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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>

Speed and Agility Drills for Youth Athletes

Speed and Agility Drills for Youth Athletes

By Wil FlemingSpeed and agility drills for youth athletes.

Wil Fleming

How do you go about selecting speed and agility drills for your athletes’ daily use and instruction?

If you were like me, you would choose the ones that you like, make sure you had equal parts lateral and linear, and write them in the program. You would then probably add some progressions from simple to complex.

Well, that is what I used to do.

Recently, our speed and agility programming has become systemized in a similar way as our strength training. This has helped our athletes to become much better at the skill of speed and agility. We are able to determine where each athlete is struggling and design the program to improve in that area.

  • Is the athlete struggling in recognition?
  • Is their technique lacking?
  • Are they not powerful enough to explode out cuts?

To actually break up speed and agility programming into the parts we need to focus on, it is important to understand what it is that can improve through speed and agility drills for youth athletes.

In terms of linear speed, there are 2 primary areas in which we can see improvement.

  1. We want to improve the technique of the movement. By improving technique, we are truly working to improve the athlete’s ability to achieve biomechanically advantageous positions. We look to improve the athlete’s overall body position in the acceleration phase of linear sprinting, the position of foot contact, and the use of the arms during acceleration.
  2. We look to improve power production or maximal explosive strength in the early phases of acceleration. Training for power in speed events can affect maximum strength, as well as bring about neuromuscular changes.

When it comes to lateral speed, there are again 2 primary areas in which we can look to cause improvement:

  1. Again, we look to see improvement in the athlete’s technique of movement. Of greatest concern to us is the athlete’s overall and specific foot position and the hip height during the change of direction maneuver.
  2. An often-overlooked area of change of direction that we seek to improve is mental cognition. The speed of change of direction movements is often determined by the athlete’s ability to recognize and process the information being presented to them and their ability to react to the given stimulus.

Using these 4 categories where we can affect the most change, we have devised a “4-puzzle piece” speed and agility training program for athletes.

Puzzle Piece 1: Linear Speed Training Technique

Piece 1 focuses on creating the foundations upon which we can build power and speed. All the power in the world will be for nothing if the athlete cannot get in and maintain the correct positions.

The foot strike, arm swing, and general body positions are the areas in which we focus the most of our time training athletes.

A variety of drills can be used for training linear speed, but being that it is the “skill of speed” we are trying to improve, each needs to be coaching-intensive. Simple 10-yard sprints from a split stance can allow you to get athletes in the correct starting position with hands and weight distribution just as you would like to see them.

Puzzle Piece 2: Linear Power

Improving linear power is greatly dependent upon an athlete’s strength and explosive strength training; that being said, the cyclic nature of sprinting requires that time be devoted in the training process to cyclic power development.

The most appropriate training method for improving cyclic power is resisted sprints of a short distance with long rest periods. Prowler push sprints, sled drag sprints, and band-resisted sprints all fit this mode. While the actual technique of sprinting may be altered slightly, the focus is on the rapid and repeated development of power.

Puzzle Piece 3: Lateral Speed Training Technique

The third piece of the puzzle when it comes to speed and agility drills for youth athletes gets us to the basics of lateral change of direction. Many athletes lack the necessary tools to cut and change direction effectively to start with, which includes developing the proper foot position in relation to the body, the proper foot position in relation to the ground, and the proper hip height.

Short-distance single-plane movements start this progression (e.g., 1 shuffle step to a cut). We progress our athletes to greater distances and then add new directions of movement out of the cut or new types of movement into the cut (e.g., crossover 10 yards to sprint).

Puzzle Piece 4: Complex, Recognition Lateral Speed Training

The last piece of the puzzle is using cognitive skills to more closely replicate the conditions of gameplay. The speed of lateral movement is determined by an athlete’s ability to recognize and react to the stimulus on the field.

A great drill for this is our “5 Cone Drill.” With 5 different colored cones spaced evenly in a line, the coach should use verbal or visual cues to let the athlete know what cone they must move towards. The type of movement (shuffle, crossover, sprint) should be determined beforehand, and the athlete will move to the cone using that movement pattern.

Using these 4 pieces to design your speed and agility drills for youth athletes will allow you to see where your athletes are lacking ability and improve in just that area. Your athletes and your program will benefit from taking a new approach to speed and agility.

The Art of Coaching, Part 3: Coaching Girls Ages 12 and Up

5 Essential Points for Coaching Girls Ages 12 and Up

Part 3 of a 3-Part Series (for Part 1, click here; for Part 2, click here)

By Julie Hatfield, IYCA Brand Manager

Julie Hatfield shares her revelations on coaching girls ages 12 and up

I have spent most of my professional career and coaching career coaching girls. I have coached and taught boys as well, and I am fascinated with the differences. I do not consider myself an expert on this, but I have figured out some things along the way regarding what to do—as well as what NOT to do. Let’s just say they each present their own challenges, but I am going to focus on girls since I have more experience with them.

I have always found that while boys need to “play good to feel good,” girls have to “feel good to play good.” So, when it comes to coaching girls ages 12 and up, my strategy is simple: Make them happy. Here are a couple tips that can help.

Create Confidence through Physical Strength

Building strength, quickness, and endurance in females helps them perform better in their sports. Optimal performance leads to confidence. My number one goal as a coach and trainer is to build confidence in my athletes through strength training and conditioning. Without confidence and proper conditioning, it doesn’t matter how talented you are; at some point, you will hit a wall. When you train properly, not only do you get stronger, but you also become confident in your abilities and skills.

Let Them Talk

Most girls like to talk (big surprise there!). The key when coaching girls ages 12 and up is to let them talk. When girls feel like they are being heard, they seem to perform better. At the high school where I coach, we do our weekly “goals and gripes” session. These sessions are ever-changing for our teams. We are able to let the athletes voice their opinions anonymously (via an index card) but address each as a team. It is a tough thing as a coach because you don’t always have an answer to what’s on the card. But you, too, are allowed to think about it and address it later. Just make sure that you do just that. Not only do these “goals and gripes” sessions bring the team together, but they also teach the athletes how to express things in a positive, less emotional way. It also nips in the bud a lot of “little issues” that could have snowballed into big issues. I sometimes sacrifice a whole practice for these sessions if the athletes want to talk. After all, if ALL the girls on your team feel good, imagine what the outcome can be!

Younger girls may not be ready for this, but they still like to talk! So let them tell you about their day, be approachable, and make time for it. I usually integrate these team talks or individual talks into their drink breaks or at the beginning of our sessions/practices.

Ask for Feedback and Listen

In order to grow as trainers and coaches, we have to know what our clients and kids like and don’t like. Questions like, “How did you like our session today?” “What do you think you need to work on?” or “What would you like to do more of or less of?” are all critical. Be sure to listen. I see coaches ask these questions all the time while continuing to do the same thing over and over again. Ask for feedback and listen. These kids have some good stuff to say!

Get Them Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

It is important that our girls are being challenged. This doesn’t mean that you run them to the point that they can’t physically do any more. Instead, this means you make them do something they are not familiar with and may be uncomfortable with. It could be physical or mental. Ask them why we do a particular skill the way we do it, or ask them to move in a way that they don’t always move for that particular sport. Make them UNCOMFORTABLE. Ingrain the notion that as athletes, we must get “comfortable being uncomfortable.” When you create these scenarios and situations for your athletes, you will find that they focus on their task, they are learning something new, and they are challenged to adapt and change. Every time you work with your athletes, you should challenge them with something new. Be sure they understand why you are asking them to do it, but get them out of their comfort zone!

Make Sure They Are Learning

Most clinics, lessons, and classes I run I conclude the same way: “Give me two or three things that you got out of today’s session.” This phrase has helped me become a much better trainer and coach. It gives me instant feedback and helps me determine if they learned anything in the session. It also lets me know if what I am saying/teaching is aligned with what they are actually learning.

Although this article is about coaching girls ages 12 and up, I ask this question of all of my athletes, ages 5-18. You know you are doing your job well when a five-year-old can tell you two or three things that she learned that day and retain them long enough to recite them. It really is all about teaching and learning, so be sure that they are getting the best out of you, and you are getting the best out of them.

So, when it comes to coaching girls ages 12 and up, it is pretty simple: Keep them happy. They have to feel good to play good. Create confidence, let them talk to you, ask for feedback, challenge them, and make sure they are always learning.

Conditioning vs. Speed Training

The Debate Over Conditioning Vs. Speed Training Continues

Conditioning vs Speed Training: Which is better?

By Jared Markiewicz

Much confusion abounds as to the differences between conditioning vs. speed training.

Track and field coaches generally classify speed training as many short, repetitive bouts of sprinting followed by ample periods of rest to allow for full recovery.

Repeated high-intensity efforts may, in fact, be the purest form of linear speed training.

On the other hand, football or soccer coaches often believe training for speed involves performing as many high-intensity repetitions as possible in a given amount of time.

So which type of coach is truly training athletes for speed?

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a seminar featuring one of the premiere strength coaches in the country, Joe Kenn.

As head strength and conditioning coach for the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League, Kenn routinely takes his players through 66 work sets in only 90 to 120 minutes.

That’s a lot of work in a short period of time.

Kenn has a strong case to apply this method. Because football players must operate under a fatigued state during a game, they will highly benefit from practicing with little rest between sets. While performing a high volume of repetitions in a relatively short period of time isn’t ideal for building speed, football players never perform in ideal conditions.

Nearly all athletes must learn to perform when their bodies are worn. At my facility in Madison, WI, we train our high school athletes with a similar philosophy, although we often have access to them only once or twice per week. So, it’s important we incorporate both speed training and conditioning into each workout.

Because we deal with a wide range of athletic abilities and developmental ranges with high school athletes, we approach each individual’s plan a bit differently. We integrate speed training following a thorough warm-up and dynamic movement. For the developmentally younger athletes, we focus on technique and practice deceleration patterns, sprint mechanics and footwork. Our developmentally older athletes work on sprinting, cutting, changing directions and building top-end speed. Our highly developed athletes focus on reactive speed and potentially combine-based drills to prepare for a camp or tryout. All of these athletes work diligently to master the basics and fix any flaws in their movement patterns to help them remain injury-free and avoid plateaus.

Following the speed training portion of the workout, our athletes begin their strength exercises such as a squat, deadlift and Turkish get-up. Each compound movement is paired with another exercise even if it’s just low-level core work to reset an athlete’s autonomic nervous system. If you look at time-motion studies for field- and court-sport athletes, they work intensely for brief periods of time and recover actively with low-level activity.

In a game, an athlete must always be mentally active, so the job of a strength and conditioning coach is to prepare athletes in a way that makes a game easier than a training session. Athletes must remain active through an entire workout. After our athletes complete the strength portion of the workout, they begin their focused conditioning. Here’s where we have the most fun.

Thanks to advancements in research of the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems, we are able to be much more efficient and systematic with how we condition our athletes. Athletes play different sports and have different schedules, so we must have a broad array of conditioning sequences to address each situation. Ultimately, we are looking to provide a bigger aerobic base for our athletes. While we don’t want to run them into the ground all year long, we must systematically build a bigger aerobic base to develop greater potential for performance. Then, athletes are able to tap into that potential during the most important part of a season. They’ll peak while athletes from other teams feel fatigued.

So, should we run our athletes through many short, repetitive bouts with ample rest to allow for full recovery or perform repeated high-intensity efforts without much rest for best results? In short, both have a place in a strength and conditioning program. The debate will continue, though—and that’s a great thing.

If more great coaches publicize their philosophies, we will continue to advance our methods and improve the performance of our athletes. If we continue to look out for the best interests of our athletes, they will perform better than they ever thought possible.

-Coach Jared

Is Creatine Safe for Young Athletes?

When Is Creatine Safe for Young Athletes?

kamal patel discusses when is creatine safe for young athletes

A guest post by Kamal Patel of Examine.com

If there were a supplement hall of fame, creatine would make it on the first ballot. With countless well-conducted studies showing benefit for muscle and performance gains and a remarkably low rate of side effects, creatine is often the first supplement that athletes turn to after protein powders. Creatine also happens to work more reliably than pretty much any other athletic supplement out there (check out summaries of hundreds of studies on Examine.com’s creatine page).

But no matter the safety profile, supplements in general tend to have a negative connotation in some circles, with creatine often leading the way due to its popularity. And when it comes to supplementation in youth, concerns are heightened, as they probably should be. Parents and coaches often feel an implicit responsibility for the health and well-being of youth athletes. So while there’s copious research showing that creatine is safe for young athletes, it’s worthwhile to understand exactly what the research says.

Creatine Is Different from Creatinine

Many concerns about creatine stem from confusion with its metabolite creatinine. While creatinine is a common marker of kidney damage—and one reason for having high levels of creatinine is taking creatine—this is a classic example of “correlation does not equal causation.” There are many things that harm the kidneys and cause them to be unable to clear creatinine effectively, but taking creatine is not one of those things, since it directly increases creatinine rather than harming the kidneys and thereby indirectly raising creatinine levels.

Despite the many trials showing that creatine does not harm the kidneys (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3, Example 4), confusion still arises in those unfamiliar with the research. As a young grad student in nutrition, I was warned from my physician that protein and creatine wouldn’t help me gain muscle and posed a threat to my kidneys—that is, until a nephrologist (kidney doctor) set him straight: Not only is creatinine produced from creatine not correlated with kidney damage, but also weightlifters tend to have higher creatinine levels as well due to higher muscle mass.

What about Liver Damage and Cancer?

When kidney damage is claimed, you can be sure that liver damage claims aren’t far behind. The liver metabolizes food and supplements you take in, and the kidneys process waste products, so they often work in tandem. Studies unanimously show a lack of liver damage from supplementing creatine. Concerns about creatine and liver damage may stem from early studies showing an increase in liver enzymes in trials where participants took creatine and started an exercise routine. Once again, correlation does not mean causation. In this case, liver enzymes increased simply due to starting an exercise program and subjecting the liver to different stressors than it’s used to.

Cancer is not a monolithic disease but instead consists of many related diseases involving unregulated cell division. The one type of cancer that creatine is mentioned with is prostate cancer despite a lack of any evidence for this claim. One study showed that creatine can increase dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels; however, not only was it a small and short-term study with findings that haven’t been replicated in other trials, but also increased DHT does not necessarily lead to prostate cancer. In addition, studies have shown that creatine has cancer-protective properties, such as protecting mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA from damage.(Example 1, Example 2). Given all these factors, the risk of creatine promoting cancer is quite low.

Concerns for Youth Athletes: Is Creatine Safe for Young Athletes?

Creatine could pose some issues for certain athletes, although that depends on if you dose it carefully. One of the ways in which creatine helps muscle growth is by drawing water into muscle tissue, which the body interprets as a stress and responds by increasing muscle growth. Yahoo! Especially since this isn’t subcutaneous water that gives a bloated look. However, for some athletes who need to keep an eye on weight (most famously, wrestlers) water weight fluctuation is a bigger deal, even if it leads to muscle growth. Luckily, the increase in weight is compensated by an increase in power.

The most commonly cited side effect of creatine is gastrointestinal upset. This depends a lot on the dose you take, so you’re much more likely to have stomach upset if you load creatine rather than take the same smaller dose each day. This isn’t just a side effect of creatine though; if you take in too much of many different things (for example, sugar), the substance will sit in your colon and cause havoc. Excess sugar is eaten by bacteria and makes you feel sick, and excess creatine sits in the colon and attracts water, which eventually can lead to diarrhea.

The takeaway for youth athletes? Don’t take too much creatine. And try to couple your creatine doses with extra liquid to prevent intestinal upset.

While creatine side effects are frequently demonized, creatine’s numerous other benefits are discussed less often than they should be. There are several studies on creatine helping younger athletes (Example 1, Example 2), but even more studies are coming out on creatine’s therapeutical potential to help battle diseases. For example, headaches, muscular dystrophy, and even leukemia (in an adjuvant capacity) have been shown to react favorably to creatine supplementation.

Bottom Line

So is creatine safe for young athletes? Unlike many other supplements, creatine is not an unknown quantity. There have been hundreds of high-quality trials in humans on a variety of age groups and disease conditions. With all these studies having been conducted, the safety of creatine has been established. This is not a surprise, since your body already produces its own creatine, and it’s also found naturally in meat. While all supplements (including creatine) should be taken carefully and halted if the side-effects outweigh benefits, creatine is one that is likely to be safe and effective for both 18-year-olds and 88-year-olds.

 

If you struggle with recommending supplements to your young athletes, then the Examine.com Stack Guide is the perfect resource for you as a coach. It is impossible to sift through all the marketing material that supplement companies put out, let alone know what will keep your athletes safe, healthy, and off the banned list! Examine.com does all the research for you, giving you simple and easy breakdowns of what works and what is safe to use with your athletes. Make sure you pick up your copy today!

Get Your Supplement Stack Guide Today!

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Kamal Patel is the director of Examine.com. He has an MBA and an MPH (Master of Public Health) from Johns Hopkins University, and he was pursuing his PhD in nutrition when he opted to go on hiatus to join Examine.com. He is dedicated to making scientific research in nutrition and supplementation accessible to everyone, providing well-researched answers to difficult questions such as “Is creatine safe for young athletes?”

The Hidden Potential of Physical Education Programs

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

Alex Slezak

There is something so untapped and enormous in the world of youth fitness that could change everything. Currently, this giant is lying dormant, waiting to be awakened, and when it does, watch out!

What is the sleeping giant I’m talking about? I’m referring to our schools’ physical education programs.

Think about this for just one second: Could you imagine having access to every child in one school? How about every child in a state? How about every child in the nation? That is exactly what physical education programs have: direct access to youth and their parents across the entire nation.

There are some great physical education teachers and programs working right this very moment, but we need more. Many more. These great individual teachers and programs are the spark we need to awaken the giant. They are acting like the small group who starts the wave in a crowded stadium. That initial action catches on and a local groundswell turns into the whole stadium doing the wave. This is the kind of action we need in physical education programs across the world. We need to champion those great individual teachers and programs to let their passion and work catch on like wildfire and awaken the sleeping youth fitness giant.

If you are a fitness professional who owns an Athletic Revolution or other youth training business, you might be thinking, “I don’t want to awaken this giant because it is going to take away from my business. Right now, I am offering what the school is failing to provide.”

For those of you thinking like that, I believe the exact opposite will happen. Could you imagine if we had more youth and their parents interested in fitness and athletics? Could you imagine if a physical education teacher who already works 40+ hours each week knew IYCA-certified coaches to whom they could direct youth and their parents? Finally, could you imagine the positive impacts, well beyond anything monetary, that a robust resurgence in physical education would provide? I can imagine some bigtime positives like fit youth better prepared to learn, lower healthcare costs with future generations, and even the social and emotional benefits of a physically active lifestyle, and that’s just the beginning!

I hope you are starting to see that the sleeping giant in the youth fitness industry is physical education. Nowhere else can you reach so many kids and parents and affect such major change. Is that not the real reason why most of us got into working with youth to begin with?

Now that I told you what the sleeping giant in the fitness industry is, keep your eyes open for more articles because I am going to tell you exactly how to awaken it in your local community to get the wave started.

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

 

Observations on Skill Development in Young Athletes: Part 2

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

By Phil Hueston, NASM-PES; IYCA-YFS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shifting “Brain-Scapes”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insight 1: Open with a YES!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insight 2: Make It Theirs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Is “in the Way”

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

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

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

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

Getting Away from the Grind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are very likely to surprise you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Art of Coaching, Part 2: Trust the Process

Focus on the Process to Get the Desired Result

Part 2 of a 3-Part Series

By Julie Hatfield, IYCA Brand Manager

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

So, how do we get these results?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Art of Coaching, Part 1: Finding Balance

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

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

Julie Hatfield

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

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

Here are some things to consider:

Let Them Play

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

Teach Them Skills

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

Keep Them Moving

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

Be Prepared, But Be Open to Change

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

Addressing Nutrition Within Your Youth Strength and Conditioning Program

Josh Ortegon

By Josh Ortegon

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

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

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

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

Get to Know Who Runs the Lunch Room

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

Field Trip!

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

Bring in a Speaker

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

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

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

Youth Nutritional Strategies for Maintaining Energy

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By Christopher R. Mohr, PhD, RD

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

Key Youth Nutritional Principles

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

Practically Speaking

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

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

Take Home

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

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Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD

Mohr Results, Inc

http://www.MohrResults.com

Filters for Developing Youth Athletic Success

The 4 Steps of Developing Youth Athletic Success

By Jim Herrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Biggest Rock: General Coordination and Movement Skills

Developing youth athletic success in 4 stages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Smallest Rock: Body Composition and Power Maximization

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

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