlight their strong areas but also emphasize their weak points and list what is needed to improve these weak areas. Once you have identified the weak areas and the solution to improve them make the parents and offer to being training with you. If you are presenting this info to the coach you can offer an academy to improve the teams weaknesses.

This is a simple lead generator that will set you apart from every other performance coach in your area and have parents and coaches knocking down your door and calling non stop to get their athletes in your programs. Once you deliver the results and re-test the athletes they will be sold!

Don’t overlook the obvious ways to score more athletes with performance testing.