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Strength in Numbers – Fitness Coaching Tips for Large Groups

Mike Mejiaby Mike Mejia, MS, CSCS, YFS-1, YNS

President of B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning Inc

 

 

I love working with clients on a one on one basis. There is just something about being able to put my blinders on and give my undivided attention to one person’s needs during the course of a workout. I guess it is because I started out as a personal trainer, and to some extent, that is still where my passion lies.

That said, I also thoroughly enjoy working with groups of athletes…even entire teams. The only caveat is that in a group setting, it can be difficult to keep the level of movement quality as consistently high as I might like it.


That is just the nature of the beast when you are working with groups in general, and teens in particular. At times, attention will start to wane, which can be a huge problem for a population whose bodies are going through various developmental changes and who often lack the kinesthetic awareness to self-correct during the course of a given exercise. The other big factor when working with groups of young athletes is that commitment levels tend to vary… A LOT! In my experience, any time you are working with multiple athletes, you are going to encounter three distinct personality types with the number of each differing from one group to the next.

First up will be the self-motivated kids. These are young athletes who want to get better and are going to follow every instruction to the letter. They understand and appreciate the value of the training they’re receiving and intend to do everything possible to get the most out of each session.

I call these my “run through a wall” athletes, because they will basically do anything you ask of them. They are extremely focused, take coaching cues well, and are generally an absolute pleasure to work with.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have what I like to call the “tuned out” group. These are kids who typically do not want to take part in the team training session and are only present because the coaching staff requires them to be. They display poor body language and tend to talk or fool around when you are giving instructions.


Fitness Coaching Tips for Large Groups

Somewhere in the middle you’ll have your “tweeners”. I call them this because this group could go either way. They have not yet been bitten by the training bug, but seem genuinely intrigued. On the other hand, they are also easily distracted and can often fall in with the poor example set by the tuned-out group.

This is the group you will want to focus on the most, because it is where you can make the biggest difference as a coach.

Do not get me wrong; I am not advocating to give up on the tuned out group. Over the years, Ihave converted plenty of them into some of my best students with a little time and effort.


Nor am I recommending that you let that first group rely solely on self-motivation. Even driven young athletes need a little push and some guidance now and then. I am just suggesting spending the bulk of your coaching energy in the area where you can have the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time.

Because—as is often the case when working with groups—you may not have access to your athletes for a prolonged period. Once the season begins, training time is typically reduced as athletes and coaches focus more on skill refinement and conserving energy for competition.

So, the question is how do you effectively manage training sessions when presented with these three distinct personality types and you’re just one coach working with a group of a dozen athletes, or more? And, perhaps even more importantly, how do you do so while establishing the type of training culture that gets athletes buying into your system as quickly as possible.

Throughout the course of my career in working with young athletes aged 10 and up through the collegiate ranks, I have found that the following strategies work especially well.

1. Establish easily recognizable cues

While you do not necessarily want to bombard kids with tons of technical jargon (warning a young athlete about “placing too much valgus stress on their knees” when squatting, for instance, will garner you little more than a confused look), you do want to try and develop a “training language” that your athletes can easily remember and even parrot.

I find nothing more gratifying than listening to a couple of my athletes coach their teammates through different movements. Hearing them tell each other to “sit the hips back,” or “rip the floor open” during a squat lets me know that they understand the importance of what they are being taught, even if they may not be familiar with the exact anatomical mechanisms of why they are doing things a certain way.

2. Put out the biggest fires first

Even a form perfectionist like myself realizes that during the course of a rigorous team workout, there are going to be a few less-than-perfect reps. And while one or two athletes slipping slightly out of a good core neutral position during a plank is not the end of the world, allowing some egregiously bad form just to “keep the flow of the workout going” simply cannot happen.

If you notice an athlete or a couple of athletes really struggling with a particular drill, do not hesitate to direct a little more attention their way. Try to quickly ascertain where the problem lies (i.e. is it a mobility issue, a strength imbalance, or were they simply not paying attention to instructions) and work from there.

Sometimes a simple form cue and some personal attention will do the trick, while others might require slightly regressing the drill and/ or assigning some follow up “homework” (more on this in a minute). Either way, some type of immediate action on your part is necessary to help ensure that bad movement patterns are not engrained and so that athletes know they cannot get away with simply going through the motions.

3. Give homework drills

Sometimes you will not be able to offer a quick fix when you see an athlete struggling during the course of a workout. This is where it pays to have a battery of stretching, foam rolling, and corrective strengthening exercises on hand that you can assign to young athletes in need.

Whether in the form of a handout, a follow-up e-mail, or simply referring them to your website, giving young athletes access to tools such as these can make a huge difference. I also make it a habit to stay a few minutes after each session to answer any specific questions and work with individuals who may require a little more personal attention.

Now, not all of them will follow through. However, the ones who do heed your advice on a consistent basis can make some major improvements in a relatively short period of time.

4. Progress drills based on ability… not a desire for variety

Let’s face it; as motivated and “elite” as some of your young athletes may be, the bottom line is that they are still young. So as a coach, part of your job is to make sure these individuals are having fun while still working to improve things like systemic strength, speed, agility, and coordination.

And when you are working with young athletes, fun often means including lots of variety. After all, who wants to do the same drills over and over again?

That said, it is important that said variety does not come at the expense of first mastering basic movement patterns. Take the time to get your athletes’ movement mechanics “programmed” with staple exercises like squats, lunge variations, push-ups, rows, and planks.

While such may be easy enough to do with younger groups, what about older athletes who want to push hard and consider these exercises “too easy” despite often executing them with less than perfect form? Here is where a little communication and some coaching creativity can go a long way.

Point out any specific flaws you notice that may be impeding your athlete’s ability to perform these drills properly- such as poor ankle and hip mobility while squatting, or an increased lordotic curve during planks and push-ups. Then, offer up some simple form cues that may help correct the issue by getting them more aware of the mechanics of the exercise.

I like to call these “mini-clinics” where I take a group of athletes through a couple of quick troubleshooting strategies to correct common exercise mistakes. Doing something as simple as teaching them how to go into a slight posterior pelvic tilt during a plank(to help offset an exaggerated lumbar curve) or cuing them to maintain an arch in their feet during squats and lunges (to prevent excessive pronation) can often provide a whole new appreciation for how an exercise is supposed to feel.

Oddly enough, exercises that were previously perceived as being too easy suddenly become much more difficult. Add in a few static holds in the hardest part of the range of motion, or slow the rep cadence down significantly (this is where the creativity part comes in) and you have got a workout guaranteed to challenge without having to resort to assigning athletes drills that are beyond their current level of ability.

5. Make a Connection

Simply showing up and trying to run team training sessions like some type of drill sergeant rarely yields good results. While there may be a handful of individuals who respond to that type of approach, the vast majority do not.

If you want to gain the trust of your athletes and have them buy into your system, you have to show them that you have a genuine concern for their health and well-being. It does not matter how scientifically sound your workouts might be or how much knowledge you possess about the human body.

It is like the saying goes: “Your athletes will not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Follow up with them on a regular basis. Ask questions before and after training sessions and provide them with your contact information so that they can call, e-mail, or text you if they need a little training and/ or nutritional guidance.

Not only will it mean a lot to them, but you will find it to be an extremely rewarding experience, as well. Working with groups is not about the prestige of training a particular team, or the increased revenue potential it can generate. In the end, it is all about the number of lives you can impact.

 

If you wish to learn more about the Art of Coaching, check out our Youth Fitness Specialist Level 1 Certification. This credential will take your coaching and training to the next level!

 

Three Things to NOT Do When Creating Stronger Athletes

wil_fleming_profileby Wil Fleming, IYCA Director of Sport Performance

If the qualities of our athletes are like buckets—ones that can be filled to the brim or only half full—the strength bucket is often the most important bucket. If the strength bucket grows larger, all other buckets can grow larger, as well. To think of it another way, if an athlete works on max strength and takes their back squat from 250 lbs. to 400 lbs., the max rep set at 200 lbs. is likely to see an improvement as well.

In this way, the strength bucket can improve the work capacity bucket as well. This relationship holds true for virtually all athletes, as strength relates to speed, power, and several other factors. Strength is almost always the king of the qualities when it comes to improving as an athlete.

Given that strength is important, it is critical to be aware of some of the most common mistakes that coaches can make when trying to get their athletes stronger.

Programming Workouts of the Day

To get athletes to peak strength, a coach must compose a long-term program for the athlete to follow. This long-term program should be rigid enough that we can see where we are heading and follow a logical path to get there, but maintain enough flexibility to allow athletes to recover when necessary, miss a day because they are sick, etc.

Where many coaches struggle is putting together a plan that can be followed for months at a time. The reasons for this struggle can be many, but it must happen. Athletes need a progressive program that follows the basic tenets of strength.

Volume inverse to intensity: That is, as the volume of a program is high, intensity should be low. Similarly, as intensity increases, volume should decrease. This is a foundation to building maximal strength.

Progressive overload: Across sessions, weeks and months, the loading of the athlete must increase. Initially this can be done on a session-to-session basis, but as athletes advance, this process might occur from a month-to-month basis. 

Allow for supercompensation: A program intended to increase strength must allow for the process of supercompensation to occur. This means that there must be planned periods of rest or “deload/unload” weeks

Too many coaches get wrapped up in the flexibility of a workout and lean towards creating programs that are in essence a workout of the day. In this format, the coach is unable to create a long-term plan that meets the need of an athlete seeking greater strength.

Bench Pressing

Prioritize the Bench Press

Even today, one of the most common questions that gets asked when anyone says that they “lift weights” is still “how much ya bench?” While most reading this would know that this movement should fall low on your priority list, many athletes still see the bench press as an indicator of their overall success (and the 225 bench press test still is a staple at the NFL combine).

It is easy to get wrapped up in delivering the training that your athlete and their parents want, and if the bench press is important to them, that often means including it on a weekly and monthly basis.

What we are quick to forget is that strength—especially in growing athletes—is a systemic quality. It is not localized to individual muscles or movements. Strength is strength overall, and I will give you a quick anecdotal story to illustrate that.

Every year on my birthday, I hit the bench press. It is literally the only time each year that I do it. In 2013, I hit the bench press and did 275 lbs. for 1 repetition for my bench press PR of the year, from that point forward I did not bench one other time.

I did push ups and I did single arm bench press with dumbbells, but other than that I did no horizontal pressing. From 2013 to 2014, my squat went up 40 kg, my push press went up 15 kg, and when I went to bench press on my birthday in 2014, my bench press was 335 lbs.

Strength is a systemic quality not one that is particular to any single movement or muscle group.

Learning the Clean

Focusing on ANY One Exercise Too Much

Focusing on any particular movement is a problem in any program for athletes. While it may seem reasonable that even an important movement like the squat should be focused upon to gain the maximal results for your athletes, doing so comes at the detriment of all else in the program.

We can be certain that strength is a systemic quality. Even squatting strength can carry over into other movements. Athletes are athletes because they move and display strength across a broad spectrum of movements.

A popular method of improving one’s squat is to employ the “Russian Squat Program.” Basically, this and similar programs have the end user squatting several times per week with varying rep schemes, and intensities. If you have a team full of weak athletes, this might be an enticing way to see all their squat numbers rise. I can guarantee that this program will get their squat numbers to rise, but these athletes will suffer in their overall performance along the way, too.

Even when focused on strength, athletes must be good movers. They must be fast, strong, powerful and agile. A focus on a single movement or exercise—be it squats, bench, or even power cleans—will be a detriment to their progress as complete athletes.

Strength is massively important to the improvement of your athletes. Much of the time you work with them can be devoted to helping your athletes get stronger, but don’t make these common mistakes that can really stall the progress of your athletes!

The Reserved Athlete

By Dave Gleason, IYCA Director of Youth Fitness

Coaches and trainers love working with team sport athletes live to get after it in their training sessions. You know the type: you give them a cue to correct an exercise or activity and bam…they listen, they absorb, and they transfer that information into a more efficient movement. The type of internally-inspired young athlete that gives everything they have for each training session is a dream come true—right?

What are the odds of coaching these types of younger athletes 100% of the time?

What is the mark of a great coach?

How do we handle the athlete who is not quite as motivated? Moreover, how are we to coach the reserved or shy athlete that is seemingly unenthusiastic?

This short article is based on experiential evidence from coaching young athletes for the past 22 years as well as the tenants in found in the IYCA Essentials of Youth Conditioning and Fitness text and is meant to help free any coach…from themselves.

Meet them where they are.

The reserved athlete does not wake up in the morning yearning to have you infuse inspiration into their heart, mind, and soul at 4 pm. The reserved athlete wants to have as much fun as any of the athletes you coach. That fun is contextual. Fun for one may not be as much fun for another.

How do they roll? Not all kids want you to shout their names from the rooftops. Connect with your athletes as much as possible to learn what is important to them and to ascertain where they are.

Love them without losing yourself.

The young athletes you coach will loosely fall into one of the following four categories:

  • High skill, high motivation
  • High skill, low motivation
  • Low skill, high motivation
  • Low skill, low motivation

We will focus on high skill, low motivation and low skill, low motivation young athletes in an effort to give insight on the art of coaching these children.

A high skill, low motivation young athlete can be frustrating due to the stigma of just “not reaching his or her potential.” The primary goal is to inspire this athlete. The coach should be extremely cognitive that there are a multitude of reasons as to the source of the low motivation. Be extremely sensitive that this athlete may in fact be giving all he or she has to give. Sometimes this child simply needs someone to believe in them. Short-term goal setting, even if the goal falls far below what most would deem competitive is a common strategy that has also worked extremely well.

Low skill, low motivation athletes are in need of direction. These young athletes will need to be included in activities, discussions and sharing of concepts, activity creation, and coordination of your programming just as much as—if not more than—the other athletes in your groups. Typically, these athletes do not respond well to being the center of attention, or once more, being called out in front of others. A successful approach may be one-on-one conversations and communication.

If you want more information on the temperaments of young athletes, our Youth Fitness Specialist Certification is a comprehensive resource that will enable you to coach your athletes to success.

The IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist – Level 1

12 IYCA CEUs

youth fitness

The Foundation for a Successful Career in Youth Training

  • 220 page textbook authored by Dr. Toby Brooks and Dr. David Stodden with contributions from Dave Gleason, Wil Fleming, Kim McCullough and Mike Robertson
  • 2 DVD set with narrated screencasts
  • Online examination process so you can complete your certification from the comfort of your own home

Click Here to Learn More About the Youth Fitness Specialist Level 1 Certification

 
Utilize outcome-based coaching.

The foundation for coaching both of these reserved athletes must be outcome-based coaching. Skill acquisition via as little cueing as possible will allow for neural blueprinting and learning at a faster rate. Goal confusion and frustration will only lead to a more reserved athlete. An athlete who feels successful will be more apt to become excited as they take ownership over their own physical culture and fitness.

Therefore, be keen to recognize that if a young athlete completes a task, exercise, or activity through their interpretation of your direction(s)…praise them in an appropriate way to that athlete. If the outcome is not what you imagined or hoped for, do not be quick to believe the athlete did not have success. Reflectively coaching the situation will allow you to determine in your communication was not clear or if the activity needs a regression in to produce success.

It is my hope that this helps you coach the reserved athlete that is on your team, program or client roster.

Keep changing lives!

For more information on the “Art of Coaching” the reserved athlete- check out our #1 Certification, The IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist Level 1 Be the Game-Changer in Youth Fitness and Sport Performance!

The IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist – Level 1

12 IYCA CEUs

youth fitness

The Foundation for a Successful Career in Youth Training

  • 220 page textbook authored by Dr. Toby Brooks and Dr. David Stodden with contributions from Dave Gleason, Wil Fleming, Kim McCullough and Mike Robertson
  • 2 DVD set with narrated screencasts
  • Online examination process so you can complete your certification from the comfort of your own home

Click Here to Learn More About the Youth Fitness Specialist Level 1 Certification

Healthy vs. Constantly Hurt Athletes: What All Coaches and Youth Fitness Specialists Should Know

By Keith Cronin,  DPT, OCS, CSCS

Being on the end of rehabilitation, injured athletes cross my path daily. Now some (around 50%) are simply the result of misfortune: sprained ankle sliding into second base, torn ACL from a lineman collapsing on his leg, or a collision on the volleyball court resulting in a rotator cuff tear. Simply put: crap happens.

Then there are the other 50% 1. These athletes suffer from injury are the result of:

  • Overtraining
  • Undertraining
  • Poor body mechanics
  • Improper training routines
  • Poor lifting technique
  • Pushing through pain/injury
  • Ignoring warning signs of problems

These are things that perhaps you already know….but here are few you may not. After years of treating young athletes with chronic pain and injury, here are the TOP THREE types of individuals who you have to pay special attention to.

#1 They Are Non-compliant

Non-compliance extends far beyond “they don’t listen.” These are individuals who regularly go against sound advice, are very bull headed about what they want to do, or simply just do not follow through with recommendations. They do what they want and not what needs to be done. They commonly shortcut training sessions, only focused on playing the game. When faced with minor injuries, too regularly these individuals skip out on rehab exercises.

Once sidelined with a couple of injuries, some snap out of it and start listening. Many do not. The attitude of the “rules don’t apply to me” is endemic to this type of athlete. From the therapeutic side (particular to chronic pain) I recently read up on a research presentation from Washington University that on average 50% (ranging from 20-80%) of individuals do not successfully rehabilitate chronic pain due to non-compliance1,2. I would surmise that my practice would support those findings. Non-compliance with these athletes, regardless of their athletic talent, is only going to stifle their opportunity in sports.

Strategy to Keep Healthy: You have to barrage these individuals with the science of sport. Articles, research, presentations—basically anything that is put together by some expert in a field that produces or treats top-notch athletes—can be helpful. Recommendations from professional athletes are also a good source, as that is usually how they see themselves or where they want to be. Talking about injury prevention is typically useless because they are not hurt, therefore, the rules of physics currently do not apply. Also using scare tactics of “this is what could happen” most often falls on deaf ears. Once they get into my world, they tend to listen a little better, but that is because there is now pain or problems that are limiting sports. These individuals are tough to deal with, but if you can drill it in their heads that a good strategy helps produce a better athlete, you stand a better chance of keeping them out of the spiral drain of chronic injuries.

#2 They Have a Poor Understanding of Pain and Injury

This group falls into two classes. The first thinks that a paper cut is a reason to call the orthopedic surgeon. This individual will limp and moan at just about anything. The second believes that extremes of pain are normal. I had one tell me, “My back has hurt for six years and makes it hard to go to sleep.” That child was 14. For whatever reason, these individuals have a hard time conceptualizing what is normal.

Strategy to Keep Healthy: These athletes in particular are often the ones who should be evaluated by a physician, athletic trainer, or physical therapist. Treating young athletes with either of these extreme mindsets requires a significant amount of education. Talking about how pain is generated, perceived, and ultimately treated in the brain and body is more often more of a medical discussion. The emotional swings—whether apathetic or manic—are easier to handle in a clinical setting. If you have athletes who show signs of over-magnifying injury or obviously under-reporting, it is important to encourage the athlete’s parents to seek medical assistance. Children have far more capacity to understand these topics than we give them credit for. Most often, they simply need a push in the right direction.

#3 They Are “Dynamically Deficient”

This is a polite way of saying that the athlete in question is a train wreck waiting to happen. They have poor mechanics, bad form with lifting, and are uncoordinated to the point where chewing gum and walking could result in an ankle sprain. These individuals seem to trail behind their peers with developing body skills such as jumping, running, cutting, squatting, etc. They may or may not be injured frequently but as a coach or youth fitness specialist, you know something is “off.”

Strategy to Keep Healthy: If the child is constantly hurt, definite medical intervention or encouragement to seek further rehabilitation is warranted. Now if you have these athletes on your team or in your program they will require extra attention. Don’t let them skip steps! For instance, if you are running a sports training program and you have a couple athletes who have trouble doing squats, make sure they master the movement before moving on. This does get tricky in that you do not want to make them feel “left behind,” but here is where education comes in. Talk with the parents on the importance of reinforcing training at home. Bring parents into a session or show where the issue is so that they can provide more support. Most young athletes develop at a normal pace but some get left behind and the last thing you want them to feel is that “they are broken.” These individuals take up a little more time but from experience, it is worth it in the end to see someone whose attitude changes from “I CAN’T” to “I CAN.”

Sports are a team approach and that includes communication among athletes, parents, coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and physicians. As adolescents grow older, these various state of minds can bend, completely change, or just get worse. Either way, it is important to identify precisely why an athlete is constantly hurt before figuring out what to do and how to do it.

1 DiFiori JP, Benjamin HJ, Brenner J, Gregory A, Jayanthi N, Landry GL, Luke A. Overuse Injuries and Burnout in Youth Sports: A Position Statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. Clin J Sports Med. 2014;24(1):3-20.

Van Dillen, Linda. “Adherence: An Important but Often Forgotten Determinant of Treatment Effectiveness.” Presentation at Washington University in St. Louis, MO for the Program in Physical Therapy. January 13th, 2015

5 Great Movements for Reversing Extension Postures in Athletes

By Eric Cressey, MS, CSAS

One of the biggest mistakes coaches make in training young athlete is just treating them like they’re adult clients. Obviously, this line of thinking is incorrect for a variety of psychological, physiological, and biomechanical reasons, but perhaps none stands out as more significant as their different postural demands on a daily basis.

Adult clients spend a big chunk of their days sitting in flexion, and often need more extension – especially through the thoracic spine – in their daily lives. Many trainers are, as a result, terrified of including any flexion-based core training in their programs.

Conversely, kids spend a ton of time standing and moving around. When combined with athletics, you realize that the majority of young athletes absolutely live in extension.

If you take this same flexion-aversion to a young population, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to help them. Why?

Flexing from an extended position toward “neutral” is different than flexing from “neutral” position toward end-range lumbar flexion.

With that in mind, we incorporate a ton of flexion-bias exercises with our young athletes to get them out of extension. Here are five of my favorites:

Suspension Trainer Deep Squat Breathing with Lat Stretch

Bench T-Spine Mobs

All Fours Breathing/Belly Lift

Back-to-Wall Shoulder Flexion

Bear Crawls

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of the exercises we’ll use with athletes who are in a heavily extended posture, you can definitely easily incorporate these five movements into warm-ups with young athletes with great results.

Taking it a step further, I include both extension-bias and flexion-bias 16-week training programs as options in The High Performance Handbook. This versatile training resource provides a glimpse into how we program for our athletes at Cressey Sports Performance, and includes 2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week programming options that are derived from a preliminary easy-to-apply self-assessment. Click here to learn more:

How would you like a quick and easy-to-apply – but very effective – self-assessment component to add to your training program? The High Performance Handbook gives you the tools that you need to personalize each and every program. Featuring over 200 exercises, each with a 30-120 second coaching tutorial and over three hours of videos that will give you everything you need to become a High Performance Coach, long after you’ve completed the program!

We all know the importance of Nutrition with any Youth Training Program. Dr. John Berardi’s High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide will give you everything from menus, recipes, nutrition application to the eye-opening expose on all of the chemicals in our environment and how you can take steps to limit exposure and improve health!

Get the GOLD Package today!

Why Children NEED Structured Strength & Conditioning

by Shane Fitzgibbon, B.Sc., NCSC, FMS, YFS, HSCS, YNS, YSAS
Taekwon-do Instructor & Strength & Conditioning Coach

FullSizeRender-Shane

This blog post is being written as I reflect on all the recent articles I have read about youth obesity spiralling out of control in Ireland, as well as the reports on young athletes being burned out at ever- increasing rates from exhaustion and/or injury. While these are opposite extremes of the scale, I believe they are opposite sides of the same coin. The issue is lack of education (or perhaps even lack of caring) on what exercise professionals can offer. While both are pressing issues, this feature is aimed at why active children need some amount of professional attention—even in amateur/hobby sports—if they are to minimize injury risk.

While it is essential that children engage in regular exercise for numerous health benefits, it is also important to recognize that exercise and sport is not necessarily the same thing. One key difference is that sport is, by its very nature, competitive and therefore more demanding and rigorous than exercise for its own sake. It is also not realistic to expect a local, unpaid, volunteer, amateur coach (no matter how well-meaning) to be an expert in nutrition, injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, strength, speed & agility, etc. His or her expertise is in the game, not in determining the physical capabilities or limitations of the players (unless they also happen to be a professional trainer). Let’s consider the benefits of children participating in structured strength & conditioning, should their local clubs or parents be forward-thinking enough to provide it.

Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS)

Children are entering sports with less physical literacy than ever before due to, among other reasons, the amount of time spent indoors instead of involved in free play at home. This is exacerbated by the massive reduction of P.E. and free-play in schools. This has huge implications on childrens’ competency of fundamental movement skills, such as object manipulation, hopping, jumping, squatting, etc…not to mention hand-eye coordination and more. When a child joins a new sport lacking competence in essential FMS, is it asking far too much of the child to develop competency of intrinsic sport-specific skills?

Posture

Humans aren’t designed to spend long hours in the seated position. It drastically alters the tone of our muscles – shortening and tightening some, while lengthening and weakening others, to the detriment of posture. Ask someone to run or jump with poor posture and he or she will certainly make an attempt, but will typically lack efficiency due to the inability of certain muscles to fire in the correct sequence or with optimum force production. At best, performance is reduced. At worst, the child eventually gets injured. A professional strength and conditioning coach recognizes these issues with the squad and is able to intervene with appropriate corrective exercises, thereby dramatically reducing the risk of injury.

ONE CHANCE to get it right….

Prior to puberty is the best time for children to develop many of their fundamental movement skills, such as locomotion. Given that these FMS are the building blocks for athletic skills, then the strength of this foundation is linked to athletic success later in life. You may think that they have plenty of time to learn this. WRONG! If a child is not exposed to various movements in the early developmental stages, the brain undergoes a process of synaptic pruning, whereby underutilized motor pathways in the brain are trimmed away. Exposing the child to these movement patterns later in life provides no guarantee of learning, as it means that all new motor pathways need to be created in the brain. Children literally have ONE CHANCE to effectively learn fundamental movement skills well1.

Resistance Training

ResistanceTraining

The benefits of resistance training are numerous. These have been documented extensively in my free eBook on youth conditioning, so I won’t revisit them here. (If you want to pick up a copy use this link: http://www.connachtfitnessandperformance.com/enquiry.html).

According to Lloyd and Oliver “ if a child is ready to engage in sport activities, then he or she is ready to participate in resistance training2,”. Knowing that resistance training for children is both beneficial and, indeed, recommended, then why should parents or sports coaches seek a strength coach to teach the children? The answer is because children should not be treated like adults when it comes to ANY kind of training. A suitably knowledgeable coach understands what various modalities of resistance training, e.g. body weight, resistance bands, dumbbells, etc… are appropriate for a child depending on experience, age, etc… The youth fitness coach understands that there are differences in approach needed for boys versus girls, and that a growth spurt changes the rules.

Injury reduction

One of the most important roles a strength and conditioning coach performs is that of the assessment. Poor posture and previous injuries can both influence the readiness of a young athlete to participate in sport, often leading to additional subsequent injury. An assessment early on can identify risk factors which can be mitigated by intervention from the coach. Experienced strength and conditioning coaches should be adept at spotting fatigue and overtraining symptoms in young athletes. Frequently children get overtrained from participating in multiple sports, each one with a coach who may fail to realize that the child has little left to give. Naturally, every coach expects the best from each child on the squad. One area requiring particular mention is anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in field and court sports. Teenage girls suffer five times more ACL surgeries than boys3. There are a few potential reasons for this, including weak hip stability, quadriceps muscle dominance, and other factors. It takes a specialist to know these risks, to identify them in players, and intervene to reduce the likelihood of such injuries occurring.

Long-term development

I hear from many parents about the fitness activities that their children are doing as part of their particular sport. Frequently these are random, inappropriate, and sometimes just make no sense whatsoever. They may be age inappropriate and have no bearing on what was done the previous years, or to be done in the following years. A youth strength and conditioning coach should plan for the future and design age-appropriate and experience-appropriate programs for young players, with a plan for where they are going and where they need to be.

A child’s age isn’t necessarily his or her age

Children should be prescribed exercise and have expectations based not on their chronological age (years since birth), but on their biological age (developmental or maturation age).

Case study: John and Michael both join the U12 soccer team. John is 11 and is an early bloomer. Michael is 10 and is a late bloomer. Because children can seem up to three years younger or older depending on whether they are early or late bloomers, John can have a biological age of 13, with Michael having a biological age of only 8. In this scenario you have two boys with biological ages of 13 and 8 on the same team. Should they be expected to have comparable levels of strength? Speed? Cognitive awareness? Of course not. Specialist youth strength and conditioning coaches will have a whole sequence of progressions and regressions that are suitable for the more or less advanced child.

Any team fitness activities must take into account the difference between biological and chronological ages. To determine your child’s biological age, visit http://www.growmetry.com/app_v3/index.asp?lng=2

Summary

Given the evidence available, it seems prudent to offer active children a variety of movement-exploration experiences, whether through sports or structured physical education classes. In the early developmental stages, children should be encouraged and given the opportunity to develop physical literacy to the maximum. Parents and sports coaches can only expect their children to massively benefit from availing of the knowledge of the specialist youth fitness coach.

To discuss workshops or training programmes for an individual or team, contact me at shane@connachtfitnessandperformance.com or visit www.connachtfitnessandperformance.com

References:

  1. Parents – you have one chance to do this right” Greg Rose, Functional Movement Systems
  2. High Performance Training for Sports, Joyce & Lewindon, Human Kinetics, 2014
  3. Kelvin Giles, movementdynamics.com

 

Bio:

Shane Fitzgibbon is a Strength and Conditioning coach, based in Galway, Ireland. He is a professional martial arts instructor and, as a retired athlete from this field, is a 6-time World Champion in Taekwon-do & Kickboxing. Representing Ireland in European, Intercontinental, and World Championships, Shane has competed all over the World, e.g. Ghana, South Korea, Nigeria, Canada, Croatia, Germany, etc… amassing an impressive twenty World-medal tally. The 6th degree black belt in Taekwon-do has coached numerous Irish, British, European and World champions to success.

Holder of a B.Sc. from National University of Ireland, Galway, Shane has  always had a passion for exercise and qualified as a gym instructor with ITEC in 2001. In the years that followed, Shane has been busy coaching his martial arts students as well teams and individuals from other sports. As well as obtaining National Certificate in Strength & Conditioning, Shane is Functional Movement Screening (FMS) certified and a member of the prestigious Register of Exercise Professionals Ireland (REPS Ireland). Shane is a also a member, in good standing, of the Irish Sports Coaches Institute (ISCI). Shane came across the IYCA two years ago while researching educational sources to further his knowledge in the area of youth coaching. He is currently a Youth Fitness Specialist Level 3, Speed and Agility Specialist, Kettlebell Instructor, Olympic Lift Instructor, Youth Nutrition Specialist, Resistance Band Instructor, and High School S&C Coach, as certified by  the IYCA. Not one to be satisfied with his current level of knowledge, Shane has enjoyed attending seminars and learning directly from two key IYCA contributors, Mike Robertson and Wil Fleming, as well as Mike Boyle, and others.

As well as teaching martial arts classes, Shane coaches young people from a wide variety of sports. He is very diligent in improving their fundamental movement skills and physical literacy, as this has a direct bearing on all movement capacities and sporting attributes.

In 2012, Shane authored the highly acclaimed book, “Training and Optimal Health for Sports”, which is available from Amazon, and the dedicated site www.trainingandoptimalhealth.com In it, he has shared twenty years of experience training and competing at the highest levels of his sport as well as the secrets of his longevity, not having retired from competition until 38, a double World Champion that year. Shane’s dedication and skills have recently come to the attention of, not only the IYCA, but also the NSCA, who have invited him to present at a symposium in 2016.

Shane’s S&C website is www.connachtfitnessandperformance.com and his facebook page is www.facebook.com/shanefitzgibbonBSc

 

The FAST Program

Fun Agility and Strength Training

by Shawn Manning

Movement is crucial for these kids as they sit daily for long periods of time. So we feel that it is our responsibility to give these youth athletes the opportunity to move, and more importantly teach them to move correctly. In that movement comes positive coaching. Helping classmates in school, on the bus, at practice or anywhere. Our goal is to not only help these youth athletes create a healthy lifestyle, but to help them realize that they can make a positive impact on anyone. “Be the good in the world that you wish to see”.   These kids are awesome, and this class serves as a unique opportunity to leave a positive impact in the youth fitness world.

F.A.S.T. – Week 1: SPRINTING MECHANICS/LINEAR SPEED

1. Movement Prep
Forward Jogging 2x 20 yards
Backward Jogging 2x 20 yards
Skips AMAR
Hurdles 1x 10 yards
Walking Knee Hugs 1x 10 yards
Walking Quad 1x 10 yards
Cradle Walk 1x 10 yards
Inchworm 3x
Static Mountain Climbers – Vertical Shins 2x 10 seconds
Athletic Stance – Leads to Power Jumps
Ladder 2 linear and 2 lateral
2. Speed Skills
Knee Extensions 4x each leg
Wall Drill March Switch on coach’s command ex.1-1-2-1
Arm Swings Switch on coach’s command ex.1-1-2-1
Right & Left Leg Bounding 2x each leg
5 Yard Sprint from forward facing start 6x
3. Strength Skill Practice    
Squat Hip Hinge Movement – ‘Shut the car door’ ‘Knock the wall down’‘Athletic Stance’ Back and down; Weight in Heels; Vertical shins; Stand up like a superhero
Pick Ups (Deadlifts)6 lb Medicine Ball 4 Step DL
-Stand directly overtop
-Put your hands on it
-Squat down
-Lift
Reps and time allotted determined by coach
Broad Jump  
4. Obstacle Course
5 yard sprint with tennis ball
Drop off tennis ball in hula hoop – used points if tennis ball stayed in the hula hoop
15 yard bear crawl – High Knees in Ladder in Day 2 of Week 1
Pick up (DL) medicine ball
Crab walk to hula hoop – High Knees in Ladder in Day 2 of Week 1
Pick up tennis ball
Sprint back to partner

F.A.S.T. – Week 2: LINEAR SPEED & HIP TURN

1. Movement Prep
Forward Jogging 2x 20 yards
Backward Jogging 2x 20 yards
Skips AMAR
Hurdles 1x 10 yards
Walking Knee Hugs 1x 10 yards
Walking Quad 1x 10 yards
Cradle Walk 1x 10 yards
Inchworm 3x
Static Mountain Climbers – Vertical Shins 2x 10 seconds
Athletic Stance (The Everything Stance)
Ladder (Specific Drills)
2. Speed Skills
5 yard sprint 4x with no arms
Arm Swings Switch on coach’s command ex.1-1-2-1
5 yard sprint Concentration Arm Swings
Wall Drill March Switch on coach’s command ex.1-1-2-1
Hip Turn, Push & Go 3x each leg (Drop step)
3. Strength Skill Practice    
Squat Hip Hinge Movement – ‘Shut the car door’ ‘Knock the wall down’‘Athletic Stance’ Back and down; Weight in HeelsVertical shins; Stand up like a superhero
Kettlebell Deadlifts 4 Step DL
-Stand directly overtop
-Put your hands on it
-Squat down
-Lift with arms straight
Reps and time allotted determined by coach
Depth Squat Landing position  
Box Jump Power up & landing position  
Broad Jump 4x  
4. Obstacle Course Day 1
  • 3 squats then pick up tennis ball
  • Side shuffle, switch tennis and place the original in cone
  • Sprint to the next cone and place your second tennis ball in
  • Bunny hop through the ladder to the medicine ball
  • 3 ball slams
  • Skip on outside of ladder, pick up tennis ball from blue cone, switch at orange cone and sprint to finish
5. Obstacle Course Day 2
  • 1 rep of 1 pood Kettlbell
  • 10 mini hurdle jumps
  • Fireman pull down
  • 3 squats
  • Fireman pull back
  • 10 mini hurdle jumps

F.A.S.T. – Week 3: INTRODUCTION to MULTIDIRECTIONAL

1. Speed Skills
Crossover Step 3x each way
Foot Pop & Go 3x 5 yards (reaction)
Backpedal-2-Sprint 2x 10 yards
Pro Shuttle 2x timed
Frisbee Hip Turn & Go 3x each angle
2. Movement Prep
Forward Jogging 2x 20 yards
Backward Jogging 2x 20 yards
Power Skips 1x 10 yards
Side Shuffle 2x 10 yards
Athletic Stance 1x 10 yards
Depth Jumps 1x 10 yards
Side Shuffle Jumping Jacks 1x 10 yards
Wall Drill 3x
Arm Swings 3x
Step Outs 2x 10 sec.
Static Mountain Climbers – Vertical Shins 2x 10 seconds
Clock Drill
Open & Go 2x 5 yards
Ladder (Specific Drills)
3. Strength PODS for Day 1
1A. Kettlebell Deadlift 3×3
1B. Bench Push 3x 10 yard
2A. Bodyweight Squat 3×3
2B. Box Jump 3×3
1A. Rope Pulls 3×3
1B. Hurdles 3×8
4. Obstacle Course Day 2
  • 3 squats then pick up tennis ball
  • Side shuffle, switch tennis and place the original in cone
  • Sprint to the next cone and place your second tennis ball in
  • Bunny hop through the ladder to the medicine ball
  • 3 ball slams
  • Skip on outside of ladder, pick up tennis ball from blue cone, switch at orange cone and sprint to finish

F.A.S.T. – Week 4: Importance of the Crossover Step

1. Movement Prep
Forward Jogging 2x 20 yards
Backward Jogging 2x 20 yards
Power Skips 2x 10 yards
Side Shuffle 2x 10 yards
Athletic Stance 1x 10 yards
Depth Jumps 1x 10 yards
Side Shuffle Jumping Jacks 1x 10 yards
Wall Drill 3x
Arm Swings 3x
Step Outs 2x 10 sec.
Static Mountain Climbers – Vertical Shins 2x 10 seconds
Clock Drill – Hip Turn
Front Medicine Ball Slams 5x
Plank Holds 1x 20 sec.
Ladder 2 linear and 2 lateral
2. Speed Skills
Crossover Step 4x each way
Foot Pop & Go 4x 5 yards
Backpedal-2-Sprint 2x 10 yards
Rt. Leg & Lt. Leg Bounding 1x each leg
Frisbee Angle Sprints 3x each angle
Depth Jump-2-Sprint 3x 5 yards
3. Strength Skill Practice    
Squat Hip Hinge Movement – ‘Shut the car door’ ‘Knock the wall down’‘Athletic Stance’ Back and down; Weight in HeelsVertical shins; Stand up like a superhero
Pick Ups (Deadlifts)6 lb Medicine BallKB Deadlifts 4 Step DL-Stand directly overtop-Put your hands on it-Squat down

-Lift

Reps and time allotted determined by coach
Sled Push  
Box Jump Power up & landing position  
4. Obstacle Course Day 1
Speedy Strongman
  • Crossover sprint
  • Drop off tennis ball in cone
  • Sled Pull with rope
  • Medicine ball deadlift
  • Put on top of box
  • Kick soccer ball into goal (3 attempts)
  • Sled Push back
  • Tennis ball pick up and handoff to partner
5. Obstacle Course Day 2
  • Bear crawl to ladder
  • High knees through ladder
  • 3 box jumps
  • 3 squats
  • 3 box jumps
  • 10 mini hurdle jumps
  • Bear Crawl to finish

F.A.S.T. – Week 5: ACCELERATION

1. Movement Prep
Forward Jogging 2x 20 yards
Backward Jogging 2x 20 yards
Power Skips AMAR
Side Shuffle 2x 10 yards
Athletic Stance – Incorporate Jumps
Depth Jumps 1x 10 yards
Side Shuffle Jumping Jacks 1x 10 yards
Wall Drill 3x
Arm Swings 3x
Step Outs 2x 10 sec.
Static Mountain Climbers – Vertical Shins 2x 10 seconds
Clock Drill
Medicine Ball Slams 1×5 front
Plank Holds 1x 20 sec.
Ladder 2 linear and 2 lateral
2. Speed Skills
Hurdle Jumps, right, left & both feet 4x 10 seconds
Hurdle-2-Sprint 4x 5 yards
Depth Jump 2×5
Drop Step-2-Crossover 2x
Lateral Box Jump 2×6 each way
Frisbee Angle Sprints 2x each side
Stop & Go Sprints 3x 10 yards
3. Strength Skill Practice
Squat
Kettlebell Deadlifts
Ring Pulls
Lateral Lunges
4. Obstacle Course – POD Day 1 4. Obstacle Course Day 2
Rescue Team – Sled Push/Pull
1A. Kettlebell Deadlift – 4×3

1B. Box Jump – 4×3

 

2A. Blue Saucer Sled Push – 10 yards

2B. Squat – 4×3

 

3A. Ring Pulls 3×2

3B. Lateral Lunges 3×2 each leg

10 yard sled pull with rope
10 yard sled push

10 yard sled pull with rope

10 yard sled push

Teammate repeats

*We use a flat bench that is flipped over as the sled. The athletes push the legs of the bench.

F.A.S.T. – Week 6: PUT IT ALL TOGETHER

1. Movement Prep
Forward Jogging 2x 20 yards
Backward Jogging 2x 20 yards
Power Skips AMAR
Side Shuffle 1x 10 yards
Athletic Stance 1x 10 yards
Jumping Jack Shuffle 1x 10 yards
Side Shuffle Jumping Jacks 1x 10 yards
Wall Drill 3x
Arm Swings 3x
Step Outs 2x 10 sec.
Static Mountain Climbers – Vertical Shins 2x 10 seconds
Clock Drill (Hip Turn) 2x
Front Medicine Ball Slams 5x
Plank Holds 1x 20 sec.
Ladder – 2 linear and 2 lateral
2. Speed Skills
Side Shuffle Back to Sprint 2x 5yards
Sleeper Sprints 2x 5yards
Backpedal-2-Sprint 2x 5yards
Open & Go Sprints 2x 5yards
Frisbee Angle Sprints 4x Distance varies
Drop step-2- Crossover 2x 5yards
Pass Sprints w/ Coverage 4x Distance Varies
Push & Go (push over standing tire & sprint) 4x 5yards
3. Strength Skill Practice
Squat
Kettlebell Deadlifts
Push Up
Box Jump
4. Obstacle Course Day 1
Fireman Fun – Rescue Medicine Ball
2 Throwers with soft dodgeballs in each corner2 runners at the start behind L screen4 others screens are set up in various positions to serve as cover for 2 runners. Runners can only stay behind screen for 3 seconds. Burpee penalty2 Medicine balls are to be recovered at the safe spot and brought back to the start.

If a runner is hit by a ball they are out of the game

Teams switch once med balls are returned or runners are knocked out with dodgeball

Play as many innings as you wish

Ladders and hurdles were used to add a level of difficulty

5. Obstacle Course – The Finish
Junior American Gladiator
2 Throwers with soft dodgeballs in each corner2 runners at the start behind L screen4 others screens are set up in various positions to serve as cover for 2 runners. Runners can only stay behind screen for 3 seconds. Burpee penalty2 Medicine balls are to be recovered at the safe spot and brought back to the start.

If a runner is hit by a ball they are out of the game

Teams switch once med balls are returned or runners are knocked out with dodgeball

Play as many innings as you wish

Ladders and hurdles were used to add a level of difficulty

FAST01

FAST02

FAST03

FAST04

FAST05

Squatting for Female Athletes

by Wil Fleming

Female athletes are one of my favorite “subsets” of athletes I get to work with. The reasons are plenty but in no particular order:

  • They are typically less tied to the egomaniacal pursuit of more weight.
  • They have usually less experience with “bad” training.
  • They are typically better movers at a young age compared to males at the same age.

Most importantly is the recipe for a young female’s success is quite simple, keep them moving well, and get them strong. I first learned this as a collegiate athlete, where the females that came to the track team would all have exceptional talent, and had incredible accomplishments (most were all-state, or state champion athletes), but many had never been in the weight room before. Once exposed to some high quality strength training their performances exploded! It was like adding gas to a match.

This recipe does not hold just for high level collegiate athletes, it holds for the middle school volleyball player, and high school basketball player too. Strength is the great equalizer in female athletics.

Adding Strength

With any young athlete, nearly everything they do can help them add strength. That is why so many disparate programs can be seen at the high school level, and so many of them work. Young athletes are very pliable to the demands you give them, and adaptation can occur to nearly anything.

The key though to adding more strength, more quickly, is to teach your young athletes, and especially females big compound movements early and often.

The most important among these compound movements is the squat.

Squatting Coaching

First and foremost, squatting should be simple. Do not over complicate and make a basic movement pattern a high tension high threshold movement. Do not over coach this (this goes for all athletes).

  • Feet Flat
  • Stand up straight (means no anterior tilt, and no rib flare)
  • Hips first
  • Knees over small toe on the way out
  • Push the knees out on the way up.

Every person’s squat will look different, but remember if it doesn’t look athletic it probably isn’t. Every squat though, from an individual person should look very similar, goblet, to front, to back should all look very close to the same. Try not to coach this as a “lift” but as a “movement”.

The caveat for coaching females is that a great deal of them will likely have a valgus collapse on the way up. In most instances this isn’t something you need to “coach them out of,” instead make them aware of it and then help them train their way out of it.

Training their way out of it means more work on glute development, and more single leg work. Awareness and strength will eventually make this a non-issue.

The bigger concern when it comes to injury prevention is valgus collapse on the way down. While this is rare, if this occurs the athlete is not yet ready for squatting the current load and should spend more time on single leg work and go down in load.

Squatting Progression

For female athletes the progression will be exactly the same as for any athlete.

  • Goblet Squat or Bearhug Squat
  • Racked KB Squat
  • Front Squat
  • Back Squat

The cool thing about this progression is based on bodyweight alone most female athletes will immediately see a large return in strength even while doing goblet and bearhug squats.

Check out this video to see an example:

Programming Squatting for Females

Squatting is certainly an important movement, and will deliver an enormous return to the athlete, but is only one part of a complete program. Athletes should squat 1-2x per week with a variation in the placement of load. The coach should take care to balance the demands of squatting with an equal or greater amount of posterior chain work (hamstrings and glutes especially). While a full depth squat will certainly help the athletes develop in the posterior chain, a squat is not a panacea to all that female or any athletes need.

I have found good success with using an alternating linear type of periodization with female athletes, where in 3 week blocks are dedicated to reps of 8-10, 5-6, 6-8, 3-5 respectively. Each individual block can focus on one or multiple types of squatting movements.

Return on investment

Females that are coached to squat the right way will see an enormous improvement in performance markers like 10 yard sprint, standing long jump, and vertical jump.

With proper mechanics the squat can also assist in preventing non-contact knee injuries by strengthening the major muscle groups around the knee.

A Coaching Tip from Jim Kielbaso

By Jim Kielbaso

Because acceleration is such a vital part of most sports, plan on devoting a significant amount of practice time to developing this trait. Always explain that a drill is intended to work on acceleration and that adequate rest periods will be given between sets. During speed and agility training, some athletes will simply try to get through the workout rather than giving 100% intensity on each drill. While this kind of pacing may get an athlete through a workout, it will never allow for optimal speed development. If the athletes understand that this particular portion of the workout is not “conditioning” work, they will be much more willing to give 100% on each repetition.

Click on the picture below to get your free Speed and Agility Gift.

speed_optin-kielbaso_pic

Of course, it is up to the coach to keep the drills fresh and always allow plenty of time to recover between sets. Athletes may actually seem a little bored, but it is important to explain what they are working on, why they are resting so much and that performing the acceleration drills with sub-maximal effort will severely limit the training benefits.

When you notice an athlete giving sub-maximal effort, talk to him/her about how the nervous system will never learn how to perform optimally if the athlete does not consistently give maximal effort. It is also useful to ask the athlete why maximal effort is not being given.

Speed and agility for athletes 3

An example of what to say is, “It looks to me like you’re not running as fast as you possibly can. I think you are capable of more. Is there a reason you are not pushing yourself right now?”

This puts the responsibility on the athlete, and forces him/her to think about why 100% effort is not being given. Asking this question is also a good idea because there may actually be something limiting the athlete. There could be an injury or emotional issue that needs to be addressed, and the only way to find out is by asking a simple question. If done tactfully, without demeaning the athlete, this kind of discussion will also tell the athlete that you care and want the best for him/her.

If the athlete tells you there is nothing wrong and has no reason for the lack of effort, consider asking whether or not he/she wants to improve. If the answer is “no,” a more in-depth discussion needs to take place. If, however, the answer is “yes,” then all of the responsibility falls on the athlete’s shoulders. If the behavior continues, you can remind him/her of your conversation and explain that the lack of effort is not acceptable.

When these steps have been taken, athletes are apt to give excellent effort on each drill, thus enhancing the training benefits.


 

speed_optin-kielbaso_pic

Click on the picture above to grab your free Speed and Agility Gift.

How To Push Through Your Fears, Insecurities, And Threats

Dr. Haley Perlus

by Haley Perlus, PhD

Author’s note: When you read this article, in addition to enhancing the performances of the athletes you coach, relate the information to your personal performance and success in sport, health, and business.

There’s a fabulous video being shared online right now about a high school girl, named Kayla Montgomery, who is an award-winning long distance runner even though she’s battling Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a disease of the central nervous system that disrupts information between the brain and body. It’s basically your body’s immune system attacking it’s own nerve cells. MS symptoms include fatigue, gait difficulties, numbness, and muscle spasms – not exactly helpful for a runner.

The video circling the web is of Kayla Montgomery running – running and winning! Even more impressive, during the state championships, Kayla falls during the race, gets back up, and continues to pass all of her opponents to win the race. I also want to point out that, at the finish line of every race, Kayla falls into her coach’s arms in such agony and fear because she can’t feel her body. You see, Kayla’s body needs to be at cool temperatures in order for her to feel her limbs. When she runs, similar to you and me, her body temperature increases leaving her numb.

Looking at Kayla’s entire story thus far, there are so many inspiring and energizing mental toughness moments to focus on. I could focus on her ability to take control of her MS instead of it taking control over her life. I could talk about the truly wonderful relationship she has with her coach. I could concentrate on her fall during the state champs and discuss why it is important to always get up and keeping moving forward. These all target mental toughness. What I have chosen to focus on for this column is something else Kayla demonstrates – something that every high achiever has figured out.

Crossfit to Fight

In its simplest explanation, when it comes to motivation, people either aim to seek pleasure or avoid pain. One inevitably takes precedence over the other. However, after researching high achievers in both sport and business, pain and pleasure are not mutually exclusive. High achievers have figured out that you can’t have ultimate pleasure without enduring some pain. Pain is any physical, emotional and/or psychological struggle. It can be anything from muscle soreness to performance frustration. For Kayla Montgomery, her struggle is the numbness she experiences every time she runs. To win her long distance races, she literally runs towards physical numbness to the point where she can no longer feel her body starting at her toes all the way to her waist. Then, when the race is finally over, since she can’t come to a coordinated stop, she needs her coach to catch her. At this moment, she is helpless. She goes through even more discomfort while she waits in fearful anticipation for somebody to place ice all over her body in an effort to bring back her physical sensations.

What makes Kayla mentally tough is that she embraces the intense discomfort of numbness in order to win her races and literally outrun the disease. When asked why she takes on the struggle and discomfort of running, Kayla says it’s the cost of competing and she’s willing to pay it. Running makes her feel happy, normal and whole. When she’s running, she feels like she’s battling the disease. “As long as I’m running, everything is fine.”

To realize your true potential, there will be struggle along the way. You’ve got to be okay with moving towards it and then surpassing it to realize your ultimate success. Barbara Sahakian, professor of clinical neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge is quoted in Steven Kotler’s new book, The Rise of the Superman. She says, “Once danger becomes its own reward, risk moves from a threat to be avoided to a challenge to be risen toward. An entirely new relationship with fear begins to develop. When risk is a challenge, fear becomes a compass – literally pointing people in the direction they need to go next. You have to learn this lesson. To really achieve anything you have to be able to tolerate and enjoy risk. It has to become a challenge you look forward to. In all fields, to make exceptional discoveries you need risk – you’re just never going to have a breakthrough without it.”

This quote introduces two words: fear and challenge. Remember this:

Fear makes us retreat;
Challenge makes us defeat

What I propose is following in the footsteps of Kayla Montgomery and turn your fears (including insecurities and threats) into challenges. Whatever obstacle you are facing, focus on one aspect that can become your challenge to overcome. For example, the box jump is used in many conditioning programs to develop explosive power, but is often feared because of the cuts and bruises it leaves if the athlete fails to perform the movement correctly. To help the athletes you coach turn their fear of the box jump into a challenge, instruct them to focus on extending their hips while they jump in an effort to get the necessary height for landing on the box. Directing their attention to technique distracts them away from any fear and enhances their performance.

I’d like to leave you with one more quote from Kayla Montgomery. She said, “…if I’m not able to run at some point down the road, then at least I can look back and know that, when I could, I gave it my all.” Effort is the only thing we 100 percent control. Know that you’re probably going to experience some struggle, but also know that, when you exert every ounce of effort to conquering your challenges, you’ll be exactly where you need to be in order to give yourself the best shot at peak performance and the most awesome experience you can have.

How to Effectively Navigate the Medical Response of “Well, It Depends…”

by Keith Cronin

If you are a coach or trainer you have probably heard this answer from a healthcare provider when you ask a question as simple as, “How hard can I push an athlete after rotator cuff surgery?” And whether it is a rotator cuff, a patellar tendon, or perhaps a strained neck muscle, you probably want to know more about your athlete’s injury and what you can do to help prevent problems in the future. Seems like a simple answer. Right?

The problem is “Well, it depends…” takes a long time to explain if you are a physician, athletic trainer, or physical therapist. What the patient is usually met with is a couple of quick sentences or an extensive anatomy, biomechanics, or physiology lesson that he or she should be getting continuing education credits for. So in this article I am going to break down some of the important things that a physician or rehabilitation specialist wants you to know about pushing an athlete that recently had an injury.

Everyone is Unique…Is Some Way, Shape, or Form

Probably the most difficult part of “Well, it depends…” is the individual history and make up of the athlete you are working with. Remember your last visit to the doctor? Remember all those forms? Aside from simply irritating you, there is a reason for all that information. Medical history plays a big role in what a healthcare provider will say an athlete should or should not do!

Consider the following: when a young athlete arrives in my office, aside from the injury and pain (to be discussed in a little bit), here are all the things that I take into consideration over the course of five minutes:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • General well-being
  • History of Pain conditions (ex. Complex regional pain syndrome)
  • Body type / Stature
  • Family dynamic
  • Previous injuries
  • Attitude
  • Previous sports experience
  • Level of competition
  • Previous strength and conditioning history
  • Previous medical treatments
  • Surgical procedures
  • Anatomical abnormalities
  • Medications
  • Risk Factors (ex. Type II Diabetes, Genetic disorders, neurological disorders)

This is a short list, even before getting to the objective and subjective assessment. A 14-year-old female cross country runner with good family support, no current medications, generally good body conditioning, no bony or anatomical abnormalities, and a good attitude when it comes to rehab with an Achilles tendon strain is probably going to work back just fine. That same 14-year-old female cross country runner that has had five Achilles tendon injuries, barely stretches, has a painful “pump bump” on the back of the heel, and parents who never speak to the healthcare provider is not likely going to return to sports or start training as fast as the previous example.

Not all Injuries are Equal

Once an athlete is discharged from medical care, there are several considerations when it comes to returning them back to field.

  • Nature of the Injury – Was this injury due to overuse, a random accident, or because of poor body mechanics? Overuse injuries require particular attention to avoid causing the same situation that got the athlete there in the first place. Acute injuries, such as a sprained an ankle, may return faster—particularly if the swelling, pain, and limited motion and strength are no longer a problem. But what if that ankle has been sprained for the fifth time? Maybe there is some sort of mechanical issue or balance deficiency going on. The athlete may seem fine but really, 14 years old and five ankle sprains? More time and attention may be needed to keep this athlete off the injured reserve list
  • Location of the Injury – In the young athlete, joint pain is particularly concerning. With adults, the effects of time and high mileage tend to wear away cartilage, causing more bouts of pain, instability, or weakness. But with a 12-year-old female lacrosse player? Not so much. Pain and injuries associated around joints—particularly that still present with swelling—need to be treated with great attention. While muscles are forgiving, the articular surfaces of say the patella are not. A mid-shaft humerus contusion is much less concerning than say medial elbow pain with throwing.
  • Severity of the Injury – Are we talking a grade I ankle sprain versus an ACL tear? An athlete who sprains an ankle and is walking normally within a few days is far less of a concern than an athlete that has been on crutches for three weeks. Children tend to heal faster than adults, but please note while there is greater capacity for improved physiological turn over of tissue from good to bad, don’t simply just say, “Eh, she will be fine.”

Tell Me Where it Hurts?

Pain is probably on every trainer’s and coach’s mind. Pain, honestly, is probably what you are concerned about most. These questions go through your head:

  • How much pain is okay?
  • Squats are okay, but lunges hurt a little. Is that normal?
  • If her knee hurts, should I let her run?
  • When my athlete lifts 10 pounds overhead, there is a little ache. Is that okay?
  • There is a some pain with throwing. Should I have my pitcher stop?

Pain is not as simple as “yes or no.” Why is that? Because honestly, if athletes were to stop when faced with any pain with anything then sports would not exist. When it comes to pain, there are a several factors to consider

  • Frequency – How often does the pain occur?
  • Duration – When it hurts, for how long does the pain persist?
  • Intensity – Barely hurts, causes me to stop what I am doing, where is the paramedic?
  • Onset – Time of day or activity?
  • Quality – Burning, stabbing, radiating, pinching, catching, numbing?
  • Location – Does it hurt on the side of the knee, under the knee cap, or above the knee joint?
  • Activity of Daily Living – Does it hurt to walk, sleep, go up and down stairs, squat?
  • Sports Mechanics – Hurts the elbow throwing after 30 pitches and causes the arm to drop below the shoulder plane

An athlete who has no problem with stairs but some knee pain after 45 minutes of running is more likely a conditioning issue. An athlete who is dying to get back on the field and can’t squat, has burning pain to the foot six times a day, and cannot go up the stairs is another issue.

Putting the Pieces Together

Now looking at the information above, you can probably conclude there are an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to the question, “How hard can I push an athlete after rotator cuff surgery?” I imagine what you are experiencing now may be something along the lines of “How am I going to figure this out?” Here’s the great news: You don’t have to!

As a coach or trainer, what you do need to know is what questions to ask. Unfortunately, getting a physician on the phone is sometimes difficult. Once you do, getting to the point is critical. Generalized questions lead to rambling, non-specific answers. Next time you speak with a healthcare provider about your athlete, stick to this script:

First, before anything else, you have to get consent from the parents. This may involve a parent sending an email or signing something that allows you to speak directly with the doctor. It’s HIPPA. It’s the law. To me, this is where a lot of information is lost due to this legal hurdle. If that is not possible, then you must give the script to the parents to ask. Unfortunately this can be a “telephone game” situation where some information is lost along the way. Do the best you can.

The Script: Your Three Questions

“I am a (coach/trainer) that is working with your patient to get (him/her) back to playing (fill in sport). She was recently released from your care and before starting a regimented return to sport program I had three questions to ask you. Do you have a few minutes to speak?

— The healthcare provider may ask you to email your questions or call back at another time but stating there are three questions lets him or her know that you have a game plan. Likely in the end, it will lead to more questions and talking.

1: “Specific to this athlete, is there any information, concerns, or medical background that would prevent progressing safely towards returning to (insert sport) over the next (pick time frame…say six weeks)?”

— Here you have asked about anything that is particularly concerning and believe me if there is something off the wall, that info is coming out. You suggested a time frame and given the practitioner a chance to alter that time frame. If you do not give a specific time frame, then you will get another generalized “Well…it depends” answer.

2: “Specific to this injury (or surgery), is there anything that I should watch out for to refer back to your care?”

— You have now offered the healthcare provider a chance to offer their advice or guidance. There may be a specific procedure done to reconstruct a knee that the physician may inform you about. The athletic trainer or physical therapist may be concerned about that same knee but now tells you about some other concerns with the opposite foot. Again, this gets the conversation going.

3. “Are there any sport-specific training regimens that you would prefer? Are there also any that you recommend this athlete not participate in?”

— For example here, if an athlete had severe patellar tendonitis and was a catcher, I would inform the youth fitness specialist, strength coach, or sport coach to stop all weighted squats. Even if the athlete was pain free with catching, I still wouldn’t want that added back in until after baseball season. Remember, your healthcare providers hear the same stories everyday of what gets people into medical care. This is a great time to share this information.

Healthcare providers are seeing more people in less time every single year. Believe me, we care about everyone that comes through the door and sometimes information falls in the cracks. As a youth fitness specialist, strength coach, or sport coach, you want what is best for your athletes. In order to best facilitate that, having a game plan when it comes to addressing injured athletes is important. In healthcare, once a patient is good enough to discharge, it is common that it is on to the next individual. Its not because healthcare professionals are interested in an athlete’s return to sports, but frequently another patient is awaiting care.

Hope this helps.

Keith J. Cronin, DPT, OCS, CSCS

On the Field, Away from the Doc

by Keith Cronin, PT

No one likes being injured. Every fitness professional, strength trainer, and coach is intimately aware of this fact. Hurt clients are not showing up for training and injured athletes are “riding the pine.” Your job most likely revolves around a lot of “P” words:

  • Supporting the possibility of winning the big game.
  • Progress towards achieving a clients desired weight goal.
  • The potential of making someone healthier or more athletic.
  • Being a part of an individual’s perseverance to be happy in all their fitness or sporting endeavors.

And then someone gets hurt. Oh no, now everyone is unhappy…except perhaps me. My job does not revolve around the fun “P” words, they are more concentrated on two concepts: problems and pain. As a physical therapist, I see many unhappy individuals everyday who have been sidelined by pain and injury that prevents them from doing what they love. Understand that when someone is in my office, it is because they have to be there. When they work with a trainer or coach they want to be there.

After all the co-pays, deductibles, and hardship, my job is to get a patient back to you. Occupation aside, I enjoy watching people get back to the lives and activities they love. I played collegiate baseball and was a human injury magnet. I know the pain, the psychological distress, and the negative impact injury has on the daily flow of life. I do not want that for me, I do not want that for my family, and I do not want that for my patients. So how do you keep someone on the field, in the gym, or out on the road running?

Here’s the status quo. So much of medicine is about telling you what you are doing wrong.

  • “Exercise more.”
  • “You eat too much.”
  • “Your posture is terrible.”
  • “Get more sleep.”
  • “Stop stressing out.”

And too often, so is the tone of the medical field towards that of strength trainers and coaches.

  • “Why would you have a 70-year-old woman with osteoarthritis lift dumbbells overhead three days a week? That’s why she is hurt.”
  • “Why do you put your kids in 10 tournaments over the summer? That’s why we are seeing so many overuse injuries.”
  • “Why don’t you all work on squats as part of strength and conditioning with the team?” Athletes show up to therapy and can’t do a proper squat. That’s why they are hurt.”

This type of message is crap. This helps no one. Barking about what everyone is doing wrong or judging the end result just falls on deaf ears. Pointing fingers for what has gone wrong only makes people feel bad and internally they will shut down. The reality is that people like myself—whether they are physical therapists, athletic trainers, chiropractors, primary care physicians, or orthopedic surgeons—are paid to treat problems. We talk a big game about prevention but outside of talks or talking to patients after the fact, we are not on the front lines making change. You all are! We sit in offices and wait for the inevitable train wrecks to show up while you all interface with athletes and exercisers of all ages, sizes, and shapes.

Whether you are a personal trainer, fitness professional, team coach, specialty sports instructor, strength and conditioning specialist, or athletic trainer, reducing the number and severity of injuries in sports and fitness is paramount. It is important to your clients, to your team, and to your business. Its time you know what I know about the unfriendly side of pain and problems.

Over the course of the next few months, I am going to provide essential information on how to “stay on the field and away from the doctor.” TO BE VERY CLEAR…I am NOT going to be providing information about how to diagnose and treat injuries. Above is a picture of the books I have read through, studied, and been licensed in on the topic of treatment of musculoskeletal injuries. These are just the ones in the office!

What I will do is provide you information to support your profession. If you are interested in topics such as:

  • Common traits of injury susceptible athletes
  • Reducing knee joint compression to reduce patellofemoral risk
  • Importance of long term athletic development
  • Warning signs of a developing injury
  • Biomechanical breakdown of healthy joints
  • What is the best way to complete a lunge
  • Stretch or not to stretch?
  • Neurodynamic warm-ups
  • Five easy ways to prepare any athlete for play
  • Stamina vs. strength…which is more important?
  • Importance of a balanced body
  • Controlled use of plyometrics for reduce risk of injury

This blog is for you. Have questions? Email them in and perhaps I can make an article out of it.

I honestly believe for people to be happy, healthy, and getting the most fulfillment out of anything they do requires strong communication between the worlds of medicine and coaching or fitness professionals.

Let’s start talking.

Keith J. Cronin, DPT, OCS, CSCS

Programming for Speed and Agility

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by Wil Fleming, CSCS, YFS

For most coaches, if you give them a goal—whether as different as fat loss, strength, hypertrophy, or vertical jump improvement—that individual can quickly come up with a program that will lead a client to that particular result.

We know the sets and reps. We know the rest times. We know the movements that can get an athlete or client to those goals. It is part of our profession and likely something we learned fairly early on in our college or post-collegiate education.

Say that goal is not fat loss or hypertrophy, but improved speed. Then what?

Yeah, we all know that the quickest way to improved speed is through better strength and power. But after that part, then what?

From my own experiences as an athlete and a coach and in my observations of other professionals, speed is a goal that leads many to forget about programming. Instead of programs, we get workouts with the drill du jour or something cool we saw on the internet.

We need programs not workouts

Developing speed is no different than developing any other quality or skill. Certainly there is a technical aspect that must be coached, but in general, the route to get the desired result is the same. It comes by way of a program, not one workout.

Not any of us would say that any of our athletes are markedly better after one single workout. They are not markedly stronger. They are not leaner. And they are certainly not faster due to the results of one workout. It is only after a series of planned training sessions and the rest periods between the training sessions that we find improvement in our athletes.

Training for speed is no different. We must prepare a long-term plan to help our athletes improve speed.

How to plan for Speed and Agility

Planning your speed training comes down to breaking it into the characteristics associated with improved speed. For me, the easiest breakdown is to create programs based upon three areas in which the greatest improvement can be made:

  1. Technique (both linear and lateral)
  2. Power/acceleration
  3. Strength

Athletes training to develop speed and agility.

Technique

This includes all aspects of speed technique (starting mechanics, arm swing, knee drive, and foot strike) as well as lateral techniques such as change of direction mechanics and re-direction mechanics.

A technique focus should occur at the start of any speed training session. Doing so at the beginning of a session will set the anchor points for the entire session and allow athletes to crisply focus on technique while fresh.

Power/acceleration

The quickest way to see improvement in timed sprints (combine drills) is to help the athlete improve the first 10 yards of any sprint. We focus on using resisted acceleration in our training. We use resisted starts (with weight vests, bands, or sleds) extensively in both our strength training and speed training programs.

Power focus should occur after the technique portion of training and should emphasize the technique that we taught at the beginning of a session. Following up the resisted portion of training we will move on to pure acceleration work, without the use of resisted techniques.

Strength

Any good speed training session will have a portion of the training devoted to developing strength. This does not necessarily mean a weight room session (although that is necessary). In the purely speed development realm, we use simple strength exercises like lunging (lateral and forward/back) and squatting to help the athletes develop the ability to both accelerate and decelerate.

Conclusion

If you are struggling on how to put together a comprehensive plan for speed and agility at any age (6-18) then be sure to check out the IYCA’s new Certified Speed and Agility Specialist (CSAS) course that will be out this January. This is one of the most comprehensive resources available to coaches today.

Developing Speed in Younger Athletes 6-13 Years Old

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3 Keys to Developing Speed in Younger Athletes 6-13 Years Old

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By Dave Gleason

Speed is an absolute game changer. No matter the age or the sport, faster young athletes can vary the course of any contest. The discussion of genetics versus trainability is undeniably not an “either/or” question any longer. The conversation now becomes how to maximize athleticism in a young athlete as they potentially gravitate toward what activity they are naturally adept at in the realm of athletics.

It has been said that roughly 20% of all young athletes who are particularly proficient at age 10 are also dominant later in life as they near and enter young adulthood. My experience over the past 21 years tells me this percentage may be inflated.

“My son/daughter was the fastest on field two years ago. Now he is at the back of the pack. He needs more speed.” This is not an uncommon lament for the parents of young athletes.

This is not to say that speed training is not important. It is, and it has its place. As coaches, it is paramount to keep the big picture in mind in relation to speed training.

Educating parents on the basics of the human development continuum can fall on deaf ears. Yes, growth spurts and peak height velocity combined with puberty can wreak havoc on a young athlete’s ability to perform; this is not new information. That said, how do we promote more speed for young athletes?

There are several strategies that all lend themselves to faster, more agile young athletes on the field, court, and ice. It is paramount that your programming be rooted in a comprehensive approach to training the entire individual. Due to the growing and changing nature of a younger child, almost anything you do (within reason) will show increases in force production, explosiveness, agility, and top end speed.

While it is likely all “effective,” all approaches are not necessarily optimal.

Three keys to developing speed in younger athletes 6-13 years old

  1. Discovery – allow your youngest athletes to continue to discover movement by giving them opportunity to do so. Create situations for them to explore movement with as little cueing as possible.
  2. Skill it, Drill it, Thrill it – Cone drills are great—if the boys and girls you are coaching have acquired the skill sets to run them. Break down the skills first, and follow that up with some fun drills. Anchor those skills with a game that reinforces the skills you were working on.
  3. Game Play – Athletes must be given the chance to use the skills they are working on with you in a game situation BEFORE they go back to their respective teams. Bigger engine, new tires, and new brakes on your race car would not be followed by a 300 mile race as the first test drive. Let your kids rip it up in focused games that will allow them to experiment with their new-found skills.

Developing speed in younger athletes 6-13 years old requires gameplay

Example: Teaching Arm Mechanics

Have your athletes practice swinging their arms while seated on the floor. Use cues like “your hands will move from cheek to cheek.” In a seated position, your athletes will be forced to flex the elbows in order to swing.

Now use silly runs to allow for exploration and discovery.

  • 1st run – have your athletes run with fast arms and slow legs.
  • 2nd run – have your athletes run with slow arms and fast legs.
  • 3rd run – have your athletes run with fast arms and legs, yet swinging their arms side to side.
  • 4th run – have your athletes run with fast arms and fast legs utilizing the arm skills they learned while seated.

After each run, ask your athletes how it felt. Ask them if they were running as fast as they wanted to.

Finally, play a game or have a competition where the kids can use their new-found mechanics in a game or competition. Relay races and tag are two of my favorites.

Employing these strategies to teach speed should augment a well-rounded and comprehensive program that fosters movement exploration, integrated systemic strength, muscle activation, active range of motion, coordination, and character shaping.

As stand-alone drills or activities for speed on a short-term basis, these methods will have a diminished effect. Long-term athletic development is the optimal tactic for the children you serve and in the end will lead to a faster, more injury resistant young athlete, which is why this process is the key to developing speed in young athletes 6-13 years old.


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Non-contact knee injuries in the female athlete

Non-contact knee injuries in the female athlete: A practitioner’s desktop meta-analysis

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By Dr. Toby Brooks, IYCA Director of Research and Education, Associate Professor, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

This will be a bit of an abnormal article for me. My job is to regularly review pretty much every contribution that comes to or through the IYCA and to edit, approve, or in some cases reject any submission prior to publication in any and all of our available media channels. Consistently, I tell contributors to back claims up with peer-reviewed literature and to substantiate any controversial claims or pull them out altogether. I do the same with my students. Any claim based on scientific fact or published research should be identified and cited.

However, I wanted to veer from our normal course here just a bit and discuss a topic that is germane to many of our coaching membership: ACL injuries in female athletes.

The thing is, I thought it would be best to take the view from 30,000 feet. Rather than dissecting each and every study and determining how they might apply to the training and conditioning of young athletes, I thought it might be best to analyze the major themes that have emerged from the literature over the past three decades. And just to keep it interesting, I am not going to specifically cite one article. Those are for you to find.

acl knee

We have long known that ACL injury rates among female athletes are significantly higher than their male counterparts. Many medical professionals suggest that females are anywhere between 2 and 10 times more likely to sustain an injury to the ACL that requires surgical management. Seven out of ten of those injuries are the result of a non-contact mechanism of injury. These are established, accepted facts. However, what is not as widely accepted or agreed upon is the reason for the disparity.

Intercondylar notch width, an anatomic variant, has been investigated. Endocrine-mediated factors have been investigated. The ACL actually has estrogen receptors that can, in theory, alter tensile strength depending upon where a female is in her menstrual cycle. Q-angle and the relationship of pelvic width to knee varus (“bow-leggedness”) or valgus (“knock-kneed”) have been examined. And lastly—and in my opinion most importantly—neuromuscular factors related to strength and proper landing mechanics have also been studied.

After more than a decade as an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning specialist working with athletes from middle school to professional sports, here’s my personal opinion: only one of those suggested mechanisms should really be of concern to the Youth Fitness Specialist: motor control.

And here’s why: it is the only one that is trainable.

All the other suggested sources for the differences between males and females—while fascinating—are scarcely alterable in a practical sense.

Notch width is what it is. No amount of intervention on my part as a coach is going to change that. The same goes for endocrine-mediated differences, too. I spent two years working with an NCAA Division 1 women’s gymnastics team. Trust me when I say if I could have intervened to reduce the influences of the semi-regular hormonal swings of the team (women who spend considerable time together tend to cycle together, in case you didn’t know. I didn’t until then.), I most certainly would have. Q-angle might be slightly modifiable if we get the athlete on an aggressive hip mobility program. But for the most part, those three potential sources provide little for the coach or YFS to do to truly intervene and minimize risk of injury.

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On the other hand, neuromuscular control IS modifiable. Heck, it is what we who are blessed enough to get to work regularly with developing athletes are striving for in the vast majority of our training. An athlete who is weak and doesn’t yet know how to land properly is at risk of injury. The role of the ACL is to prevent the tibia from moving forward relative to the femur. It is what is referred to as a “static” restraint, meaning it does not require volitional control to get the ACL to do its job.

Before the ACL is ever called into action, the hamstring group functions as a “dynamic” restraint. Unfortunately, in full extension, the hamstring has next to no mechanical advantage through which to stabilize the tibia from moving forward. For example, the force vector of hamstring contraction in full knee extension is more likely to simply compress the joint rather than prevent anterior tibial translation.

However, if an athlete possesses adequate eccentric muscular control in the quads, glutes, and hams, landing with a “soft” flexed knee not only absorbs shock, it positions the knee such that hamstring contraction prevents the tibia from moving forward and thereby prevents the ACL from being loaded. As a result, landing with a flexed knee provides both dynamic AND static support. Unfortunately, landing with a “stiff” extended knee provides only static restraint. The ACL is effectively “hung out to dry” and the hamstring cannot effectively assist.

Case (or in this unfortunate example, cases) in point, two different NFL football players (1 & 2) have recently sustained season-ending ACL injuries due to the performance of a celebratory “sack dance” popularized in response to an insurance company’s “discount double check” ad campaign. Both athletes are world-class and undoubtedly have incredible hamstring strength. Strength is not the problem. However, when performing this move, both athletes landed from a jump with an extended (or at least extending) knee. Without the hamstring able to provide a first line of defense against anterior tibial translation, the duty fell to the ACL. In both cases, the ACL failed. In both cases, the athletes will undergo surgery and have been lost for the season.

So the bottom line for the YFS, whether working with young athletes, male athletes, female athletes, or some combination of the above, is to teach and train athletes to learn to land. Low-level plyometrics and simple motor control drills are critical. Strength is important, but strength without neural control is dormant and ineffective in the moment of potential injury.

Countless training resources have been developed to help train young athletes to prevent non-contact knee injuries. Dr. Frank Noyes of the Cincinnati Sports Medicine Foundation and physical therapist and researcher Holly Silvers of Santa Monica Sports Medicine Foundation have both spearheaded impressive efforts to change the way athletes train and even warm-up in order to protect them from injury.

So while other suggested reasons for the difference between male and female knee injury rates are interesting, none are as readily modifyable as neuromuscular control. And teaching a young female athlete how to land properly is probably one of the most important things you can do to protect her from injury.

So the next time you decide to celebrate a new client, an unexpected bonus, or some other fortuitous piece of information by cranking out a discount double check of your own, modify it slightly with a flexed knee. Teach your athletes to do the same; your anterior cruciates will thank you.