Archive for “Uncategorized” Category

Six Plyometric Training Progressions

by Brad Leshinske, BS, CSCS

In the sports performance industry, there are many facilities that offer jump training specifically for volleyball and basketball athletes only. The truth is that jump training is universally beneficial for most every sport. While some movements may be specific to a particular sport, it is crucial that athletes learn to land, jump, and produce force. The big reason for doing jump training is learning to create power through triple extension. Triple extension refers to the ankle, knee and hip in full extension. Triple extension readily apparent in nearly every form of sport, such as a basketball exploding upward to snare a rebound or a football player jumping to catch a pass. Learning to create power in from the triple extension movement is a critical skill for any athlete and is one of the main reasons why plyometric training is so valuable to an athlete.

Plyometric training, commonly referred to as “jump training,” is important because it requires the athlete to not only learn to be powerful and create force, but also teaches him or her how to land and absorb force, as well. Many injuries in sports occur in the landing position. Not many athletes get injured during the jump phase, which is why it is important to teach the landing first. Another reason why plyometric training is great for all athletes is because there is direct correlation to becoming faster. This is because the production of force used to overcoming gravity is related to the force required when sprinting and overcoming that inertia, as well. Learning to apply and direct force downward will teach the athlete to apply that force in other manners.

foot-strike

So what is the progression for teaching jump training? Here are the six stages of teaching proper jump training protocol:

  1. Landing technique – Learning to absorb force and ensuring proper alignment with the ankle, knee, and hip is great for injury prevention. Correcting these problems will help the athlete avoid serious landing injuries. Exercises that may be utilized to improve landings include:
    — Drop squats: starting in a standing position, drop down into a squat with arms back.
    — Depth jump holds: from a 6-inch box step off the box with 1 foot and land into a squat position with arms back. Hold the position for 2 seconds.
  2. Jumping with a landing “stick” – Learning to jump and “stick” a landing is the next thing that we teach. Once the athlete has a grasp on landing and absorption, we then let them jump and absorb the landing. We might use a low box or hurdle. We avoid repetitive jumping in this phase and work on power development and absorption.
  3. Jumping with a mini-hop – Once the first two phases are complete, we then go into some repetitive jumping. We do this in a controlled manner and generally start with lower hurdles. The athlete will jump and land, do a mini-hop in place then repeat the jump. This does a few things. First it teaches the athlete to react and then it works on the athlete’s stretch shortening cycle, which is a key to creating power.
  4. Jumping with counter-movement – This is when true plyometric movements take place. Repetitive jumping generally over hurdles is a great way to not only work on the stretch shortening cycle but the reactivity of the athlete.
  5. Depth- jump to box or hurdle jumps – Utilizing the progressions above, the final stage is combining movements. For example, depth jumps combine the beginning phase of teaching a landing then incorporating a box jump, hurdle jump or any modality you see fit based on the athletes.
  6. Single-leg jumping – The utilization of single leg training is crucial for overall performance and most importantly injury prevention. With the same guidelines as mentioned above, you can and should incorporate single-leg jump training. Using modalities such as boxes, hurdles, and even just a line on the floor, single-leg training should be a part of your program.

There are other modalities to plyometric training, but the above progression is a basic rendition of how it should be taught. From simple to complex, plyometrics are great for all athletes provided that the YFS understands how and when to progress or regress training appropriately based upon the athlete’s developmental level and abilities. Plyometrics can be used to reinforce proper landing and proper power output, which can help a young athlete become stronger and more reactive.

A phase 1 plyometric training cycle for beginner athletes

Movement Sets  Reps  Modality 
Drop Squat 3 6 Bodyweight
Box Jump 3 3 Box 12-18 inch. Hold landing for 2 seconds
Single Leg Hurdle Hop 3 4e Mini hurdle or line on floor pause between each movement

 

A phase 2 plyometric training cycle for beginner athletes

Movement Sets  Reps  Modality 
Box Jump 3 4 Box height of 18-24 inch hold landing for 2 seconds
Hurdle Hop NC (non counter movement) 3 4 Use hurdle of 12in. Jump and stick each landing re set and repeat
Single Leg Hurdle Hop 3 4e Mini hurdle or line on floor pause between each movement

 

With the examples above, notice the relative consistency throughout. There is not that much “going on” with regards to the program, but the athletes is learning to generate power at the correct rate. It is also suggested to have the athlete perform linear jumping twice a week and lateral jumping twice a week. Lateral jumping is excellent for all athletes in getting more production in unfamiliar directions and learning how to accept load on the body in different positions. Lateral plyometric training is far more simplistic and some of the exercises mimic linear jumping (for example, lateral box jump, lateral hurdle hops, and lateral single leg jumps). The above guidelines stay the same in terms of progression.

Plyometrics are not only a great tool to teach power and force production but also a key in injury prevention. Having the appropriate progression strategy and employing it consistently is a valuable skill when programming for athletes in various sports, ages, and abilities.

Is Crossfit for High School Athletes a Good Idea?

Three Areas Where CrossFit for High School Athletes Comes Up Short

wil_fleming_profile

By Wil Fleming, CSCS

Recently, a good friend of mine ran a social experiment. At nearly the exact same time, on the same date, and to the exact same group of people (his Facebook followers), he posted two videos:

The first was an anti-racism video, depicting someone standing up against appalling racist and bigoted ideas. This was no doubt something that everyone could get behind and like.

The second was an “anti-CrossFit” video. This video depicted poor exercise technique in a variety of settings and finished with a message knocking the methods of CrossFit. This was sure to garner some comments.

The results were somewhat astounding. While the same number of people saw the two posts in the first hour, there were nearly five times more likes (100 vs. 20) and 25 times more comments (50 vs. 2) on one video over another.

The anti-crossfit video DOMINATED peoples’ attention. Rather than support a message against racism, people were going out of their way to say how “stupid” CrossFit is, or how “dumb” my friend was for sharing the video.

Needless to say, I know that the topic of CrossFit is a hot button.

I happen to think that CrossFit is one of the best things to happen to fitness in the last 10 years. While I don’t use CrossFit or coach it, I do think it has made every other piece of the fitness spectrum a better place. In my business, we strive to create a community similar to the one in most boxes. We foster competition among our members and individually, and to be certain, there is no other piece of the fitness community that is more interested in education than the CF community. Those are the good things.

CrossFit has also exposed many people to new methods of training. As a fan of the Olympic lifts, it is astounding to me to hear people talk about the clean and jerk and snatch maxes in everyday conversation. When more people are exposed to movement variety, I believe that we will have a healthier society.

However, I unequivocally believe that CrossFit is NOT the right path to creating better high school athletes. Specifically, here are three areas where I believe CF is lacking in developing high school athletes.

Crossfit to Fight

No Periodized Programming with CrossFit for High School Athletes

One of the hallmarks of an effective program is a planned program—one that systematically helps athletes develop qualities such as speed, strength, and power. Many of the movements of CrossFit should work to address the development of power and strength specifically, but the very nature of the randomness of CrossFit means that this development of qualities cannot be planned.

Effective programs use periodization (linear or otherwise) to bring about this change. Usually, specific qualities can be addressed during specific times, leading to a “peak” or competition season. The demands of CrossFit, even in the sporting sense, are much different than those of field and court sports.

A Lack of Multi-Planar Movement

Athletics happen across the entire range of planes through which humans can move. Athletes must be able to deliver power and express strength through the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. The spectrum of movement in CrossFit is much narrower, and nearly all movements found in typical programs occur almost exclusively in the sagittal plane.

A good program for athletes should address the transverse plane and frontal plane in addition to the sagittal plane. Movements such as medicine ball throws to develop transverse plane (rotational) power and lunging & locomotion laterally to develop change of direction skills in the frontal plane are absolute musts for the complete athlete.

Inappropriate or Incomplete Spectrum and Methods of Conditioning

The entire spectrum of developing a well-conditioned athlete should include development of the aerobic system, anaerobic lactic system, and the anaerobic alactic system. From long duration to short duration, CrossFit actually has been shown to develop individuals who have an increased work capacity.

In terms of the spectrum of conditioning, CrossFit focuses on the development of aerobic capacity and anaerobic lactic capacity more so than anaerobic alactic power. The rest periods used in CF are often far too short to adequately allow athletes to recover, leading almost all of the conditioning work to fall on the longer-duration end of the spectrum. The exception to this would be a well-designed “every minute on the minute” type of training session, although in many cases I see individuals programming EMOM workouts to create negative rather than positive work-to-rest ratios.

The methods are another bit of contention for me, as I believe that when moving into aerobic capacity work, in particular, the modalities used should be simple instead of complex. The use of Olympic lifts as a method of conditioning both defeats the purpose of Olympic lifting and exposes the athlete to technical deficiencies based upon fatigue.

Play Your Way To Athletic Success

IYCA-COY-DavidKittner-V1

By David Kittner

Developing an Athletic Foundation Through Play

Long gone are the days when kids played outside only to come home each day to eat and then again at night when the street lights came on. Kids rode their bikes, ran up slides, rolled down hills, jumped off picnic tables, jumped rope, played hopscotch and hide-and-go-seek. In addition, pickup games of various sports could be found throughout neighborhoods, parks and playgrounds. Without realizing, kids through their play and non-structured activities were enhancing their development as human beings: socially, mentally, emotionally and physically.

Today, kids are no longer engaged in active free play, they have less physical education at school and their days are much more structured in the evenings and weekends with homework, tutoring, music lessons and youth sports. As a result children are growing up without basic fundamental movement skills and a strong sense of physical literacy. This translates into poor movement patterns, weaker bodies, higher rates of injury and less than optimal performances on and off the ice.

The care free days of free play may be over but all is not lost. There’s still opportunities for parents and coaches to assist their kids in developing an athletic foundation while engaging them in age and developmentally appropriate games and activities.

By incorporating non-hockey specific games of play and physical activity into your on and off ice practices, you can help develop your athletes’ coordination, flexibility, mobility, strength, power, speed, agility, balance, accuracy, endurance and stamina. The key is create a fun, engaging and dynamic learning environment. Remember though you’re working with kids, not miniature adults.

Circle Tag on Ice

The key to working with kids is to make their activities fun and engaging. The more they are playing and being active the more they are developing their athleticism which over time will make them better athletes, less prone to injury and better performers on and off the ice.

Next are two examples of games you can use both on the ice as well as off the ice that will not only get your kids moving but will be a lot of fun too.

Activity #1 – Circle Tag

Circle Tag helps to develop acceleration, deceleration, lateral movement, reactivity, teamwork, communication and strategically thinking skills.

Setup
Make a group of 5 to 8 athletes. The more people you have, the bigger the circle and the harder the game becomes. Have the kids form a huddled circle (holding on at the shoulder, hips or waist) while one player remains outside the circle. One player within the circle is designated to be tagged. The person outside the circle is IT.

How To Play
On the GO call, the player outside the circle who is IT moves in whichever direction they choose in an effort to tag the designated person within the circle. Working as a team the circle moves clockwise or counter clockwise reacting to the movements of the person outside the circle. Play for 15 to 30 seconds or until the designated person is tagged between the shoulder blades. The person who was IT now joins the circle. The person who was tagged becomes IT and a new person to be tagged is designated. Continue playing until each person has had an opportunity to be IT.

Progression
To kick the game up a notch, have each player within the circle close their eyes with the exception of the person being tagged and the person that is IT. The circle must now rely on verbal instructions from the person being tagged as to which way to move to prevent from being tagged.

Activity #2 – Scramble to Balance

Scramble to Balance helps to develop coordination, systemic strength, balance, special awareness, flexibility, mobility and reactivity.

Setup
Instruct kids to lay face down on their stomachs leaving plenty of room between them and their teammates.

How To Play
Have the kids close their eyes. On the Go call, kids stand up as fast as they can and balance on one foot for 3 to 5 seconds. The kids then lay down and repeat for the other foot.

Progression
1. On the Go call the kids stand up and balance as before. After 3 to 5 seconds ask them to open their eyes and have them hinge forward at the hips slowly and with control touching the outside of their standing foot with their opposite hand. Repeat with each foot.
2. On the Go call the kids stand up and balance as before. After 3 to 5 seconds ask them to take a giant step forward with their non-balancing foot 3 to 5 times returning to the start position after each step. Repeat with each foot.
3. On the Go call the kids stand up and balance as before. After 3 to 5 seconds ask them to take a giant step backward with their non-balancing leg 3 to 5 times returning to the start position after each step. Repeat with each foot.
4. Have the kids lay on their stomachs this time with their eyes open. On the Go call the kids stand up as fast as they can, exploding up on one foot and landing in a squat position. Repeat with each foot.
5. Have the kids lay on their stomachs with their eyes open. On the Go call the kids stand up as fast as they can, exploding up on one foot and landing on the same foot. Repeat with the other foot.

Tempo Training for Young Athletes

Jared Markiewicz shares how to effectively train athletes at an early age with tempo training.

By Jared Markiewicz

As a coach, I believe that the chronological age of an athlete means much less than their developmental age. For example, we have three boys that joined our program this summer. They are headed into the 7th grade and are all 12 years old. However, they each spend a great deal of their time playing for club soccer teams, AAU basketball teams, and other top-tier programs in respective sports like golf, tennis and hockey.

Obviously, they are exceptional athletes who are used to being treated like high school or even collegiate athletes. And once we took them through our performance evaluation, their attitude and ability to understand objectives matched that of some of our 16 or even 17-year olds. So clearly they fit better into our High School Performance training model than our Development model (built for 10-13 year olds). However, their performance on the FMS (functional movement screening) would have a coach wondering how they haven’t been seriously injured playing their sports.

Most athletes at this age and ability level have had the exact same childhood these boys had: two or three sports a season since they were 5 (or younger) and non-stop skill work in these sports. What they never experienced or were taught is a movement foundation. They never developed the skills of squatting, hip hinging, pulling or pushing, let alone more advanced skills like stopping, starting, landing, jumping or cutting. How can a high performing athlete be built on a non-existent foundation? The answer: They CAN’T!!! They will either break down (get injured) or hit a ceiling and never perform at the level they are capable.

Conclusion #1: We need movement quality because that will lead to strength and a solid foundation for performance gains.

However, that isn’t the only consideration our 12 year-old elite level athletes need. Most sport coaches never take the time to develop an understanding of the conditioning needs for their particular sport. And rarely will you find a coach who recognizes the need for a massive aerobic system. They instead see conditioning as a way to “weed out the weak.” However, with a large aerobic base, an athlete can spend the majority of their contest using oxygen. When the anaerobic systems are needed, the aerobic base provides increased energy production so there is greater anaerobic endurance. Better anaerobic endurance=MORE POWER (little Tim the Tool Man Taylor there!)

To top it all off, the aerobic system has the greatest training potential. We can make athletes extremely well-conditioned by working solely on their aerobic systems, particularly with kids who are young, like our 12 years olds.

Tempo training teaches youth about their own range of motion, giving them the mental and physical foundation they'll use for the rest of their lives.

Conclusion #2: We need to incorporate aerobic system training into our athlete’s programs so they have a strong aerobic base and can push the limits of their anaerobic systems as their training age increases. 

So, can we accomplish both with one simple method of training? Since the title of this article is “Tempo Training for Young Athletes,” the answer is YES via tempo training. Tempo training focuses on the biggest bang for our buck exercises like RDLs, deadlifts, squats, lunges, push ups, pull ups and rows and sets them to a cadence.

We use three numbers in our cadence (although some coaches use four). If a sequence looked like this for a squat: 211, the exercise would consist of two counts on the “down” (eccentric), one count at the “bottom” (isometric), and one count on the way back up (concentric). Each exercise differs depending on when the eccentric, isometric, and concentric portions occur, but we always sequence our numbers the same: eccentric/isometric/concentric. There are many ways to effectively use tempo training including: movement quality, time under tension, full range of motion explosiveness and sport specific power.

Movement Quality

Typically, we use tempo training in our young athlete’s first and possibly even their second program. By slowing the movement down, they get a chance to feel the pattern, ingrain it, and correct any minor issues while performing the exercise. This sets up great movement quality and big increases in core/hip control. Usually it only takes a few sessions of training like this to get a young athlete moving really well.

Time Under Tension (TUT)

Another facet of tempo training that we, as strength coaches, like is that our athletes can spend a lot of time under tension. When they come back after a hard tempo session, we ask them, “Where are you sore?” When they answer, “My butt and my hamstrings,” it is an immediate teaching opportunity. They learn that an RDL or squat done correctly really taxes those muscles and if they gain strength in those areas, they can build a mid-section like a Mack truck! (Mike Robertson taught me the Mack truck line, which I use all the time)

Explosiveness through Full Range of Motion 

Most of our athletes walk in with explosiveness but only through shortened ranges of motion. That’s where the isometric part of tempo training plays an important role. When we get an athlete to statically hold a contraction for a second or two, their brain starts to understand that it is okay to put the muscle on a stretch. Moreover, when properly stretched, that muscle fires back much faster than before. As a result, the brain (and thus, our athlete) allows greater range of motion (ROM) and the athlete may then become more explosive through that improved ROM. Explosiveness is usually very high on the list of things athletes want to improve at any age, but particularly with young athletes involved in multiple sports. They never have an opportunity to get strong nor do they learn what it actually means to produce greater power.

Sport-Specific Power

When we program tempo-based training for power, we use an “X” in place of the last number in the sequence. For example, we had a number of younger athletes just transition into their fall sports. In their last training cycle, they were doing front squats and RDLs with a tempo of 21X, meaning they go down for two counts, pause for one count, and move as explosively as they can to the top. After they internalize that explosiveness, we ask them to re-create the power using med balls or plyometric exercises. As they apply their newfound power, they feel and see their potential rise. When we get an athlete through our program and to their season using tempo training, we know they have gained weight room strength and translated that to power production in their respective sport.

Tempo training gives youth athletes the foundation to build on with skill training.

Now that we understand what can be done with tempo training, we need to discuss the programming guidelines associated including: where we optimally insert tempo work during their training year, how do we elicit different training effects with tempo work and how does training age affect our use of tempo work.

When To Do Tempo Training

I don’t think there is a wrong time to do tempo training, however there are given times in a training year where I think it is absolutely imperative. The most crucial time of year is post-season. Whether an athlete comes back the day the season ends or takes two months off before returning, they are typically rusty due to the lack of focus on strength training late into a sport season. This is the perfect time to re-groove movement quality and set them up for huge gains in the off-season.

The second most crucial time to incorporate tempo training are those last phases of strength training leading into a sport season. We want to start adding some serious velocity and acceleration to the movements and can do so with properly programmed tempo work here.

Conditioning with Tempo Training

This is one of the cooler uses of tempo training that I have found. Instead of just using it to set up strength or power gains, we can use the same movements, change the cadence, and elicit some serious gains in aerobic conditioning, (particularly oxygenutilization).

We designate an exercise (such as RDLs or squats) with equal parts eccentric/concentric movement (i.e. “202” or “303”) for a designated period of time or reps. When our athletes perform this as their conditioning for 4-8 weeks, they will see marked improvement in their ability to maintain an aerobic state during high-intensity training. Tempo training also increases slow twitch fiber density, which houses the big factories for lactate oxidation, allowing the anaerobic system to work longer before anaerobic threshold is reached.

Training Age and Tempo Training

I believe that tempo work can have the largest impact in situations where an athlete comes in at an extremely young training age. This does NOT mean their actual age but instead the amount of time they have been exposed to a quality strength program. With the huge increase in sports being played year round and the best athletes coming to us with a training age of 0, tempo training can quickly advance the most novice strength athlete.

At the beginning of this summer, the three boys described previously definitely lacked training years. Each of them had multiple years of sport-based training under their belt, but a combined training age of maybe 1.5 years. We had them on a steady diet of goblet squats, RDLs, rows, and even push-ups for their first few programs with tempo assigned to help them gain movement quality.

Now they have graduated to the exercises they saw the high school boys doing at the beginning of the summer. They have developed into athletes I am proud to call F.I.T. Strong and have limitless potential to grow. Each boy moves through the weight room with the grace and strength expected of an elite-level athlete.

And it is all thanks to some simple tempo training.

Look out for these boys in the coming years!

ADAPT and Conquer

Coach Jared

Understanding the Impact of Stress on Young Athletes

melissa_lambert_profile

By Melissa Lambert, M.ED, LPC, YNS, YFS2

It wouldn’t be a typical work day if there wasn’t a knock on my office window from a child demanding that I play a game of basketball with her. She is a talented young lady who does a wonderful job rubbing my face in the fact that she once again crushed me in a game of “21.” However, when she plays with the rest of the kids in her group I hear swearing, threats, and—at times—aggression. What changes for a child who could present so calm playing with an adult and then display intense anger in a full court game with peers?

There are many reasons for the change in behavior that may include trying to fight her way on top in the social hierarchy, wanting to show off in front of her peers, having difficult experiences with other kids her own age, trouble controlling emotions in competitive situations or the pure fact that she hates to lose. These aren’t abnormal behaviors. However, with further assessment, I discovered a lot more underlying factors.

This holds true for all the children and teenagers I work with. Can you imagine focusing in an athletic event when you are worried about the safety of your family or if there will be food to eat for dinner? The reality is your young athletes are also having these thoughts. They just may not be facing the same extreme circumstances. If awareness and attention aren’t given to the level of stress an athlete is experiencing, the less likely the child will find enjoyment and reach peak performance.

To understand the source of stress on young athletes you need to look for insights in how they perceive the world.

The term “home court advantage” has merit when athletes are performing in an environment that is well known with fan support. These factors are non-existent when a team steps foot on another turf. It’s harder to adjust to unknown experiences and maintain composure. This may be one source of anxiety that exists as result of competing in sports, but there are other factors to consider when the young athlete steps foot on the playing field.

According to Weinberg and Gould (2011), stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the physical and psychological demands placed on an individual and their response capability. Failure to meet those demands under specific conditions has important implications for that individual. What is perceived as stressful to one child will look much different to another child. For example, children that present as shy may become anxious when asked to speak or perform in front of others while other children feel comfortable with that level of attention.

Temperament and experiences of each young athlete will determine how they perceive the world. If there is an imbalance between the demand and their confidence in accomplishing the task, the individual will experience a stress response. The athlete will become aroused, display increased worry, have increased muscle tension, and likely have difficulty concentrating. As a result, the athlete may perform poorly rather than achieve the desired outcome. This process can become a vicious cycle if the athlete continues to feel threatened and is not able to meet the demand successfully.

We know stress and anxiety exist among everyone, however with the increased demands put on our youth and decreased time for free play there is a greater risk for sports to become another demand rather than enjoyable. It’s important for coaches, parents and trainers to understand the potential sources of stress and the warning signs. Children who have experienced major life events such as parent divorce, financial problems, death in the family, or trauma tend to be more obvious in presentation. However, other causes of stress include lack of sleep or food, peer and family conflict, being bullied, school work, involvement in too many activities, and pressure to perform in the given sport.

In order for an athlete to perform at his or her optimal level and get the most enjoyment out of sports there are warning signs that adults need to be cognizant of. Coaches and parents serve as educators in teaching skills like responsibility, discipline, or a new skill in a sport. The same applies to handling stressful situations and emotional regulation. Coaches who work with youth should know each child on an individual level and have an idea of their baseline performance. Any change in behavior or performance should be noted immediately. Signs to watch for if an athlete is experiences increased stress or anxiety include frequent urination, muscle tension, sweating, irritability, somatic complaints (headache and stomachache), negative self-talk, trouble concentrating, and difficulty sleeping.

Stress on young athletes can have a dramatic affect on their performance and outlook.

Relieving The Stress on Young Athletes

If an athlete is experiencing stress or struggling to perform, it is the role of a coach to get the athlete back to focusing on the child’s goal. Time should be taken to explore how the youth is feeling and offer suggestions on to how to cope in difficult situation. For example, baseball players often experience slumps in hitting. This is a prime opportunity to work with the athlete on establishing the use of imagery and rehearsing what it feels like physically and emotionally to get a hit. More often than not, the experience is never as bad as how we perceive it to be. Helping athletes understand how their negative thoughts are impacting their performance can be an effective way in practicing mind control.

Athletes can also rehearse positive statements and determine which thoughts are irrational. We tend to view thoughts as facts. A baseball player stating “I can’t hit” or “I suck” is a perfect situation for a coach to challenge those statements. If a player has successfully gotten on base as a result of a hit, the repetitive negative statements are not true for that athlete. Athletes who believe in their ability to cope with a stressful experience and are confident in their skill ability will not view it as debilitative to their performance.

Another productive approach to helping athletes build confidence and manage stress is through creating positive experiences in practice. This doesn’t mean making practice easy where success is given, but rather fostering a supportive environment where skill work is encouraged and mistakes should be made. The more exposure athletes have in encountering stressful situations the more confident they will be in handling it in a game situation. Mistakes in practice are prime opportunities for teaching and learning rather than the use of screaming, criticism and embarrassment. Simulation training is a great tool to use during practice to expose athletes to the stressor. If a child doesn’t handle a soccer ball well under pressure there is opportunity to work on composure while another athlete or coach adds various levels of pressure. Over time, the constant exposure will also help the athlete’s ability to cope in a stressful situation. Rather than panicking and feeling helpless, the athlete will develop increased confidence as long as the athlete has been successful.

Anxiety and stress will always exist among athletes; however, it is crucial for coaches and parents to be observant of the warning signs. An athlete may not be performing to the best of their ability and we need to start asking ourselves why. Anxiety may be a combination of internal and external factors that exist outside of the playing field. Coaches can help athletes get the most enjoyment and reach peak performance by identifying arousal emotions early, tailoring practices towards each individual athlete (expectations should be different), and supporting confidence building through the use of simulation training and finding appropriate strategies to cope with stress.

Reference:
Weinberg, R.S. & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of Sport and Exercise
Psychology (5th, ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Melissa Lambert, M.ED, LPC, YNS, YFS2
Clinical Manager, Child and Adolescent Therapist
and Director of CT Coast Soccer Performance Training Clinic

Lighting the Fire – Passion for Youth Coaching

toby brooks 1

By Toby Brooks, PhD, ATC, CSCS, YFS-3
IYCA Director of Research and Education

As an educator, there are few things better than seeing a student transform from being physically present (and perhaps little else) in my classroom early in the semester to fully engaged and hungry for more by its end. An eager young professional in my midst who might lack experience but makes up for it with brimming enthusiasm is invigorating. Such a student not only provides a very palpable and infectious energy to the classroom dynamic, he or she often pushes me to go beyond my own limits of knowledge and expend my intellectual territory. And that’s a good thing.

Throughout the span of my career, I have transformed the way I conceptualize learning and my role in the process. I think it is safe to say that no synopsis more accurately sums up my current stance than the words of Greek philosopher Plutarch who once said “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be lighted.” Indeed.

As the IYCA went from small upstart with a grandiose vision to a viable and growing professional organization, we steadily added educational offerings. It all started with what has now become our Level Two Youth Fitness Specialist credential. From that first offering, we have grown to include certifications such as the highly popular High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist and the Youth Athletic Assessment Specialist programs and practical instructor courses such as the Olympic Lifting and Kettlebell courses. However, despite our growth, we sensed a very real need for some background on the basics.

I have long ascribed to the notion that the decision to pursue a career in coaching is usually one part vocational and 99 parts emotional. The passion for youth coaching is often an unquenchable thirst in your soul that cannot be slaked through other (even related) jobs. Most coaches would tell you that they were born to coach. We at the IYCA don’t disagree.

However, a calling to coach is but a first step. Where organizations like the IYCA come in is to provide the necessary tools to take that burning desire to coach and equip the aspiring coach with the tools, tips, and tricks to be maximally effective. Oftentimes, we found that individuals who pursue training young athletes might not have a thorough background in exercise science. They might lack formal training in university classrooms regarding the terminology used throughout all IYCA and most other industry standard publications, but they still genuinely wanted to be effective.

Going to (or back to) college didn’t seem reasonable—or cost effective—in most cases. So with these eager but inexperienced professionals hungry for more asking for it, I developed the first IYCA Crash Course in Kinesiology.

I have taught musculoskeletal anatomy and included concepts such as planes, axes, and standard nomenclature at both the undergraduate and graduate levels for more than a decade. Based on the regular questions I field for the IYCA, it became apparent to me that I was expecting IYCA coaches to be familiar and comfortable with terminology that many had never formally learned before. I took the basics from my college courses and boiled that down into a concise leveling course that has been crafted to help the aspiring coach get quickly up to speed and not feel lost when digging in to our more extensive educational offerings.

The idea was to provide a one-stop offering that provides the student with a self-paced course in musculoskeletal anatomy, including muscle origin, insertion, action, and innervation for more than 70 muscles in the human body. Additionally, a look at word roots and origins and basics of directional terminology commonly used throughout the literature has been included along with a complete description of planes and axes and how they can be used to describe normal, inefficient, or pathological movements.

So if you have a passion for youth coaching and are just getting started in the field and feel as though you have to look up every other term in the texts you are trying to read, then this course was built for you. On the other hand, if you are a seasoned professional who is mentoring a less experienced colleague, consider the Kinesiology Crash Course as an inexpensive way to encourage your friend.

Just don’t consider it knowledge used to fill a mental bucket.

We prefer to think of it as kindling to feed a growing cognitive fire of coaching theory and practice.

-TB

Toby Brooks is an Associate Professor in the Master of Athletic Training Program at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and has served as the IYCA Director of Research and Education since 2007. He has worked as an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning specialist at all levels of professional and amateur sports, including NFL, NCAA Division I, minor league baseball, and more than a dozen high schools across four states. He is past owner of Born Athletic, an athletic development center in Southern Illinois and now finds the most joy in coaching the youth teams of his children, who collectively play or have played basketball, baseball/softball, football, and volleyball. He and his wife Christi reside in Lubbock along with daughter Brynnan (age 11) and son Taye (age 8).

The “Non-negotiables” for Training Young Athletes and Students

dave_gleason_profile

By Dave Gleason 

When creating and delivering optimal programming for young athletes in the 6-13 years age range, there are certain factors that are critical to ensure success. In order to have us thinking in the same context, please indulge me while I define success for the purposes of this article.

Success can of course be quantified by measuring your own criteria against the purpose of your training programs (much more on that at a later date, perhaps). As the popularity of sports performance training for children under 13 years increases, we will define success in terms of the following parameters in order of importance:

  • The needs of your clients/students based on the human developmental continuum.
  • The short, medium and long term goals of the training you are providing
  • The long-term success of our program, class, department or business.

Now that we have loosely defined how we will measure success, the second step in determining our ‘non-negotiables’ is to take a look at our priorities. By prioritizing based on internal and external factors, we can decide what the MOST important elements of our curriculum will be. With a clear vision of our priorities we can confidently create a template that will maximize effectiveness and efficiency.

Our priorities will be established by recognizing factors such as:

  • Individual session/class time allotment
  • Session or class frequency
  • Space limitations
  • Staffing requirements
  • Equipment/tools availability
  • Number of athletes/students

Various factors affect your priorities and will influence your non-negotiables.

Non-Negotiables

With all this stated, there is not a one size all for the following list. Taking into account our purpose, criteria for success, and priorities for Athletic Revolution in Pembroke, MA, we have developed these non-negotiable elements to our programs for ages 6-18.

This list will not be specific with the inclusion of actual activities, but will act as a template for you to use as you wish.  These general principles are staples in each and every training session in our facility.

Expectations – Set, Guide, and Anchor the behavior, character, and activities in your programs. For the purposes of this article, I will briefly discuss setting expectations in terms of setting the stage.

Often overlooked, setting expectations prior to every session or class is critical to the overall success as well as building a strong culture. That said, this is non-negotiable for us and well worth the 3-5 minutes we dedicate for it in every session.  Setting the stage can take on a few forms.

Global expectation: “We are going to have a fantastic session today!”

Specific expectation: “We expect each and every athlete to listen when the coach/teacher is speaking.”

Another very important aspect of setting the stage for young athletes and students is explaining the rules or the technique required to complete a certain activity. Keep in mind that the delivery of the technical aspect of activities and movements will vary depending on the age group and ability level you are working with.

With a clear understand of expectations for both the student/athlete and the coach/teacher we can discuss the non-negotiable aspects of programming that deal with specific elements of physical training.

Movement Exploration and Discovery – Boys and girls ages 6-9 are still discovering how to move, and in some cases they are actually performing some movements for the first time. Within this discovery process, they require the opportunity to change elevation, roll, crawl, climb, skip, and run. 10-13 year olds are generally in a position to learn how to move better.

In either case, take advantage of the neural plastic nature of the CNS (central nervous system) by keeping your verbal, visual, and kinesthetic cues to a minimum.  An over-abundance of cueing can lead to goal confusion and frustration…both of which are detrimental to the physical culture and potential physical literacy of the student or athlete.

Object Manipulation – The ability to handle and control an object through space, whether weighted or not, is another critical aspect of human development.

Coordination Training – Not merely the coordination that we grew up with as either having it or not…coordination training will encompass balance, rhythm, reactivity, kinesthetic differentiation, and spatial awareness.

Systemic Strength – Opportunity to build head-to-toe strength is essential for any young child. Body weight, resistance bands, and appropriate externally loaded activities are acceptable means of training systemic strength. We take great effort to frame our systemic strength activities such that they are task-oriented rather than strict repetition and set schemes.

Game Play  – Game play is the most important element of our training systems. We utilize game play in several ways:

  • Reward for hard work
  • Transition (get them out of their world and into yours!)
  • Reinforce specific skills (transference to sport and life)
  • Reinforce general athleticism (transference to sport and life)
  • Just plain FUN

Game play is a non-negotiable when it comes to reinforcing your routines.

To recap, our non-negotiable list of training elements are:

  1. Expectations
  2. Movement Exploration/Discovery
  3. Object Manipulation
  4. Coordination
  5. Systemic Strength
  6. Game Play

Will these elements overlap? YES!

Your justification for classification in one category or another will depend on your purpose for the activity and your criteria for success.

What about Serial Assessment Strategies?

We do assess all of our athletes. However in the context of this article, assessment is not on the starting line up of priorities with the little time allotted to most of the coaches, trainers and teachers reading this.  We take 5-15 minutes every three months to assess movement capability utilizing a rate technical ability for five different movements…but that is in my facility and it works for our purposes and criteria for success.

What do you want to assess?
Will you assess value based data or movement based?
Will you utilized standardized testing protocols or develop your own?
What will you do with the information?
How will it affect your training program? 

These, and more, questions need to be answered prior to the onset of testing and evaluation of your young athletes or students.

Hopefully this short article offers insight as to just what elements of your training program or curriculum is negotiable or not. The art of coaching and teaching dictates that you decide what is optimal for your students and athletes on a short, medium and long-term basis.

I’m confident you will make the best decision for the children you serve!

Keep changing lives!

How Athletic Assessment Can Shape Your Programs

By Brad Leshinske, CSCS

Athletic assessment is nothing new in the world of sports performance, but the quality of testing and the ability to use the results has changed dramatically in recent years. When the assessment of an athlete is complete, the use of that information is what should be used in the role of programming for that athlete. Depending on the athletes with whom you work, having a system in place for assessment is the first step. In athletic assessment, having a reliable, in-depth protocol that helps identify strengths and areas in need of improvement is most critical.

Within the IYCA, there is a great protocol that can assure the strength and conditioning coach a reliable test and the ability to use the data into the programming system that you use. The use of the assessment results will influence the athlete in a more positive way because the program is individualized. With more athletes becoming single sport dominant, having testing that is specific to what that sports demands is essential for the programming to be individualized as well.

The IYCA has three variants of overall assessment based on age, using the same or similar movement patterns with variance in reps and intensity. Having tests predicated upon age is a great resource, but it does not stop there. The IYCA has also come up with testing protocols based on sport. As the athlete gets older and more focused on one sport, it is vital to assess movement that is used in that sport. Gaining knowledge from both tests will enable a strength coach with the ability to individualize the program.

Learn to use athletic assessment to help shape your programs.

Athletic Assessment and Your Programs

So how does should such assessment influence programming for the athlete? Besides looking at chronological age (actual birth age) and also taking into consideration training age (years the athlete has been participating in formal conditioning or training), the assessments will show the areas in need of improvement. Take for example, the lunge, which is part of the testing protocol. The lunge is examined in the test with respect to four variables:

  1. Stride leg knee alignment – looking for alignment in the ankle, knee and hip and making sure there is no lateral or medial knee migration
  2. Depth of the lunge – making sure that the body is able to go in full range of motion and that the mobility and flexibility is there for the movement
  3. Vertical pillar of the knee, hip and shoulder – looking for body structure, the ability of the body to be totally vertical from the knee to the shoulder
  4. Balance and control – making sure the athlete is stable enough for the movement

With those four components of the movement examined within a gross movement pattern like the lunge, we can then find flaws and specifically address them during the mobility portion of a session prior to the warm up or following activity and within the core and lifting protocols. For example, if an athlete has a hard time getting depth for the lunge, the strength coach can prescribe movements to mimic the lunge to improve the range of motion in the specific area that needs it.

This ability to shape your program for each athlete rather than the athlete to the program is a game changer for not only the athlete, but also the strength and conditioning coach. Allowing the assessment to aid in the program process with a reliable test that can be done hundreds of times is important in the development of any athlete, in any age range and with any skill level.

5 Lessons to Teach Young Athletes

By Mike Robertson

mike_robertson150

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, as I’ve been on the floor a bunch and coaching some really fun athletes.

As a result, I’ve been reflecting on some of the lessons I’ve tried to teach my young athletes along the way. Each and every kid is a little bit different and has unique things they need to address to become the kind of athlete (or human being) we know they’re capable of.

Here are five lessons that I feel we as coaches should teach every young athlete we come in contact with.

Lesson #1: Recovery Is Critical

Think back to when you were a teenager.

Chances are you stayed up too late, did dumb things with your friends, and weren’t quite the upstanding individual you are now.

And that’s OK—that’s how we all learn and grow.

But as tough as we all had it, I would argue that today’s kids have it worse in a handful of ways than we did.

Sure, there are a lot of similarities such as school, athletics, and extracurricular activities, but I would argue there’s one big difference between then and now:

Kids today carry a tremendous burden when it comes to social pressures and expectations.

Yes we played sports, went to school, and did other stuff, but there’s never been the amount of pressure on our youth as there is today.

As such, we need to teach them the value of rest and recovery.

Instead of 5 or 6 hours of sleep per night, they should be getting at minimum 7 or 8.

We need to teach them that it’s OK to relax and unwind. Turn the cell phone, iPad, and laptop off for a while and just chill out. (I’m always shocked at how much more laid back and relaxed I am when I just unplug for a while).

And of course, eating to fuel your training is critical (more on this below).

The bottom line is that recovery is critical. If we’re going to be asked to perform at a high level in the classroom, on the field, and in everyday life, that’s fine, but there has to be a balance between performance and recovery.

Lesson #2: Nutrition Is Fuel

This goes hand in hand with my previous point, as nutrition is a huge component of recovery.

And I can’t give you a better example than a kid I used to work with called “Juice.”

Juice played basketball at the high school I worked at. He had a ton of energy and was always fun to be around, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend quite a bit of time chatting him up and joking around.

One day I show up to train the team at 3 pm, and Juice is telling me how tired he is.

Me: “What did you eat today?”

Juice: “Nothing, but I just had a Mountain Dew, so I’m cranked and ready for practice coach!”

Me: “No, seriously, what did you have for breakfast and lunch?”

Juice: “Nothing. I was late for school so I skipped breakfast, and then I had homework to do during lunch so I forgot to eat something.”

I wish this was a joke, but it wasn’t. This kid was going to lift weights and go to basketball practice, having only had a 20-ounce Mountain Dew the entire day.

Athletes can be all over the board with their nutrition, so it’s always a tightrope when getting them focused and dialed in. Some can eat anything and everything and get away with it, while others are far more focused on their body and physique than how food will fuel their performance.

Female athletes need even more time, attention, and care.

There are all kinds of social pressures and stresses when it comes to females and food, so if I have an inkling that a female athlete may have food issues, I’m quick to punt that situation to the appropriate professional.

Suffice it to say, though, we need to give our young athletes a basic understanding of why eating properly is important.

The best avenue I’ve always found was to remind your athletes that food is fuel. What you put into your body every meal is going to determine how well you play on the court or field.

Do you really think that Twinkie, candy bar, or Pop Tart is really going to improve your performance?

And rather than focusing on portion sizes and giving out “diets” (which is where you should lean on the expertise of a dietitian or similar professional), I like to discuss some of the nutritional basics with my athletes:

  • Get some lean protein at every meal.
  • Get a vegetable and/or fruit at every meal.
  • Carbs aren’t the devil, but they’re easy to over consume.
  • Ditto on fats, and we need goods fats in our diet.
  • Hydration is critical, so shoot for 1/2 ounce per pound of body weight daily.

If we can get our athletes following the basic nutritional tenets I’ve provided above, they’ll be in vastly superior shape compared to many of their peers.

Lesson #3: You Need a Strong Foundation

As strength coaches, this may be the greatest thing we can give our athletes.
If you work with middle school and high school age kids, this is arguably the single best time to come in contact with a kid. They’re incredibly malleable, whether we’re talking about mobility, stability, strength, etc.

But perhaps more importantly, they’re much more open-minded or “mentally malleable” than some of the older clients we come in contact with. They don’t have preconceived notions as to how much range of motion they should have, how strong they should be, etc., so there’s far less resistance when we introduce them to an exercise program.

At this age, we can give them an amazing movement foundation, and I would argue this should be the single biggest focus of our training.

It starts by having them play as many sports as possible while growing up. The proper term for this is long-term athletic development (LTAD), and it’s something we preach to our kids.

Stop it with the year-round sports, travel league teams, and all the other garbage that just makes people feel superior or awesome.

Nobody remembers when they’re in their 30s or 40s that they played on the U-7 travel team. But I guarantee they’ll remember if they ended up having a Tommy John surgery as a result!

In the gym, teach them the basics of movement. Teach them how to squat, lunge, hinge, push-up, row, chin, and enjoy the amazing body they were given.

In the beginning, it’s not even about load or performance; it’s about exploration and allowing them to feel what their body can do.

In fact if you follow the teachings of Professor Zatsiorsky, he’s a huge proponent of the three year rule:

No external loading for the first three years of an athlete’s development.

If nothing else, teach these kids to move really well, and then teach them to move weights, or to move for an extended period of time.

Remember, this is the body they will live in the rest of their lives. Our goal should be to give them a rock-solid foundation that will last them a lifetime.

Lesson #4: Learn How to Breathe

One of the big things we assess at IFAST is how a client breathes.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people these days breathe horribly. The only two places they can draw in air is by “pushing” it into their belly or “pulling” it into their neck by using accessory muscles like the scalenes and SCM.

Not only does this lead to performance issues on the field/court, but it can drive physiological issues off the field. Whether it’s increased anxiety and stress, trouble falling asleep, or issues staying asleep, breathing is something we need to address.

If you follow the R7 approach that we do here at IFAST, we put a premium on quality breathing. Not only will clients get to work on this during their warmup, but perhaps even more importantly, they will also work on it at the conclusion of their workout.

Even if you’ve never done this, have your athletes lie on their back at the end of a session with their knees bent and feet flat on the floor.

Tell them to breathe in through their nose, take approximately 5 seconds to get the air in.

Follow that up with a complete exhale through the mouth, which should take about 10 seconds.

Finish by holding that fully exhaled position for 3-5 seconds, and then repeat for 8-10 breaths.

It doesn’t sound like a lot, but teaching a young athlete to breathe is just as foundational as good movement. Not only can they see performance improvements on the field, but chances are they’ll be less stressed out and anxious off it as well.

Lesson #5: The Weight Room Is a Classroom

The final thing I love to teach my young athletes is that the weight room (and especially my weight room) is a classroom.

At the risk of sounding hokey, it’s a classroom, and the class I’m teaching is L-I-F-E.

If you are serious and committed to improve your body and your performance, just think about all the lessons you can learn about:

Work ethic.

Desire.

Commitment.

Goal setting.

Loyalty.

The list of positive traits goes on and on.

And when an athlete comes into my weight room, I always have two things in the back of my mind.

Firstly, I always want the kids who train with me to have fun. This shouldn’t be another thing they have to do; I want this to be something that want to do.

Secondly, I always want the kids I train to look at me as a role model, or someone they can look up to and trust. I don’t consider myself to be perfect or beyond reproach, but I’m always thinking about carrying myself with a high level of character and self-respect.

Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re a pretty upstanding and legit person. Kudos to you.

But when I look around, not all the kids we come in contact with have a stable social foundation.

These kids need strong and stable individuals who they can look up to and trust, so that they can in turn become better people.

It frustrates me to no end when people talk poorly about young people. Sure, there are always going to be some bad seeds. Growing up, I know I had some bad appples around me.

But throwing this generation as a whole under the bus is a massive cop out.

Rather than simply saying, “These kids don’t get it,” or bitching about how entitled today’s youth is, I think it’s far more beneficial to take a long, hard look in the mirror and consider what we can do to help these kids become the kind of young adults we know they can be.

Take the time to nurture your young athletes both physically and psychologically.

Put them in a positive environment, give them solid footing, and allow them to have some success.

And don’t forget to show them how powerful the weight room can be. I can tell you without a doubt I wouldn’t be the husband, father, business owner or athlete I am today without the lessons I’ve learned in the weight room.

Summary

I consider myself to be incredibly lucky. Over the years, I’ve gotten to work with thousands of athletes, and I hope that I’ve successfully passed on some of the knowledge that I’ve picked up along the way.

If you work with young athletes, or if you have young athletes in your home, take this post to heart. Maybe pass it along to someone else you think could benefit from my message.

And most importantly, remember how powerful we are in the lives of today’s youth. Every single day we can make a difference, so do your best to make it a positive one.

All the best,
MR

The Optimal Training Session

Explore the Design and Implementation of an Optimal Training Session

By Tony Poggiali

While there is likely no such entity as a “perfect session,” we have tweaked and adjusted our athlete sessions over the past nine years to evolve into a system that works for us. So, instead of calling it the perfect training session, we are going to call it the optimal training session. While this works for us in our situation, it may or may not be conducive to your facility and situation.

The Optimal Training Session: The First 5

For the first five minutes we spend some time hanging out, talking about life, or what they had to eat that day, or how their school day turned out. Some athletes will be performing SMR, while others will be messing around with their buddies. While we started doing the traditional dynamic warm-up protocol early on, we have somewhat changed into more of a game – based warm up. On any given day, we will be playing Frisbee football, Hawaiian football, basketball, dodge ball, tag, baseball, capture the flag, wall ball, tire ball, or cone ball (the last two we made up). While we don’t conform to the industry norm on this one, we have observed that it accomplishes the following during our games:

  • Creates a fun and relaxed environment which builds a positive attitude, team building and excitement towards training.
  • Provides a dynamic warm-up. Also wakes them up for a morning session!
  • Allows coaches to indirectly evaluate athletic performance of the athletes.
  • Breaks down barriers between coaches and athletes as well as athletes to athletes.
  • Allows athletes to experience/practice various athletic skills without formal coaching.
  • Allows sport-specific athletes to expand their overall athleticism.
  • Stresses fun and enjoyment (process) versus winning and losing (outcomes).
  • Allows “free-range” playing versus structured playing; kids are in control rather than adults :)
  • Builds social skills, especially camaraderie, support systems, bonding and emotional coping skills. Games are also a great way to introduce new kids into our program through unstructured play. Who doesn’t need a few new friends in the process?!
  • Teaches problem-solving, strategy and nurturing an athlete’s “physical IQ.”
  • “Organized chaos” can lead to long-term adaptations in other settings such as school and home life.
  • Kids can make the rules and thus, follow the rules. They start to find out their intrinsic value and leadership skills.
  • Experience the unadulterated joy of human movement.

TIME ALLOTTED: 12-15 minutes

The optimal warmup includes  an energizing warmup of playing games.

The Optimal Training Session: Skill Success

Our major goal with the bulk of the training session is a combination of skill introduction, acquisition, development/improvement, and ultimately, mastery. The biological, chronological and training ages are all consideration when we design our skill protocols. For example, if the skill is linear based, we may spend more time on marching, skipping, and posture for younger kids; for kids with a higher training age, we may advance to resisted acceleration, heavy sled dragging and/or plyometrics.

The design of this chunk of time is based on choosing a “skill of the day” that we want to perform, attach 2-4 drills to that skill, and then execute those drills, always keeping in mind that we are training a skill, not a drill, per se.

Our typical week is broken down into three skill days:

Day 1 (Mon/Tues) – Linear

Day 2 (Wed/Thur) – Lateral/Angled

Day 3 (Fri/Sat) – Change of direction

(This template can be changed at any time, and we always have a “plan B” should issues arise. We also integrate an “All Strength Day” at various times throughout the month. It is usually the athletes’ favorite day.☺).

TIME ALLOTTED: 20-25 minutes

The Optimal Training Session: Strength & Power

The final section is strength and power development that utilizing many of the same ideas formulated and coached during the skill session. For example, if performing a linear acceleration skill day, we may include any of the following for our strength and power movements that day:

  • Sled march
  • Step –over lunge walk
  • Hip thrust and/or bridge variations
  • Split squat
  • Step up
  • Deadlift variations
  • Hip hinging variations

There are literally dozens more but you get the idea. We try to pick sagittal plane movement patterns to match our skill movement patterns. We also will have at least one horizontal pattern during this time.

TIME ALLOTTED: 15-20 minutes

The optimal training program includes some time devoted to strength and power.

The Optimal Training Session: The Last 5

Time permitting, we really want every athlete to leave feeling a sense of accomplishment, confident and full of energy (not exhausted, although it can, and does, happen). In the last five minutes we may play another quick round of a game, or just sit and talk. There is so much to glean from a child by simply showing that you care about them. It is probably the highlight of the hour when a kid opens up and tells the coach something they do not share with others. Those last few minutes may be all they remember to tell their parents or to carry them through the rest of their day. It is our duty to make those moments memorable.

To the last point, the Training Manifesto (below) is visible in our coaches’ area:

ASF Training Manifesto

  • Help as many people as possible, in as many ways as possible, as often as possible.
  • Our hunger and thirst for improvements in knowledge, skills, and abilities will continually be fed.
  • Our number one desire is to be the best we can be, every day to every person.
  • We have a full commitment to enhancing the performance and life skills of all athletes we work with.
  • We are not afraid to push the boundaries of human capabilities when necessary.
  • We are first and foremost developers.
  • We will view coaching both as an art and a science.
  • Our success as coaches is directly tied to our ability to communicate, inspire, and motivate.
  • We embrace our position as role model, mentor, and friend.

In closing, there really is no perfect way, system, or session. I am sure most coaches have gone through multiple revisions to land where they are now. As soon as you think you know everything, you realize you know nothing! It is a never-ending process. This is what works for our coaches and athletes, but will likely always keep evolving and improving.

Motivating Teen Girls with a Personal Fitness Program

Motivating Teen Girls to Take an Interest in Health and Fitness

By Betty Kern, MS, CSCS

Have you ever wondered if it was possible to get teen girls excited about exercise and eating healthier? Do you think it is possible to successfully reach that student who “has never liked physical education class or sports?” Here’s what some of the girls from Springfield High School in Akron, Ohio had to say about their “Personal Training Class” (a PE elective for juniors and seniors).

“Joining this class helped me realize that I can do anything if I set my mind to it!”
Stephanie

“This is a class that will get your mind off other subjects…but it wasn’t all fun & games . . . we learned a lot, worked hard and had fun!”
Stephanie S.

“This class has helped me to get over my bulimia. I’m more aware of my nutrition versus just wanting to be thin and not caring how it happens.”
Rachel

“This is a good class for insecure girls!”
Tina

“I have done better in school because I feel better about myself.”
Cheryl

“During the middle of the semester I could feel my body was more limber, stronger and overall healthier! I am going to miss this class!”
Catie

This class has been an amazing experience . . . it has had such a good impact on my attitude! I’ve lost two pant sizes and reduced some major stress. I love this class so much!”
Tasha (three-time Ab Challenge winner . . . took the class three times)

“I love this class! My back is stronger since I started doing yoga, and I haven’t had to take any medication for my acid reflux. I think everyone should take this class. I’ve even got my mom and my little sister doing some of the yoga with me.”
Amanda (who has scoliosis)

“Mrs. Kern . . . thank you for having this class! I used to think that I couldn’t do anything physical . . . but now I know I can do anything I set my mind to doing! I have lost 30 pounds this year!”
Amanda

“I would have never made it through my senior year without this class! It helped me focus on positive things and feel better physically and emotionally.”
Abbie (took the class 2 time & is majoring in nutrition in college)

As the girls’ quotes indicate, mission accomplished! The impact of this class was amazing. Poor nutritional habits were dropped, healthy habits adopted, inactive teen girls are now exercising daily and keeping a nutrition & exercise journal, self-confidence & self-esteem soared, study habits and grades improved, attitudes towards healthy eating & exercise changed, weight & inches lost, muscle tone gained, new friendships were built, strong & healthy student-teacher relationships developed, and the girls had fun!

Motivating teen girls to care about their health and fitness.

So How Are You Motivating Teen Girls?

Why is this class so successful? It provides a unique fitness option for teen girls. An individualized approach is taken within a group setting by establishing, tracking & rewarding personal goals. Challenge competitions allow for success regardless of ability differences. Flexibility in class activities within predetermined parameters helps the girls feel a sense of ownership of the class because student feedback is valued and acknowledged.

The “Personal Training Class” was born out of the desire to help teenage girls make the connection between their lifestyle habits, energy levels, physical fitness, school performance, mood swings, skin problems, weight and health issues. Through conversation, it became apparent that students did not understand the impact of their daily lifestyle habits on these areas. With administrative support, it was decided that it was time to make a difference in the lives of the girls at Springfield High School.

To find out more about Motivating Teen Girls with a Personal Fitness Program watch for the follow-up articles describing more about the program and how to start new programs within the schools or your community facility.

With the obesity and health issues facing our nation, it is time for physical education and health teachers and fitness professionals to implement new programs that reach out to a variety of students to teach them healthy lifestyle habits and that “fitness can be fun.” Go make a difference in your school & community!

Betty Kern, MS, CSCS teaches physical education in Akron, Ohio and is the creator of the PE Fit Programs. You can learn more by visiting www.pe-fit.com.

Become a Better Coach by Asking Questions

Admitting When You Don’t Know Something to Become a Better Coach

Wil Fleming shares his experience in how to become a better coach.
By Wil Fleming

Nearly everyone wants to be a better version of themselves. Some of us want to BE that better version and work to get there, and some of us want to appear to be that better version of ourselves.

This post is about becoming that better version of you and one simple tip to get to that place.

Let me first take you to a position you have been in before…

Sitting in a room full of great coaches, listening to a coaching idol talk about a high level training topic, and words start coming out of the coaches mouth that you don’t understand.

What should you do?

Should you continue to appear to be the better version of yourself or should you take this opportunity to become the better version of yourself. At that moment you have an opportunity to improve, to become a better coach.

You just have to take that opportunity and grab it. Don’t shrink from it.

Right then and there it is time to stop and ask your questions and get clarity. This is not an OK to stop somebody in the middle of a presentation, but at least grab them after they leave the stage.

Let me take you to another scenario that has happened to each of us…

One of your athletes, or another coach asks you a question about training. You may know the answer, but you might be stretching the truth or your knowledge a bit.

You can do one of two things, you can give the answer as you know it and appear to be correct right then and there, or you can say “I am not exactly sure, let me find that out for you.”

In each scenario you can choose to appear correct or smart, or you can choose to become correct or become smarter. In one case you can grow as a coach and in the other you can stay exactly where you are. It’s literally up to you.

The easiest way to become a better coach is to ask someone else for help, ask for their advice, or get their guidance. The worst case scenario is not that they say “no, thank you,” the worst case scenario is never asking in the first place.

Become a better coach by asking your fellow coaches to share their expertise.

Allow Yourself to Become a Better Coach

I would not be where I am today if I did not stop and ask the experts for their advice. It doesn’t hurt that we are living in a golden age of communication and connection. In a matter of minutes you could get on Twitter, get on Facebook, or search someone’s blog and have access to the best coaches in the world. Ten years ago this was not possible.

Ten years ago I could not message Glenn Pendlay on Facebook on a Monday and be in his training hall learning from him on the same Saturday. Everything about coaching and being a better professional has become extremely accelerated.

Ten years ago I could not ask Coach Dos a training question in the middle of a heated game of Words with Friends. Today I can do that.

Today, this is only impossible if I choose not to ask the question. You and I have no excuse for not being a better coach. You can pose as a great coach or you can be a great coach. There is absolutely no in-between.

Great coaches are not satisfied with just being a good coach now. Look to become a better coach and go ask the questions that will get you there.

Young Athlete Resistance Band Games

Making Training Fun with Young Athlete Resistance Band Games

Dave Schmitz is an expert in resistance band training.
By Dave “The Band Man” Schmitz

Making training fun is one of the challenges of working with young athletes. Adding resistance band games to your training is a great way to keep young athletes engaged and wanting more.

If you really want your young athletes to enjoy resistance band training, start making the training game-oriented. However, before you attempt these types of drills, you must teach them and allow them to master the basic drills first.

My goal with any young athlete resistance band games is to get them to train instinctively because when they reach that level, they are as close to game situations as you possibly can be. The other reason I like to reach a level of reflexive training is because training becomes fun for several reasons.

  1. Training now becomes competitive, and I have yet to meet a good athlete who does not like to compete
  2. It takes away the idea of training being work, and makes it more of a game. Kids as well as adults love games.
  3. It eliminates the conscious component of training and allows the body to do what it does best: become reactive.

I thought you would enjoy watching 2 very special young athletes resistance band training and have some fun competing while training in bands. Pay special attention to the laughing that comes along with this type of training. To this day, Kenzie and Carter Schmitz (yep these 2 are mine—thank God) still talk about this experience and when they will be able to do it again.

Wouldn’t you enjoy training with your kids every now and then?

I hope you enjoy just another way the Quick Kids Program will help make your young athlete better training in bands.

Getting Better with Bands

Dave Schmitz

Why Resistance Band Training Eliminates Injuries in Young Athletes

Resistance Band Training: It’s More Than Just a Simple Rubber Band

Dave Schmitz is an expert in resistance band training.
By Dave “The Band Man” Schmitz

Resistance Band Training is a systematic training approach designed to create reactive strength and power using integrated, full-body movements. In short, bands make the body stronger as a unit, not as individual parts.

Reactive strength is our body’s ability to create force in the correct plane, at the correct force level, and at the correct time, both instinctively and efficiently, to counteract changes in momentum.

It’s not just another way to get stronger. It takes strength and makes it usable to the body regardless what functional movement you are doing.

 “What Goes Up Must Come Down.”

Deadweight truly is “dead” weight. Dumbbells, sandbags, kettlebells, bodyweight, medicine balls, pulley systems, and barbells are all great training tools that train the body using the principle of gravity.

I will not disagree that we need to be able to handle gravity. But our ability to neuromuscularly control various speeds of momentum in all planes of motion is what will keep us injury-free, more flexible, and performing at high levels on the field and during the day.

Just being strong is not good enough. Resistance Band Training applies the principles of momentum.

Athletes perform resistance band training to compete better, stronger.

 “An Object in Motion… Stays in Motion Unless Acted Upon by Another Force.”

Momentum is the #1 reason we get injured, fall, and get beat on the athletic field. We just can’t neuromuscularly control momentum fast enough, and needless to say if we stop teaching our body how to handle it, we are setting ourselves up for potential disaster. The fact is, if we do not stay reactive and strong, we physically get older sooner than we should.

How do bands train our body to handle momentum?

A band’s elastic nature speeds up momentum, which trains our body how to handle faster momentum force than if it were just bodyweight alone. This in turn teaches our nervous system how to identify and activate the muscles needed to respond, which keeps us coordinated and balanced all the time.

Real-World Strength Gains from Resistance Band Training

So which would you rather have the strength to do:

Squat 300 lbs. in a weight room, or play tennis, basketball, or football at a competitive level for many years?

Which is more important: Being strong or preventing falls as you grow older?

Now before I get a boatload of responses, the best answer is both.

However, squatting 300 lbs. does not make you a good athlete on the field and keep you from falling in the real world.

Resistance Band Training will make you athletically strong, not just weight-room strong.

Personally, I want both. How about you?

There are several ways to start training with resistance bands and get yourself, your athletes, and your clients reactively strong and fit.

Let’s use resistance band training to react, not just contract!

Dave “The Band Man” Schmitz

Band Exercises for Young Athletes

5 Band Exercises for Young Athletes to Start a Youth Strength Training Program

Dave discusses band exercises for young athletes
By Dave “The Band Man” Schmitz

Bodyweight training is without question the first line of training when it comes to designing a youth strength training program. Young athletes must learn how to move and control their body, and bodyweight strength training is the safest way to achieve that.

However, I also find band training to be a great next step. (I know that surprises you!)
Band exercises for young athletes

Why Band Exercises for Young Athletes Should Come after Bodyweight Training

  1. It is a very safe way to train as long as you use the correct size of band that allows your young athlete to go through a full range of motion.
  2. Band Training makes an athlete have to push through a full range of motion. What this does is teach young athletes how to load and explode. They will not be successful at getting through the full motion unless they load first.
  3. They can train anywhere. I find the best time to do a little strength training at this age is either immediately following practice or right before practice. It’s difficult to drag out the dumbbells on the court or field, so it has to be bodyweight and bands.
  4. Band exercises for young athletes allow them to move the way their bodies move. Essentially, it’s bodyweight training with a little extra resistance.
  5. At this age, repetition is the key, not resistance. Training with bands allows young athletes to neuromuscularly train the movement not just the muscle. The ability to handle larger forces will only come once neuromuscular integration is mastered. Band Training teaches intergration in young athletes better than any other tool I have come across.

My band recommendation is orange, red, black, and eventually purple. It is why I created the small single band package. This package provides your young athlete with everything they will need to strength train with bands.

5 Resistance Band Exercises for Young Athletes to Start a Youth Strength Program with Bands

Watch these 2 videos to see the 5 exercises I’d use for starting a youth strength training program with bands.

Getting BETTER with BANDS!!

Dave “The Band Man” Schmitz

PS In the videos, Kenzie is 12 years old and is one of those special young athletes who enjoys a challenge. At the time, she was one of the most disciplined 12-year-old I had ever met, but she was also my favorite 12-year-old in the whole world.

Thanks Kenzie for helping me out!

PPS. Click HERE to become a Certified Resistant Band Instructor Today!

Youth Stretching with Bands

When and How to Implement Youth Stretching with Bands

Dave “The Band Man” Schmitz discusses when and how to implement youth stretching with bands with your young athletes (video included)
By Dave “The Band Man” Schmitz

When should a young athlete begin stretching? That is a very debatable question that I feel would have several strong arguments for and against. Personally, I have never felt doing band stretching with athletes younger than 14 was a good thing because of how hypersensitive their nervous systems are to passive overpressure stretching. Passive overstretching of young athletes for years seem to be very noxious to the neuromuscular system and resulted in kids just putting their body through unnecessary stress that the body was not mature enough to handle. Plus, emotionally, young teenage athletes were not ready to handle the focus needed to avoid compensation.

I still find many of these circumstances still exist, but with the help of my son Carter, I am starting to look at this aspect of youth training as something that could be successful if implemented correctly.

When Carter was 13 years old and going into 8th grade, he and I started working on flexibility with bands more frequently. Carter always moved very well for his age, but before 8th grade, he went through a 2-inch grow spurt that dramatically increased hamstring and hip rotation tightness. Carter played soccer and football, and he became very interested in being a kicker for football, which is why we decided to pursue implementing a more rigorous stretching program. Interestingly, after 6 weeks of consistent band stretching, we have seen his accuracy and consistency in distance go from 20 to 30 yards. Now, I am not discrediting the importance of practice, but based on his improved movement quality, I believe his increased hamstring and hip rotation mobility has definitely assisted in his improvement.

Recommendations for Youth Stretching with Bands

If you are going to start a youth (age 12-14 years old) stretching program, here are a few recommendations.

  1. Begin by using a micro orange band before progressing to a red band. It’s very important to not over tension young athletes but instead allow them to easily perform the movements without the band dominating them.
  2. As their trainer or parent, you need to help them learn the movements and positions. They will need manual guidance for at least 2-3 sessions before they can do by themselves.
  3. Start with 1 or 2 stretches and gradually implement the others as they master the initial stretches. Again, keep in mind that this is not fun stuff and the motivation to perform will probably not be there early on. Until they see improved results, getting them to do this will take some one-on-one support
  4. Stretch slowly but actively with 2-3 second holds maximum and very rhythmical movement. Let them know that this takes patience and cannot be rushed through. Carter very often stretches out while watching a show on television. All I ask is that he make sure he pushes into those restricted regions.
  5. Stretching the hip flexor-quad mechanism is not one of the stretches because to effectively do that stretch, the athlete must have optimal stabilization awareness. I find young athletes struggle with this and do much better stretching out those muscles doing a more active lunge-reach approach.

The video below will take you through what stretches I feel you should start with.

Good luck and feel free to shoot me your comments below.

Getting BETTER with BANDS

Dave Schmitz

PS If you are interested in purchasing bands for following this stretching routine, I recommend the Small Single Band Package. The Black and Purple bands that come with this will be effective for lower body strength training and speed training if not for the stretching program.

High School Summer Conditioning Program

Simple but Effective Model for an 8-Week High School Summer Conditioning Program

High school summer conditioning program
By Jared Markiewicz

 

It’s that time of year when most high schools are out of school and spring sports, club or otherwise, have finished. For most of our high school athletes, this is the one time of year where they can focus most of their training time on getting stronger, faster, and more powerful. It gives us an opportunity to really make an impact and change how they function and perform during their next athletic year. However, we are a private sector training facility, meaning we work around other coaches, their summer strength and conditioning (S&C) programs, and any other events an athlete might have during the summer.  So what needs to be taken into account for a high school summer conditioning program, and how do we design high-performance training plans for our summer athletes?

External Factors

Consideration 1: How far out is the next season?

When developing a training plan for our athletes, one of the first questions we ask is, “When is your next athletic season?” This information gives us a timeline. We know what we want to accomplish with them, and once we know how long we have, we can condense our training plan to fit the timetable.

High school summer conditioning program

Consideration 2: How does their sport coach approach early season practices?

This is a common issue and one we address if we know the coach and their methodology. If we don’t yet know the coaching staff, we ask our players to describe early season training. Typically, there are one or multiple cuts for a team involving extremely taxing practices. For those who don’t need to cut, they still take athletes through “weed-out” early season conditioning. In the S&C community, we would call this lactic or alactic threshold training. If you have ever seen this kind of conditioning or experienced it yourself, it will quickly make you hate your coach (maybe dislike; hate is such a strong term :)).

We as S&C coaches need to prepare our athletes to handle the grind with effectiveness and ease to stand out among their peers. We promise our athletes and their parents that they will be in mid-season condition at the start of a season. If we don’t take into account the sport coach’s style of conditioning, we will never make good on our promise.

Consideration 3: Other summer training programs

Our gym is located nearby to a number of large schools, most of which have a well-equipped weight room. Thus, these schools have summer strength programs, usually facilitated by the football coaches, where regular attendance is mandatory. No matter how productive our training has proven to be, a football coach will never concede that our S&C program holds priority over their program.

So, if an athlete’s coach requires that they attend the summer strength program, we must work to supplement our training philosophy and high school summer conditioning program around the school’s.

Condition 4: Summer Vacations/Camps/etc.

Summer is one of the few times when families can get away for a vacation. Also, the majority of athletic development camps occur over the summer months. As a S&C coach, you must have these dates laid out in advance to better plan your training around them. We will overreach with our athletes prior to a vacation, where they will get needed recovery time. We will also build basic conditioning programs for athletes if they will be somewhere with access to training equipment.

Writing the High School Summer Conditioning Program

Once we have taken into account all external factors related to training our athletes, we have to write them a program!

Below is an 8-week, twice-weekly high school summer conditioning program. This is the most common frequency and timeframe we get from our high school athletes during the summer, and it gives us the best results with 16 sessions.

Weeks 1-4

Tempo Work
This is something we use frequently with young training age athletes. Our multi-joint movements like squatting, hip hinging, split squatting, pushing, and pulling can be done in this manner. We often use 202 and 301 tempos (ecc/iso/con) for these movements, generally trying to slow the deceleration portion of the movement.

Supersets
Our training sessions are 75 minutes. When we have 6-8 exercises to go through plus a warm up and conditioning, supersets are the only way to go. This also keeps the athlete moving and under slight fatigue during all max/sub-max strength movements. This type of conditioning is consistent with our athlete’s experiences in their sports.

Aerobic Capacity Training
Our goal here is to make sure the athlete’s aerobic capacity is back to where it should be and make sure their aerobic base is solid so we can build performance on top without a breakdown. We use cardiac output methods most often but any quality aerobic training works well. Reference Joel Jamieson’s Ultimate MMA Conditioning book or his website 8weeksout.com for aerobic conditioning ideas.

Alactic Conditioning
The alactic system has been shown to have minimal potential for improvement compared to the aerobic system. However, our objective with training the alactic system is getting our athletes to learn and obtain maximum effort levels repeatedly. Often young athletes don’t know what max effort really is and they consistently leave performance potential on the table. Alactic conditioning coaxes that out of them.

Image of strength training in a high school summer conditioning program.

Weeks 5-8

Explosive/Power training

During weeks 5-8, our objective changes. We work to turn strength that our athlete gained to usable power. Depending on the athlete’s training age, we will use tools like med balls, kettlebells, sandbags or Olympic lift variations to expose their power potential.

Strength/Speed and Speed/Strength Characteristics

Our athletes mostly train at our gym to get better in their court or field sports. Thus, we aren’t training weight room athletes (i.e., power lifters or bodybuilders). So we take strength exercises in the first month and turn them into strength/speed and speed/strength exercises in the second. There is a lot of varied research as to the percentages needed to elicit these characteristics from squatting, deadlifting or bench pressing. For our high school age athletes, percentages no higher than 80% (strength/speed) and 70% (speed/strength) of 1RM work great along with a 20X tempo (X meaning moving as explosively as possible during concentric contraction).

Aerobic Capacity Training

We want to constantly build the aerobic base for our athletes because it is the most trainable and has the greatest potential for improvement. If you can develop a large aerobic foundation, the necessity for the lactic and alactic systems decreases and an athlete can work harder for longer without reaching anaerobic threshold.

Lactic Training or Early-season oriented conditioning

Your athlete may mutter the, “I hate you but I know it’s good for me,” phrase during this portion of their conditioning. This is the time where we briefly push our athletes into an uncomfortable but tolerable lactic phase of training. The main reason we do so is that most coaches will condition this way early in the season and we want complete preparation for our athletes. If we know the style of conditioning a coach presents his or her athletes, we will incorporate that here as well. I don’t believe in sport-specific training but I do believe there is a specificity of sport, which also applies to conditioning. If we make our athlete appear better to the coaches early, they will have a better chance to show off improved physical conditioning on their court/field throughout the season.

Wrap Up

This summer training approach works very well for us. I imagine the duration and frequency of sessions I listed is a scenario that occurs throughout the country. However, we have different training tools and methods than you might. So take these concepts and apply it to your athletes with your tools. If you do so, you will have a high school summer conditioning program that rivals the best strength programs in your state!

ADAPT and Conquer,
Coach Jared

Improve Your Coaching by Being Coachable

4 Ways to Improve Your Coaching by Learning from the Best Coachable Athletes and Role Models

Pat Rigsby helps you learn how to improve your coaching.
By Pat Rigsby

20 years.

This year marked the 20th year since I first entered into the coaching profession as an assistant college baseball coach and head college strength coach.

It’s been a long time, but in many ways, it’s flown right by.

Over that span, I’ve probably thought I knew everything during brief points, and most of the time I probably realized that I knew very little. I’ve also personally interacted with hundreds and hundreds of coaches during that span, from World Series Champions to brand new T-ball coaches, and I’ve noticed that the most successful all had several things in common—one of which is being coachable.

Is that a trait you share?

Being coachable is something that we all want in our athletes, but are we leading by example? The best certainly are.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

Be Willing to Do the Dirty Work

We all want our athletes to embrace the dirty work: the conditioning, the mobility work, the corrective stuff, the extra reps. They all are willing to do the “ego” stuff: getting strong on the things that will show well at a combine or impress their friends. They all are happy to do things that will build beach muscles, too, but as a coach, we love the guys who do the dirty work.

For you, the dirty work could be doing what it takes to become a better business owner. It could be working on the areas that you don’t consider strengths. Doing the dirty work is easy to ask others to do but harder to do ourselves.

Be Humble Enough To Learn

Humility is not always the most common trait in successful athletes, so when we come across it, we’re thrilled. Those athletes who can’t quench their thirst for learning and improving are the ones we love to coach. But as much as we love them, that humility is even harder to find among coaches than it is athletes.

Being humble as a coach means that you see learning opportunities everywhere. You seek out people to learn from, and you recognize that every session, practice, or game is a chance for not only your athletes to get better but for you to get better as well.

Delivering Your Best Every Day

There’s nothing better as a coach than to have an athlete who brings their best every day. They train each session like it’s the difference between winning and losing. Every rep is their best rep, whether it’s in the gym, on the practice field, or in a game. They never take a minute off.

But as much as we love that in our athletes, it’s not uncommon to see coaches mailing it in during a session or a practice. Are you preparing for your sessions like they are the difference in your athletes reaching their potential or not? Are you bringing your best levels of focus and energy every day? If you’re asking of your athletes, you should be asking it of yourself.

Putting It into Practice: Real-World Example

If I’ve learned anything during these last 20 years as a coach, it’s that we can always be better. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with a story about one of my coaching mentors, Larry Hisle.

Larry Hisle was an All-Star outfielder for the Minnesota Twins and the Milwaukee Brewers before an injury ended his playing career. The second phase of his professional career was as a coach, where he was the batting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays when they won the World Series in 1992 and 1993.

After Larry stepped away from his role as a batting coach, he found what he considered to be his true calling as the Director of Community Outreach for the Milwaukee Brewers. There, Larry could help at-risk youth in the Milwaukee area, something very close to his heart as he was orphaned as a child himself.

Though you can find glowing praise in various articles online for the work Larry has done with countless children in the Milwaukee community, for him it wasn’t enough.

He felt that he was asking so much of those kids—to do better in school, not to miss class, to be more responsible—that it was only fair if they could ask something of him each time he asked something of them.

Soon after Larry adopted this approach to show his commitment to the children he served, a child asked Larry to become a vegetarian. That was several years ago, and yes, Larry immediately became a vegetarian and hasn’t broken that commitment even once since.

So every time I ask myself if I can do more as a coach, if I’m being coachable, or if I can be more committed, I simply think about Larry and know that I can always do a little more, be a bit more dialed in, and give more to the people I serve.

Can you?

Brain Development in Athletes Ages 6-12

Skill Acquisition Should Be Tailored to Match Each Athlete’s Unique State of Brain Development in Athletes Ages 6-12

Casey Wheel shares an article on brain development in athletes ages 6-12.
By Casey Wheel, CSCS, IYCA YF1, TPI Junior 3; Pacific Ridge Strength and Conditioning Coach

When working with younger athletes, one of the most important factors for being an effective coach is to understand brain development in athletes ages 6-12. Attend any youth sport practice, with athletes ranging from ages 6-12, and you will almost always notice the following scenario: There will be typically 10-20% who are underdeveloped in regards to skill, size, and athletic ability; 10-20% who are your “star” players; and the remainder who usually fall in the middle. Still, when a coach initiates a drill, we expect it to work for every athlete. The reality is that the drill is too hard for the bottom barrel, good for the middle, and too easy for the top. Some coaches even might cater all the drills for their top kids, leaving 80%+ of their team disengaged.

In contrast to this dismal scenario, imagine if coaches instead taught their kids on the first day how the brain learns a skill. Regardless of what drill or skill is being practiced, coaches provide the tools necessary for each kid to adjust in order to use practice time efficiently. Mark Guadagnoli and Timothy Lee defined this as the Challenge Point Theory; the ability to regress or progress a skill that matches where the athlete will learn most efficiently is something every athlete should be educated on from an early age.

Before they can teach the athletes, coaches must first educate themselves on the best ways to progress or regress a skill, drill, or exercise.

Regressing Skills

If a drill or exercise is too hard for an athlete, the brain tends to shut down. If I told you to throw a baseball 100 yards into a 3-foot wide basket or you will do sprints, your brain would shut down and you’d probably hate me as a coach. Yet, at the youth level where there is such a broad range of skill, this type of scenario happens unnoticed.

I’ve never heard of a coach who couldn’t make a skill more complex, but the opposite is far rarer. My favorite coaches to watch and learn from have the ability to pull back and bring the skill down to a level that delivers success. When success happens, the brain enjoys practicing.

Education of regression is a very delicate matter, but it can also be very simple. The first step is to narrow down the activity to 1 or 2 basic areas to focus on and try such tactics like reducing the distance, increasing the target area, or decreasing the speed depending on the skill.

Patagonia Founder, Yvon Chouinard, said in the documentary 180 Degrees South, “The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life; it’s so easy to make it complex.” Keeping in mind the different rates of brain development in athletes ages 6-12, this simplification is exactly what our goal should be as coaches.

Progressing Skills

Since everyone knows how to progress and make things more complex, then why do we need to talk about it? Well, the brain seems to work most efficiently when it is pushed a certain amount.

In a recent New York Times article, Gina Kolata wrote about a deception device used on cyclists that went to see how far they would push themselves. Dr. Kevin Thompson had the cyclists racing an avatar that they were told was their best time in a 2.5-mile race. What they didn’t know is that the avatar was riding at 2% more power than their previous best. The cyclists consistently beat their previous best time by matching the avatars. However, when the increase of power went to 5%, the cyclists usually kept up for about half the race, and then gave up.

We’ve all been guilty of seeing progress and trying to piggyback that with more progress that instant. Keep your composure, and realize that skill and athletic development are marathons, not sprints: You can’t sprint the first mile and expect to have energy for the last 25.2.

The moral of the study is to be careful with the amount you increase as a coach. Too much progression can shut down the brain, and too little will leave potential untapped.

Brain development in athletes ages 6-12

Take-Home Message

Brain development in athletes ages 6-12 occurs at different rates. In order to maximize your success as a coach and the success of each athlete, you must educate yourself and your athletes about the brain and how it can learn and process information and acquire skills at an efficient rate.

The best part of teaching this concept to athletes is that it breeds opportunity. The so-called weaker players now know they just need to find the appropriate level at which to practice for improvement. The hotshots can’t roll their eyes at a basic drill anymore because they now can find a way to change it for their level of ability.

Since starting this type of education with athletes, we’ve noticed their willingness to take risks with new skills and challenges. They simply know they need to just match what they’re doing with their current ability.

When you understand how the brain works, it’s akin to taking off the training wheels on a bike and realizing that not only will you not fall down but you’re also actually going faster than you ever would have before—no more labels, no limits, just opportunity.

Why not teach this amazing principle to our youth? Is there not a better method to teach it than through movement and athletics?

Author Daniel Coyle wrote a new “Bill of Kid Rights” in his article “Brainology for All! A Bill of Kid Rights.” In it, he summarized:

  1. Every child has the right to know how their brain grows
  2. Every child has the right to a teacher who understands how skill develops
  3. Every child has the right to an environment that’s aligned with the way skills grow in the brain

Let’s combine this philosophy with what we just learned about the different rates of brain development in athletes ages 6-12. As coaches, fitness professionals, and role models, we must adopt this new Bill of Kids Rights and ignite change through sport and fitness by starting with the brain.

Sources:

Coyle, Daniel. “Brainology for All! A Bill of Kid Rights « The Talent Code.” The Talent Code. 26 Oct. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://thetalentcode.com/2011/10/26/brainology-for-all-a-bill-of-kid-rights/>.

Guadagnoli T.D. and Lee T.D. (2004) Challenge point: A framework for conceptualizing the effect of various practice conditions in motor learning. Journal of Motor Behaviour 36(2): 212-224.

Kolata, Gina. “A Little Deception Helps Push Athletes to the Limit.” New Yorkt Times. 19 Sept. 2011. Web. 3 Oct. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/20/health/nutrition/20best.html?pagewanted=all>