Archive for “youth fitness” Category

How Physical Activity Enhances Brain Power – Erica Suter

If you’re a sport parent or coach, chances are, you enroll your kids in strength and conditioning programs so they become stronger, faster, and more resilient.

Of course, you want kids to perform at their best physically, whether that is by scoring goals, blowing by defenders, shooting three pointers, outrunning opponents, bodying off defenders, or making the audience “ooh” and “ahh” with sharp agility jukes. Expounding further, you want your kids safeguarded from injury and able to enjoy their sport, instead of being sidelined.

While performance and injury prevention are the backbone to youth strength and conditioning programs, I’d argue mental development is just as important.

Most of us have heard that physical activity improves cognitive function, but what exactly is going on at a neural level? How exactly does movement enhance memory, learning, and creativity? How can physical activity maintain or enhance brain function for a lifetime?

Without going into too much of a neuroscience discussion, here’s what you need to know: the brain establishes neural networks based on our experiences, from learning to roll over as a baby, to building the core strength to lift our heads up, to walking on different surfaces, to connecting the two hemispheres of the brain to perform sport-specific movements.

Movement, then, is the impetus for the expansion of new neural pathways in our nervous systems. Looking back to our elementary school days, we were able to learn skills in school because of the integrative dance of the muscles and brain.

When you learned cursive, your eyes moved to look at the chalkboard to see the letters on the board. Then, your brain sent a message to your hand to write what you saw on the paper.

Or how about learning a musical instrument? Your eyes followed the notes on the page, and the dance of your fingers and flow of your breath brought music out of your instrument.
Movement is a miracle. A gift. And something we should not take for granted. Movement leads to tremendous skills and rebuilds the plasticity of the brain for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, kids are being pulled away from magic of movement. Schools are cutting recess, video games are on the rise, phone and TV distractions are endless, strength and conditioning programs are not prioritized by sports clubs, physical education teachers are being laid off, and street pick-up games are waning. Because of all this, kids are becoming sedentary drones of society whose brains remain stagnant, close-minded, and distracted.

It’s sad because as we know that the brain is capable of restoring itself and rebuilding new pathways so long as we keep moving and challenging it with our movement.

Alas, to provide hope, there are several solutions to get the most out of your kids’ fitness and boost their brain power.

Let’s dive in:

1. Give them movement autonomy.

More often than not, physical activity for kids nowadays is under an organized setting. While some structure is needed for kids learn, I’d argue that free play is just as beneficial.

This doesn’t mean you should let kids run around with absolutely no guidance, but it’s totally okay to sprinkle in activities that give them autonomy. In fact, it’s highly encouraged.

As an example, for my middle school soccer players (ages 11-13), I will teach them a skill, then design a fun game around it where they have to problem solve on their own. My favorite game is “Soccer Break Dancing.” I give my kids a diverse menu of flashy soccer skills, then I tell them to get a partner and create their own dance together. Eventually, we all get in a circle and have a “dance-off.”

Not only is this activity one that inspires creativity, but it also allows them to create on their own and tap into the right side of their brains.  Find more conditioning games here.

2. Do cross-body movements daily.

Speaking of brain hemispheres, it is important for kids to activate both the left and right sides of their brains. The integration of the hemispheres allows humans to be optimally proficient in every life activity. Many people will argue, “oh, well they are a creative. They are just right-brained.” While some people may tap into one side an itty bit more, the left side is needed to analyze, sequence, and plan to jump-start the the creative process.

To give another soccer example, Messi is a “creative” player, but he needs the foot coordination and technique (left brain) in order to spontaneously (right brain) execute his skills. This is just one example of optimal interplay of both hemispheres.

With that said, research shows that cross-body movements maximize the functioning of both hemispheres. These movements are special because they cross the mid-line of the body, and allow the muscles of each side to work in concert together. Here are a few examples of cross-body movements you can perform daily to keep building neural pathways (adults included):

Cross Crawl

Crawling Coupling

3. Make fitness fun.

In order to inspire kids to be active in the digital age, fitness must be fun. The less of an obligation and chore it is, the more they develop a passion for movement and play.

Whether you are a parent, sports coach, or strength coach, there has to be a nice balance of structure and free play. However, for kids under age 8, free play is your best bet. Want them to get stronger? Take them to climb some trees. Want them to become more conditioned? Play tag. Want them to become agile, balanced, and aware? Take them to the playground.

Taking the conversation back to the “Break Dance” competitions I use for my athletes to hone in on autonomy, this is also a drill that allows kids to have fun and be carefree to come up with their own flow of movements:

Oddly enough, yes, coaches are there to instruct, but at the same time, we are also there to set up our kids’ environment so that it elicits certain physical results. Set things up properly, and let the drill do the work.  Over-coaching might look good from the outside (especially to over-bearing parents), but it doesn’t produce great results.  Kids need to learn and explore on their own.

Give these pointers a try and I promise the results will be nothing short of amazing. Your kids will not only have increased energy and focus, but also, increased confidence and creativity. And last I looked, these are things we want kids to have even outside of sports. After all, their sport careers will be over one day, and all they will have left is their brain power.

To that end, their mental development extends far, far beyond their athletic endeavors. It permeates into friendships, relationships, academics, career achievements, and creative pursuits.

Erica Suter is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and soccer performance coach at JDyer Strength and Conditioning in Baltimore, Maryland. She works with youth athletes across the state of Maryland in the areas of strength, conditioning, agility, and technical soccer training. Besides coaching, she is a passionate writer, and writes on youth fitness as well as soccer performance training on her blog www.ericasuter.com. She also is the creator of the Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program, which is a comprehensive guide for coaches and parents on how to train youth soccer players both safely and effectively. Her mission is to inspire a love for movement and play in kids, and motivate them to stay active for a lifetime.

Training Kids With Autism: The LDD Approach – Eric Chessen

“Okay so we’re gonna do squats so what I need you to do is first go to the ball and then feet out and look forward and remember…”

“Hold up. You want to see how I do it?” (coach nods)

“Squat.” (Then I demonstrate the squat)

It’s one of those crossover moments where a coach might find me during a bathroom break and tell me that there are striking similarities between coaching young athletes and coaching athletes with autism. Yup.

We talk about simplification in coaching and there is the constant pull to give more information. The art of coaching, in my experience, is a practice in providing as much verbal information as is useful and absolutely no more. I refer to this process as Label/Demo/Do (LDD).

When I say “Squat” the exercise is labeled. The goal is to have the athlete associate the word with the action. With the autism population, this may take a few dozen practices. With the neurotypical population glued to phone screens, this may take a few dozen practices. Yes, there are some similarities. Performance, whether in activities of daily living or sport, is about independent mastery. I get adamant about labels because I want to be across the room and be able to give directions that are then followed to the best of current ability.

Labeling is pouring concrete; we say it and it sets solid. During our Autism Fitness Certification seminars, attendees will practice coaching a medicine ball push throw. I’ll hear “Good push pass. Do another chest throw. Great chest push throw.” Turkish getups are not from Turkey. Bulgarian split squats were not smuggled out of the Eastern Bloc, but the labels stayed and we have a common language for these exercises. Our athletes, particularly those with autism and related disorders, need consistency and repetition. A push throw is always going to be a push throw. We should adhere to a Lord of the Rings rule; “One label to rule them all.”

Labeling also leads to opportunities for choice and autonomy. If I ask Karl whether he wants to do push throws or overhead throws first, he has a distinct understanding of each exercise. He can demonstrate a preference. For many individuals with autism, this is a highlight of independence and as close to free play as it gets. Because the labels “push throw” and “overhead throw” have been repeated consistently, practiced, and reinforced, Karl can understand the differences and elect his choice.

Introducing exercise is predominantly visual. We can easily show what a movement should look like. A long explanation tends to translate poorly towards performance and takes away from practice time. Demonstrating the exercise allows the athlete to have a visual reference for the movement. Also, some of my athletes genuinely enjoy watching me perform squats. I don’t know why.

Demonstrating is also a great opportunity to set up contingencies or if/then relationships. This is simply translated into “I go, you go.” Our athletes may require a demonstration of a new exercise multiple times during the teaching process. This is much easier and effective than explaining hip position, neutral spine, and every other abstract aspect of movement.

Doing is practice. When our athletes are doing we can assess and address whatever compensations or deviations arise. In the doing phase, we can coach and correct. When our athletes are doing, we can change the variables so that the press is more overhead, the heels are on the floor during squats, and that bear walks don’t deviate into pyramid shuffles (rear up in the air with hands and feet merely gliding across the ground).

Label/Demo/Do is about efficiency. In the 45-60 minutes I have with an athlete (often only 1x/week), I want more time practicing and moving, and less time explaining. Copious amounts of information do not enhance the experience.  Here is a very brief example of the LDD method in practice:

Where I will provide robust information is when providing Behavior-Specific Praise (BSP). My favorite concept and practice from the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), BSP follows the successful completion of a task and illuminates exactly what the individual did successfully. Rather than saying “Great job,” which I could say while staring at the wall, “Great job keeping your feet on the floor” during a push throw tells the athlete that I was watching and reinforces exactly what he/she was doing correctly. There’s a much greater chance they will repeat that behavior after using BSP.

BSP also allows me to give feedback that is descriptive but not overwhelming. When information comes in as instruction, it’s often just noise. When it is praise, there’s a higher chance it will connect with the athlete, neurotypical or otherwise.

The Label/Demo/Do approach seeks to optimize the time spent practicing and refining movement quality. It mitigates the dreaded “stand and wait while coach explains” and enables our athletes to transition quicker. For those working with the autism and special needs population, LDD decreases the opportunity to engage in off-task or problematic behaviors by, in technical terms, giving our athletes something better to do. It takes some practice to say less, but it enables us to coach more.

 

Eric Chessen, M.S., is the Founder of Autism Fitness and the Co-Founder of the strength equipment company StrongerthanU.com. Autism Fitness offers certification, online education, and consulting worldwide. For more information visit AutismFitness.com

Top 10 Posts of 2018

The IYCA would like to thank you for another incredible year.  We have several amazing things coming in 2019, but before we get there, let’s take a look back at the Top 10 posts from 2018.  

Find a nice place to read (or watch videos) and spend a few minutes during the holidays to go through anything you’ve missed.  There is a TON of great information from some of the best in the profession (These are NOT necessarily in order of “importance”):

#10 Power Clean Progression – Tobias Jacobi – Tobias was named the High School S & C Coach of the year, and his exercise progression series was a great addition to our Free Content area.

#9 Early Sports Specialization: Getting Them to Listen – Brett Klika – Brett is clearly one of the best youth trainers in the world, and this article gave advice on how to educate parents/coaches.

#8 Rethinking Long-Term Athlete Development – Jim Kielbaso – Sometimes the status quo needs to be challenged so that we can move forward.

#7 Bodyweight Training Progressions – Jordan Tingman – College S & C Coach, Jordan Tingman, joined the IYCA community with some awesome content that incorporates written and video material.

#6 A Strength Coach Career Path: A Winding Road – Joe Powell – A long-time contributor, and another college S & C coach, Joe uses his personal experiences as a backdrop to developing a career in sports performance.

#5 You Can’t Microwave an Athlete – Jim Kielbaso – One of the most “shared” articles of the year, this piece is very helpful for educating parents/coaches about why our approach works.

#4 The Stretching Conundrum – Dr. Greg Schaible – A talented and well-respected Physical Therapist, Greg has been another great addition to the IYCA community this year.  This article gets you thinking about how to best utilize stretching/flexibility work.

#3 Strength Coach’s Guide to Achilles Tendinopathy – Dr. Greg Schaible – One of Greg’s most popular pieces, probably because we all work with athletes who experience Achilles pain at some point.

#2 Plyometrics: 3 Ways They May Be Hurting Your Athletes – Phil Hueston – IYCA Advisory Council member and long-time member of the community, Phil is one of the most entertaining writers in the industry.  This article explains how many coaches mis-use plyometrics.

#1 The #1 Predictor of Coaching Success – Karsten Jensen – International S & C expert Karsten Jensen created this post after a conversation about surface learning began.  It turned out to be one of the most important pieces of the year because it creates a framework for expanding your knowledge.

If you just can’t get enough, here’s one more for you:

Bonus Practical is the New Functional – Jim Kielbaso – Most of us don’t coach in a vacuum.  Athletes are doing a million things, and we usually don’t get to control all of it.  This article discusses how important it is to create programs that are practical instead of “perfect.”

Metabolic Conditioning for Athletes, Part 2 – Phil Hueston

In Part 1 of this series on metabolic conditioning, I explored what energy is and how the body’s energy systems work. In this article, let’s have a practical look at what metabolic conditioning is and why we should do it with athletes.

The 3 Forms of Metabolic Conditioning

Metabolic Conditioning comes in three basic forms, two of which relate directly to exercise and training:

1. Anaerobic-based – According to Plisk, this is “Motor unit activity, substrate flux and force-speed production patterns such that anaerobic bioenergetics pathways are preferential.” (1) In other words, this form is based on muscle and system functions that prefer the ATP-CP system. Using it preferentially tends to lead to further preference. Your systems will get better at using this form, with a preference for it.

It’s peripheral in nature. We’re talking about muscles and the movement systems of the body. This includes voluntary and involuntary movement, so that twitch or tic you get is also dependent on this system. Think of it as the conditioning that strengthens muscles as well as the endurance of the body.

It buffers the hydrogen ions that accumulate in cells via the production of lactate (not lactic acid, as most folks like to say.)

As fast-twitch, or Type 2X fibers begin to fatigue, we see a slight transference from the ATP-CP system to the Glycolytic system. So, you can remain in an anaerobic metabolic conditioning state even as the principle energy system begins to fail.

2. Aerobic-based – Aerobic energy production is more “central” in nature and provides overall work capacity and endurance for activities of varying speed, intensity, and duration. While arguably more critical to quality and span of life, it can be accomplished through means that are not traditionally “aerobic.”

Aerobic metabolic conditioning integrates cardiovascular parameters into the conditioning process. These include heart rate, cardiac output, blood flow distribution, arterial pressures, total peripheral resistance, left ventricular stroke volume and arterial & venous blood oxygen content.

3. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – All energy expended for all activities other than eating, sleeping, and exercise or sports.

According to Levine “changes in NEAT accompany experimentally induced changes in energy balance and may be important in the physiology of weight change.” (2)  It can account for 270 to 480 calories per day, on average.

Energy. Metabolism. Energy metabolism. They’re all neighbors. Co-workers. You get the idea.

Why metabolic conditioning for athletes, anyway?

Yeah! Isn’t metabolic conditioning really for older, chubby people who are sick of looking like whales at the beach?

Yes and no. Yes, it helps with fat loss. No, it’s not just for the crowd trying to avoid the Porky Pig look.

What are the real benefits of metabolic conditioning for athletes?

Let’s take a look.

For a lot of coaches, metabolic conditioning is just a way to “kick the asses” of their athletes. Some athletes have even been conditioned to buy into this idea. I, for one, would greatly appreciate if those coaches would find work in another industry. Waste management, maybe.

Metabolic conditioning can be tough, and it probably should be, if it’s really going to be effective. Your metabolic conditioning program should challenge your athletes, but it should also make them better!

A quality metabolic conditioning program can provide the following benefits to athletes:

1. Serious calorie burning – While probably a bigger concern for the fat loss athlete than for competitive athletes, it’s an important consideration. While calorie burn during your training session is important, it’s really the boost in metabolic rate after the session that’s important.

Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) contributes to the “afterburn effect.” This occurs because the body is in an oxygen debt after intense exercise and is in the process of repairing muscle tissue. Add to this the lactate factor and EPOC becomes a pretty big deal. Metcon can enhance EPOC and keep the metabolism jacked.

Improvements in lean mass for athletes come with several other benefits. When an athlete’s metabolism is more efficient, he/she uses nutrients more efficiently. Protein and nitrogen uptake are improved and the rate of calorie expenditure per unit of work performed is positively affected.

Athletes can also become more “metabolically flexible.” (3) This means their bodies become able to perform at high levels using either carbs or fats for fuel. Conversion of fats to usable fuel gets more efficient and energy levels don’t vary as much.

2. Improvement to cardiovascular capacity – While steady state, low intensity exercise like jogging or a bike ride can have real impact on cardiovascular function and aerobic capacity, metabolic conditioning has been shown to improve VO2 max better than traditional aerobic exercise.

Perhaps more important, recovery times from high-intensity activities improve. That means when your athlete goes all out, they recover the ability to go all out again in a shorter time.

3. Improvements in hormonal profile – Metabolic conditioning has been shown to improve the profile of hormones that are involved in lipolysis, or fat burning. Metcon seems to intensify the positive hormonal profile results from just strength training. Recent research has shown an improvement in free testosterone in men who perform HIIT, or high-intensity interval training. (4)

4. Improvements in lean mass – Metabolic conditioning can help spur dramatic improvements in lean mass. While you’re unlikely to see large-scale increases in total mass or muscle size, metabolic conditioning contributes to reductions in body fat.

One benefit of the lean mass changes resulting from proper application of metabolic conditioning is one that many athletes understand, but few really talk about. After all, it’s become a little bit politically incorrect. I’m talking, of course, about the intimidation factor.

Few things are more intimidating to a less-conditioned athlete than the raw, hungry look of a lean, muscled athlete. Even athletes who aren’t “huge” look far more intense and scary when their muscles are showing. Any football player who has lined up across from someone whose muscles are on full display can attest to that…

5. Sport – or context-specific skill development – Especially with metabolic conditioning targeting the ATP-CP system, sport- and context-specific skills are often ideal for inclusion in programming. Because the work time is relatively short and the rest time fairly long, athletes can focus on perfecting skills like jumping, landing mechanics and direction change without losing any of the other benefits of metabolic conditioning.

If you have athletes preparing for combines, showcases or other recruiting-related or similar events, using metabolic conditioning to improve those skills is ideal. Drills like the Pro Shuttle, 40/60 yard dash starts, 10 yard splits, L Drills and others can be connected with other activities to increase metabolic conditioning while perfecting important skills.

You can even tie in sports skills like hitting a ball, ball handling skills, shooting or sprawling for wrestlers or shooting for soccer, lacrosse or hockey players with other conditioning activities to achieve the desired met con effect.

6. Improvements in brain chemistry – After accounting for stress and other life factors, we know that intense exercise like metabolic conditioning will improve the neurotransmitters in the brain, CNS and even the gut. Endorphins are released during and after intense exercise. Serotonin and dopamine levels are improved through exercise that pushes us near the point of physical exhaustion.

With regard to gut hormonal health, metabolic conditioning may be just what your athlete needs. Shorter duration, higher intensity exercise is believed by some alternative medicine doctors to “shock” serotonin receptor cells in the gut lining and improve the flow of gut serotonin. Long duration exercise, however, has been shown to damage gut linings and potentially lead to leaky gut syndrome. (5)

7. Improvements in cognitive function – There is so much research showing how exercise, particularly intense exercise, improves the cognitive function of the human brain that it should be a “no-brainer” by now. Sorry, bad joke. Neural pathways involved in working memory, recall, analysis and problem-solving all benefit from exercise. Some of the influence is hormonal, while some is structural and energy-related.

Another important way cognitive improvement happens is via an increase in Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF. BDNF is a brain protein which acts on specific neurons to improve long-term memory. It also has positive effects on the hippocampus, cortex and forebrain. All these areas are crucial to learning, memory and higher thinking. BDNF also has the ability to stimulate neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells from stem cells.

Moderate to intense exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on levels of BDNF in the brain and blood. This indicates a neuroprotective function for metabolic conditioning. (6, 7)

Are you with me that metabolic conditioning isn’t just for overweight, swimsuit model wanna-bes yet? You should be, or at least open to the idea.

Metabolic Conditioning workouts should be designed with the needs of the user in mind. The activities in which the exerciser will engage outside the gym should influence what is included in the training program. In the next part of this series, I’m going to show you how I use metabolic conditioning in my athlete’s programs.

We’ll review some general guidelines for designing these modules. I’ll also give you some sport-specific examples of skill-building through metabolic conditioning and a few ready-to-use programs for you to swipe and try.

Bio: Coach Phil Hueston is not just another pretty trainer. With over 18 years of in-the-trenches experience with athletes ages 6 to 60, he brings a unique skill-set to the improvement of his athletes. The author of the Amazon best-seller “Alchemy; Where the Art and Science Collide in Youth Fitness,” his client list includes professional athletes, collegiate athletes as well as thousands of youth athletes. Phil has been the co-owner of All-Star Sports Academy in Toms River, NJ, one of the largest and most successful youth and family fitness centers in New Jersey since 2008. He was named “Coach of the Year” by the IYCA for 2012-2013.  A contributor to IYCA.org and coach to other coaches, Phil provides unique insights and ideas that can help other coaches accelerate their clients’ progress and performance. Phil is married to the woman responsible for his entry into the fitness profession, MaryJo. Between them they have 2 grown children, Nate and Andrew, and 99 problems.  Phil’s personal website is coachphilhueston.com, and he can be contacted at phil.hueston@hotmail.com

 

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes.  The course includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

 

  1. Plisk, S.S. (1991). Anaerobic metabolic conditioning: A brief review of theory, strategy,
    and practical application. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, 5(1), 22-34
  2. Levine, J.A. (2004). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Nutrition Reviews, 62(7), S82-S97.
  3. Brooks, GA, and Mercier, J. Balance of carbohydrate and lipid utilization during exercise: The “crossover” concept. Journal of Applied Physiology 76(6): 2253-2261, 1994.
  4. Herbert, P., HIIT produces increases in muscle power and free testosterone in male masters athletes. Endocrine Connections, Vol 6, Iss 7, Pp 430-436 (2017)
  5. R. J. S. Costa, R. M. J. Snipe, C. M. Kitic, P. R. Gibson. Systematic review: exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome-implications for health and intestinal disease. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 2017
  6. Szuhany KL, Bugatti M, Otto MW (January 2015). “A meta-analytic review of the effects of exercise on brain-derived neurotrophic factor”. Journal of Psychiatric Research
  7. Phillips C, Baktir MA, Srivatsan M, Salehi A (2014). “Neuroprotective effects of physical activity on the brain: a closer look at trophic factor signaling”. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience.

Fun Core Exercises for Young Athletes – Erica Suter

“Okay kids, it’s time for core work!” says the team coach.

After these words are uttered, young athletes might sigh in frustration or dread the countless reps of Sit-Ups ahead.  It’s like they’ve been programmed to expect core training to be boring and difficult.  

While I am not totally against Sit-Ups, we must ask ourselves as youth coaches, ‘what am I trying to accomplish?’ when programming core exercises. Moreover, ‘how am I helping these young athletes become more resilient for their sport?’

Core training must be approached in a multi-faceted manner, which takes more than just instructing kids to do countless Sit-Ups. Since the core encompasses muscle groups beyond the “six pack abs,” all muscles must be attacked when programming core exercises for kids, so we are improving their performance in sports, and reducing the chance of injuries.

Think of the core as the foundation of an athlete’s body – it allows kids to maintain balance, transfer force, sprint with clean mechanics, and perform sport specific actions with power. Multiple muscle groups must be activated in order for these actions to be optimized.

In soccer, for example, if a kid wants a stronger shot, the core must stabilize the spine in order to for the hips to work efficiently, then rotate correctly so there is enough power produced when the ball is struck. Not only will the core produce power, but it needs to stabilize the spine in order to minimize the stress on the low back. More core stability, then, equals less low back compensation for many sport-specific actions.

With that said, core training must ensure kids are strengthening all of the muscles that wrap around the torso, from the hip extensors, to hip flexors, to the anterior core muscles, to the internal and external obliques.

While core training may be difficult, it can also be enjoyable. Eventually, Sit-Ups may prove too easy for kids, or perhaps too monotonous. To that end, kids enjoy challenges. Kids enjoy variety. Kids enjoy games. Kids enjoy the novelty of new exercises.

Here are four fun core exercises you can do with your youth athletes (and get creative with):

1. Resistance Band Chaos Dead Bug

The Dead Bug is an excellent exercise for anterior core activation as well as stability through the lumbo-pelvic region. Once athletes master the conventional Dead Bug, here is a fun, yet challenging partner variation to try:

Perform 2-3 sets, 15-30 seconds.

2. Chaos Ball Dead Bug

This is another way to add more external “chaos” to the Dead Bug. The more force your partner applies to the ball, the more it ups the ante. Youth athletes love this one because they have fun challenging their partner.

Perform 2-3 sets, 15-30 seconds.

3. Bird Dog High Fives

The Bird Dog is a stellar movement for contralateral coordination, as well as anterior core and gluteal activation. However, sometimes, the conventional Bird Dog can become too easy as well as monotonous. Here is a fun game to try to spice up the Bird Dog movement:

Perform 2-3 sets, 6-8 reps each side.

4. Pull-Up Hold

The Pull-Up Hold is not only an excellent upper body strength exercise but also a difficult anterior core and gluteal exercise. Being able to maintain full body tension by squeezing the glutes and bracing the core is extremely challenging, and will help kids to build serious strength. To make this drill more fun, I like to do Pull-Up Hold Battles and have two athletes face off on who can hold the Pull-Up the longest.


Perform 2-3 sets, for as many seconds as possible.

So which one will you give a whirl first?

I promise your youth athletes will be inspired by the challenges these exercise present, as well as look forward to performing them. Additionally, they will feel stronger, more resilient, and more confident to play their sport. Fun, yet challenging core exercises that work all the muscles in the torso and hone stability are a win-win.

Erica Suter is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and soccer performance coach at JDyer Strength and Conditioning in Baltimore, Maryland. She works with youth athletes across the state of Maryland in the areas of strength, conditioning, agility, and technical soccer training. Besides coaching, she is a passionate writer, and writes on youth fitness as well as soccer performance training on her blog www.ericasuter.com. She also is the creator of the Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program, which is a comprehensive guide for coaches and parents on how to train youth soccer players both safely and effectively. Her mission is to inspire a love for movement and play in kids, and motivate them to stay active for a lifetime.

Connect with her here:
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Building Agility From the Ground Up – Brett Klika

As youth strength and conditioning coaches, we often find that the basic skills of athleticism we once took for granted with youngsters are now underdeveloped or missing altogether.  This is most apparent in pre-pubescent athletes as inactivity and lack of physical education has left them at a developmental detriment.

When we have a chance to work with these children, our role now includes introducing and building the most foundational constructs of many athletic skills. In essence, we have to be able help kids build athletic skills from the ground up.  

Agility is an athletic skill that many deconditioned or underprepared young children struggle with. As opposed to more absolute skills like speed and strength, agility requires fast, efficient, and frequent communication between the brain and body in response to varying demands. Building a foundation for this and other athletic skills requires an understanding of a developing child’s underlying sensorimotor circuitry.

The sensorimotor system, made up of various Perceptual Motor Skills, is responsible for linking the information a child takes in through their senses to an effective motor output. For example, a child tracks and focuses on a ball moving toward them (visual awareness). This visual information is used to develop a sense of where the ball is in relation to themselves and the surrounding area (spatial awareness). A sense of internal timing (temporal awareness) uses this sensory data and works with the proprioceptive system to move the right joints and appendages at the right time to have a glove meet the ball at some point in space.

Kids used to develop this sensory foundation through frequent free-play, physical education, and multi-sport participation. Unfortunately, fewer modern children have access or interest in all of the above. Facilitating this brain-body process has now become part of our job as a youth strength and conditioning coach.

To begin building an important athletic skill like agility, consider the different sensory-based perceptual motor skills listed below. Understanding and targeting these skills provides valuable insight as to how to build athleticism, regardless of a child’s ability.   Integrate activities like the ones listed during warm ups, or other strategic times during training to start building the underlying skills for agility.

(For a list of the 9 perceptual motor skills and how they impact performance, click here). http://spiderfitkids.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Intro-Module-for-Powerful-Play-Final-8-dragged.png

Body awareness: Knowledge of the different body parts and what they do provides a child endless options for how to move their body to maneuver the demands placed on them from the environment.

Body awareness activity: Body Letters

Visual awareness: An ability to focus, track, and take in information from a full field of vision provides essential sensory information telling a child what movement adaptations are needed to navigate the changing demands of the environment.

Visual awareness activity: *Group Tag (Hand Signs)

*Divide kids into three groups. Whichever number you are holding up, that group is “it” and tags the other groups. When tagged, perform 5 push-ups, then back in game. Change frequently.

Directional awareness: Being able recognize and respond accurately to directional cues, in addition to being able to move efficiently in different planes of motion is essential for multidirectional speed, a key component of agility.   

Directional awareness activity: *Quick Feet Reaction

 

*Progress to not using visual cues, i.e. pointing, gesturing, etc.

Temporal awareness:  Developing an internal sense of timing, rhythm, and precision helps children adapt their movement tempo based on the demands of the environment. Honing this skill also increases a child’s ability to anticipate other’s movement.

Temporal awareness activity: *My Gears

*Use different locomotion patterns, i.e. jumping, skipping, running, etc.

Spatial awareness: When a child is familiar with how much space their body takes up, in addition to their relation to other things in their environment, they are able to use this information to fine-tune movement.

Spatial awareness activity: Hop Guesser:

Proprioceptive awareness:  The proprioceptive system provides constant feedback as to where joints are in relation to one another and what the load demands are for each of them. This internal feedback helps youngsters adjust movement elements like body position and force. This ability is essential in improving agility.

Proprioceptive awareness activity: 4-Way Balance 

While other perceptual motor skills are involved with developing agility, start creating a foundation of those listed above. Add these activities as part of a warm up or game to get kids engaged prior to more tactical work. Consider how common games and activities performed during training could be slightly modified to focus on these and other sensory skills.  Asses how a child’s level of development with these individual skills is impacting their performance.

A youth strength and conditioning coach with the knowledge and practical know-how for engineering athletic skills for all levels of youngster can inspire more kids to be athletic for life.

 

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and a regular contributor to the IYCA who is passionate about coaching young athletes.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.

 

 

If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

 

Top 10 Tips for Training Young Athletes – Jim Kielbaso

The IYCA has produced hundreds of articles and dozens of courses/certifications on important topics related to training young athletes.  There is a lot to know and understand about long term athlete development (LTAD) and creating exceptional training experiences for young athletes.  While it’s impossible to have a full understanding of everything involved in this process, this article boils it down into the Top 10 tips for training young athletes.
Whether you’re a trainer, coach, administrator or parent, this list will give you a basic understanding of the most important concepts involved in training young athletes.  training young athletes
1.  Progress over Performance: Focusing on wins and losses is like fools gold.  You may have won the game or race, but that doesn’t mean you made progress or performed your best.  Celebrate progress rather than performance.  Have a plan and goal for training, and don’t let unimportant competitions get in the way of sticking to the plan.  For young athletes, competitions should be viewed as opportunities to use what has been worked on in practice rather than judging who is good or bad.
2.  Think Long-Term:  Rather than taking shortcuts to see some short-term success, build a strong foundation that will allow an athlete to build upon. Young athletes need to develop fundamental motor skills, coordination and all-around athleticism that will enable them to perfect sports skills later in their development.  Athletic development takes time and can’t be rushed.  The goal shouldn’t be winning the game this weekend.  Instead, build athletic qualities that will allow for continued growth.
3.  Balance General & Specific:  Many coaches want to focus exclusively on one sport or event in order to achieve early success.  While this may help children perform well at a young age, you cannot go back and develop foundational skills like coordination and motor control once the window has closed.  While sports skills certainly need to be taught, be sure to include “general athleticism” drills when training young athletes to build a stronger capacity to learn and perfect skills later.  These two concepts should not be mutually exclusive.  It’s absolutely possible to use the warm-up period to enhance athleticism by including fundamental motor skills, plyometrics, coordination activities, strength development, and mobility work.

kids meeting athletes

4.  Ignite a Fire & Develop Confidence: The goals of every youth sports coach should always be to inspire a desire to excel and to keep kids coming back for more.  Give them examples of what they can be by introducing them to older athletes, taking them to events, and painting mental images of what their future may hold.  Get them to see where they could be someday.  Keep dreams alive in every child until they decide to move on.  Many athletes mature late, and just need to stay with a sport long enough for their strength, size, and power to develop.

5.  Teach Young Athletes More Than Sports: Sports are metaphors for life.  Use sports to teach lessons about the value of hard work, listening, cooperation, repetition, and other life skills.  If all you focus on is the sport, you are missing an opportunity to make a much larger impact on a young athlete.
6.  Focus on the Nervous System: While young athletes can improve strength and endurance, their hormones and anaerobic energy systems are not fully developed yet, so they will not see major improvements in muscular size or anaerobic capacity until adolescence.  Before that time, focus on developing the nervous system by training technique, coordination and fundamental abilities like balance and kinesthetic awareness.  Gradually change the focus over time as the athlete matures.
7.  Balance Variety & Repetition: Variety is an excellent way to stimulate the developing nervous system, but repetition will develop technique.  Young athletes need both and should be taught the value of repetition and the enjoyment of variety.
8.  Basic Scientific Principles Apply: The two most important scientific training principles to understand when training young athletes are Systematic Progression and Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (S.A.I.D. Principle).  The S.A.I.D. Principle states that the body will adapt very specifically to the stimulus it encounters.  In other words, we get better at what we practice.  For example, if we want to increase strength, we must consistently put the muscle under tension with intensity.  It will respond by adding more protein strands which will eventually manifest as a stronger, larger muscle.  On the other hand, performing low intensity, high volume exercises will increase muscular endurance rather than muscular strength.  Both are good, but you need to understand the goal before you choose the training method.
progressive overload for training young athletes
Systematic Progression is the concept of systematically increasing the demands placed upon the athlete in order to stimulate constant adaptation.  As a very simple example, if an athlete wants to increase her pull-up strength, and can currently do 5 pull-ups, she should eventually strive to get 6 reps.  When six reps are achieved, she should try to do 7 reps.  This is a very basic example, but the point is that athletes should constantly be challenged to do that which they are not currently able to do.  This concept holds true for all physical attributes.
9.  Slight Overreach:  This concept works hand-in-hand with Systematic Progression, but can include practices and competitions as well.  The idea is to push athletes barely out of their comfort zone – both in training and competition.  Have them compete against opponents that are slightly better than them so they are always striving to improve.  Be very careful not to put them in too many situations that are completely out of their reach as this often leads to frustration and decreased self-esteem.  It’s also important for young athletes to feel successful, so give them opportunities to succeed as well.  There should be a healthy balance between a young athlete feeling confident and knowing he/she can improve.  Great coaches are able to keep confidence high while helping the athlete work toward larger goals.
10. Use Volume, Don’t Abuse It:  The volume (or amount) of work is one of the most misunderstood concepts in athlete development, and it can be highly individualized.  A volume of work that is too low will not elicit progress.  On the other hand, a very high volume of work is often unnecessary and leads to injuries, boredom, and burnout.  An athletes biological age, training age, genetics, nutrition, sleep patterns, and outside activities are all factors in how much volume is appropriate.  Coaches and parents need to constantly monitor a young athlete’s physical, mental and emotional well-being, and be prepared to make adjustments at any time.
These 10 tips provide an overview of the most important concepts to understand when training young athletes.  For more in-depth information on the concepts and specifics on how to implement them, the IYCA encourages you to go through the Youth Fitness Specialist Level 1 certification and look into the Long Term Athlete Development Roadmap.
Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI.  He has authored multiple books, articles and training products and has spoken at events around the world.  He holds a BS in Exercise Science, an MS in Kinesiology and has gone through multiple certifications through the IYCA, NSCA, NASM and more.  Jim is a former college strength & conditioning coach and has trained thousands of athletes at every level of competition.  He runs a successful NFL Combine training program in Michigan and has been hired as a consultant for major sports programs like the University of Michigan Football Program and the University of Kentucky Basketball Program.

Is the Guru Always Right? – Brett Klika

As a young strength and conditioning coach, I would read an article or watch a presentation by one of my “big name” industry idols and immediately rush back to my own programs to employ what I had learned.

Sometimes, bam! It was like magic. The little programming secret I had learned from coach X helped transform my ability to help kids. Other times, it was more like, thud! The kids didn’t respond. It appeared unsafe for my training environment. I didn’t have the facilities, program setup, or coaching support required.

Assuming the problem was on my side (a guru would never lead me wrong), I often continued to torpedo my program with these strategies that weren’t really working for me or my athletes, but were apparently the “right” thing to do. After all, I didn’t want to seem like I was out of the loop when talking shop with colleagues.  The unfortunate result of this blind faith ranged from athlete and parent disengagement to unnecessary injury.

There definitely are “ideal world” or context-specific youth program strategies that can help improve kids’ performance. In the real world, however,  coaches find themselves in vastly different situations with the athletes, facilities, and training environments.  When we can be open to trying new things, but become reflective and honest enough to determine what works for us, it optimizes the performance and safety of our athletes.

Take an activity like crawling, for example. I personally tout the benefits of this training activity for nearly every level of athlete. However, in my touting, I may not mention that I primarily use this when I have a smooth indoor training surface. Outdoor synthetic turf gets too hot when the sun is out. Asphalt is out of the question, and poorly maintained real grass can get too muddy, sticky, and allergy-inducing to be a safe, effective surface for this activity.  

I only do crawling games when there is ample space because I’ve experienced multiple injuries from fingers getting stepped on when kids are moving in an over-congested area. I have primarily trained in upper-middle-class areas of wealthy Southern California, suggesting that the kids I’ve worked with are less likely to be morbidly obese than those training in more impoverished areas.

If this disclaimer was provided with every strategy a coach shares with the masses, our advice would take the shape of one of those drug commercials with the fast-talking “this drug might kill you” guy at the end. The truth is, within a majority of the context from which I coach and train, my athletes are engaged, parents see the value, and kids safely improve their strength from crawling activities. You may experience something completely different.  

Odds are, we’re both right.

Below are some of the alleged “must do” activities and equipment that many love, but I am willing to admit I’ve had either safety or practicality concerns within my own programs, particularly with groups of kids under the age of 8.

Medicine Balls

Gasp! How dare I question one of the original “4 Horsemen” of fitness? Don’t get me wrong, I still use medicine balls with nearly everyone I work with. However, when working with my youngest kids, I’ve developed concerns over the years.

For one, rebounding medicine balls often rebound too quickly off of the ground or off of walls for this age, resulting in frequent bloody noses and similar mishaps. Tossing balls back and forth hasn’t worked well with this age due to hand/eye coordination challenges and the relatively large size of many balls.

Soft-coated balls work better, but I’ve found these to be expensive and with the concrete area I’ve used for training, durability becomes a concern. I’ve also been challenged with balls rolling away or errantly being tossed in the wrong direction, causing tripping and “falling debris” hazards.

For my youngest athletes, I’ve had better success with softer weighted implements, like SandBells® that have similar benefits without the risks of most medicine balls. For rebounding types of activities, I’ll often use playground balls.

Back-pedaling

While it’s obvious we have to train youngsters to be able to move in every direction, I have grown to be extra careful when teaching kids to move backward. This activity requires movement with very little visual feedback. Young children rely almost exclusively on visual feedback, so their balance and spatial orientation are going to be severely compromised.

I’ve witnessed numerous falls and collisions, some resulting in concussions and broken bones when I’ve turned kids loose to do relay races, agility drills, and other activities while moving backward.

I still help children develop this skill, but I have learned to take the following considerations:

  1. Spend a significant amount of time teaching reverse marches and skips prior to running in this orientation. This includes performing agility drills using these regressions.
  2. Only perform back-pedaling in an open area where tripping will not result in colliding with other objects or people.
  3. When running backward, keep distance relatively short, i.e. 10-15 yards
  4. Never have young children race while running backward, particularly outside of 10-15 yards.

Resistance Tubing with Handles

For many, resistance tubing with handles has proven to be an easily transportable, safe, and effective resistance training method for nearly every age. While I’ve found this to be true with adults and more advanced, body-aware athletes, I have not found it to be true for youngsters.

For one, when training on a field with a group, there must be a fixed anchor to attach the tubing. I’ve found I can’t always depend on this. The elastic nature of the bands is a safety concern for young kids as well. Despite repeatedly sharing instructions and safety expectations, the temptation for kids to test the elastic boundaries of the bands is too great. One mis-handling can result in a band snapping another child. Yes, I have seen a child nearly “put an eye out”.

Even under regular training conditions bands can break under load, particularly when outdoors in the heat. When performing exercises, young children struggle with eccentric control, so the elastic recoil of the bands highlights this disparity.  Kids find this “ragdoll” phenomenon entertaining, so they are slow to correct.

I prefer using SandBells® and even medicine balls for resistance training with young children when away from an established weight room environment.  

The reason I share the above with you is to show that despite what “others” have said, I myself am challenged with some of the “established” paradigms when it comes to training youth. But, I have found ways and methods that work for me and my athletes in our training environment.

How do you determine if a training tool or program suggestion is truly working for you and the kids you work with, or if you’re merely trying to force square pegs into round holes?

Quickly answer these questions:

  1. Has your program grown objectively (in participation and profitability) since employing a new strategy?
  2. Does it improve athlete engagement?
  3. Does it improve value to parents?
  4. Has it resulted in more, or fewer injuries during training or game play?
  5. Does an increase in the amount of cost, administration, and/or time result in improved athletic AND BUSINESS results?
  6. Do you truly believe in the intended purpose and/or outcome?
  7. Does it improve the rate and magnitude of results with your athletes without compromising your training culture, business, or other critical factors allowing you to continue to help kids?
  8. Does it allow you to “be yourself” and connect with kids in the way you feel is the most critical?
  9. Does it objectively contribute to the longevity of your program and/or training business?
  10. Is the program model from which the advice comes relevant to yours?

As coaches, it’s essential that we employ programming tools that create the path of least resistance to the greatest magnitude of outcome for our athletes and our business.  

These tools can be different for everyone.

 

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and a regular contributor to the IYCA who is passionate about coaching young athletes.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.

 

If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

 

Lower Body Power Generation for the Junior Golfer – Nelson Morales YFS1

The number one thing that a golfer looks for when they seek an outside professional in the fitness world is to increase their power off the tee.  For those foreign to the game of golf, this is the home plate or line of scrimmage – the first shot on each hole. Tiger Woods ushered in the concept of performance training for golf, and as more and more professionals are seen training, it is becoming a normal part of the golf community. Because of this, parents are more apt to get their junior golfer involved in performance training, which represents an exceptional opportunity for the youth fitness professional.

Many children become enamored with the sport of golf as early as 3-5 years old.  Many want to focus solely on the game before their 10th birthday, which means fitness professionals will need to be familiar with the concept of long-term athlete development (LTAD) in order to give them more of a multilateral approach to their development.  

We must consider the needs and past experiences of a young golfer.  They may be experiencing some success at a young age, but have they developed a strong foundation of balance, coordination, strength, and mobility?  They will all want to increase their rotational power so that they see immediate improvements in their game. This can be tricky because you have to give them a little of what they want, so you can also give them what they need.  

Here are a few examples of how I create habits to generate power with the junior golfer and tie in the IYCA LTAD Model so you can gradually progress athlete to more challenging activities or version of each exercise.

Keep in mind that these are just a few exercises that can be used, and none of them require equipment or weights.  While traditional strength training can be beneficial for young athletes, it is wise to start with bodyweight exercises.  This will allow them to develop body control and technique, and it is also a much easier way to introduce training to the parents of young golfers who may be resistant if they think you are trying to “bulk up” their children.  While there are training misconceptions in all sports, the golf world is still very new to resistance training, so starting with bodyweight exercises is a great way to begin.

Ages 6-9

Game/exploration-based fitness activities:

Frog Hops:

Cueing should be limited at this age so they learn how to explore movement options, but you can say things like “get down like a frog and show me your best hop for distance” or “jump over the lily pads.” This helps them create mental images.  

Here you can lay out cones or agility dots/hoops as visual reference points and call them lily pads. Here is where you need to set your perimeters and let them know they can’t jump out of the “pond.” See where they take it and allow for exploration and self-discovery. You can add an element of excitement and intensity by adding an “alligator” that chases them.  This is just you running after them, but it will get them to jump faster and farther and the laughter will be contagious.  We are also nurturing the concept of spatial awareness at this stage. They will be learning different movement patterns and creative movement options to solve this “movement puzzle” as they get across the pond and evade the alligator.  

While simply jumping from pad to pad may not seem difficult for every child, it will improve lower body power as well as decision making (to decide which lily pad they can get to), distance perception and body control.  You can challenge athletes by only jumping with one foot or spreading out the lily pads.

Ages 10-13

Cueing should still be somewhat limited for this age group, but you can definitely start to connect the dots between training and better performance on the course.  Of course, you will also give enough instruction to ensure a safe training experience. Here’s an example of how you could use “golf language” to win over the attention of an elite junior golfer.   It’s important for them to feel that the training is relevant to their sport and that you know a little about it.

Broad Jumps:  Step 1: “We’re going to do an exercise that will help you with your strike at impact.  More leg strength equals more power into your drive.” Every golfer wants a strong drive to set them up for the next shot, and they know that strong and straight equals lower scores. Step 2: “Crouch down into a deep squat like you’re looking at your target line for a putt.” Of course, you want to visually demonstrate as well due to the modes of learning. At this age, they should have a decent understanding of the squat. They’ve most likely done it in gym class or seen it done in some manner. Step 3: “Explode out the way a ball explodes off the tee down the fairway. Land in the same position you started in, and aim the body to be in the middle of the X or Crack. Soft knees and think ninja-like “set-up posture.”

While this exercise is very similar to the frog hops over lily pads described above, athletes in this age group can handle a slightly greater volume of training, so more repetitions can be performed.

You can also put a challenge in front of athletes this age. Lay down a measuring tape and do a “best out of 5” or “beat your score” challenge.  Challenge and reward is huge with this age group. The positive reinforcement gets them geared up to better themselves the next time they attempt the task as well.  The feeling of accomplishment and a “Great Job” goes a long way.  You can progress to a 3-jump or 5-jump version (3 or 5 consecutive jumps) and even into single-leg hops to add bot intensity and kinesthetic challenge.  Constantly find small ways to push them just past their comfort zone in an effort to achieve slightly better performances.

Ages 14-18 years old:

In the golf world this age group is still largely considered in the “Junior” arena, but this is where training will become more intense and sport specific. Every little minor thing at this stage means the difference between Top 5-10 or Cut after the first day of tournament play, so detail is enhanced at this stage of development. What we tend to find at this age, especially at the younger side of the spectrum, is a “wonkiness” within the realm of balance. So, here is an example of taking an exercise that can be used even for the younger age groups and bringing it to the older ones.

Plyo push-up to a 2-foot and 1-foot land & stick:

Here we try cover a few areas at once. They’re beginning to develop upper body strength and with appropriate level push-ups they can really create some explosive power. Yet we still want to emphasize lowe- body power, balance and athleticism.

Start face down, straight legs, one line from head to heel on the floor. With arm at side and elbow slightly tucked at chest height, explode up as quickly as possible, and land in an athletic stance as softly as possible. Emphasize quickness and reactivity in addition to fighting to maintain balance. When the movement is mastered, progress to closing the eyes in order to challenge the athlete’s balance, proprioception and kinesthetic awareness.  Start with the 2-footed landing, and eventually progress to a 1-footed landing. Start with eyes open, and move to eyes-closed.

Here you can see the “eyes-closed” version:

Here is the 1-foot eyes-closed version:

These are simple examples of explosive exercises that can be done for the junior golfer.  Of course, the progression and slow build-up process that the IYCA teaches is the best approach for long-term results.  While these exercises can be used for any athlete, speaking their “sport language” will help develop buy-in and enhance their perception that the program is helping them at their sport.  

So as you see the exercise variation can be the same at all ages but is in the nature of the instruction and intention of the exercise where your overall results will stem from. The IYCA Model represents a build-up approach and as we know slow and steady does win the overall race to a well-structured athlete. Within universal exercises but the language of the golf world you can truly affect the development of junior golfer and the creation of their power.

 

Nelson Morales is the owner of KFS Fitness & Performance in Orlando, Florida and S & C Coach for the Henry Brunton Golf Academy. He works with Junior golfers ages 4- 18 as well as players on the Pro Golf Tour Circuits.

Athlete Development Model – Jim Kielbaso

Athlete Development ModelLong term athlete development has been discussed for years, but the concept is still incredibly confusing for practitioners.  Part of the reason for this confusion is that the models are missing details and coordination of efforts between coaches, trainers and parents.

At the 2018 IYCA Summit, Jim Kielbaso offered a new way of thinking about athlete development and offered a solution for how we move forward.  He spoke about where we’ve been, what has been done and outlined a model that will add to the already existing LTAD models.

While most of the theoretical models have great thoughts and rationale behind them, we still find that professionals hide inside their own “silos” without coordinating their efforts with the other important parties involved.  If a S & C Coach can’t coordinate with the sport coach, the athlete is ultimately going to suffer and results will not be optimal.

Youth sports has become a business that is often more about the adults involved than the kids.  Because of this, early specialization gets shoved down everyone’s throats, and complete athlete development is ignored.  Numerous articles, books and videos have been produced describing the problems associated with the current sports industry.  But, instead of making changes, we seem to be stuck in a rut of complaining.

We also know that most athletes don’t start a formal performance training program until they have already shown some athletic promise or strong interest in improving.  Instead of waiting, what can we do as a profession to help enhance the opportunities and experiences of all young athletes?

We may not love the systems that are in place, but we need to be pro-active and work towards changing youth sports systems from the inside instead of complaining that things “aren’t the way they should be.”

The video above is meant to get coaches to think about how we can begin working together to create exceptional experiences for athletes and help them reach their true potential.  Most coaches have great intentions but get stuck in their own silo because there is so much to be done in their area of expertise.  It’s time to make a change.  Watch the video and leave your comments below on how we can make this happen.

 

The old “windows of opportunity” Long Term Athlete Development model doesn’t explain what to actually do at each stage of development.  Learn the truth about long term athlete development and how to approach athletes at every level in the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap.  This is the most comprehensive approach to long term athlete development available.  Click on the image below to learn more.

Also visit http://LongTermAthleteDevelopment.com for more information on Long Term Athlete Development.

Rethinking Long Term Athlete Development – Jim Kielbaso

The concept of long term athlete development (LTAD) has been around for several years, but it has more recently become a hot topic amongst youth sports and training organizations.  It seems that everyone now needs a formula for how to develop great athletes so they can represent their countries and succeed as professionals.  Several academicians have taken the lead on reviewing the relevant literature and have written articles and books about the topic.  They have used this literature to create several different models for developing athletes.  While these models were a great start, their oversimplification of athlete development seems to be steering coaches, trainers and parents in the wrong direction.    

To begin, the entire premise of LTAD theory needs to be examined.  When it originated in the late 1990’s, academician Istvan Balyi identified some very important issues in many countries and sporting organizations, so he created a 3-stage model that emphasized long term athlete development over winning competitions.  This premise challenged the approach of many coaches and got a lot of people to open their eyes to the problems in youth sports.   

Balyi’s original model included three phases – Training to Train, Training to Compete and Training to Win.  A few years later, he realized that a fourth stage – FUNdamentals – should be added to address the fundamental motor skills that should be developed early in a child’s life.  

Sporting organizations latched on to this theory and quickly started talking about it as a formula that would create great athletes.  As these theories picked up steam, other academicians decided to jump on the train and create their own models.  They included talent identification, more in-depth discussion on early childhood, and there was a strong emphasis on taking advantage of hypothetical “windows” of opportunity where different training methods would supposedly have a greater impact. The models told coaches when to emphasize strength training, speed training, endurance training and when to emphasize competition vs. training.  

Eventually, some groups realized that an LTAD approach may also give children great sporting experiences that would lead to lifelong enjoyment of physical activity.  Because of the childhood obesity and physical illiteracy epidemics, this idea seemed very attractive.  

A few organizations came out with their own versions of LTAD that included 7-9 stages of development, and they felt good about adopting this approach because they believed it was the “right thing to do for kids,” even though it was nothing more than words on paper for most groups.  These organizations would hire an expert to put together a model, but they didn’t seem to put much effort into the actual implementation.  Education and coordination of efforts were left out of the models.

Eventually, the stages looked like this:

  • Stage 1 – Active Start (0-6 years old)
  • Stage 2 – FUNdamentals (girls 6-8, boys 6-9)
  • Stage 3 – Learn to Train (girls 8-11, boys 9-12)
  • Stage 4 – Train to Train (girls 11-15, boys 12-16) 
  • Stage 5 – Train to Compete (girls 15-21, boys 16-23)
  • Stage 6 – Train to Win (girls 18+, boys 19+)
  • Stage 7 – Active for Life (any age)

More in-depth models described when each training method would elicit the best results.  USA Hockey did a much better job with their American Developmental Model that looked like this:

Still, a lot was left out, especially any details on implementation.  For the most part, LTAD has remained theoretical, and implementation has largely been missing.  

To be clear, the models aren’t necessarily “wrong” as much as they are incomplete and misleading.  Most of them give the reader the impression that they have been thoroughly tested and proven, and that they contain a formula for success.  This may not have been their original intent, but that’s how it has been taking by the sporting world.

The strength & conditioning/sports performance profession has taken notice more than just about any group because a lot of these models talk about “training” and “movement.”  The term “athlete development” resonates with these professionals, so this is where many of the thoughts have become popularized.  

These professionals have tried to implement these already-flawed, theoretical models by attempting to use different training methods at certain times to take advantage of the “windows of opportunity” outlined by academicians without coordinating their efforts with other important players in this process.  This is one of the biggest mistakes made today, and the lack of integration with other groups has stymied progress and severely limited outcomes.  

While the theory of long term athlete development is well-intentioned, the models have yet to produce exceptional athletes in real life.  In fact, even the researchers admit that there was no real data to support any of the models.  In a great review of some of the relevant literature, Guy Razi and Kieran Foy showed that the data does not support these models.  It was all a great idea, but these models were nothing more than theoretical. To this day, no athlete has gone through the entire model the way it was originally laid out, and achieved a high level of success.

The models are also not very realistic in many situations.  For example, the models include a lot of talk about peak height velocity (PHV) as the optimal time for the adaptation of certain traits.  What is not addressed is how coaches are supposed to know when an athlete is experiencing PHV.  In most sporting situations, kids’ height is not constantly monitored by coaches, and most of the training decisions described in the literature are related more to strength & conditioning than sports skills.  Sports coaches might have contact with kids year-round, but most kids are not engaged in year-round strength & conditioning at an early age (this can be because of money, availability, beliefs, time restrictions, etc.).  So, how would the strength coach know when PHV is occurring?  It may not even matter since most performance coaches only see young athletes in limited spurts.  Typically, parents come to a performance coach after PHV when they recognize altered movement.  

If every child was in a “sporting academy” situation from a young age where they were constantly coached, trained and monitored, this may be possible, but it’s not realistic in most cases.  An argument could be made that we should move toward these type of year-round academies so that everything can be monitored, but that’s beyond the scope of this article and it carries as many negatives as positives.  

The most popular LTAD models propose “windows of opportunity” in which certain athletic traits may respond better to specific kinds of training.  For example, it has been theorized that speed is best trained just before PHV, and that strength is best trained directly after PHV.  These models lead many coaches to believe that worthwhile adaptation only occurs during these periods, and that is absolutely not true.  Young athletes are always open to adaptation and can always enjoy the benefits of proper training no matter where they are in their maturation.  

Every physical attribute can be trained at any time.  Most practitioners just need to understand how to best address each attribute during maturation to achieve the best long-term and sustainable outcomes.  

So, “missing” a window of opportunity does not mean progress in certain traits cannot be made.  On the contrary, long term athlete development is much more individualized than these contrived models suggest.  

Even more concerning is the fact that long-term implementation has not been thoroughly studied, which is ironic given the name of the theory and the fact that academicians created it.  It is typically written/spoken about by people who do not coach athletes, have not successfully developed great athletes, and many don’t even have children of their own in which they’ve tested their theories or developed athletes into champions.  

There are far too many factors involved in creating a great athlete to boil the process down to a few simple steps, and several key ingredients have been missing from the recipe.  Developing athletes is highly individualized, and included many factors beyond those that are described in the current literature.  These missing factors include:

  • The child’s interest/passion for sport
  • The psychological approach used with each athlete
  • Parental support and their role in the process
  • Environmental/societal influences
  • Access to the coaching/training at the right time
  • Genetic factors & talent identification
  • Coordination of development with all parties (parents, coaches, trainers, etc.)
  • Having the “right coach at the right time” or at least the right approach at the right time

Some of these factors cannot be easily controlled by coaches, rendering them “too messy” for academics to even attempt to address.  Yet, these factors will determine the long-term outcome to a much greater extent than any theoretical model of when to train each physical component.  

Kids are not robots, and developing athletes is not a science experiment.  long term athlete development

We don’t need models – we need coaches….great coaches.

If we’re truly interested in developing great athletes and/or adults who enjoy physical activity, we cannot do it alone as strength & conditioning professionals.  We must look at the entire picture, address physical, psychological/emotional and social aspects and include everyone involved in the development of the athlete – coaches, trainers and parents.

Much has already been addressed regarding the physical training of young athletes.  The materials available through the IYCA and others are exceptional and give in-depth information on strength development, speed & agility training, flexibility/mobility, conditioning and even skill development.  Rather than summarizing these methods, let’s explore the missing factors listed above and how each may be addressed.

Before we do that, two things need to be made clear:

  1. The term “youth” refers to anyone 18 and under.  When people are first introduced to the International Youth Conditioning Association, they often assume we are focused on very young children.  The process of athlete development begins at a very young age and continues until at least 18 years old, so it’s important for us to understand how to properly address each stage of maturation. Of course, athletes continue to develop past 18, but the process changes dramatically at that time.  
  2. Great training and coaching are absolutely essential to the process of athletic development.  This should be obvious, but it needs to be stated since it will not be addressed here. Training and coaching are addressed in many other IYCA materials and this is well beyond the scope of this article.  Athletes need physical development, so speed, strength, sports skills, etc. are critically important.  These topics are what most LTAD models focus on exclusively, and they should not be ignored.  

Now, let’s examine the aspects of long term athletic development that are NOT included in most models, but must be understood if we are truly interested in overall development:

Passion

Enjoyment of sport is one of the most important underlying factors in long-term athletic success.  If a young athlete does not find joy in a sport, the likelihood of him/her giving the long-term effort to excel is very small.  He/she may go through the motions and experience some level of success, but it is very difficult for a young person to stay motivated to excel in a sport if passion is not part of the equation.  

Without passion, the entire LTAD model comes to a grinding halt, so this cannot be ignored.

At some point, a child has to be willing to pursue a dream for themselves, not simply because he/she is talented or others want the success.  In most cases, there needs to be a burning desire within a person if high levels of success are going to be achieved.  Even more importantly, that passion needs to be fueled in order to sustain it long enough to achieve any real success.  Playing for the wrong coach, not getting enough playing time, having poor teammates, lack of parental support and year-round play are some the reasons the flame burns out for many athletes. If the sport is no longer fun for a young athlete, it’s almost impossible to expect continued progress.  

In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle refers to a concept he calls “Ignition.”  Essentially, this is what creates a deep passion for sport in an athlete.  It might be exposure to a particular person, participation in an event, watching a sport, family involvement or something else.  It will be different for every person, which is why this isn’t a formula.  But, that ignition needs to exist if long-term success is the goal.

Parents, family and friends typically play the largest role in establishing a love for sport.  Exposure to sports (live or on TV) and attitudes toward sports often start in early childhood.  They can establish emotional feelings before they ever participate in a sport.  There’s no right way for parents to approach sports with their children, but positive exposure to a variety of sports seems to be optimal.  

As stated earlier, children are not robots, so there is no single formula for producing passion about a particular sport.   Intense parental feelings about sports have the potential to influence children in both positive and negative ways.  Some parents actually push kids away from sport because they are so passionate about it, while others create a healthy feeling of excitement.

Coaches and trainers often don’t even meet an athlete until some amount of exposure to a sport has been made, so feelings have often been established to some degree before a child’s first practice.  Youth coaches, however, play an enormous role in whether or not that passion continues.  

A child’s early exposure to sports and coaching often influences their desire to continue participating.  Early coaching needs to be both positive and effective.  Coaches need to balance making practices/games fun and improving athletically so the child develops feelings of self-efficacy associated with the sport.  Few things are more motivating to children that the feeling of proficiency – when a child thinks he/she is good at a sport, they enjoy it more.  

This can be a very delicate balancing act, and factors like stature, enjoyment and fundamental movement skills (FMS) play large roles in developing feelings of proficiency.  Typically, athletes who have good FMS’s excel early on, and have greater early enjoyment of sports.  Parents can greatly assist this process by working on FMS early in a child’s life and providing positive exposure to sport.  

Coaches can recognize the importance of establishing passion by making sports enjoyable and productive.  Possibly the most important goal of a youth sports coach should be to make each season so positive that the kids want to play another season.  This keeps them in the “system” and allows them to progress.  

Coaching

Having great coaches should be the first thing mentioned in any long term athlete development model.  Unfortunately, it is not. Great coaches trump theoretical models every time and should be discussed before anything else in this process.  

The approach used with each child may have more to do with long-term athletic success than any physical training method.  Yes, the right training methods will elicit positive physiological responses, but the wrong coaching approach can make the athlete lose interest, confidence, and enjoyment of the sport.  

Getting this wrong will render LTAD models useless, so having the right coach at the right time is essential to the process of athlete development.  The right coach will be different at each stage of maturation and for each athlete, so there is no single solution.

The right approach, however, has the potential to increase self-efficacy and passion, and can establish positive traits such as work ethic, perseverance, coachability, and a healthy outlook toward sports.  These positive traits and feelings may be the keys to sticking with a sport through tough training and the ups & downs associated with sports later in their development.  

Great coaching should be used by both sport coaches and strength & conditioning professionals (SCP) alike.  A SCP has the ability to balance out a poor coach and vice versa. Optimally, all coaches will be positive influences and contribute to the success of an athlete by teaching skills and making the process enjoyable enough to keep the passion burning.  

The importance of having the “right coach at the right time” cannot be overstated in the development of an athlete.  The right coach at 8 years old probably won’t be the right coach at 18, and the right coach for one athlete may not be the right coach for all athletes.  

Typically, young athletes and parents don’t even know which coach is the right fit or if that person is even available.  More often, we realize the negative experience when it’s too late and the damage has been done.  For example, a young soccer player can be on a terrific path of development from age 8 to 14 until a poor coach absolutely ruins soccer for her.  This can occur when athletes change clubs, move to a different age group, or have a coach who is simply a bad fit. This has the potential to make athletes lose passion/interest, decrease confidence or quit the sport altogether.  Anyone who has been involved in sports for any length of time has seen this over and over again.

Coaches who value winning above development too early in an athlete’s career can stifle the developmental process and get athletes to focus on things that limit long-term success.  These coaches often play favorites with young athletes and push certain athletes to excel (often their own child) while relegating others to less-important roles on the team.  While this may work for some athletes, it can also have a negative effect on overall development.  The “favorite” child may have false confidence in their early success and he/she may not learn how to work hard for that success.  Other children may feel decreased confidence and end up quitting because the sport just isn’t fun anymore.  

Unfortunately, high-quality coaches often feel compelled to work with older, more developed athletes because that’s what society deems as “better.”  To be sure, some coaches are simply better-suited to work with older athletes, but a great youth coach has the potential to be one of the most influential figures in a child’s life.  A year, early in life, with a bad coach could have easily derailed the careers of great athletes like Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson or Lionel Messi.  

If we’re truly looking to develop great athletes through a long-term process, we must encourage great coaches to spend time with young athletes.  This means that quality coaches may need to volunteer their time to work with young athletes, knowing that the payoff may not occur for many years.  

It also means that SCP’s need to be aware of how each child is being coached and approach them with what they need.  A child who has a negative sport coach may need a more positive approach from the SCP. Conversely, a talented child who has been coddled his whole life may need a hard-nosed influence to push him to be great.  

Social/Environmental

It is impossible to ignore the fact that a child’s surroundings influence his/her sporting experiences, but this is also ignored by every LTAD model available.  Spending time with friends is very important to most children.  Sometimes, kids may be better off playing a sport with their friends than on a travel team comprised of kids who don’t know each other.

Geographic location will also influence long term athlete development.  For example, a young child with a passion for lacrosse, but who lives in an

Members Of Female High School Soccer Team

area with limited coaching/competition, will probably not have the opportunity to reach his potential like he would if he grew up in Maryland.  A young gymnast may be identified as a potentially great diver in middle/high school.  If she doesn’t like the coach or the other athletes on the diving team, she may never even give it a chance, and a potential Olympian may never try a sport.  How many exceptional rugby players, fencers or team handball players have been born in America and were simply not exposed to these sports?

Access to quality experiences and identification of talent plays a huge role in the long-term success of an athlete.  

Strength coaches may not have much control over this, but it’s certainly something we need to consider if the goal is to develop great athletes and achieve long-term success.  Even if the goal is to create enjoyable experiences, the fact that opportunities are often limited should not be ignored.  

An experienced coach may be able to suggest sports and/or coaches to families when talent is identified.  While there is no guarantee that these suggestions will be acted upon, we should always think about what we can do rather than complain about a problem after the fact.  

Parental Support

Parents have more of an influence than anyone in the process of long-term athlete development, and both sports coaches and SCP’s may need to step in to help guide them when appropriate.  Some parents push too hard, while others expect too little. This is a delicate balancing act that must be considered as part of any long term plan.

Simply providing transportation to great coaching/training may be the difference needed to keep the flame burning in a young athlete.  Conversely, negative conversations after a game may poison the well and create negative emotions related to a sport.

Sports satisfaction surveys reveal that “having fun” is the main reason that most children like to participate in sports; however, the parents’ perception of why their children like to play sports is to “win.”

SCP’s and sport coaches can help create balance when support is not present.  By making practice/training an enjoyable, positive experience, a child’s “emotional bank account” can be built up.  Coaches may also need to have hard conversations with parents sometimes or at least talk to the athlete about how to communicate with the parent.  

Coordination

With all of these factors in mind, it appears as though long term athlete development is much more complex than just the training methods used at different points in the maturation process or how many games to play each year.  Of course, great training and sport coaching are necessary. That should be painfully obvious by now. But, besides great training and coaching, it also appears that many critical factors need to come together in a coordinated effort if we are truly looking for optimal development and great sporting experiences.

We have created “silos” that don’t have enough interaction with each other.  Parents, sports coaches, and strength & conditioning specialists each have their silos where they do their work independently.  This approach creates a lack of continuity for the young athlete. Sports coaches don’t know what kind of training is occurring outside of their practices.  SCP’s have no input on the number or duration of practices, and parents often don’t know what’s best for their child, so they simply drop them off with a coach and hope he/she is doing the right thing.  

Unfortunately, many adults seem to think that “their way” is the best approach, so there is little coordination between parents, coaches, and trainers.  

It also goes without saying that the entire youth sports system is broken and has become more about the adults than the kids.  Many books and articles have been written on this topic. Web sites have been created and Ted Talks were given. Even the US Olympic Committee is now supporting pediatric sports psychologists to help young athletes deal with the stresses of youth sports and to help parents and coaches deal with the challenges.

The problems are obvious, and rehashing them here seems pointless.  

We are not going to fix this problem by complaining about it or attempting to tear it down.  

In order to fix this broken system, a much more coordinated approach needs to be taken.  Someone must intervene and change the system from the inside.

Most parents simply don’t know how to handle this overall development, so guidance is needed.  Sport coaches usually have great knowledge of a sport, but lack knowledge in the area of complete athlete development.  Many strength coaches are aware of the needs, but don’t have enough influence over the process, aren’t involved until later in an athlete’s career or simply want to stand on the outside and complain about it.  

It is time for strength & conditioning professionals to step up and become coordinators of athletic development.  

The SCP is armed with the knowledge to coordinate long term athlete development.  It is up to this group to take a more active role in the education of parents and coaches.  We need highly-qualified professionals who can effectively communicate and coordinate the “silos” in an effort to create positive experiences.  

complete athlete development

The SCP can teach coaches and parents how each aspect of athleticism is linked, and plans can be put in place to create well-rounded athletes.  

This shift will require the SCP to get out of his/her comfort zone and think about athlete development as more than just lifting weights.  The SCP will need to work within the structure of youth sports by educating parents and coaches, and taking their own egos out of the equation.  We need to spend time teaching parents and coaches about fundamental motor skills, skill acquisition, strength and speed development, and all-around athletic development rather than specialization.  With overuse injuries ranging from 37% to 68% depending on the sport, we can help reverse this trend.

This education will not put us out of jobs.  On the contrary, educating coaches and parents about how to properly integrate strength & conditioning into a long term athlete development plan will secure our places in every organization.  More coaches and parents will understand the need for training which will increase the demand for our specialized services. More trust will be placed in our hands because we will be viewed as allies rather than adversaries.  

Without this coordination, the important people in this process will remain in their silos.  But, a collective approach will yield far better results for everyone involved.

As you can see, long term athlete development cannot be distilled down to contrived models.  The process is more complicated and many factors need to be addressed.

We have a great opportunity to influence a broken system from within, and make the changes that are needed for long term success.  We need great coaches and coordinators to help develop athletes. It’s time to stop complaining and take action.

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI.  He is a former college strength & conditioning coach and the author of Ultimate Speed & Agility as well as dozens of articles published in various publications.  Jim is also the father of three boys and has helped coach all of them in different sports, so long term athlete development is very important to him.

The old “windows of opportunity” Long Term Athlete Development model is a thing of the past.  Learn the truth about LTAD and how to approach athletes at every level in the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap.  This is the most comprehensive approach to athlete development available.  Click on the image below to learn more.

Early Sport Specialization: Getting Them To Listen – Brett Klika

Early sport specialization has been a hot topic for years, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.  As strength and conditioning coaches, it’s baffling when we see parents and coaches embracing the notion of early sport specialization despite the mountains of data, expert opinion, and well- reviewed evidence highlighting the downfalls.

Our heart breaks when youngsters in these situations get injured or depart from sports and physical activity altogether. The last thing we want to have to say is “We told you so.”

But, well…. “We told you so.”

Despite us “telling” parents, coaches, and our local communities about the importance of long term skill development and a well- rounded approach to athleticism, it feels like many don’t listen until it’s too late. Overcoming this communication breakdown is essential for youth strength and conditioning coaches if we are going to truly create a positive impact on the kids in our community.

How do we get the world of youth athletics to not only hear our message, but embrace it?

I discovered this communication disconnect early in my career directing the youth athletic program at Todd Durkin’s Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego. I would send kids home with printed manifestos on the importance of long term athletic development. I would share the latest research and training paradigms with coaches and parents during team meetings and “parent night” promotions.

Despite some success, I quickly realized that the volume of information provided was not the limiting factor in creating change. It wasn’t until I changed the delivery method that I was able to actually impact more parents, coaches, and teams.

The overwhelm of daily life leaves adults with a limited capacity for absorbing new information. With the opinions, recommendations, and even outright facts we hear every day, we have to apply a filter for what we trust, understand, and believe to be relevant. It’s essential we keep these three components in mind when talking with parents, coaches, and other influencers in the community.

Get Them to Trust Your Message
Obviously, parents wouldn’t let their children work with us if they didn’t trust us. However, trust is hierarchical. When it comes to information, a parent may trust what we say more than someone on the street, but the family doctor, a former or current pro athlete, or someone they hold in “celebrity” regard is going to invoke their greatest level of attention.

If this isn’t you yet, it’s important to find out where the parents and coaches you work with get the information they trust. Can you develop a relationship with these people? Letting local pediatricians and orthopedic surgeons know about your program can create both a network of trust and referral.

You may need to go broader and find/share interviews or articles with celebrity athletes or professionals associated with them that back up your approach. I’m not saying it’s fair, but a parent will pay more attention to a short interview from the Rock saying, “The People’s Elbow thinks kids should be kids” than a 5-page research-cited thesis from you on the same topic.

Developing relationships with and sharing information from people high on a public information trust hierarchy increases the likelihood this information will be absorbed. It also slowly increases your social validation as an expert and one day you won’t need the middle man!

It’s also important to continually seek opportunities to write, speak, and educate. The more your name and face is in public, the more people recognize you as an expert and take heed in what you say.

Get Them to Understand Your Message
Founder of Precision Nutrition, John Berardi once wrote “With everything you send to a parent or coach, envision them reading or watching it while waiting at a red light with a minivan full of screaming kids, radio blaring, and coffee in hand. In other words, keep it short and simple.”

Long term athletic development, or LTAD, may be the hottest water cooler talk of our industry niche. However, this term means nothing to parents. They acknowledge and react largely to what is in front of them.

For information to be absorbed and understood, it needs to be delivered concisely and in the simplest terms. If you use video, shoot for 60 seconds or less with clear visual-based information. Boil down a complex concept into terms a grade-schooler could understand. Remember, the goal is not to impress colleagues. It’s to create a ground level understanding for people with no background in our field. Just imagine if you were learning how the stock market works in 60 seconds or less. How would you want that information presented?

For written information, use a single-sided page with large-font bullet points. Infographics are more shareable across all platforms and are by far the most effective. As far as the info, consider hard statistics, clear research findings, and bold data.

Make Your Message Relevant
In order for coaches, parents, and even ourselves to value information, relevance is key. Our information should inherently answer the question “Why do I need to know this?” While general concepts provide valuable insight, adults are surrounded by general concepts. In order to make it through the filter, information must be presented in a near “first-name” basis.

For example, if sharing general statistics on injury and early sport specialization, parents may or may not raise an eyebrow. They know the information is pooled through various ages and sports across the country. However, sharing sport-specific or age/sex related statistics particularly after someone on the team has become injured has a much greater impact.

I have actually contacted local leagues and gotten injury numbers for the reported concussions, ACL injuries, and shoulder/elbow pathology and compared them to national standards. These were some of the most impactful pieces of information I ever shared.

If there is a simple movement, mobility, or other evaluation found in the literature linked to injury prevention or performance, share it with parents. I’ve done these during live “parent nights” for teams knowing 90% of the room will fail. It puts the notion of “Why is this important to me” right in front of everyone’s face.

Most importantly, listen to parent’s questions and answer them. Write down the 10 most common and answer them through the “trust” and “understand” filters. When parents solicit questions, then trust and understand the answers, it’s a win.

As you can see, educating the public takes much more than posting rants about early sport specialization on social media and bashing the local coaches who buy into it. As youth strength and conditioning coaches on the right side of the cause, we have to be lighthouses of trustworthy, understandable, and relevant information. This station is arrived at through constant learning, educating, and most importantly, listening.

Strive to improve how you share your message and soon your entire community will join your mission to inspire the kids of today to become the happy, healthy, active adults of tomorrow!

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and regular contributor to the IYCA.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.

 

The old “windows of opportunity” Long Term Athlete Development model is a thing of the past.  Learn the truth about LTAD and how to approach athletes at every level in the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap.  This is the most comprehensive approach to athlete development available.  Click on the image below to learn more.

Pre-Puberty Performance Plan

Training youth isn’t merely “miniature-izing” adult programs.

Prior to puberty, youngsters’ physiology, psychology, and a host of other factors are significantly different than adults. As a matter of fact, the training effect of a program could be drastically different between a 10- year old and a 14-year-old.

These differences are well documented in the literature, however, practical program strategies to account for these differences are not.  In this article, I will be highlighting some of the unique  physiological and neurological aspects of pre-pubescent athletes, and how to program for success.  

Supercharging the Sensory System

As humans, our sensory system is the underlying mechanism that enables us to accurately take in input from the outside world and apply an action based on that input.  We are constantly adjusting our motor output based on what we see, feel, hear, and otherwise observe.sport specialization

This system begins developing in the womb and experiences a drastic opportunity for further development during a child’s early years.  Notice the word “opportunity.”  Hours of active play while interacting with a variety of both indoor and outdoor environments was once the stimulus for tremendous development of a variety of athletic senses.

Unfortunately, the amount of time children engage in active play has been drastically decreased over the past 20 years.  The result is an observed decrease in the development of the wide variety of sensory capability needed to develop overall athleticism.  Additionally, behavior disorders such as ADD, ADHD, and aggression have witnessed an uptick, possibly due to widespread inactivity in youth.

 

What can we do?

Many of the critical periods for development of the sensory skills take place during the years prior to puberty. As the neural system develops, matures, and myelinates, it is critical that youngsters develop a relationship between perception and action.

Understanding the various sensory or “perceptual motor” skills and how they develop can broaden our impact with children. Check out a list of nine of the most prominent perceptual motor skills HERE. Creating warm-ups and activities that highlight sight, sound, balance, body awareness, directional awareness, and other sensory skills can help fine-tune this foundational skill-set of athleticism.

Additionally, provide opportunities for kids to make their own games, activities, rules, or even movement interpretations.  For example, call out three nonsense words, and have the kids immediately create movements for each, and tie them together in a movement sequence.  This can help “internalize” their sense of coordination and movement awareness.

These activities may not be directly related to perfecting game tactics or movement technique. They can serve merely to challenge different aspects of the sensory system in a fun, engaging environment.  Make it a goal to integrate at least 1-2 perceptual-motor focused activities into training each day.  Below are some group and individual examples.

Auditory Warm-Up Using Partner Cross Sound Tag

Movement variable warm up using Guided Discover

Zoo moves

Switch tag with visual cues

 

Developing Speed and Strength

Prior to puberty, kids have limited anaerobic capacity.  They often display a higher proportion of Type I muscle fibers and they preferentially use fat as fuel.  Lack of anabolic hormone interferes with an ability to increase muscle cross sectional area, which is generally associated with gains in strength. As one can see, children’s hormonal physiology doesn’t necessarily favor the development of speed and strength prior to puberty.

However, a child’s neuromuscular system is highly plastic and adaptable. It’s like a sponge for exploring, acquiring, and fine-tuning new skills.  Improvements in speed and strength prior to puberty stem from improved neuromuscular coordination as opposed to structural or hormonal physiology.  In order to improve coordination, practice makes perfect.  

Considering this, our primary goal prior to puberty should be to help create quality movement patterns and basic biological capacity (GPP anyone?). Puberty, then, supercharges this well- made machine.  Unfortunately, many well-intending coaches lose track of this when working with young athletes.  In a race to justify our work to parents and coaches, our assessment protocols often have more to do with maximal numbers than movement assessment.    

When considering the long- term impact of training a young athlete, an assessment of movement quality should be an integral aspect of a program.  Maximal numbers should be assessed, but developing quality motor patterns should be paramount.  

 

What can we do?

Begin with a simple checklist of 2-3 criteria for each movement, and progress to a more involved checklist as a child develops.  This helps both the athlete and the coach learn to become aware of the critical aspects of movement.   

Take the squat pattern for example. While there are numerous criteria that make up a proper squat, initially, merely bending the knees and lowering the hips to move under a barrier helps lay a foundation for the movement. These two criteria may represent a “level 1” category of assessment.  This may progress to a checklist involving spotting, use of an Olympic bar, proper depth, and even benchmark load criteria by “level 5”.

During the introduction of skills during the early years, it’s important to limit the coachable criteria and allow kids to explore the movement for themselves.  Again, skills are much more ingrained and adaptable when they are internalized. For example, skipping is an important movement for developing sprint technique.  Allowing, and even prompting, kids to skip with different body orientations (arms/legs wide and narrow, on heels, on tip toes, high knees, low knees) lets them form a context for effective movement.  They feel the difference between wide, flaying arms and narrow, driving arms.  They feel the propulsion of proper vs. improper movement of the knees and hips.

Creating obstacle courses that prompt children to move over, under, around, and through various barriers can offer a fun, natural environment to explore the different ways the body can move.  These “play” based approaches are also an opportunity for a high volume of practice with the basic precepts of a movement.

As a youngster progresses, create criteria that allow them to “earn” use of certain equipment or activities. If they want to push the prowler, they have to demonstrate the criteria for a perfect skip.  If they want to “use weights” they have to display passing criteria for the bodyweight versions of certain exercises.

The more children learn, practice, and truly feel the most efficient ways to move, the more opportunities they have to improve speed and strength before puberty and beyond.   

 

Conditioning

Pre-pubescent youngsters’ physiology favors the use of aerobic pathways (using fat) vs. anaerobic pathways (using glycogen) for providing the energy for performance. Children have limited intramuscular glycogen stores and observe higher levels of intramuscular triglycerides. Even their metabolic enzyme ratio favors the use of fat as fuel.

What does this mean in regards to improving aerobic and anaerobic capacity through targeted conditioning?

Due to the fact that most energy for movement is derived from aerobic pathways, pre-pubescent children observe far lower lactic acid accumulation than pubescent age children.  This suggests that children are able to recover quicker between bouts of exercise. Additionally, children are able to regenerate phosphocreatine faster than adults during rest.  Lower sympathetic nervous system activity during high-intensity exercise (compared to adults) also contributes to faster recovery times for pre-pubescent children.

On the other hand, during high intensity exercise, children are not able to re-synthesize ATP as fast as adults.  Due to this, they fatigue relatively quickly. Keeping high intensity bouts of exercise short and purposeful can optimize the positive training effect with children.

 

What can we do?

Prior to puberty, it makes very little sense to cater conditioning programs to the demands of a specific sport.  Repeated 40-yard sprints can reinforce running mechanics, but won’t necessarily alter physiology to favor anaerobic power output for a specific sport.  The early years of development represent a critical period for the development of a wide array of general, lifelong physical skills.

Consider creating conditioning circuits that focus on different aspects of athletic skill.  Incorporate the highlighted movement skills of the day, in addition to others.  Allow children the capacity to focus on proper execution by keeping work times relatively short (around 15 seconds).  Keep them engaged by keeping rest times relatively low as well (try a 1:1 work/rest ratio).  

Whenever possible, reinforce the proper development of skills and monitor for excessive fatigue. The greatest contributor to improving athletic performance prior to puberty is found in improved neuromuscular coordination.  When conditioning creates fatigue over function, it loses effectiveness.

Gamifying conditioning can improve performance and increase engagement.  Relay races, competitions, and other games provide an opportunity for the development of different movement skills in a fun format.

A well-run, targeted training program shouldn’t require extended daily training time for “conditioning”.  When a coach creates an opportunity and expectation for engagement within a training program, conditioning is merely an aspect of training with more tightly observed work to rest ratios.

Use these tips to maximize your lifelong impact with young athletes!

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and regular contributor to the IYCA.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.

Sport Specialization for Youth Athletes: Missing the Mark

True athlete development and sport specialization is more than just year-round training and competition. It should be part of a comprehensive approach that involves both cognitive and physical development through childhood and adolescence.  It should be a well thought-out, long-term pedagogic approach that fosters the acquisition of fundamental and sport specific skills while developing physical attributes such as speed, strength and endurance.

Unfortunately, a comprehensive, long-term approach is rarely implemented in youth sports.  Instead, coaches and parents get distracted by trophies, elite clubs and early successes, and they lose sight of the end goal.  This article will discuss a comprehensive approach to long-term development and sport specialization and dis-spell some of the misconceptions in athlete development. 

Fundamental motor skills start to emerge early in life and consolidate through childhood providing the playground for sport-specific skills to improve. Dr. Esther Thelen from Indiana University wrote about pre-adolescence as the “golden age of motor development,” representing a time for young and athletes to consolidate the foundation of movement while fostering the natural development of physical attributes such as strength, speed and endurance. Maria Montessori, a pioneer in the modern era of physical education said that “in the first three years of life, the foundations of both cognitive and physical development are laid.” Athleticism develops throughout childhood, moving from the spontaneous development of fundamental motor skills – walking, running/sprinting, jumping/landing, throwing/catching, striking, kicking and batting – to the acquisition of sport-specific skills and eventually mastery in sport. The process of learning new skills represents a fundamental component in developing young athletes.

Motor control significantly improves during childhood creating the foundation of a learning process that will eventually support the development of sport specific skills” (Blume, 1982).  According to Jean Cote, one of the leading experts in the field of youth psychology, early sport specialization seems therefore to contradict the physiological process of growth and maturation taking place during childhood and adolescence, by limiting the opportunity to develop a wide, solid foundation of functional motricity.

According to Henkel (2010) the consolidation of basic motor patterns among children and pre-adolescent athletes provides the opportunity to acquire new motor skills. Fundamental motor skills foster the natural development of general coordination, static and dynamic balance, rhythm, and proprioception while fostering optimal physical development through a process known in the literature as “deliberate play.”

Based on the original taxonomy of motor skills described Antoinette Marie Gentile in 1972, these fundamental motor patterns include proprioceptive skills suchsport specialization as coordination, balance and rhythm, locomotor skills such as leaping, hopping, bouncing and skipping, non-locomotor skills such as bending, curling, turning and twisting, as well as object-control skills such as catching, kicking, throwing and tossing. Fundamental motor skills evolve from simple to complex, from discrete to serial and from closed to open skills as children “learn how to learn.”  Motor control moves from general to specific according to the nature and the complexity of the movement in a learning process that evolves alongside with the physiological process of growth and maturation. For most young people, pre-adolescence is a time of heightened motor learning and development of general motor skills, and many physical improvements are attributed to neurological adaptation.

According to the youth sport specialization model described by Istvan Balyi and Ann Hamilton from the National Coaching Institute in British Columbia (Canada) pre-adolescent athletes should take full advantage of this time of intense motor learning by “acquiring general overall sports skills that are the cornerstone of all athletic development”.

Graph: Accommodation-Assimilation. The acquisition of sport specific skills throughout childhood and adolescence. The youth sport specialization model.

The acquisition of new skills represents, therefore, the endpoint of a process of assimilation and accommodation that bridges the gap between “learning to train” and “train to train.” This is the adaptation process described by Jean Piaget (1896-1980) as the “force driving the process of cognitive and physical development during childhood and adolescence”. Piaget described the first decade of life as a time of transition, or “a time of leaps and bounds” that reflects the effort of assimilating changes – both physical and cognitive changes – to accommodate a period of intense physical development.

In his “storm and stress theory,” G.H. Hall described the unpredictable sequence of physiological and psychological changes occurring during adolescence that affect the ability to tolerate stress, a key factor in the process of assimilating new skills.. Normative data has validated this model by describing what appears to be a common, predictable pattern of physical development for athletes through childhood and adolescence.

Cognitive skills rapidly develop after the age of three while physical attributes such as strength, speed and endurance follow a less predictable path that seems to suffer from a certain degree of discontinuity between times of intense linear growth (times of proceritas, from the Latin word procere meaning to increase in length ) and times of remarkable ponderal growth (turgor, from the Latin word turgere meaning to gain size). Such a discrepancy results in a temporary disruption (the storm) in what otherwise would be a continuous process of developing physical and cognitive skills.

 

GROWTH, MATURATION AND PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT

Linear growth, ponderal growth and age-related physical development.

AGE MALE FEMALE PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT
2-4 Turgor Primus  

Fundamental Motor Skill

Coordination

 

5-7 Proceritas Prima
7-9  

Turgor Secundo

Turgor Secundo
9-11  

Proceritas Secunda

 

Speed and Agility

Anaerobic Power

 

11-13  

Proceritas Secunda

13-15 Turgor Tertius Relative Strength
15-17 Turgor Tertius  

Adult Age

 

Absolute Strength

Aerobic Power

17-21 Adult Age

 

Table: Growth, maturation and physical development. Linear growth, ponderal growth and age-related physical development.

It is not until peak height velocity (PHV), the apex of the physiological process of growth and maturation occurring between the age of 11 and 13, that the development of sport specific skills starts to match with the development of the fundamental physical attributes needed to compete in sport.

According to the youth physical development model described by Dr. Rhodri S. Lloyd and Dr. Jon L. Oliver from the Cardiff Metropolitan University (Wales, United Kingdom), the time that immediately follows PHV (sometimes referred to as the circa-pubertal phase) provides the perfect opportunity to introduce more structured, sport-specific training and competition.

Training effects before PHV seem to be mainly attributed to neurological components, while structural changes seem to occur after PHV when the endocrine response is greatly enhanced.  It appears that there is laying effect that occurs during maturation, and that skipping the foundational development of general movement skills may lessen the ability to master more complex sports skills during maturation.

According to David Kirk from the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow, Scotland) “by focusing on the training process rather than the end product of it – competition – pre-adolescence represents a time to invest in the development of those physical attributes that are necessary to compete in sport.

While all physical attributes seem to be trainable, the following appears to be the most appropriate general sequence of training focus and structure for most children (depending on the timing of PHV):

Ages 6-11:  The focus will be on general motor development, speed/agility, and learning technical sports skills such as dribbling, shooting, etc. with relatively low structure in the training process.

Ages 11-13:  Continue with speed/agility training and increase the time spent on relative strength/power.  Competition, training volume and overall structure begin to slowly increase during this time.  Sport specialization is considered and athletes may move toward this during this period.

Ages 13-16:  Structure & competition increase and the development of strength and/or hypertrophy are introduced.  Training volume continues to increase.  Sport specialization often takes place during this time.

Ages 16-18:  Structure & competition are heightened dramatically.  Strength/power development and overall work-capacity can be more highly emphasized, and the volume of training increases as work capacity improves.

Based on this information, diversification, rather than specialization, seems to represent the most rational approach to develop young athletes. The consolidation of a solid foundation of functional motor development at an early age provides the best opportunity to acquire sport-specific skills alongside with the natural development of physical attributes such as speed, strength and endurance during maturation. Italian scientist Carlo Vittori once said: “Sport specialization is the rational, well-organized process of developing young athletes that moves from general to specific skills, from simple to complex tasks, in the effort to foster, rather than override, the physiological process of growth and maturation. Specialization should be the consequence, and not the meaning, of developing athleticism.”

When coaches/parents skip important steps in a young person’s development, the layering effect of physical development can be compromised, leading to sub-optimal development of athleticism and sport skills.  By understanding this long-term approach to developing athleticism, we can potentially create greater long-term sporting success and do a much better job of implementing a true sport specialization strategy.  This can help young athletes enjoy sports and achieve optimal results throughout the maturation process.

Antonio Squillante is the Director of Sports Performance at Velocity Sports Performance in Los Angeles, California. He is in charge of the youth development program which includes over 100 athletes 17 years old and under competing in many different sports. Antonio graduated summa cum laude from the University San Raffaele – Rome, Italy – with a Doctorate Degree in Exercise Science.  He has worked in college and professional athletics, has written numerous articles and holds certifications from multiple organizations.

 

The IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

 

 

 

Youth Athletic Development Fundamentals

Youth athletic development and youth fitness are often talked about as “being important,” but truly understanding the foundations of these topics is critical if we’re going to make a difference in the lives of young people.  IYCA contributor and co-founder of SPIDERfit Kids, Brett Klika, created this in-depth video for the IYCA to lay out some of the fundamental principles involved when working with athletes 6-10 years old.youth athletic development

In the video, Brett discusses youth athletic development and youth fitness in ways that most parents and coaches don’t fully understand.  He lays out the concepts of motor development, games and play, fundamental movement skills, applied movement skills, body awareness, spatial awareness and more so that we can have a better understanding of how to integrate all of these factors into our training programs.  Taking advantage of all of these concepts will allow coaches to create more engaging programs for young athletes that will also improve overall physical literacy.

In addition to being a featured presenter and contributor for the IYCA, Brett takes puts these principles into practice with his SPIDERfit Kids program as he works with kids on both youth athletic development and youth fitness.  These aren’t just things he talks about – he has used these principles with thousands of young people.

This video will help you understand how to integrate information from the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification with the concepts of game play and long-term athlete development.  All of these concepts work together to help foster complete athletic development and youth fitness, but it’s often difficult to know how to incorporate all of this when you’re actually working with a young athlete.

Sometimes, great coaches shy away from working with young athletes because they don’t understand how to keep them engaged.  Other times, it’s because these coaches simply don’t understand how to develop a young athlete.  The more we learn about and understand the importance of youth athletic development and youth fitness, the more we will have quality coaches working with young people.  Take a few minutes to watch this video on Youth Athletic Development Fundamentals and start integrating these concepts into your programming.

 

Powerful Play in Sports Performance, Part 2 – Brett Klika

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the physical and neurological benefits of facilitating play in your work with young athletes.  In case you missed it, here’s the Link to Part 1.  In Part 2, we’ll delve into some simple framework to make gamifying drills and activities quick and easy.

As performance coaches, we are often well versed in the pedagogy of teaching specific movement skills.  We’ve acquired a few fun-yet-fruitful activities and games along the way, but we can exhaust these rather quickly when working with kids on a daily basis.

The good news is that in order to maintain and build an arsenal of fun, engaging, and effective play-based activities, there’s no need to study and memorize the sacred almanacs of kids games.  With some simple guidelines, you can take the activities you’ve already had success with and make them a new, novel, and fun challenge.


While these guidelines tend to work best for grade school aged children, they are also effective for high school, college, and even adult populations.  


Consider the following game creation guidelines in order to engage your young athletes and develop the “intangibles” that play such a tremendous role in long term athletic development.

Guided Discovery- The Movement Variables

Play is a great teacher.  When we as coaches can guide play a bit, we can use it as a strategic tool to develop important skills.  

Guided discovery is the process of providing just enough direction so kids can experience not only the skill, but the process of learning.  During guided discovery, the focus is not so much on the precise development of a skill, but in the actions taken during the learning of that skill.  

Take a movement like a “skip”.  As a coach, we have a checklist of what a proper skip movement should entail.  However, instead of barking these commands to our athletes, guided discovery would walk them through the process of developing the skip movement on their own.

In order to do this, we would use “movement variables” to help them establish an internal context for the parameters of the movement.  “Walk with your knees high. Now walk with your knees low.  Walk like you’re on the moon reaching your hands up to the stars when you step.  Now leave the ground with every step, but keep your arms at your sides”.  

Through this “abstract” process, kids are developing an internal sense of movement efficiency and effectiveness.  They realize when they keep their arms at their sides, it’s harder to move.  They develop a feeling for the advantage of high knees.  

Instead of constant external correction, they are able to internalize and modify movement to make it better and more efficient.  

Infusing movement variables into warm-ups and familiar games not only makes them novel and fun, it further develops the body/brain connection within young athletes.  

To do this simply and quickly, merely take an established fundamental movement skill (squat, skip, lateral shuffle, push up, etc.) and pair it with 1 or more variables for effort (hard, soft, fast, slow, etc.), space (limbs, movement path), and/or relationships with people and objects (over, under, around, etc.).  

For example:

Fast-crawl backward while matching a partner in a zigzag path

Or

Play Tag while skipping backward, arms remaining wide

Or

Play dodgeball from the knees, crawling to the ball, only throwing with the left hand.

In both instances, a familiar activity is combined with a novel demand. The kids are learning context and parameters for movement while having fun with something “new”.  

Consider how this could be integrated into the activities you already do to increase engagement and coordination.

Watch guided discovery in action!

Creative Discovery- Word Adventures

While guided discovery activities have general parameters for movement, during creative discovery, no guidance is provided as children are free to discover different movement parameters on their own.  

Consider the words hop, roll, and explode.  How could each of these words be represented with movement?  How could they be combined in smooth transitions? What would adding punctuation do to the transitions between words?

For example: Hop. Roll, Explode!

Allowing the kids to interpret these movements and transitions on their own (with a general understanding of the vocabulary and punctuation conventions) combines powerful coordination and cognition.  

Since the concepts are completely novel and unfamiliar, kids must manually develop new movement patterns.  More learning, more coordination, more sensory awareness.  

And lots of fun!

With young kids, consider telling a story where they interpret movement words as part of an adventure.  Use nonsense or completely unfamiliar words to challenge them during warm ups or other activities.  Instruct them to move like animals, cartoon characters, or other objects.  

Realize the complex inner workings of a young child’s neuromuscular system when they have to create a new movement pattern from scratch.  

Powerful stuff!

Watch creative discovery in action!

Object Modification

While guided and creative discovery work best with grade school aged children, object modification is a simple game creation strategy for all levels of children (and adults)!

Consider games that require a ball or implement.  Merely by changing the size, shape, or other characteristic of the ball or implement, a whole new set of neuromuscular demands is created.  

For example, think of your favorite team “keep away” game.  How would the parameters of the game change with different implements? A tennis ball? Soccer ball? Frisbee? Balloon?

With young or uncoordinated children, this could give them a greater opportunity for success (i.e. balloon volleyball, beachball baseball).  For more advanced kids, this could highlight certain game tactics, improve conditioning, and/or develop additional skills sets.

A few years ago I was working with a women’s soccer team, I was playing a team keep-away game similar to soccer, but they were throwing a tennis ball to one another.  I replaced the tennis ball with my baseball hat.  

Immediately, they had to change tactics.  While they could look for a long shot with the tennis ball, they had to move constantly in close quarters with the hat. Successful exchanges required quick decisions, anticipation, and field movement.

Not only did it increase the conditioning demand, the coach loved the tactics it highlighted!

Consider how familiar games could be modified with different objects!

As you know, gamifying activities and drills can be a powerful way to increase athlete engagement while enhancing skill development.  Creating new games and activities does not have to be complex.  

The suggestions above provide a quick and simple framework to create games and other fun, novel activities to develop lifelong athleticism with your young athletes.   

 

Brett Klika is the CEO of SPIDERfit Kids and is an expert in Youth Development.  He was named the 2013 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year.

Brett is giving away a free pocket-guide with hundreds of movement variable combinations for warm ups and other activities,

CLICK HERE to get SPIDERfit’s Ultimate Youth Warm Up Cheat Sheet.

Powerful Play in Sports Performance, Part 1 – Brett Klika

“Coach, can we play Power Ball?”

I was a strength and conditioning coach for a High School football team, and the reward of 10 minutes of a chase -and- evade game with a tennis ball could get my players to do just about anything during training.

This is despite the fact that this particular game, with elements of soccer and rugby, required everyone on the field, including linemen, to run constantly.

As a performance coach, you have undoubtedly witnessed this phenomena  working with athletes and non-athletes from kids to adults.

The miracle of “gamifying” has now extended from athletics to the fitness industry and beyond.  Corporations are now paying a kings ransom to organizations that can help teach business concepts through interactive games.

So why are games and other forms of play so effective for teaching, developing, and reinforcing concepts of performance and competition?

In the world of sports, coaches and athletes are actually immersed in the world of play.  After all, athletic competition has been embraced for centuries as what Stuart Brown M.D., Author of Play and founder of the National Institute of Play, refers to as “War play”.

Prior to sports being widely embraced, competition among individuals most often took on the form of war or battle.  Societies discovered that from the demands of war, certain positive aspects were developed among individuals and groups.  To decrease the “cost” of developing such aspects, non lethal ways of competing were developed.

Additionally, “play” behavior appears to be in our DNA, as well as in organisms as simple as insects. Scientists believe this tendency has evolved to allow species a physical and emotional outlet, allowing for greater social and cognitive development.

While sports once served as a play-based, “release” for the tensions otherwise associated with war, our kids are often placed under increasing pressure to perform athletically  at younger and younger ages.  Instead of an outlet, athletic performance is becoming the currency that stratifies many life opportunities for youngsters.

Play has become work for many children.

The rigors of athletic preparation are a tremendous tool for developing traits of teamwork, commitment, resiliency, and tactical proficiency.  However, by letting our athletes “play” within the confines of training, we can facilitate motivation, creativity, and camaraderie, in addition to other coaching “intangibles”.

These intangibles culminate to create an athlete’s individual desire to not only compete at a high level, but continue competing.  Looking at various research and the available data, it appears the number one determining factor in long term athletic success is most highly correlated with a child’s overall enjoyment with an activity.

Consider as well children who are not athletically inclined.  The physical benchmarks naturally established by sports and regimented athletic preparation remind them daily of their ineptitude.  Unsurprisingly, these kids often abandon physical activity altogether and contribute to the statistic suggesting nearly 1/3 of our countries children are obese.  For these kids, play-based activities often strip the status quo of athletics and allow them to explore endless opportunities to be active.

Aside from the “obvious” advantageous offered by infusing novel games and activities into an athletic preparation or physical activity program, consider the underlying neuromuscular mechanisms below that make play so powerful.

Development of the “Perceptual Motor Skills”

The ability for our senses to perceive, send a message to the brain, and have the brain create the appropriate response is the true underlying foundation for athletic, cognitive, and even social development.

As humans, we depend on input from a variety of senses to inform our physical, mental, and emotional decisions. These sensory skills, or “perceptual motor skills” create an important link between our body and brain.

Consider the following perceptual skills that help make up our ability to move and learn effectively:

Body Awareness:  Understanding the parts of the body and various ways they can move.

Directional Awareness: The ability to understand the directions of the body (right, left, up, down, etc.) and to be able to move in all planes of motion.

Spatial Awareness:  A concept of how much space the body occupies in relation to the surrounding environment.

Temporal Awareness:  The sense of timing, rhythm, and precision.

Vestibular Awareness:  An internal sense of the head and body’s position in relation to gravity.

Proprioceptive Awareness: The ability to interpret the internal sense of where the body and specific joints are in space and in relation to each other, and how much force/velocity they are exerting.

Tactile Awareness: The ability to appropriately respond to touch, in addition to differentiation of objects by size, texture, and shape.

Visual Awareness:  The ability to visually focus, track, and take in broad fields of view.

Auditory Awareness: The ability to accurately interpret and respond to sound.

When these skills are in tune, the “perceive- relay- respond” mechanism is optimized, allowing for improved overall physical and cognitive performance.

We begin developing these skills in infancy and continue throughout life.  While different sensory skills develop at different rates, research suggests a “sensory rich environment” not only helps fully develop these skills, it accelerates the process.

Consider how broad development of the sensory skills intertwines with play and performance in youth sports.

When children filled their time with unstructured play and multi-sport participation, every aspect of their sensory system was developed as they rolled down hills, threw baseballs, dribbled basketballs, kicked kickballs, and participated in any number of novel activities on a daily basis.

Currently, data suggests that a growing number of children are narrowing the physical activities they participate in on a daily basis.  They either are inactive, favoring video games over unstructured play, or they are funneled into early sport specialization.

Both of the above situations result in confining the sensory rich environment required to fully develop the perceptual motor skills of learning and athleticism. Novel games and activities during practice, training, or exercise sessions can help combat this trend, broadening the sensory skills these children have the opportunity to develop.

Consider an 8- year- old baseball player that has been convinced (against your advice as a development coach)  to forgo other sports in favor of year-round baseball.  Within the baseball environment, this child will practice and hone a small set of sensory skills.  While this can help baseball performance at a young age, a more broad spectrum of skills will be required to perform at a high level at an older age.

Facilitating targeted activities and games that require these children to use the senses outside of the small set required for baseball can help create an environment that optimizes overall development.

Pro sports are full of athletes attributing their on-field success to activities outside of their primary sport.  Dance, martial arts, gymnastics, and other surprising activities during their youth are often credited for shaping the unique athletic ability they ultimately developed.

It’s obvious that aside from an outlet from the demands and expectations from their “money” sport, these activities helped develop the underlying sensory skills that allowed them to become adaptable, resilient, and proficient.

As you can see, facilitating play within practice and training is a powerful tool to fully develop and engage the youngsters you work with.  In part 2 of this article, discover a framework to quickly and easily gamify drills and other activities to supercharge your training sessions!

 

brett klikaBrett Klika CSCS is the Co-founder and CEO of SPIDERfit Kids and an international expert in the area of youth development.  He has spent many years working with Todd Durkin at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA and was named the 2013 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year.

The IYCA’s Game Play Performance by Dave Gleason and Dave Jack gives you the tools to easily gamify your drills.

Game Play

Your Opportunity for Impact in Youth Fitness & Performance

Making an Impact in Youth Fitness and Performance

In this video, Jim Kielbaso talks about three of the ways you can have the greatest impact in youth fitness and sport performance.

Listen to what he has to say, and let us know what you think. What ways do you feel coaches and trainers can make a big impact with the kids they are working with?

Watch this video for more!!

Comment below!


Help Your Athletes Get Prepared to Perform by Checking This Out

IYCA-LTAD-LM-Blog AD-V1 - Opportunity for Impact in Youth Fitness and Performance

A Message from Dave Jack

Dave Jack’s Powerful Message

If you feel compelled to work with kids, you need to watch this! In this powerful message, Dave Jack explains just why our kids need you. You have the power and ability to change lives and speak LIFE into our youth…see what he has to say.


About Dave Jack

Dave Jack 1Dave has been in the industry for nearly 15 years and has worked with top professional athletes and teams throughout the National Football League, Major League Baseball and more. His vision is to inspire people to live healthy lives and provide them with tools to do so.

In addition to being the Fitness & Wellness Director of TeamWorks Fitness in Acton, MA, Dave is a national advisor and consultant for brands like Reebok, Rodale, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Prevention and NBA All-Star Paul Pierce’s Truth on Health Foundation.

Dave is also a National Level Speaker on Sports Performance, Fitness and Wellness and Co-founder of “Sports and Life,” a wellness curriculum for schools.


Check Out the IYCA Store!

If you are ready to take the leap into youth fitness and be a part of the IYCA team, check out our STORE today!
 

First Movement, Then Stability, Finally Mechanics

Movement, Stability & Then Mechanics

“Proper Body Mechanics” is a hot topic in any sport. Perhaps because over decades of research, video analysis and studying elite athletes there are seemingly very common trends on how to exceed in sports.

Whether throwing a baseball, shooting a hockey puck, or putting in a header, there is an “ideal” way to perform these tasks to optimize results. So the most important thing for any coach or trainer to focus on is body mechanics? Not necessarily.

Do you have a tennis player that always falls short of full extension with a serve? How about an athlete that can’t keep proper knee alignment with a squat?

There is a concept that precedes body mechanics, something much more fundamental than the correct foot position when lining up with a 7 iron.

It is this: Can your body physically do what you are asking it to do?

Movement: Making Motion

lacrosse-165576_640The human body is designed with 200+ bones that provide structure for movement to occur.

Among all those bones are a bunch of different joints, with distinct functions that allow various types of movement.

Hip and shoulder joints are designed for motion in all directions, knees and elbows in one direction, and ankles and wrists use a series of joints and bones to make little circles.

Laying on top of this structural support and center of movement are muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue that puts humans into motion. Functional movement is very important.

PRO TIP: If an athlete cannot functionally move in the way that is ideal for athletic performance then that has to be addressed first.

Stability: Controlling Movement

Stability in a broader sense is the ability to generate motion while remaining in control. You want a car with a “stable chassis” which allows for moving at high speeds while keeping everything together. The athletic body craves the same ability to produce ideal body mechanics.

Most relevant to sports and strength conditioning, stability comes from core control. This is the ability to control the arms and legs while providing a stable platform and base of support.

It can be said that you only are as fast as your ability to stop. This perhaps is not true where there is plenty of time for the body to slow down, such as a 100m sprint. Otherwise, if an athlete has to change directions quickly, speed will be limited by the brakes.

This extends to throwing a baseball as well, as the rotator cuff has to prevent the shoulder from dislocating after a throw. Sports performance is limited by the ability to stop efficiently, an important consideration when we talk about controlling motion.

PRO TIP: Control is key to sports performance. The ability to control one’s body effectively is what creates an ideal environment for sports success.

Mechanics: Mastering Performance

If an athlete is capable of moving and stopping motion appropriately then everything else is about performance.

Humans have a phenomenal capacity for neural plasticity. This means we are capable of adapting the brain and nervous system to learn new tasks and master them.

So why is mechanics training so important with young athletes? Because learning carries for life.

PRO TIP: Keep preaching the mechanics! In baseball, for every odd throwing style or batting stance there are 99 that all do it pretty much the same way. Proper mechanics is not only about producing home runs, 3 pointers, and touchdowns but it is also about reducing wear and tear.

Every athlete will succumb to the limits of volume at some point, but those limits are significantly reduced when mechanics are crappy.

Dr. Keith Cronin, DPT


About the Author: Keith Cronin

Keith CroninKeith J. Cronin is a physical therapist and owner of Sports and Healthcare Solutions, LLC. Keith currently supports US Operations for Dynamic Tape®, the “Original” Biomechanical Tape®, providing guidance for education, research and distribution. He graduated with his Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT) from Belmont University in 2008 and later earned his Orthopedic Certification Specialist (OCS).

Prior to graduate school, Keith was a collegiate baseball player and top-level high school cross country runner. He also had the opportunity to work as a personal trainer (CSCS) prior to his career in physical therapy, providing a very balanced approached to educating fitness and rehabilitation. Keith has focused his career on the evaluation, treatment, injury prevention, and sports conditioning strategies for athletes, with particular attention to youth sports. He currently lives in the St. Louis, MO area with his wife and two daughters, Ella and Shelby.


Prepare Your Athletes To Perform

Learn how to leverage the Long-Term Athletic Development Model to ensure your athletes are prepared to perform. In expert Wil Fleming’s free 7-minute video and PDF checklist, he covers how to create a training system that prepares young athletes to move better, get stronger, and enhance their performance.

Learn More