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Are We Really Getting Stronger?

strength training

By Mike McGurn

 

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

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

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

Strength Training 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strength Training

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

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

 

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

 

 

Corrective Exercises for Overhead Throwing Athletes

Eric Cressey’s Favorite Exercises for Overhead Throwing Athletes

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

cad2_total_mockup850

http://completeathletedevelopment.com/

 

 

Your Comfort Bears No Fruit

Alex Slezak – M.Ed, YFS, YSAS, HSSCS

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

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

comfort

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

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

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

Kettlebell Shoulder Stabilization Exercises for Athletes: Part 2

 Kettlebell Exercises for Athletes: Heavier Isn’t Always Better

By Pamela MacElree, MS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoulder Stabilization 2

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

Shoulder Stabilization 3

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

Shoulder Stabilization 4

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

Shoulder Stabilization 5

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

Shoulder Stabilization 6

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

Kettlebell exercises for athletes: TGU lunge

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

Kettlebell exercises for athletes: Turkish Get-Up halfway mark

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kettlebell exercises for athletes: Crucial move of the Gladiator Press

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

Shoulder Stabilization 10

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

Kettlebell exercises for athletes: Gladiator Press extended

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

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

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

Drinking Water From a Fire Hose

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

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

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

water hose

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

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

Grieving the Loss of Free Play

By Phil Loomis 

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

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

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

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

Free Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Phil Loomis 
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist

 

Reference: 

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

FMS and Kids

By Jared Woolever of Smart Group Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FMS

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

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

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

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

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

Identify the Goal of a Training Program

By Wil Fleming

 

Know the goal of your program

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

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

“Play college football” 

“Get a Division I softball scholarship”

“Start for the varsity volleyball team” 

“Make the travel basketball team”

Goal of a training program

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Have All The Answers?

By Phil Hueston, NASM-PES; IYCA-YFS

Phil Hueston

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

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

Stop it. Stop it now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same holds true for you, and for me.

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

And who suffers? Our clients.

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

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

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

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

Here are 6 ways to get started:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know What’s In Their Backpack

By Joseph Hartigan, CSCS, YFS

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

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

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

athletes backpack

Picture courtesy of o5com

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

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

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

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

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

3 Lessons From The NFL Combine

By Jim Herrick

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

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

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

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

 

3 Lessons From The NFL Combine

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

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

How should young athletes begin working on speed?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

LESSON 3 – Elite Athletes Come In All Shapes And Sizes

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

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

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

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

 

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

Scoring Your Athletes

By Ryan Ketchum

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

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

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

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

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

Scoring your athletes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plyo Boxes, Agility Discs and Push Ups with Young Athletes

Young Athletes Programs Using Plyo Boxes, Agility Discs and Push Ups

By Dave Gleason

In this video IYCA Board of Experts Member Dave Gleason discusses how to utilize agility discs and plyo boxes to teach push ups to young athletes. In this short 4 minute clip coach Dave talks about everything from the set up to how to make is as much fun as humanly possible.

Resistance Bands and Olympic Lifting

 


Olympic Lifting and Resistance Bands


By Dave Schmitz

 

On September 10th, Wil Fleming wrote a very powerful article on “Olympic Lifting” that I found very thought provoking.

 

I agree with Wil that when you begin to discuss Olympic lifting with coaches, red flags immediately goes up about concerns for proper teaching, concerns for safety, and the stigma that Olympic lifting is only for the highly skilled or older athletes. For those coaches I understand their opinion and will not argue those points. Instead I will pose the question, is there a way to achieve some of the benefits of Olympic lifting without struggling with the teaching challenges or putting athletes at risk for injury.

 

As I read Wil’s article I continued to see a strong correlation between the benefits of resistance band training and Olympic lift training. Therefore as a follow up to Wil’s outstanding article, I wanted to touch on all 5 of Wil’s key points and relate them back to how resistance bands could assist young athletes and coaches with “improving” Olympic Lifting skill sets.

 

Please note that I am not suggesting you replicate Olympic lifting with bands but rather that you can get some of the neuromuscular benefits of Olympic Lifting by training with resistance bands.

I also feel that performing certain movement with resistance bands will carry over to helping young athletes become better Olympic Lifting candidates.

 

Type II Muscle Development

 

Elastic resistance is an ascending resistance that increases as the range of motion increases. As a result a young athlete quickly learns that in order to complete the movement using a resistance band they must accelerate out of their loaded posture. This mind set of acceleration is what not only recruits Type II muscle fibers, as Wil noted, but neuromuscular also teaches young athletes how to accelerate a force which is a key skill set necessary with Olympic Lifts.

 

Improved Coordination

 

Resistance band training incorporates the use of compound multi-joint movements like squat to press, hip hinge to high pull, and squat to row. All these compound movements require neuromuscular coordination to effectively complete the movement. Teaching young athletes these compound movements initially using resistance bands will provide them the neuromuscular training to learn how to coordinate movements similar to those required in Olympic Lifting.

 

 

Improved Power characteristics

 

Attaching a band around the hips to create a horizontal or vertical force vector will proprioceptively teach young athletes how to perform full hip and knee extension. Applying the hip attached set-up with bands while performing a dead-weight swing or board jump will reflexively teach the skill set of full hip extension and knee extension with an upper extremity arm swing. Using the band belt system will proprioceptively create a more vertical load while performing some of the band exercises shown in the previous video. In both cases it will allow young athletes to train the Olympic lifting skill of getting full hip extension and knee extension with an upper extremity driver.

 

View Band Belt System

 

Band Belt combo training

 

Improved Force Absorption

 

Absorbing the force of the bar when receiving it overhead or at the chest requires the core to reactively stabilize in order for the body to maintain its center of gravity over its base of support and avoid excessive lumbar extension which can often be the case with Olympic lifts. This same reactive stabilization is seen when doing any type of horizontal vector upper body band exercise with the individual facing away from the band attachment site. For instance a simple horizontal chest press or overhead tricep press requires the core to reactive stabilize to avoid excessive lumber extension during the initiation of the concentric phase of the movement. Using bands to teach young athletes how to dynamic engage their core while performing an explosive upper body exercise with bands will neuromuscular replicate the core reaction needed with Olympic lifting.

 

Success Elsewhere

 

Bands are rarely seen in a high school weight room being used to augment or help train movement skills. Instead they are used to simulate machine based movements or assist with body weight exercises like pull ups. One of the greatest benefits of resistance band training is its impact in proprioceptively teaching young athletes how to feel movement, train movement and ultimately store it into the body’s muscle memory bank. Once permanently embedded into the muscle memory, these movement skills will easily transfer into any other lift or activity that requires that particular movement skill like with Olympic lifting or more field specific foot agility training.

 

Foot Agility Training Video

 

Resistance Bands are by no means a replacement for Olympic Lifts. However, incorporating them into a strength and conditioning program will not only allow coaches more training options but will also teach young athletes a skill set that could bring them closer to incorporating many of the movement skills needed to successfully implementing Olympic Lifts into their training program.

 

Special Thank You needs to go out to Wil Fleming for creating the original article on Olympic Lifting. ~ Dave Schmitz

 

Throw Out Your Scale and Enjoy The Ride

 

Youth Fitness: Throw Out Your Scale and Enjoy The Ride

 

By Kyle Brown
 

Imagine yourself out in the park, with a basketball in hand, playing an impromptu game with friends. You’re laughing, smiling, and having a good time–not a care in the world. It’s like a form of Tai Chi, meditation in motion.
 

When do the best athletes in nearly every sport have their best performances? When they’re completely in the moment, acting like a kid, pressure-free, enjoying the process. They are not focusing on the mechanics or the pressure of the game. They’re having fun and everything simply gels. They’re laughing, they’re smiling–they’re remembering why they starting playing the youth sports in the first place.
 

This philosophy applies to youth fitness and anyone trying to live a healthy and fit lifestyle. Just like when you are on a road trip with your family, you need to enjoy the ride instead of whining, “Are we there yet?” Every aspect of your training and nutrition should feel this way. You eat healthy because it makes you feel good. The food tastes delicious, and when you are done eating you feel full and satisfied, your energy renewed. You’re excited to walk into the gym and lift weights because it makes you feel strong. You’re amped to go to practice because it makes you better at the game you love. You drink water because you feel healthy and energized.
 

They key is to get to the why.
 

When you were a really young kid, “Why?” was most likely your favorite question. I’m sure you constantly asked your friends and family why something was the way it was and “Because I said so” was never a good enough answer. The answer to “why” is your purpose. It’s the reason behind your actions, your effort, and your sacrifice.
 

It’s the reason you do what you do. And your “why” may be different from my “why” or from your friends’ or family’s “why.” One of the big mistakes your athletes make is that their initial “why” gets replaced by the fantasy of becoming rich and famous. Those are potential side benefits of achieving your goals but should not be the reason you’re striving for them in the first place.
 

Your “why” should be based around improving your quality of life.
 

You need to throw out your scale and focus on enjoying the ride. A healthy lifestyle needs to become part of your personal culture and who you are at the core. Not approaching your goals in this manner is the problem of nearly every adult. They know what they do and focus on learning how to do what they do, but they forget their purpose. For example, I have seen many young athletes do whatever it takes to become a professional athlete. Yet of these select few who actually make it, the overwhelming majority crash and burn once they get there. This phenomenon happens partially because they don’t set goals for what they’re going to do once they become a professional, but mostly because their “why” has become tainted in the process. They’ve lost their love for the game and stopped striving for greatness. The goal is to be happy but not content. You should always strive to be the best you can be.
 

And it’s not just young athletes and in youth fitness.

I’ve also seen this happen with people who are trying to lose weight or gain muscle. They focus all their energy on trying to reach a particular number on their scale and follow an approach based solely on temporary sacrifice. As soon as they reach their scale weight goal, they typically start eating poorly again and stop exercising as frequently. It’s disastrous!
 

For many others, after a week of dieting struggle and sacrifice, they step onto the magic box known as a scale and say, “Oh magic box. Please tell me that I am beautiful, that I am loved, that my program is succeeding.” And if the number that pops up is lower than the last time they checked, the answer to these questions is yes. If not, they’re an epic failure and it is time to find a new diet. Weight loss has little to do with willpower. It’s about developing a mindset and enriching yourself with proper information.
 

Many people trying to get fit put forth a ton of effort but are misguided by poor information. Instead, you need a game plan that helps create healthy habits and daily rituals that will get you to the top and keep you on top. And the process needs to be fun rather than a miserable sacrifice. Quick fixes are not acceptable, as they are inconsistent with long-term change. Thinking “the diet starts tomorrow” is setting yourself up for failure.
 

Instead, use my motto: “The healthy lifestyle starts now.” Do this for your own reasons, your own “why” for wanting to improve your quality of life today. And always remember: enjoy the ride, as it will make you emotionally fit and psychology.
 

 

Speed and Agility Drills Defined

Learn How To Select The Perfect Speed and Agility Drills For Your Athletes

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, equal parts lateral and linear and then write them in the program. You would probably use 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.

Speed and Agility 1

Is the young 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.

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

The first of those is in the technique of the movement. By improving technique we are truly working to improve the athletes ability to achieve biomechanically advantageous positions. We look to improve the athletes overall body position in the acceleration phase of linear sprinting, the position of foot contact, and the use of the arms during acceleration

Secondly we look to improve power production or maximal explosive strength in the early phases of acceleration. Training for power, in speed events can effect 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.

Again we will look to see improvement in the athletes technique of movement. Of greatest concern to us is the athletes overall and specific foot position and the hip height during the change of direction maneuver.

speed and agility

The second area and often overlooked area of change of direction that we will 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 effect 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.

speed and agility

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 yd 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.

To improve cyclic power resisted sprints of a short distance with long rest periods are the most appropriate training method. 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

Piece 3 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: developing the proper foot position in relation to the body, the proper foot position in relation to the ground and the proper hip height are the areas of focus.

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

Speed and Agility 2

The last piece of the puzzle is using cognitive skills to more closely replicate the conditions of game play. 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 movment (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 training 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.

 

3 Movements For Young Athletes

 

Preparing Young Athletes

 

young athletes weight training

 

By Wil Fleming

 

Can you recall walking into a weightroom for the first time?

 

I still can, it was my high school weightroom and I was maybe 14 years old. Men, four years older than me were lifting much more than I could imagine, grunting, cursing, and straining their way to be better at their sport. I was told what the workout was and went to it.

 

I remember that first workout. Three sets of 10 on the bench press, back squat, and incline bench press, and five sets of five on the power clean. I remember that my squats were three inches too high (no one back squats well the first day), my power cleans looked like reverse curls, and my bench press was 15 pounds too heavy for my strength levels.

 

This happens all the time, young athletes are thrown into programs about which they know nothing, for which they are completely unprepared, and from which they are likely to get injured.

 

It doesn’t have to be that way though.

 

The squat, the clean, and the bench press are the staples of programs for high school athletes in their school. There are three exercises that they can be taught beforehand that can set them up for ultimate success.

 

3 Exercises that every young athlete should be taught

 

Goblet Squat
We’ve all seen the picture of the baby in the perfect squat position. You know which one that I am talking about. The neutral spine and neck, the hips below the knees, the feet flat on the ground. So we all know that humans can squat…at some point. So at what point did people lose the ability to squat well? I can’t tell you for sure but typically it is before they hit the weightroom for the first time.

 

The first key that makes the goblet squat the best tool for re-teaching athletes is the un-weighted goblet squat or prayer squat. Have the athlete take a prayer type position with hands together and elbows down squat to the bottom. At their lowest point let their elbows push their knees out . This is the first lesson that the Goblet squat can teach us. We must create space to squat to. We do not need to bend over to squat, because you will run out of room. Squatting must happen between the legs with a vertical torso.

 

Move on to using the dumbbell or kettlebell and try the same thing. Squeeze the top of the dumbbell or kettlebell this time and see that your lats are turned on and because of this your entire torso is straighter. This is the second lesson of goblet squatting that other squats do not teach: The torso is just as actively a part of the squat as the lower body.

 

KB Swing
We all know that I love the Olympic lifts but before I even get to teach athletes to Olympic lift the swing is very often my first chance to teach explosive movement. The benefit of the swing is that it is also one of the first times that I get to teach the athlete to hip hinge.

 

Before getting to the swing begin by teaching the hip hinge pattern. The easiest way to do so is to grasp the kettlebell in a handcuffed position behind your back. This handcuffed position will start to teach the shoulders back, superhero chest position that will be important in the swing and in the Olympic lifts. The bell will be slightly below the glutes at this point. The athlete should unlock their knees and drive their glutes into the bell . There will be a tactile sense when this happens correctly. If the athlete gets into a back bend pattern the bell will remain below their glutes and make contact with their hamstrings throughout the movment. Actually moving the hips backwards in space will bring the bell up higher and in contact with the glutes through the movement.

 

Do this movement slowly at first and then teach them to forcefully drive their hips to stand up. You have begun to teach the athlete to swing, and given them a hip hinge pattern to base much of their movement on.

 

Next teach the swing and the snap that comes along with it. The swing is an excellent first explosive exercise to teach because it does not reward poor positioning. A relaxed core will lead to the athlete being pulled forward on their toes. The swing teaches athletes to make “something” move with their hip hinge and hip extension rather than with their arms, which will come in handy in the Olympic lifts later on.

 

Plank
The big 3 at the high school level are squat, power clean and bench press so why aren’t we using this space for a push up? Quite simply many young athletes are not ready for the push up. For this reason we choose to teach directed stability in the plank to prepare the athlete for the push up.

 

Most athletes that we encounter for the first time lack total body stability. Trying to place them in positions that require strength before they have stability will only build on top of deficiency.

 

The goal of the plank should be to find stability throughout the body. Have the athletes lock the lats low, and forcefully contract the glutes and the quads. The core will be locked in without many cues at that point.

 

With these three movements athletes will develop important patterns that can assist them in learning to do more advanced or more heavily emphasized lifts in the high school weightroom. Equipping athletes with these patterns can lead to fewer injuries and more success for the young athletes we coach down the road.

 

 

Youth Sports Revolution From Over Zealous Parents and Coaches

 

Athletic Revolution at Full Throttle Athletics: A Revolution From Over Zealous Parents and Coaches In Youth Sports

 

youth sports coaching

By Robert D. Blackford

 

There are certain times in your life that give you pause to stop and say: WOW…..ALL I CAN SAY IS WOW!

 

You aren’t sure if you should be mad, embarrassed or ashamed…this is one of those times.

 

Read this article on youth sports from ESPN:

 

http://espn.go.com

 

In short, it’s the misdirected rant, spit, grit and drill sergeant-esq pep talk of a football coach…directed at (WAIT FOR IT, WAIT FOR IT) 8 year olds in Frisco, TX. Ugh.

 

As a 10 year resident of Frisco this article surprised me but wasn’t entirely shocking. Our family has participated in organized team youth sports, playing coaching and supporting from ages 4 on for our two children.

 

Are we passionate?

 

Yes.

 

Do we offer cheers, advice and criticism at practice and games?

 

Absolutely.

 

Is it as important to participate, learn, grow, and both lose and win? All equally. But there is a level where it’s beyond too far. The article above is evidence.

 

A world apart from the ridiculous behavior referenced in the ESPN article is the weekly program our age 10 and 6 children participate in: Athletic Revolution Frisco (AR). Agility, health, strength, fitness, coordination, and flexibility are the byproducts of what the kids think is nothing more than…well FUN.

 

We joined what appeared to be this professional yet simple, no frills gym at Full Throttle Athletics in Frisco/ Little Elm in 2010-2011. We learned about flexibility, nutrition, strength and endurance. Then we eagerly signed up the kids when the gym launched Athletic Revolution, their youth sports program.

 

After personally observing the interaction with the AR coaches, I can say it’s a revolution from the rant above. Positive reinforcement, actual hands-on coaching and mentoring are the fundamentals taught to AR Champions.

 

Results: faster, stronger and smarter to form the foundation of some lifelong habits. Their progressive nature and sound methodology coupled with everyday sporting fun makes for a great combination. Now the kids look at it like a trip to the park!

 

Want a youth sports revolution from the norm, checkout AR at Full Throttle. You won’t be disappointed.

 

- Robert D. Blackford

 

 

Top 4 Alternatives for Olympic Lifts When Training Young Athletes

Training Young Athletes Using Olympic Lift Alternatives

 

Youth Fitness Expert Wil fFeming on Training Young Athletes

 

As a coach and professional I know that I love the Olympic lifts when training young athletes. For good or bad I think that there is no EQUAL to getting athletes more explosive than the Olympic lifts.

 

Being married to a lift or movement places too many limitations on the program you are able to design and in particular limits the improvements that each individual athlete can make.

 

For the athletes that are exclusively training with me and are physically capable the Olympic lifts are the king of my gym. There is no BETTER way to get explosive.

 

As my training business has grown, however, more and more athletes find out and are recruited to train with me, the necessity is not to place my training on them, but to discover the best training methods for them.

 

This means that the athlete that are concurrently training in their high school and doing Olympic lifts 2-3 times a week need alternative methods to train explosively with me. My beliefs are not something that can supersede the needs, time or ability of the athlete.

 

training young athletes

 

This being the case when we are training young athletes, the Olympic lifts have been replaced with alternatives that replicate the explosive nature of these lifts.

 

Using Medicine Balls To Train Young Athletes

 

training young athletes with medicine balls

 

The broad category of medicine ball throws can be used for nearly every athlete to produce explosive strength. These throws provide a low impact to the athlete but a maximal force production.

 

Throws in the rotational plane can be used to develop a vital linkage of the upper body to the lower body through the core musculature. Correctly performed throws originate in the lower body and leave through the hands, a kink in the core armor will be very apparent if a delay occurs from initiation to delivery.

 

Regardless of whether athletes can do Olympic lifts or not, medicine ball throws are a vital part of athletic programs, nothing develops the all important power in the transverse plane quite like rotational medicine ball throws.

 

KB Swings To Train Young Athletes

 

training young athletes

 

Much has been written on the kettlebell and benefits of using it to develop explosive strength. The addition of elastic resistance can take this movement to an entirely different level.

 

The swing itself is an excellent tool to develop an explosive hip hinge pattern. Most athletes lack in the ability to feel the explosive hinge and the swing is the best movement that I have found to break knee dominant athletes of using the knee bend to initiate explosive motion in the lower body.

 

The end range of hip extension is one of the best ways for athletes to truly feel the maximum contraction of the glutes. The voluntary muscle contraction that most athletes have difficulty attaining through other movements is a must for athletes to achieve a total hip extension.

 

The addition of elastic resistance allows accomplishes 2 main objectives:

 

1) It spares you of having to buy an unlimited number of kettlebells. Our biggest kettlebell is 32 kg. Many of our high school athletes can toy around with this weight with little to no difficulty for 10-15 swings. By adding even a small band to the kettlebell, 10-15 swings becomes a much greater challenge.

 

2) The majority of resistance occurs at the top end, where athletic movements occur. The maximal contraction should occur at the top end of the swing movement. With just the dead weight resistance supplied by the kettlebell athletes are sometimes apt to use the top extension as a point of relaxation. The addition of band resistance increases the load as it travels away from the floor. This top “high resistance” position is also the position in which most athletic movements occur.

 

In general swings simulate overall athletic movement. A correct swing should have the athlete relax momentarily at the top of the swing after reaching full hip extension but before returning to contraction at the top. This contract, relax, contract pattern allows for greater recruitment on the next upward swing.

 

Prowler Sprints To Train Young Athletes

 

training young athletes with prowler sprints

 

The goals of Olympic lifting are varied. They can go from becoming a better competitor, across the spectrum to improving speed (I first noticed that I had become a much more powerful athlete due to Olympic lifting when my 40 yard dash time dropped .5 seconds in just 6 months) For the latter a great substitution is to do resisted sprinting with the prowler.

 

The idea of special strength training was popularized by USSR coaches, and in particular those coaches in track and field. My first exposures to it were as a hammer thrower, to us special strength training was literally training the specific event in which I competed with a heavier implement (can’t get much more special than that!). Prowler sprints are the perfect special strength tool for athletes looking to improve acceleration.

 

The sets are typically 8 seconds or less, and the athlete gets adequate rest. This timing both mimics the boughts typically seen in athletic competition, the length of time for typical Olympic lifts, and helps increase the alactic power an athlete is able to produce.

 

An increase in stride length will be seen for athletes training with resisted sprinting techniques. This increased stride length will be due to an increase in the athletes’ ability to produce more power.

 

Submaximal Front Squats or Deadlifts to Train Young Athletes

training young athletes with deadlifts

This is something that I have been toying with recently that has really improved the maximum power output that we are seeing from our athletes.

 

Loads of 40-50% 1RM on the bar and band resistance of less than 100lbs should be used. Athletes should be instructed to lift the weight with maximal force on the concentric portion of the movement.

 

Recently Bret Contreras wrote an excellent article on similar movements In it he describes recent research showing that maximal force produced during 40% of 1RM in the Hex Bar Deadlift is surprisingly similar to that produced in the Olympic lifts. (4800 Watts Hex Bar vs. ~4900 Watts in O lifts). While research has shown that maximal power production measured in watts can be achieved in the split jerk at nearly 6000 watts, this is very close when it comes to the big 2 Olympic lifts (snatch/clean).

 

Adding bands to the puzzle has not yet been studied but anecdotally my athletes have seen a large improvement in the ability to produce power top end hip extension. The greatest load is encountered at this point in which the athlete has the greatest mechanical advantage.

 

The bands pull the athlete down at a faster rate in the eccentric phase of the lift. To resist this greater speed the posterior chain must contract with a greater force. This is similar to the eccentric portion of plyometric action. Higher rate of contraction in the muscle spindles will lead to a greater force of contraction on the concentric portion of the lift.

 

Check these moves out next time your training young athletes and let me know what you think.

 

Learn how to become a Certfied High School Strength and Conditioning Coach by Clicking Here.

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Misuse Of Speed And Agility Training

 

Speed and Agility Training With Young Athletes

Speed and Agility Training

 

A lot of people in this field call themselves Strength & Conditioning Coaches. I don’t have a problem with the “Strength” part of the title, but the “Conditioning” part could use a little work.

 

As a former college S & C Coach, I fully understand the time constraints of the collegiate or high school environment. Running a private facility for athletes, I also understand the limitations of this situation. In both cases, it is very difficult to give every athlete the time and instruction they need. Still, there is one area of our profession that I feel is in desperate need of some attention. That area is what I call Movement Training.

Speed and Agility Training

Recently, I was asked by a college coach what mistakes I have made in the past and what I would do differently if I could re-live the past 6-10 years of my career. At first, like many coaches, my ego didn’t want to admit to any mistakes, especially to another coach. But, after some thought, I realized that the area in which I have the greatest impact on athletes today, I simply did not understand when I was younger.

 

A few years ago, I thought the best S & C Coach was the one who most fully brutalized his/her athletes. I thought I was supposed to lift my athletes until they puked and condition them until they couldn’t see straight. Don’t get me wrong, I still think that stuff has its place. I love putting athletes through brutally hard workouts, and I think that kind of hard work can have amazing benefits (it also has terrific entertainment value). But, through time, I have gained a better understanding of how to maximize the “Conditioning” or “Speed and Agility Training” part of my job title.

 

To a lot of coaches, conditioning means creating running programs that enhance the physiological processes involved in aerobic or anaerobic metabolism. You may not think of it this way, but that is essentially what many conditioning programs are designed to do. I have no problem with this. Conditioning sport-specific energy systems is a vital part of athletic success.

Speed and Agility Training

Many coaches also implement speed, agility, and plyometric routines into their programs, and I think it’s great to see coaches making an effort to improve the physical abilities of their athletes. Unfortunately, I see way too many mistakes being made in this area, and I think many coaches are doing their athletes an injustice.

 

Over the years, we have read articles by some great coaches about specificity, but the full message of these wise men is often lost in an effort to use their message to support our own views. I’m sure you’ve done it. You’ve read an article, and thought to yourself “That’s what I’m talkin’ about. That’s why I do what I do. I’m going to use this article to support my speed and agility training philosophy.”

 

The articles have been great. They have helped a generation of S & C Coaches formulate their strength training philosophies….strength training philosophies. Why didn’t we see that the same information we’ve applied to strength training can also be used to develop effective speed and agility programs?

 

In my opinion, a lot of S & C Coaches approach speed and agility training the same way they approach strength training.

 

They find out what other coaches are doing (through reading summer manuals, watching workouts, etc.), and duplicate it in their environments. This has worked out pretty well for strength training because there are a lot of good Strength and Conditioning Coaches to learn from.

 

Unfortunately, there are a few problems with learning about speed and agility training this way.

 

First, there are not nearly as many quality speed and agility coaches to learn from.

 

Second, most of us didn’t learn anything about effective movement patterns in school.

 

Third, proper coaching of speed and agility training for young athletes is highly dependent on coaching prowess, movement analysis, and the ability to understand proper movement patterns. It is more like teaching a sport skill; instructor knowledge is vital, and you can’t just apply a cookie-cutter approach like many coaches do with strength training. Nonetheless, we’ve learned our speed and agility drills from Strength Coaches not Speed and Agility coaches.

 

The best case scenario for many of us was to learn a few drills from a track coach or catch an article outlining a couple of exercises. This kind of coaching just doesn’t cut it. I believe that movement training falls under the “Conditioning” part of our job title, and it’s time we take full responsibility for this important part of our jobs.

 

I like to call speed and agility training “movement training” because the goal is to train athletes how to move more efficiently. The problem with most movement training is the assumption that if we put some cones or hurdles out in a cool design and have our athletes run through them, we are making an impact on their movement patterns.

speed and agility training

The truth is, we’re not. All we’re doing is helping them reinforce whatever movement patterns they are using to get through the drill. Take a few minutes to re-read some of those specificity articles, and I think you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

 

I have had the good fortune of working with, observing, and learning from a lot of good sport coaches and instructors. I have never seen a good basketball coach allow players to take hundreds of jump shots with poor shooting technique, and I have never seen a good baseball coach let players pitch and hit with poor mechanics. Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of Strength Coaches allow athletes to perform hours of agility drills using horrible technique.

 

A lot of coaches assume that if the athletes are going through the drills, their athleticism will improve. But, the benefits of performing speed and agility drills are dramatically reduced if the athletes are not executing them with sound mechanics and learning proper technique. If the coach is unable to analyze the movement and give corrective feedback, what good is he/she doing for the athletes?

 

There are still a lot of questions about speed and agility training and movement training especially with young athletes, but there are certainly some answers and a lot of room for us to improve. I look forward to examining this misunderstood aspect of our profession in more detail with you in the future.

 

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Speed and Agility Training

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