Archive for “youth sports training” 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.

Conditioning Games for Young Athletes – Brett Klika

Working with children at any age is an art as well as a science. As coaches, we aim to push our young athletes out of their comfort zone so they can grow physically and mentally within their sport and beyond. Science continues to provide methods by which we can do this effectively. However, we must also find ways make the process enjoyable and engaging for the kids involved.

Many of us remember the “lines, laps, and lectures” that marred our experience with youth sports. We also remember that special coach or training environment that brought out the best in us. This situation was usually created by coaches who understood the inner workings of children in the development process. They acknowledged the role of pushing our limits, but also created an environment that was positive and engaging.  And yes, FUN!

The “conditioning” aspect of training is probably the least popular amongst athletes at any age. However, it’s a necessary evil when it comes to physically and mentally preparing youngsters for competition.  Fortunately, conditioning does not have to be a Bear-Bryant-esque death march. By using gamification, creativity, and just plain old fun, it can be a tool to keep kids smiling while they sweat.

Consider combining the specific conditioning protocols you use for your individuals and teams with the more engaging, gamified versions below. Watch how the context of play brings out higher levels of effort and resilience, both indicators of high performance!

Letter Agility 

This activity is ideal for individuals and teams when space is limited.

  1. Spread athletes in the space, providing ample room around each to move.
  2. Call out a letter, and they have to re-create that letter on the ground by moving their body in the specific pathway as fast as possible.
  3. The letters should cover roughly a 6-foot area.
  4. Progress from letters to words and/or shapes.
  5. Provide time constraints.
  6. Have them face a partner and race.

Dirty and Clean 

This is a great activity for large spaces and teams.

  1. Randomly place cones throughout a large area. The larger the area, the greater the distance each athlete must cover to play the game.
  2. Assign one team to be the “dirty” team, the other the “clean” team.
  3. Prior to beginning, make sure to have a count of how many cones are being used.
  4. On the whistle, the “dirty” team must disperse and continue to knock over as many cones as possible with their hands.
  5. The “clean” team must set the cones back up as fast as possible.
  6. Athletes must move throughout the space. Neither team can knock down or set up the same cone two times in a row.
  7. At the end of the time (20-30 seconds) whoever has the most cones either knocked over or standing is the winner.
  8. Repeat, switching roles.
  9. For added challenge, change the body parts that can be used to knock over cones.

Compass Calisthenics 

This simple concept is great for individuals and teams when space is limited.

  1. Create a list of 10 bodyweight exercises that can be done in place.
  2. Familiarize the athletes with the compass directions (East, West, North, South).
  3. Athletes perform each exercise for 30 seconds.
  4. During this time, the coach will frequently call out one of the compass directions and the athlete has to re-orient their body and movement to that direction. For example, “Push-ups EAST, NORTH, WEST”, etc.
  5. 10 Seconds of rest is provided between exercises.

Human Cone Drill (Jumping Jacks) 

This is great competitive activity for moderate to large spaces and teams.

  1. Split athletes into teams of 5.
  2. Set up cones for each team, separating each by roughly 10 yards.
  3. Have teams stand in line behind a cone, facing a corresponding cone roughly 30 yards away (distance can be shortened for different ages, and training spaces).
  4. Athletes stand in a single file line with arms outstretched onto the person’s shoulders in front of them.
  5. On the whistle, athletes begin doing jumping jacks.
  6. On a second whistle, the athlete in the back of the line must weave through their teammates while avoiding the jumping jack arms.
  7. Once a teammate has moved to the front of the line, they can call “go” and the next person in the back of the line weaves through.
  8. The goal is for a team to reach their distant cone before the other teams.
  9. When the coach blows a whistle during the race, the last person in line must stop and put their hands out in front of them.
  10. The entire line must re-form so all participants can place their hands on the shoulders in front of them.
  11. When all teams have accomplished this, the whistle is blown again and competition continues.

Partner Mirror Drill 

This is a conditioning activity for partners when space is limited, or when reaction speed is a goal.  

  1. Create partners.
  2. Partners decide who the “leader” and who the “follower” will be.
  3. On the whistle, the leader begins to perform activities of their own choosing, i.e. shuffling, jumping, calisthenics, etc.
  4. Instruct athletes to use a relatively small 6-8-foot area for movement.
  5. The follower must try to mirror exactly what the leader is doing in real time.
  6. On the coach’s whistle, the roles switch.
  7. Continue for 30 second intervals.
  8. Encourage creative, varied movement, i.e. dance moves, calisthenics-to-locomotion, etc.
  9. To increase difficulty, a movement cannot be repeated while someone is a leader.

All of the activities above function to challenge the metabolic system. However, by gamifying the experience, kids actually enjoy the process. The more the enjoyment, the greater the effort.

Integrate these fun and challenging conditioning activities into your youth programs and beyond. Never be afraid to create an environment where athletes smile while they sweat.    

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.

 

Concussion Awareness & Prevention for the Strength Professional – Joe Powell

Part 1 of 2 on concussion awareness and mitigation for the S&C Professional focuses on defining the injury and its primary root causes, as well as clearing up common misconceptions about the injury. The article focuses in on published research to define prevalence and rate of instance among popular sports. 

The term concussion has long been feared, yet largely misunderstood by both athletes and coaches alike. However, as of late, concussion awareness in athletics has been at an all-time high. Increases in clinical diagnoses of the injury as well as research devoted to the cause, effects, and preventative strategies have helped spearhead awareness and thus increased prevention attempts. High profile athletes have begun to step forward into the public eye to raise awareness on concussions and the subsequent consequences that can accompany the injury and, unfortunately, plague their everyday lives. Controversial debate has even taken place in professional sports among league officials and referees to change the rules of the sports where concussions occur at high rates. Sure, concussions have always occurred in the sports that we love, but only recently have they garnered the mass attention necessary to begin the prevention process at all levels. Like any other injury commonly sustained by athletes, it is our job as strength and conditioning professionals to help lead the movement on mitigation and make it a priority in our training.

The first step in creating a program to help our athletes minimize the occurrence of any injury is to better understand the nature of the injury and everything that accompanies it.

What is a concussion and how can it occur?

A concussion is the result of external force being applied upon the body wherein the result of the impact causes a sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head, resulting in a collision between the brain and the skull. Sustaining a concussion can result in severe cognitive, psychological and structural damage to an individual. Common symptoms of the injury include headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and even loss of consciousness. The injury may last days, weeks and in some cases even longer. The severity of the injury is dependent upon many factors. How it was caused, the force of the trauma that occurred, the amount of previous head injuries the individual has sustained, and even the time it took to report the injury to a licensed health care provider are just a sampling of factors that influence the severity of a concussion.

From Children’s Hospital Oakland

Head injuries such as concussions are most commonly thought to occur due to a direct blow to the head via another athlete. These are your big highlight reel hits in football or the massive check into the boards in hockey. This scenario is certainly one of the most common causes of concussion in sport, however it is far from the only one. The direct contact hits by another individual that result in a concussed athlete are easy to recognize because the signs and symptoms of a concussion are usually immediately on display. It has almost become the norm to expect an injury when a vicious hit is sustained during play. However, these types of concussions may partially explain why the injury is so misunderstood. When an athlete displays concussion symptoms to themselves or others, yet cannot trace the symptoms to an event where a large collision took place, they may not actually think they’ve suffered a concussion. This results in athletes failing to report their injury and thus do not get the treatment needed to be placed on a proper rehabilitation protocol.

Other common scenarios where concussions are sustained in athletics may not be as recognizable as the highlight reel hit or direct head contact. Yet these events are every bit as serious, even if though go unrecognized initially. These situations may include when an athlete suffers repeated low-level blows to the head, when an external object (not another human) hits an athlete in the cranial region, or when a player gets wrapped up and their head becomes susceptible to hitting the environment around them, even if at a low velocity. To put into perspective how common these injuries can occur, look no further than specific examples of routine plays that happen in almost any game or match. Instances may be when a soccer player attempts a header and strikes the ball with great force, when a baseball or softball strikes an athlete on the helmet, when a wrestler is taken down and cannot brace themselves before hitting the mat, or a lineman in football colliding against defenders for the duration of a game. The possibilities are numerous. The root cause of concussion can certainly differ, but the injury remains incredibly serious regardless of how it is sustained. Now that the injury and some of its causes are better understood, more effective strides can be made to minimize its prevalence.

Which athletes are at risk?

For many years the primary concern around concussions was based around contact sports, such as football, hockey, rugby and lacrosse, and the high-velocity collisions that accompany them. These contact sports are primarily male-dominated, which meant if you were female or played a non-contact sport you were likely safe from getting a concussion. Even youth athletes that played contact sports were not seen as a high risk of concussion since they could not typically generate the high-velocity impacts that are usually seen at the high school level and above. Those assumptions are actually quite false according to numerous studies on the topic and given the circumstances previously mentioned, it is now better understood that athletes of all ages, both male and female, across all sports, can be at risk of sustaining a concussion in their sport. The goal of bringing awareness to parents and athletes of the potential injuries in sport is not to scare them off and prevent them from playing the games they love, rather it’s to educate with the hopes of increased prevention methods, as well as understanding the proper steps to report and treat an injury if it does indeed occur.

Concussions and youth sports

Research has emerged within the last several years that paints a better picture on the prevalence of concussions in youth and high school sports. The CDC estimates that 20% of the roughly 1.7 million concussions that are reported each year are sports related, with the majority of those stemming from participants in youth and high school sports. It was reported that youth athletes who sustained a concussion from participation in contact/collision sports account for 3-8% of all sports-related injuries reported to the ER (Kelly, et al. 2001). Given the high number of participants in youth sports, those statistics are staggering. For years, concussion instances in youth sports was long an afterthought, yet studies show that young athletes are in fact likely more susceptible to concussions than adults. Concussions represent 8.9% of all high school athletic injuries compared to just 5.8% at the collegiate level (Karlin, 2011, Boden, et al. 2007). Possible explanations for higher percentages of concussion rates in youth athletics include youth and adolescent athletes possessing a larger head to body size ratio, they possess weaker neck muscles, and have an increased injury vulnerability due to the brain still developing (Sim et, al. 2008). To make matters worse, research suggests that children and adolescents take longer to recover than adults (Grady, 2010).

A systematic review and meta-analysis done by Pfister et. Al. examined the incidence of concussions in youth sports. 23 articles were accepted for systematic review (out of 698 considered for review). The accepted research focused on both male and female athletes under the age of 18 and included the following sports as part of the research: football, rugby, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling, field hockey, track, taekwondo, volleyball, and cheerleading. The data compiled from the studies demonstrates concussion prevalence in terms of what the researchers refer to as an athletic exposure, or AE. The researchers define an athletic exposure as “one player participating in any game or practice, regardless of the amount of time spent playing and therefore at risk of sustaining an injury.” In this analysis, the data shows concussion prevalence out of 1000 athletic exposures across the 12 sports. The average incidence of an athlete sustaining a concussion across all identified sports was 0.23 per 1000 athletic exposures. The numbers range drastically dependent upon the sport. Rugby was the highest at 4.18, whereas volleyball the lowest at 0.03. The average incidence of an athlete receiving a concussion may seem low when thought of at 0.23/1000 AE, however when taken into consideration that as of 2011, 30-45 million children, and an additional 7 million high school students participated in athletics, that ratio (.023/1000) is actually incredibly startling. The following chart taken from the systematic review by Pfister et. Al shows the reviewed sports and their rates of concussions in order from highest to lowest, as well as the studies the data was taken from.  

The popularity of youth and high school sports are at all-time highs in today’s society. Parents, coaches and athletes alike are constantly vying for any edge in performance they can find. While the constant desire for improving sports and fitness related skills is great for the field of strength and conditioning, it’s imperative that athletes, parents, and coaches allocate time on injuries and preventative methods. Understand that injuries do occur, and will keep occurring, however the better understanding of how and why they occur, the better we can aim to mitigate them. This is especially important in regards to the serious injuries such as concussions where the long term effects are still unfortunately largely unknown.

In Part 2, we will examine some of the preventative measures and how strength & conditioning professionals can assist in protecting athletes from brain injuries.

References

Boden BO, Tacchetti RL, Cantu RC, et al. Catastrophic head injuries in high school and college football players. Am J Sports Med 2007

Grady M. Concussion in the adolescent athlete. Curr Probl Pediatric Health Care 2010;40:154–69.

Karlin AM. Concussion in the pediatric and adolescent population: “different population, different concerns”. PM R 2011;3(Suppl 2):S369–79.

Kelly KD, Lissel HL, Rowe BH, et al. Sport and recreation-related head injuries treated in the emergency department. Clin J Sport Med 2001

Pfister T, Pfister K, Hagel B, et al The incidence of concussion in youth sports: a systematic review and meta-analysis Br J Sports Med 2016;50:292-297.

Sim A, Terryberry-Spohr L, Wilson K. Prolonged recovery of memory functioning after mild traumatic brain injury in adolescent athletes. Neurosurgery 2008

 

Joe Powell is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Utah State University.  He formerly held a similar position at Central Michigan University where he also taught classes in the Department of Health and Human Performance.  Joe is a regular contributor to the IYCA Insiders program and has been a huge part of bringing the Behind the Science series to the IYCA.  He is also the author of the IYCA Guide to Manual Resistance Strength Training.  Get more of Joe’s contributions in the IYCA Insiders membership.

Sprinting Mechanics – How to Run Faster: Paul Aanonson

Coaching Sprinting Mechanics must not be ignored in speed training!

SPEED’, the buzzword in the world of sports. Those who have mastered the art of sprinting dominate those who have yet to develop it. Speed wins, every time.

Top speed sprinting is one the most complex, high-velocity human movements in sports. Top speed means 10+ yards after acceleration. Sprinting is a skill and it CAN be learned. To coach a skill, you must first seek to understand the movement and then master the mechanics.

True speed can be an elusive skill to master, and as a result, is often not strongly emphasized in programming. All too often, I hear the phrase, ‘you can’t coach speed’. This statement is likely made because many coaches simply don’t know how to train speed, never mastered the skill themselves, don’t seek to understand its full value or have never been properly educated on how to include proper sprinting mechanics and athletic movement in their coaching. More familiar methods, such as strength training, provide visible weight room results and PRs that look good on paper and pass the ‘eye test,’ but don’t always translate to the field. An athlete with impressive weight room stats, who can’t move quickly and efficiently, will not succeed on the field.

Why does learning sprinting mechanics matter?

As coaches, we need to create well-rounded programs that focus on all aspects of athletic development. Sprinting is a pillar of sports performance. The foundation for ALL my performance training is ‘Building Better Athletes, Not Weight Room All-Stars’.

Teaching Sprinting MechanicsWhen developing athleticism, one question must be answered. What type of movements are performed during the sport and how can we develop speed, power and explosiveness within these skills? Once we determine this, then we can program to improve movement skills, like sprinting, with drills and exercises focused on mechanics, mobility, power and strength.

Unfortunately, lost in the obsession of building bigger and stronger athletes, is the mastery of skills like sprinting, jumping, cutting and improving overall movement. An athlete’s ability to squat 400 lbs (even if the bar speed is explosive), only matters if they can actually apply their strength and power to on-field movements. If it doesn’t transfer, it doesn’t matter.

I’m certainly not here to say that strength doesn’t matter. Strength training is undoubtedly another pillar of athletic development. Speed and strength go hand in hand to create a successful athlete. Instead, I’m here to challenge and bring awareness to the amount of energy and importance our industry places on strength. Think about the amount of training time that is allocated to learning Olympic lifts like the power clean. Compare that to the amount of time spent on coaching and developing movements like sprinting mechanics. One skill (sprinting) is performed on every play of every game, and one is not (i.e. power cleans). If the time dedicated to learning how to properly move and sprint does not outweigh, or at least equal, the time dedicated to learning Olympic lifts, we are failing our athletes.

Learning how to sprint requires breaking down the movement into steps (as seen in the video below), developing good habits and efficient fluid movements. SPEED CAN BE LEARNED by training posture, body position and mechanics and utilizing specific drills, along with teaching athletes how to efficiently produce force during the action of sprinting. Drills help athletes simplify the complex skill, allowing them to focus on just one aspect.

The goal when coaching sprinting mechanics is not perfection. Every athlete will have slightly different quirks and movements, but the question to always ask is whether or not they are moving efficiently.  Perfection is the enemy, while efficiency is the ally. Everything from how and where the foot lands, to the position of the head, must be performed with intent and purpose. Most athletes never learn to run correctly and the result creates bad habits during their developmental years. It is our job as coaches to determine if they need to relearn the skill of sprinting or just improve a few aspects, then communicate it with simple cues during speed workouts.

Not every athlete is born with equal natural abilities and each individual has a genetic ceiling. As coaches and mentors, it’s our responsibility to help athletes reach their full potential by providing the tools, confidence, and skills to reach peak performance on the field. I have successfully coached the art of sprinting to well over 2,000 athletes. It is a process, it takes time, and you must be confident and able to break down movements and sprinting mechanics for each individual.

Teaching proper sprinting mechanics does not have to be intimidating. Take the time to fully understand the movement and break down the individual steps. Like any other skill, the more you practice, the more confident you’ll become coaching, cueing and helping your athletes develop into proficient, powerful sprinters.

Along with the Simple Speed Coach ‘How to Sprint’ video, I’ve included a simple overview to help you follow my 9 coaching cues shown in the video.

How to Sprint Video Overview:

Step 1: Neutral Head: Chin neutral, eyes up.

Step 2: Sprint Posture: Neutral pelvis w/ forward lean, rod from ear through hip.

Step 3: Hip Flexion: Thigh slightly below parallel to the ground.

Step 4: Knee Extension / Flight Phase: Violent motion of leg extending towards the ground.

Step 5: Ground Anticipation: How the foot strikes the ground.

Step 6: COG: Where the foot lands.

Step 7: Recovery Leg: Action of the leg as it drives up and in front of the body.

Step 8: Arm Action: Powerful and efficient arm swing.

Step 9: Relax: Utilize only the muscles needed for fluid motion, breathe.

*STRIDE TO TURNOVER RATIO

Stride is determined by recovery leg action (Step 7) into Hip Flexion (Step 3). Turnover is the velocity through the leg cycle.

Teaching sprinting mechanics can be an incredibly enjoyable and fruitful process as you develop athletes.  Take the time to thoroughly understand sprinting mechanics before you begin your instruction, and enjoy watching your athletes get faster and faster.

 

Paul AanonsonPaul Aanonson, MS, CSCS, FMS – Paul is the owner of Simple Speed Coach and has directed the sports performance program for North Colorado Sports Medicine since 2008, training over 2,500 athletes. He oversees the return to sport rehab program and has mentored and prepared over 130 collegiate graduates through his internship program. Aanonson graduated from South Dakota State University with a B.S. in Exercise Science and received a M.S. in Sport Administration from The University of Northern Colorado. He was a four sport all-state athlete in high school and a FCS All-American return specialist for the South Dakota State University football team.

 

For even more detailed information about sprinting mechanics and speed development, check out the IYCA Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course.  The CSAS is the most comprehensive and scientifically sound speed certification in the athletic development profession.  It truly prepares you to teach and develop speed.  Click on the image below to learn more.

speed & agility certification

 

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.

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.

Escape the Achievatron Machine – Andrew Simpson

“The greatest benefit to your life will not be your accomplishments, but rather what happens inside you while you’re moving toward your goal.”

Sports are a big part of many children’s lives, and there are numerous benefits to having quality sporting experience.  Work ethic, mental focus/toughness, cooperation, dealing with ups & downs, perseverance, following directions and sportsmanship are just some of the traits that can be developed through sports. 

Unfortunately, many athletes get sucked into the high-pressure part of sports I call The Achieveatraon Machine.

The Achieveatron Machine is essentially an endless cycle of attempting to achieve the “next big thing” instead of focusing on the process.  While the desire to constantly improve is an excellent trait for athletes to develop, the Achieveatron Machine is different.

An appropriate desire to improve is what gets young athletes to practice, focus, accept coaching and work hard.  It’s a focus on the process, knowing that results will be seen with hard work.

The Achieveatron Machine, however.  It crosses a line when athletes start to feel as though they are never enough.  They can no longer enjoy sports or focus on the process because they feel like they have to always win, earn another scholarship or prove their worth through sports achievements.  Young athletes begin to lose their identity and judge themselves strictly on their performance.

With the way youth sports has gone over the past 10-15 years, we’ve seen a steady rise in the number of athletes getting sucked into the Achieveatron Machine.  This leads to anxiety, burnout, altered self-worth and a constant state of pressure to do more and more.

As coaches, we need to recognize when we see athletes getting sucked in and help pull them out of the Achieveatron Machine.  Here are some tips and a video to help coaches, athletes, and parents avoid this trap:

1. AWARENESS

Be honest with yourself.

Am I stuck in this machine? Have I conformed unknowingly?

2. CLARITY OF VALUES

What really matters the most to me?

Do I care most about the achievements and accomplishments? OR do I care more about who I become along the way? Are the habits I develop and lessons I learn more important than winning/losing?

3. RECOGNIZE and REWARD

Start recognizing and rewarding based on your values. If “hard work and effort” is a value, recognize and reward those behaviors.

If “overcoming fear and failure by not giving up and trying again” is a value of yours, recognize and reward your athlete when they do that.

Do you value “being a great teammate?” Recognize athletes when they high five and congratulate a teammate for shining bright, even if it meant they didn’t.

If I do not pull myself out of the Achievatron Machine, the consequences might be:

* Never feeling like I am enough

* Always needing more

* Loss of motivation at some point

* Roller coaster confidence – feeling good about myself WHEN I am achieving, feeling bad about myself when I am not

* Burnout. 

* Continual decrease in joy and passion for your sport.

Watch this short video of me talking about the Achieveatron Machine with more tips on how to help athletes avoid it.

Andrew Simpson is the founder of Players Fitness & Performance in Frederick, MD.   He discovered he had a passion for Exercise Science, Nutrition, and Human Performance in 2010 and decided to blend this with his love for athletics by opening PFP. He and his team have been blessed with the responsibility to mentor and develop hundreds of middle and high school students in the Frederick area. Andrew’s mission is to inspire youth to live uncommon lives and to be bold enough to become extraordinary leaders.

 

Many coaches talk about mental toughness, but do you really know how to develop this important trait in athletes?  It’s not about wall sits or pushing past limits.  It’s about being able to focus and perform at a high level without letting distractions affect performance.  There are simple strategies that coaches and parents can employ to develop this ability in young athletes.  The IYCA Mental Toughness Course teaches you the skills and exercises needed to help young athletes.  Developed by world-renowned sports psychologist Haley Perlus, this is an absolute MUST for any coach working with young athletes.

 

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.

Using Agility Bags to Develop Game Speed

When you look up the definition of agility in the IYCA’s Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning textbook, it states “agility is the ability to stop, start, and change directions.”  This is exactly what athletes do all the time, specifically team-sport athletes who must react to the movements of opponents.  It’s important for coaches to help athletes develop these skills while incorporating sports skills and the ability to react to opponents.  

agility bagsI work with a lot of football players, but the principles of agility are similar for many sports.  Athletes must learn how to juke, feint and react to opponents in order to make plays and avoid bone-crushing hits.  Being able to change direction quickly can often be the difference between making a play or getting knocked out of a game, so it’s important that we help athletes develop these skills for both performance and safety.

So, how do we develop these skills and what tools can be utilized?

Of course, I could give all the easy answers; lift weights, nutrition, study film, recovery, etc.  I am not saying these easy answers are not important, but one of my favorite ways to develop these skills is through the use of agility bags.  Agility bags represent obstacles on the ground.  Sometimes they are bodies that end up on the ground during a play.  Your athlete has to get their feet over the bodies to avoid being tackled.  Believe me some of your athletes will get tripped up by a “body” on the floor.  This is your chance to have some fun with them and teach reactionary skills that will keep athletes safe and help them make plays.

Using agility bags can develop coordination, footwork and body control.  It will also develop spatial awareness and the ability to use peripheral vision.  It’s important that athletes in many sports use peripheral vision so they can keep their eyes on the play while knowing what is around them.  Peripheral vision can actually be developed and agility bags are one tool that allows you to work on this.

There are all sorts of drills that can be done with agility bags.  You’ve probably seen many of them that include shuffling, hopping, etc.  Many of them can be replicated with cones or small hurdles, but I like to use bags along with including a reactionary component.  Here is a short video of a few reactionary drills that can be done with agility bags.

BAG DRILL 1

I place six bags on the floor.  You can have the athlete start in the middle of the six bags or at either end of the bags.  I stand at the third bag a few feet away with a football in both hands.

I will point the football to the left or to the right and the athlete will follow the ball in the direction pointed.  I will point, then point in the opposite direction and the athlete has to change direction to follow the ball. You can change direction at any time.

When I want them to transition from two-ins frontal plane to one-ins sagittal plane I say “SCORE.”  When I say “SCORE,” I toss them the ball and they perform one-ins until they reach the end of the six bags.

BAG DRILL 2

Bag drill two is set up like bag drill one.  The difference is you play catch with the athlete as he travels in the frontal plane performing two-ins.  This is where peripheral vision must really be utilized.  

I will travel up and down the six bags at first while playing catch with the ball.  As they get use to this drill and are confident going over the bags while playing catch, I will change direction on them and they have to respond. If they are late getting to the ball and it hits the floor, the drill is restarted.

I sometimes lay out pads at the ends of the six bags on the floor and have my running backs dive onto the pads to simulate diving into the end zone.  

BAG DRILL 3 – MIRROR DRILL WITH BAGS

Take four bags and lay them on the ground.  Take another four bags and lay them right across from the original three bags.  Have each set of four bags approximately one yard from each other.

You need two athletes.  One of them will be the “lead” while the other will be the “responder” and will mirror the lead’s movement.  Both will have footballs properly secured with pressure points if you’re working with football players.  You can choose how sport-specific you’d like the drill to be by utilizing balls or implements.  

The lead will initiate the movement by moving laterally with two-ins.  The responder will follow with two-ins also.

The lead can go up and down the four bags a maximum of six times.  He can change directions anytime he wants to and before the sixth rep he has to transition from lateral movement to straight ahead one-ins.

Have a coach approximately ten yards away with his hands extended out to his side, shoulder level. The first back to slap coach’s hand wins.

You can use six to eight bags.  This drill is very fun and competitive.  

BAG DRILL 4

Lay two bags on the ground so they are parallel to each other.  Take two additional bags and lay them a few yards away from the original two.  Place these two bags in an L formation.  Place another bad five yards away from the L bags.  

The first two bags are used for one-ins.  I will also have them jump cut through the bags when working with running backs. 

Once they get past the first two, they will jump cut over the L formation of bags.  I like to have them jump over a bag.

After completing the jump cut, the last bag acts as a defensive back.  I like to hold this one upright and tilt it to the left or to the right.  Your running back has to spin opposite the tilt.

So, if working with football players, the first two bags represents the line of scrimmage.  The L bag formation is a linebacker and the last bag a defensive back.  You can play around with this and have them make various moves at different bags.  Nothing is set in stone, so use your imagination and knowledge of the sport to create movements the athlete will use.

Training is a long-term process, and teaching athletes both coordination and skills they can use on the field is important.  Agility bags offer the coach an opportunity to teach sport-specific movements/skills while developing proprioception, coordination, body control and peripheral vision.  Adding a reactionary component brings all of these things together in a way that helps athletes understand how the drills can help their on-field performance.  

Doug Heslip is the owner of Heslip Elite Sports Performance Training in Negaunee, MI and the creator of Seek & Destroy – Elite Running Back Drills a video product for football coaches.  He works with young athletes in a variety of sports and teaches football coaches how to incorporate speed & agility training into their sessions.

It’s Not Them; It’s Us – Better Coaching With Young Athletes: Brett Klika

Coaching young athletes isn’t as easy as it seems.  

“Use your hips, not your knees!”

My 4-year-old daughter’s swim coach echoed this cue over and over as my daughter lay in a backfloat, churning water and going nowhere.

The swim coach, myself and the host of other parents at the pool knew what she was trying to say.  Unfortunately, despite my daughter knowing what her “hips” where, her relatively limited experience as an earthling lent to trouble in deciphering what her teacher meant by “using” them.

Water continued to churn, my daughter didn’t move, her teacher looked defeated. My wife quickly shot me her “don’t make a scene” look as my inside voice screamed “Just tell her to make her legs straight!!!”

This communication disconnect is often a limiting factor in how positive or negative our interactions are with our youngest athletes.  In all honesty, a majority of the time when kids don’t do what they are supposed to do, the communication breakdown is on our end, not theirs.  Let’s face it, coaching young athletes isn’t as easy as people (who don’t do it) think.

It’s easy to chalk this disconnect up to:

  • Kids don’t listen
  • They don’t comprehend things well
  • They’re unfocused
  • They’re undisciplined
  • They’re uncoordinated
  • They have numerous physical and cognitive limitations
  • Etc., Etc. Etc.

The list of the challenges associated with coaching young athletes could go on.  The fact of the matter is that all of these have a significant element of truth. The good news, however, is that many of these limitations can be overcome when we focus on how to become better communicators with young children.

To create a more positive and less frustrating learning environment for everyone involved, consider the communication tips below.

“Pre-load” Vocabulary When Coaching Young Athletes

In the example with my daughter’s swim coach given above, she most likely had more experience working with older children. These older children could not only identify parts of their body, but also identify the different functions of these parts. On top of that, they were experienced in taking in auditory information and applying it to a motor task.These perceptual motor skills of body and auditory awareness, in addition to others, are not fully developed in most young children, particularly before the age of six. Their bodies, in addition to the many sensations, sights and sounds in the environment are still new.

Prior to introducing a skill or activity, consider the involved components. “Bend your elbow, drop your hips, point your toes, etc.” all sound like simple cues. However, to a relatively new and rapidly developing neuromuscular system, they are frustratingly novel, particularly when the child is attempting to integrate the multiple movements necessary to execute a skill.

When it appears that children are ignoring our coaching cues, the problem is often that they hear what we are saying but can’t draw the connections to recreate it physically. To overcome this issue with better communication, consider “pre-loading” important coaching cue vocabulary.

Decrease frustration by separating the anatomy and movement demands from the actual skill during the warm up.

Once again using my daughter’s swim lessons as an example, a better approach could be to have the children begin playing a “Simon Says” type of game on the wall, familiarizing them with the anatomy cues associated with the different ways they can kick in the water. Starting by identifying the body parts, then adding their function.  In a few minutes, the children’s neuromuscular systems could be better prepared to receive information.

Below are two examples of simple activities to familiarize kids with body part recognition and function.

Body Part Callouts Video 

Body Moves Video

Stop!

As mentioned above, children’s ability to absorb and process information is limited. Add loads of distraction and this ability to process information decreases further.  We often forget that when young kids are performing a new activity, everything is conscious and manual. They are consciously governing each step and movement. In addition to this internal world, they are learning to navigate everything around them.  This is why coaching young athletes is so different than coaching older kids.  When we stand in the middle of a field with a whistle and bark orders to 7-year olds, we merely add additional layers of complexity.  

If we want to help children by providing them instruction, it’s important that we eliminate as many internal and external distractions as possible.

One of the most effective ways to do this is to stop the current activity so the senses for absorbing information are maximized.

  • If there is a group, bring the group together, within arm’s reach, so their visual field is focused on you Coaching Young Athletesas the instructor. Another option is to have pre-designated markers (cones, dots, etc.) for the kids to occupy. This eliminates the distraction of “where should I stand?”.
  • Get down to the child’s level so you can make eye contact
  • Do a quick auditory or visual activity (How many fingers do I have up? How many claps is this?) to focus their attention
  • Keep instruction brief, preferably focusing on one cue
  • Have them immediately practice the cue
  • If they still struggle, consider refamiliarizing with vocabulary

While this is essential when coaching young athletes, it is an important element of coaching at all ages.

Identify the Obstacle

We’ve all experienced tossing an object to a young child and they flail their arms like they’re trying to swat multiple flies at the same time.  Meanwhile, the object bounces off their head like a backboard shot in basketball. We’ll often try to correct this with the good ol’ “keep your eye on the ball” routine, to no avail.

“Backboard!”

In scenarios like this, we very well could be trying to coach things the child is literally incapable of doing. Using the catching example above, prior to the age of about six, children have an extremely limited ability to focus on objects as they move closer to them. Additionally, judging speed and direction are difficult when their eyeball doesn’t fully form its round shape until about nine years old.

When properly trained and practiced, these limitations can be overcome and progressed.  However, significant regression is often required at the onset. When we understand that the obstacle to catching is the inability to focus on the quickly moving target, we may choose to introduce a target that doesn’t move as quickly. Striking and catching bubbles trains the eyes to track more efficiently because they move slower. They young eyeball has a better chance to take in useful information.

Other components of athleticism work the same way.  Consider the acquisition of strength for bodyweight calisthenics. We already know modern children are inactive and overspecialized. They’re not out playing every day, putting their proprioceptive system through a wide variety of challenges. We then wonder why they can’t climb a rope or do 20 push-ups on command.

Yes, these children could be considered “weak,” however, this weakness comes from their proprioceptive system having very little experience managing the body’s entire weight. When a child goes into a push up position, the shoulder joint goes into significant compression. The untrained muscle spindles and Golgi tendons panic and focus efforts to alleviate this compression. Hips raise into the air or fall to the ground.

Understanding that this proprioceptive inexperience is a significant obstacle, we can do crawling, grip, and static work in the push up position. When proprioception is better trained, stability, mobility, and strength can be optimized. In a push up, the shoulder joint no longer panics and is able to respond appropriately to the acute compression. Similarly, just hanging from a bar for progressively longer periods of time can aid in removing some of the proprioceptive limitations associated with performing pull ups.

We often have to facilitate the activities kids used to do during play in order to build a foundation for skill.

The next time you are working with or coaching young athletes and want to pull your hair out while screaming “aren’t you listening??” take a step back. If you’re honest, it’s probably you, not them. Consider the tips above to create a positive, enriching experience that will empower them to perform 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.

 

You Can’t Microwave an Athlete – Jim Kielbaso

Note: This article was originally intended for parents and/or coaches, but it can be helpful for anyone who helps develop athletes.  The IYCA encourages you to share this with parents or other coaches to help them understand the process of long-term athletic development.  Please feel free to copy & paste this into an email to parents, for use on your website or to share on social media.  It may be a little long for newsletters, so please divide it up however you feel is your best opportunity to spread the information.  It’s important for us to work together to educate the public about this process, and we can’t do it alone.

I talk to parents and coaches all the time who want to take short-cuts and rush the development of athletes. The most common belief is that if you just practice your sports skills (dribbling, shooting, setting, hitting, fielding, etc.) enough, you’ll be a great athlete.  

Unfortunately, that’s just not how great athletes are developed.

Take a look at who dominates most youth sports – it’s usually the fastest, strongest kids. Because they’re faster and stronger, they are almost always more coordinated which makes learning sports skills much, much easier.

Sometimes, kids with amazing skills rise up at an early age, only to be overtaken by the bigger, faster kids down the road. Rarely do you see a slow, weak athlete rise to the top of any sport.  I’m not even talking about being the best in the world. Just take a look at high school sports. Faster, more explosive kids are almost always dominating kids who have good skills but just can’t use them because they’re too slow.

Talk to just about any coach, and they’ll tell you that faster, more explosive athletes dominate sports and have a much higher athletic ceiling.

There is plenty of research supporting this concept, and just about every national governing body (i.e. US Hockey, US Lacrosse, etc.) is trying to implement long-term athlete development systems that don’t focus exclusively on sports skills. They know that the better all-around athletes end up enjoying sports more and eventually out-perform those who focus exclusively on skills, but our microwave mentality often gets in the way of this process.

So, what are you supposed to do about it?

The answer depends on where the athlete is in his/her development.  Let me give you some guidelines and practical tips that you can apply.  The age ranges below are not set in stone (developmental age is more important), but they give you a framework to work from.

Under 8 years old:  For athletes under about 8 years old (every kid is an athlete at that age), parents should expose them to as many different activities as possible. This is a critical time to “lay down the circuit board” for an athlete and develop a large movement repertoire. Practice what we call “Fundamental Motor Skills” like hopping, skipping, throwing, catching, climbing, tumbling, balancing, etc. Do the things that were taught in gym class back in the 60’s and 70’s. Make up fun games or obstacle courses and get kids to learn what their bodies can do.

8-11 years old:  For kids about 8-11 (who have decent motor development), it’s time to expand their “physical literacy.” Physical literacy is the new term for “all-around athleticism,” and it’s basically all about enhancing those fundamental motor skills by adding speed and complexity to them while sport-specific skills start to take shape. Certain sports like gymnastics and figure skating require a much earlier commitment to skills, but just about every other sport relies more heavily on the “slow-cooking” approach. At this age, athletes should still participate in multiple sports/activities, and overall sport specializationathleticism should be the focus. Teach athletes how to run, jump, catch, kick, throw, etc. with more power and accuracy, and begin to develop strength & speed by teaching mechanics and body weight exercises. Exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, lunges and jumping activities should gradually be incorporated into an athlete’s routine, but not so much that the athlete dreads them. 2-3 days a week of 20-60 minutes is more than enough to supplement what is probably not being addressed in gym class or sports practices.

Have athletes practice sports skills they show interest in, but encourage work in multiple sports throughout the year.  Allow kids to concentrate on a sport while they’re in-season, but move on to a different sport to keep things fresh.  Allowing kids to play on teams with their friends and coaches they like is very important at this age because it makes sports more fun.  Igniting an inner desire to play and improve is important at this age, and fun is an ingredient you can’t use too much of.  Of course, there are always exceptions to this with kids who absolutely love one sport and don’t want to do anything else.  Those kids should still take breaks so they look forward to coming back for more.

The most important goal at this age is to make each season or experience enjoyable enough that they want to come back for more.  Try not to get sucked into too much seriousness yet – there’s plenty of time for that later.

11-14 years old:  The ages of 11-14 are critical for speed & agility development because these traits are more easily developed before the massive growth spurts during adolescence. This is the age when more focused training can take place as long as the foundation has been laid. If athletes at this age are still struggling with fundamental motor skills, more time definitely needs to be spent on these skills. It’s always a good idea to take one step back in order to take two forward, so don’t be afraid to work on fundamental movement skills and keep things fun.  Development over competition should still be the guiding theme at this time.   Many athletes need considerable work on running mechanics at this age because they simply have not been properly addressed yet and parents/coaches start to notice a lack of speed. Growth spurts can also disrupt movement patterns, and once-coordinated kids can lose some of their smoothness.  Good training can usually avert this.

Most of this can still be corrected/improved, but it will usually take a more structured approach to make up for what was missed at an earlier age. Unfortunately, most athletes in this age range are already so over-scheduled that parents find it difficult to fit in this kind of training. Parents/coaches need to find windows of opportunity during the year to focus on physical literacy and athleticism. The off-season is the best time to address these traits, but athletes should gradually move to a year-round approach that includes brief exposures to training multiple times a week.

Sports are definitely getting more serious during these ages.  Kids start to gravitate to a sport, they start to notice who’s good at sports, and they usually decide how badly they want to pursue a sport during this stage.  Many kids will start to ask for more help or they’ll begin to practice more on their own.  Put kids in situations that gently challenge them without making it so difficult that they feel completely incompetent.  A little struggling helps athletes grow, but emotional development is important to understand at this stage.  Some kids are ready for more than others.  Some will step up to large challenges while others need a little less pressure.

By the end of this stage, kids on a path to great sports success will start to concentrate on one sport.  This is OK, but a secondary sport is still encouraged to keep things fresh and encourage competition is multiple ways.  “Early-recruiting sports” will add another level of complexity to high-performers, and these athletes will be put in high-pressure, competitive situations.  Try to wait as long as possible to take part in these events, but there is no way to avoid them in certain sports when an athlete is on track to being an elite performer.  These events will start to reward achievement over development, so waiting as long as possible for this extends development.

Athletes who are not on a high-performance path should be encouraged to continue improvement and find enjoyment in sports.  For some, that means pulling back on a busy schedule.  For others, that means adding more activities that promote athletic growth and confidence.

The goal is still to make sports/activities enjoyable enough that they want more.  For competitive, high-performers, the term “enjoyable” will mean getting better and they will thrive in competitive situations that stretch them.  For less-competitive athletes, enjoyable is still about developing competency, but pressure should be lessened in order to maintain confidence and the desire to continue.

There should never be a time where we “de-select” kids or encourage them to quit.  While it’s obvious that not every kid will be elite, there is much more to sports and athletic development that being a professional athlete.

15 years old & up: Athletes 15 and up have often concentrated their efforts on one or two sports, and competition takes on a larger role. This is usually the time where the faster, stronger athletes really begin to excel whereas the slower, weaker athletes lag behind, get injured or quit sports altogether.  Speed and strength can still be addressed at this age, and most serious athletes are now engaging in some sort of structured training program to enhance their strength, speed, and power. Athletes who have not developed the foundation can still improve their physical literacy, but they are at a distinct disadvantage if those traits weren’t addressed earlier. Much more concentrated efforts to develop strength and power should be applied in this age range because athletes are better able to adapt to more intense training.

Squat spot

Photo Credit: RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER

High-performers will usually start to concentrate on one or two sports because their busy schedule will not allow for too many additional activities.  Competition and exposure events will take on greater importance for these athletes, but development should still be the priority.  Very few athletes have reached their full potential at this point, so we should strive for constant improvement even for elite performers.

Non-elite athletes should be encouraged to learn the process of maximizing their potential and being the best they can be.  This is an important lesson and will make their sporting experiences much more valuable and enjoyable.  Many non-elite 15-year-olds still end up being elite at some point or in some sport, so it’s important to encourage constant improvement.  There are countless stories of kids getting cut from a sport as a freshman and eventually becoming professional athletes, so we shouldn’t de-select kids from the high-performance track if they have the desire to continually improve.  A single summer of development can have a profound impact on a young athlete, so continue to support these young athletes to take full advantage of what is available to them.

I hope this helps you understand the process of long-term athletic development and gives you some practical ideas for how to help your athlete/s. There is not a cookie-cutter approach to developing an athlete, so it’s important to give each athlete what he/she needs and avoid experiences that lessen their desire to excel.

Comment below so we can talk about the best way forward.

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and the Director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI where he helps develop athletes of all ages and ability levels.  He a former college strength & conditioning coach and also works with many elite athletes.  He also has three boys of his own, so he has seen athletic development from every angle.

 

For more detailed information about Long-Term Athlete Development, get the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap – the most complete and practical guide to enhancing athleticism through every stage of development.

 

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.

Laterality in Sport – Overcoming Unilateral Dominance – Antonio Squillante

As young athletes develop, their bodies adapt in many interesting ways.   The nervous system, musculoskeletal system, and cardiovascular systems are in a constant state of adaptation as young athletes play, train and practice sports.  Most coaches look for structural changes that result in stronger, faster and more resilient athletes, but those changes are typically preceded by changes in the nervous system that aren’t recognized as easily.  While these neural changes may not be seen as easily, they often have a huge influence on the structural adaptations (i.e. strength, speed, size, power) coaches desire.  It’s important to understand that sport-specific structural adaptation can actually occur as a consequence of the pre-existing traits of an athlete’s motor behavior.   

There are aspects of an athlete’s general motor behavior that cannot be learned and cannot be changed; they permanently affect the ability to perform in sport.  Laterality – “functional laterality,” as it has been more recently described – represents one of these motor behavioral traits, as it defines the “preferential use and superior functioning of either the left or right side of the body” (Pavlicikova, 2012); it represents the last stage of a progressive, physiological establishment of left and/or right dominance in the early stage of growth and maturation that significantly influence both structural and functional adaptation in sport.  

Left and right dominance, once permanently established, define laterality: a long-lasting, permanent establishment of specific motor patterns achieved through the preferential use of one limb over the other.  Thus, laterality is more than just handedness; it includes all of the body control, movements and coordination associated with a dominant side of the body.  While evidence in the literature has shown that laterality does not need to be addressed as a problem, asymmetry (often created through the process of establishing laterality) represents a biomechanical impairment that needs to be corrected.

Laterality, a concept often confused with dominance and asymmetry, represents one of the many traits of an athlete’s motor behavior. According to the theory known as “sport specific kinetic adaptation” (Fousekis, Tsepis and Vagensa, 2010), laterality can promote the development of muscular asymmetry ultimately affecting long-term athletic development.  For example, a deficit between the dominant and non-dominant limbs is considered as one of the major risk factors in the overall incidence of non-contact injuries.  Besides injuries, asymmetry significantly affects the ability to perform sport specific skills involving both closed and open kinetic chain movements (CKC/OKC), potentially affecting performance.

Adapted from: Yoshioka, S., Nagano, A., Hay, D. C., & Fukashiro, S. (2011). The effect of bilateral asymmetry of muscle strength on the height of a squat jump: a computer simulation study. Journal of sports sciences29(8), 867-877.

The severity of the imbalance depends on many factors including pre-existing structural asymmetries, years of sport-specific training, and a series of kinematic variants related to the tasks involved in practice and competition. Bilateral asymmetry is the outcome of a functional deficit between dominant and non-dominant limb, a discrepancy between left and right side of the body as they both contribute to the execution of closed kinetic chain (CKC) movements.

This is not simply handedness nor footedness; it does not result from the establishment of right and left dominance in open kinetic chain (OKC) movements such as throwing or kicking a ball. Bilateral asymmetry emerges as a consequence of laterality as laterality affects both the acquisition and practice of new skills.

Laterality, therefore, affects symmetry, and this asymmetry can create a functional deficit that may ultimately affect performance.

A functional deficit between dominant and non-dominant limb is more than a deficit in muscular strength; it can be a multi-factorial impairment involving both central and peripheral components. Two different approaches have been developed to correct such a deficit: bilateral transfer of training and unilateral training. Bilateral transfer of training relies on strength training exercises performed with the dominant limb in an effort to facilitate the development of the non-dominant limb via transfer of training.  Unilateral training, on the other hand, is the exact opposite approach of performing single leg/arm strength training exercises to support the development of the non-dominant side of the body. 

Bilateral transfer of training has been shown to address the neurological factors involved in coordinating sport-specific motor patterns performed with both dominant and non-dominant limb.  A functional deficit between the left and right side of the body does not entirely depend on the neurological difference between opposite cerebral hemispheres as much as it depends on their reciprocal interaction. According to the theory known as “motor control explanation in bilateral transfer of training”, skill performed with the dominant limb seems to positively affect the neurological mechanism responsible for improving motor control in the contralateral limb, overall decreasing the functional gap between right and left sides of the body. 

Sport-specific exercises performed with the preferential use of the dominant limb have been shown to positively transfer to the contralateral extremity: however, the opposite mechanism – non-dominant to dominant transfer – has shown to be less effective.

Examples are sport specific exercises involving acceleration, deceleration and change of direction drills (agility drills) performed in both an open and/or closed skill situation, linear and rotational throws and a wide variety of technical drills involving eye-hand and eye-foot coordination activities where the dominant limb is used according to the physiological preference of the athlete. 

Unilateral training, on the other hand, has been shown to address the neurological factors involved in coordinating gross motor patterns, as they reflect the overall ability to perform movements in sport. The term “force control mechanisms” is used to describe a set of gross motor skills such as force production, force absorption, rate of force development (RFD), intramuscular and intermuscular coordination, co-contraction and inhibition, as they reflect the activity of the cerebellum adjusting to the surrounding environment.

Gross motor skills that significantly affect the ability to perform sport-specific tasks (force control mechanisms) have been shown to pertain to the preferential limb only, with no transfer between right and left limb regardless of dominance and functional preferences. Examples are: special strength training exercises characterized by fast, powerful movements involving both upper and lower extremities. Hops, leaps, jumps and throws performed accelerating (concentric contraction) and decelerating (eccentric contraction) with both dominant and dominant leg, but also unilateral weight training exercises involving both upper and lower body.

General strength training exercises are still considered an essential component of any corrective protocol aimed to narrow the functional deficit between dominant and non-dominant limb. Structural components of muscular asymmetry can only be addressed if the muscular system is equally developed, regardless of dominance. Different attributes of the neuromuscular system – maximum strength, power, reactive strength, eccentric strength and isometric strength – but also local endurance, range of motion and general coordination in the non-dominant limb need to be specifically address in order to compensate for the lack of training due to the preferential use of the dominant limb.

Adapted from: Gambetta, V. (2006). Athletic Development. The Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning. Humana Kinetics, Champlain, IL.

Bilateral asymmetry is expected and tolerated in sports where laterality is a characteristic trait of the tasks being performed. Strength, speed, endurance but also range of motion and coordination between dominant and non-dominant limb need to be equally developed in order to narrow the functional deficit that occurs as a consequence of laterality. Examples are: maximal effort (both eccentric and concentric), dynamic effort and repetitive effort performed with the preferential use of the non-dominant limb but also, isometric exercises, mobility and flexibility drills that target specific joints and muscle within the weaker muscle chain.

It needs to be considered, however, how sports are, for the most part, asymmetrical in nature. Bilateral asymmetry, to a certain extent, is therefore tolerated as long as the functional gap between dominant and non-dominant limb is lower than 7-12%. Functional performance test (FPT) – tests that are designed to bridge the gap between general physical tests and full, unrestricted athletic activity (Manske, and Reiman, 2013) – can help detect imbalances and quantifying their nature providing invaluable information to develop corrective programs based on the athlete’s specific needs.  Any deficit in excess of 15% – a level of symmetry lower than 85% – has been shown to significantly increase the risk on non-contact injuries in sport, potentially affecting performance.

We can help young athletes correct asymmetries and develop into well-rounded, balanced athletes.  Giving young athletes unilateral activities with both arms/legs will help to ward off issues down the road.

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.

 

Early Sport Specialization Is Making Youth Less Athletic

Early sport specialization has become a hotly debated topic in many sports circles.  The youth sports scene has changed dramatically over the past two decades, and while a lot of improvements have been made, some changes have not been good for children.

A recent study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, which included over 1,500 high school athletes, found that athletes who specialized in one sport were twice as likely to report a lower extremity injury as compared to those who played multiple sports. It was also found that 60% of athletes that specialized in one sport sustained a new lower extremity injury1.

This study got a lot of publicity because early sport specialization has been a hot topic as of late. Most of the arguments against early sport specialization are from rehab professionals, surgeons, and well-informed strength and sport coaches. The frustration of these professionals is the lack of understanding and push-back from parents that desperately want their kid to succeed at an early age. Instead of just relying on anecdotal cases and opinions, it’s nice to have more legitimate studies that can be brought to the parent’s attention as evidence.

Youth programs started out as an avenue to allow kids to play a sport in an organized environment. This helped kids develop self-esteem, peer socialization, work ethic, and general levels of fitness. It also allowed kids to sample a variety of sports and potentially start developing a passion for some of them. It also allowed time for them to recognize the sport they are best at. These were the days when a sports season lasted somewhere around 4 months before the next season came around and the focus would shift. But in the last decade, youth sports have morphed into highly competitive leagues, and year-round early sport specialization is the trend.

If Some is Good Than More Must Be Better, Right?

Unfortunately this is first instinct for a lot of parents and even coaches. At first glance, it seems to make sense, right? If you want to get better,  you have to practice and play the game. Seems all well and good, until you take a second look and realize how damaging that idea can actually be.

I think everyone can agree that playing a sport puts an immense amount of strain on the human body. As parents and coaches, we forget about this because young kids are so resilient and bounce back so quickly. That is until the day they don’t bounce back, and a nagging overuse injury starts forcing them out of competition and practice. Kids are going through growth spurts, bone and body structure is still developing, and they are still developing strength and coordination. All of these are risk factors for developing overuse and repetitive strain injuries.

Imagine you have a piece of plastic such as a credit card. You fold it once, still good. Fold it back the opposite way, still intact. Keep moving it back and forth repeatedly and eventually it snaps.

An injury is the fastest way to decrease athleticism. Especially when you consider that at such a young age rapid improvements are made in speed, coordination, and athleticism. Missing out on 6 weeks of play due to an injury, means missing out on a very important 6 weeks of development.

Why is Playing Multiple Sports So Beneficial?

We already mentioned that sports can help develop self-esteem, socialization, and work ethic. Physically it will improve strength, coordination, power, and adaptability. As previously mentioned, playing one sport year around (early sport specialization) at such a young age exposes kids to overuse and repetitive injuries at a high rate.

When kids play multiple sports over the course of multiple season it varies the type of stress on the body. Football, basketball, and baseball all have very different demands in sport. As such the strain and wear pattern on the body is different. It’s the same reason you rotate the tires on your car. Change the wear pattern and you increase the likelihood of staying healthy.

How Can Playing Multiple Sports Increase a Kid’s Athleticism?

A study in the Journal of Sport Sciences found that physical fitness and gross motor movements were improved in boys aged 6-12 when they played multiple sports versus just one sport2.

Similarly, according to a study in The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, 88% of college athletes participated in more than one sport as a child3. Playing multiple sports exposes the athlete to different kinds of skills, movement patterns, coordination, and dynamic power development. It’s been found that kids who play multiple sports have a larger athletic base of skill to draw from. This means that they have the ability to pick up and learn skills, techniques, tricks, etc much faster than their one sport counterpart.

The problem with early sport specialization and playing just one sport is we immediately switch from a youth development model to an elite athlete development model. While it sounds cool, this is a major problem as the physical needs of youth athletes are totally different than elite athletes.

Even high level athletes (Collegiate Division I) have different needs than elite athletes (Pro/Olympic caliber). To put this in perspective, it’s similar to teaching calculus to a student before they can even do basic addition. The knowledge base is completely different, and as a result your, conversations will change drastically. Elite and high level athletes have already developed foundation levels of strength and coordination. Their bodies have matured enough to withstand a prolonged season and repetitive strain.

With that being said, most elite and high level athletes still find time to recover throughout the year in some way shape or form because they know the negative effects over-training and overuse have on the body.  Most professionals integrate a variety of movements and exercises into their training routines to help create a more balanced body.

Furthermore, they understand that their body will only have a limited window of sustainability when performing at a high level and at such a high frequency. It’s why athletes retire. Playing at a high level day in and day out is just not sustainable forever, and especially not at a young age. This is why early sports specialization should be delayed as long as possible. In most scenarios this won’t be until college or at the very earliest high school. Some of this may differ depending on sport. For example gymnasts peek at a very young age, however most field and court sport athlete peak much later, generally in mid to late 20’s (sometimes later).  So, while some sports require early sport specialization just to be competitive (i.e. gymnastics), most actually benefit from more of a long-term athlete development model.

Playing Multiple Sports is Beneficial To Confidence & Self-Esteem

Kids just want to have fun. Interestingly enough, when a kid is having fun they simultaneously want to get better and win. When the emphasis is placed on year around competition in a highly competitive environment, the fun and joy of the game is lost.

Things have gotten so organized that kid’s don’t even know how to free-play anymore. We don’t have scientific evidence to back this up, but anecdotal evidence points toward far fewer pick-up games occurring on neighborhood courts/fields than there were just 20 years ago. Today, kids often wait for adults to schedule organized practices where they’re told what to do.  Passion for the game starts because the game is fun. We hear stories about elite athletes all the time who retire because they have “lost the love of the game” or was “burned out.” If this is happening to mature athletes, what are the odds it’s happening to your kids when you treat them the same?

What If My Child Only Likes Playing One Sport?

I would first answer that question with some follow up questions. Does your kid truly only want to play one sport? Or is it you, the parent that thinks they only want to play one sport? Have you asked them and truly given them options?  Sometimes it means giving something up or making inconvenient arrangements, so it’s not always easy for parents.

If they only enjoy or have interest in playing one sport, then there is certainly no reason they have to play multiple sports. Forcing a kid to do something that’s “good for them” certainly isn’t the answer.  The point being made earlier is that year-round early sport specialization at a young age can have very negative side effects with little benefit. So, if you enjoy playing more than one sport, by all means play a variety of sports at a young age.

However, if a kid only enjoys one sport, or during their Junior or Senior year the child chooses to specialize (not the parent), it’s perfectly OK to focus on one thing.  Just understand that even elite and high level athletes do not compete and play their sport year-round. If a mature pro doesn’t play year around, there is no reason a developing child should. High level competition imposes high levels of demand on the body that is not sustainable year-round, so it’s important to add some variety through training or other activities.

How Does Lifting Weights & Training Contribute To This?

Obviously lifting weights and other training programs will impose stress on the human body. However, the purpose of an intelligently designed training program is to impose a demand on the body so that it adapts favorably.

The goals, volume, and intensity of a training program will vary depending on the sport, age of the athlete, training age, time of year, and needs of the athlete. The goal of a quality training program at a young age should really focus on filling in the gaps of foundational movement and basic levels of strength that only playing sports may miss.

Enjoying the various seasons and sports will accomplish much of this at a very young age. When a training program is implemented correctly, it will first address poor movement patterns and the ability to absorb force to make the body more adaptable to stress. It will also start to build foundation levels of strength, balance and coordination to make the body more resilient and resistant to overuse injuries. When these foundations are established it creates higher athletic development potential and an environment for the athlete to succeed when they eventually decide to specialize later in their athletic career.

Early sport specialization is an issue for young athletes, but adults hold the key to assisting in their long term athletic development.  We have the ability to put children in a position to succeed, and it is our responsibility to look out for the best interest of young athletes.  Simply bringing awareness to the issue will benefit many children and develop better, happier athletes.

 

Dr. Greg Schaible is a physical therapist and strength coach specializing in athletic performance.  He attended The University of Findlay as a Student Athlete.  As an athlete he competed in both Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field where he earned honors as a 5x Division II All-American and a 6x Division II Academic All-American. In 2013 he completed Graduate School earning his Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT).  Greg is the owner of On Track Physical Therapy and Content Manager for Sports Rehab Expert. In addition to his rehabilitation services, Greg has a passion for sport specific youth athlete training and battling early sport specialization. 

References

Study Indicates Higher Injury Rates for Athletes Who Specialize in One Sport. (2016, November 3). Retrieved from https://www.nfhs.org/articles/study-indicates-higher-injury-rates-for-athletes-who-specialize-in-one-sport/

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

Fransen, J., Pion, J., Vandendriessche, J., Vandorpe, B., Vaeyens, R., Lenoir, M., & Philippaerts, RM. (2012). Differences in physical fitness and gross motor coordination in boys aged 6‐12 years specializing in one versus sampling more than one sport. Journal of Sport Sciences, 30, 379‐386.

The IYCA Long-Term Athlete Development Roadmap is the perfect resource to more fully understand the needs of athletes at different ages.  For more information, click on the image below.

Plyometrics: The Truth and How to Use Them – Joe Powell

One of the most misunderstood, and often misused, training methodologies in the strength and conditioning field today is plyometrics. Far too often exercises that simply involve jumping around in some odd manner are being labeled as a “plyo” drill. It seems the most common culprit is when a coach or trainer calls any type of jump in the presence of a box a plyometric exercise. It should be understood that many physiological principles are taking place when performing a true plyometric exercise.

Plyometrics, by definition, are “an exercise that is a quick, powerful movement using a pre-stretch or countermovement, that involves the stretch shortening cycle.” To elicit this physiological mechanism properly, specific training parameters must be carried out. The end result, when programmed and performed properly, may include improved muscle force and power output.

Even though plyometrics are fairly well researched and can provide immense training benefits, important details regarding the programming and usage remain unknown to coaches and trainers alike. Aspects of plyometrics such as the type, the frequency in which they should be trained, volume of exercises, rest periods, etc. do not receive the heightened awareness that standard anaerobic or aerobic training does. The unfortunate result of this means that many athletes are not reaping the benefits of plyometrics to the greatest extent possible.

Understanding plyometrics correctly requires one to possess an understanding of basic anatomy and exercise physiology. In order to perform a plyometric exercise, the body relies on two physiological models.

The first is known as the mechanical model. It essentially highlights how our muscles and tendons (often referred together as the musculotendinous component) have the ability to store energy created by an eccentric muscle contraction and then use it with a very quick subsequent concentric contraction. This mechanism can be thought of as being similar to a spring. The spring is loaded and has stored energy ready to be used. To utilize the stored energy brought upon by the mechanical model, it’s imperative that the eccentric phase must be immediately followed by a concentric phase. If not, the stored energy is dissipated as heat. Another prerequisite of this model is that the eccentric muscle contraction cannot feature a range of motion that is too large. For example, imagine a basketball player jumping up to block a shot. The player does not completely squat as deep as they possibly can before the jump to reach maximal height.  Instead, they perform a quick ¼ to ½ squat and then jump. If the eccentric muscle action is too great, and the range of motion is too large for that movement, the stored energy will also be dissipated off as heat.

The second physiological model is called the neurophysical model. This model is predicated on the body’s stretch reflex and proprioceptive organs called muscle spindles. When the body experiences a quick stretch of a muscle it results with muscular activity reflexively increasing in the agonist muscle. Plyos rely on the stretch to cause the reflexive response which, in turn, increases the force the muscle produces. Similar to the mechanical model, if there is too long of a period between the eccentric phase and concentric contraction the potential benefit of the stretch reflex will not occur.

Essentially the two models tell us that in order for an exercise to be considered a plyometric it must involve three components:

  1. A stretch of the agonist muscle (eccentric muscle action)
  2. A transition phase/Amoritization phase (the transition between eccentric and concentric phases)
  3. A quick concentric contraction of the agonist muscle.

Together, these three components comprise what is known as the Stretch Shortening Cycle. Understanding at least the basic scientific components of the stretch shortening cycle and its components will be of great assistance for proper programming and utilization of plyometrics.

With a basic scientific primer set in place, one can now better visualize what an actual plyometric looks like. Plyometrics can be performed with both lower body and upper body movements, they can be utilized with both bodyweight and various apparatuses commonly found in a weight room, and most importantly they can be regressed, progressed and modified to fit an athlete’s individual skill-set or athletic-based need.

When designing a program around resistance training and/or aerobic training, many parameters must be set in place. Variables like the mode, intensity, placement/order, number of sets, training volume, rest time and frequency are outlined and set forth by a trainer or coach. When programming plyometrics into a training program, the very same considerations must be present. Often overlooked, there can be severe consequences if proper consideration has not taken place. Therefore, when introducing them into your program, safety should always be at the forefront. Factors such as biological age, training experience, body composition, sport/s played, season type, etc. all need to be considered in when using plyometrics.

plyometrics tuck jumpThe first and most important detail that needs to be recognized by a coach or trainer before taking any athlete through a plyometric drill for the first time is to make sure that they demonstrate proper mechanical form throughout the movement. Since plyos are fast and rapid in nature, the chosen exercise can be performed slowly at first to ensure correct from is in place. If the plyometric exercise chosen involves jumping and leaving the ground, the athlete MUST demonstrate an ability to land safely in a proper and stable position. If athlete safety is compromised during any drill, its potential effectiveness does not outweigh the potential for injury.

Often times, lower body plyometric exercises involve all three major joints of the lower body, and when stressed in a certain way, they can lead to soft tissue injuries. Keeping an eye out for proper alignment of the ankles, hips and especially the knee needs to be at heightened focus on every single repetition. Once an athlete can appropriately show the ability to perform the exercise(s) expected of them, plyometrics can begin to make their way into an athlete’s training program.

To begin designing a plyometric program for your athlete, attention to each of the following program variables needs to take place. It should be noted that certain issues may arise in athletes or clients, and heightened awareness and alterations to training should be made. The list of requirements is meant as a generalized process for programming plyometrics. There will always be certain situations that arise and contradict the detailed factors. Changes can certainly be made, and other programming staples can be added to the list.

Mode: In what manner should plyometrics be done?

To begin utilizing plyometrics with their athletes, strength and conditioning professionals must address a very important question: “What are you trying to accomplish by including plyometrics into a program?” The answer to that question is dependent on several factors.

Certain sports like track and field are quite literally a competition of plyometric exercises. Others like basketball and volleyball require plyometric movements at an all-out intensity to be repeated throughout the course of the game, or an athlete may simply play a sport where they want to increase their speed and become more powerful. Whatever the instance is, a coach should understand how the potential benefits of plyometrics translate to sport and the individual athlete. From there, we can compare it to the other training goals of a strength and conditioning program to begin programming them accordingly. The mode also defines details such as which portion of the body will be receiving plyometric exercises. The strength coach will identify whether training the lower body, upper body, or both with plyometric exercises will be necessary.

Placement/Order: Where should Plyometric exercises appear during a workout?

A thorough warm-up that is structured around the specific muscles, joints and planes of movement that are specific to that day’s training should always take place prior to engaging in plyometric exercises. When choosing the appropriate time to include plyometric exercises during a workout, they should be thought of similarly to the Olympic lifts. The Olympic lifts and plyometrics both require a great deal of technique combined with power, force and speed to complete. Multiple joints are highly stressed and are required to work together or in succession to achieve the desired outcome. Due to all of these factors, it is highly recommended to perform plyometrics, like the Olympic lifts, very early on during the workout. The body should be fresh and the athlete should be able to provide their maximal effort. Plyometric exercises be performed in a non-fatigued state so they should be placed before any resistance training or aerobic conditioning that may take place in the same workout. There are certain circumstances when plyometric exercises can take place concurrently, or after resistance training, or in combination with other types of training like performing speed work. These instances will be directly addressed later in the article.

Intensity: How much stress and force is being placed upon the body?

Plyometric drills are actually intense in nature according to their definition, but just how intense they are can range greatly. Plyometric exercises are classified as low, moderate or high in terms of intensity based on the amount of stress that will be placed on the working joints and musculature associated with the movement. Other factors such as difficulty of the movement, sequence required to perform it, and the presence of external objects will also help define the intensity. Athletes should demonstrate the ability to perform movements starting on the lower end of the intensity spectrum before they gradually move into more moderate and higher intensity exercises.

As mentioned prior, plyometrics may not be for everybody depending on certain factors. Performing high and even some moderate intensity exercises should not be done by certain demographics regardless if they displayed understanding and mechanics on lower intensity plyo drills. Prepubescent children should not partake in high and even moderate intensity exercises because of having their epiphyseal plates still open. This can result in stunted growth and other serious problems. Any circumstances of past or current injury should also always be taken into consideration before allowing an athlete to perform more intense plyometric movements on the spectrum.  Very large or overweight individuals are also at a higher risk of injury during higher intensity plyos, so be aware of who is performing the drills.

Examples of lower body plyometric drill intensity:

Low: skips (regular, backwards, power skips, A/B/C skips), line hops (bilateral), squat jumps, box squat jumps (low box height), box step-up jumps (low box height), alternating box step-up jumps (low box height)

Moderate: Line hops (unilateral), box squat jumps (mid to high box), box step-up jumps (mid to high box height), alternating box step-up jumps (mid to high box height), bounding for distance (single leg alternating),

High: Weighted squat jumps, depth jumps, Unilateral box jumps, Combo jumps (performing multiple repetitions consecutively, or adding in a second movement to take place after the jump is finished)

Frequency: How often should plyometric exercises be performed in a given week?

In regards to programming, frequency is defined as the number of times something occurs in a week. Many factors that have already been mentioned, like training age and sport, yet again come into play when discussing frequency. However, one of the biggest indicators of the frequency in which plyometrics are performed is the time of the training year. In-season training programs will likely see fewer training days containing plyometrics than the off-season will. As a generalized rule, off-season programs could include plyometric training 2-3 times a week, while only 1-2 times per week is necessary for in-season training. As is the case with resistance training, plyometrics tax the body in such a way that requires ample rest and recovery. Researchers and textbooks are suggesting plyometrics should be programmed by focusing on ample recovery and repair after a previous plyometric training session, instead of just an overall frequency and generalized number of days. The time that seems to be optimal for full recovery and repair is 48-72 hours, or simply 2-3 days.

There are certain exceptions to the rule.  For instance, a coach could have their athlete perform lower body plyometrics the day after upper body, or vice versa, and there would not have to be as much recovery time since the plyometric exercises taxed separate body regions.

Training volume: How many sets and repetitions are performed in a given session?

Plyometric training volume is measured in several different ways. Volume depends on the intensity of the exercise, if the exercise is an upper body or lower body plyometric, as well as the goal of plyometric exercise (for example bounding deals with horizontal displacement and can be measured by distance traveled). Plyometric training volume is similar to resistance training volume in that it is expressed by “sets x reps,” but unlike resistance training only certain advanced plyo exercises deal with an athlete overloading the body with an external load. Therefore volume is very rarely measured in terms “sets x reps x weight lifted.”

One of the most standardized ways to measure lower body plyometrics is by how many times an athlete’s foot comes in contact with the ground. This way of measuring volume cannot however, be appropriate for many moderate and most high intensity exercises. Unilateral exercises, depth jumps, high box jumps, and weighted exercises all cause much more stress than a low intensity exercise like line hops. As an athlete progresses through the spectrum of plyometric intensity, note that there should be an inverse relationship between both volume and intensity of the exercise. The classic model for foot contacts is as follows:

  1. Beginner (little to no experience): 80 to 100 total reps
  2. Intermediate (some basic experience): 100 to 120 reps
  3. Advanced (significant experience): 120 to 140 reps.

Plyometric exercises that are overloaded, such as weighted squat jumps, can be measured and programmed just like the Olympic lifts. They should be kept within the Strength and Power repetition threshold (roughly 1 to 6 repetitions) and for 3-4 sets depending on experience and skill level. Upper body exercises that utilize an apparatus like a medicine ball can be expressed by the total number of reps/throws/slams/ tosses and is typically seen with 1-3 sets of 5-10 reps (higher reps are typically okay with these exercises since medicine balls and similar apparatuses are not usually very heavy.)

Rest time: How long between sets should an athlete rest?

Rest times for plyometrics are largely dependent on the type and intensity of the exercise. High intensity exercises like depth jumps and overloaded vertical jumps will require more rest time than lower intensity drills such as line hops and power skips. According to current research trials, common rest times range from 1:5 – 1:10 work:rest ratio. So, if 5 depth jumps takes 20 seconds to finish, the rest period will be close to 3 minutes (1:9 work:rest ratio).

The reasoning behind such long rest periods, even for the low intensity plyo drills, are that plyos require maximal effort in order to improve specific power output that translates to sport. The other major reason is very similar when performing sprinting drills. Both plyometrics and sprint training require powerful movements that rely on proper technique to achieve the best possible results. If there is insufficient rest time between sets or reps, the athlete will most likely still be tired or fatigued, which causes a breakdown in technique and power output. When exercises are performed with poor technique and they are not fully rested, the results are sub-par. The physiological adaptations that coincide with plyometrics just simply won’t occur to the highest possible extent. Over time an athlete may even adapt to the poor technique and can risk that becoming the new standard because it has been practiced and learned.

Alternative ways to Program Plyometric exercises

Once the proper foundation for plyometric programming has been set and they have been properly programmed into an athlete’s training routine, adaptation and advancement will  likely take place. For athletes that are advanced enough, there are methods studied by physiologists to enhance the adaptations seen within plyometric training even further.

There is a specific style referred to as “Contrast Training” that achieves these adaptations. Contrast training relies on what is known as post-activation potentiation, or PAP for short. PAP is believed to allow for the working muscle’s overall power output to be greater after being taxed at, or near, maximal effort.  Essentially, contrast training calls for the athlete to perform a heavy set of 3-6 repetitions of an exercise followed by a handful of repetitions of a plyometric exercise.

Research shows that this concept of PAP works due to increased motor unit recruitment, enhanced motor unit synchronization and greater input to the motor neuron, among several other mechanisms and theories relating to hormonal and metabolic factors. This style of training is reserved for advanced athletes only. A sample of exercise pairings that could be used in contrast training are as follows:

Snatch Broad Jump

Squat Squat Jump

Bench Press Plyo Push-up

Deadlift/RDL Medball Reverse Toss

Loaded Sled Push/Sled Tow Sprints

As mentioned earlier there are so many factors that should be considered when programming plyometric exercises. A comprehensive needs analysis as well as knowledge of your athlete’s capabilities, injury history and goals will be necessary when utilizing this great exercise mode for everything it’s worth.

This brief review of plymetrics should help coaches make informed decisions about how to best incorporate them into an overall strength & conditioning program.

Joe Powell is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach and Adjunct Faculty Member at Central Michigan University.  He teaches classes in the Department of Health and Human Performance and works primarily with the Chippewa football team.  Joe is a regular contributor to the IYCA Insiders program and has been a huge part of bringing the Behind the Science series to the IYCA.  Get more of Joe’s contributions in the IYCA Insiders membership.

 

Mike Boyle – What I Learned From Coaching Kids, Again

In the past few months I have gone back to coaching kids. It’s something that I haven’t done in quite a while, really since the early MBSC days 15 years ago. The sad truth is the higher level you work at the more spoiled you get.  I’ve been spoiled by training primarily professional and Olympic athletes. I’ve always said that coaching great athletes can give you a false sense of your coaching skills. Dealing with athletes that have a higher training age and more athletic ability inevitably makes you take some things for granted.  Dealing with better athletes can also make you think you are a lot better coach than you might be.  Coaching kids brings you back to reality.

coaching kids at MBSCPresently I am working with players on my daughter’s hockey team that vary in age from 13-18. They are all reasonably good athletes but have a wide range of ability and experience. The majority had never been in a weightroom or picked up a weight prior to the start of our experience. As always though experience is the best teacher. And as always, the best laid plans go wrong. I must admit, I had grand visions. I am such a great teacher/ coach that I would whip this group into shape in no time. Well, maybe not. Instead, coaching kids taught or re-taught me some valuable lessons.

Things I Learned or Remembered

In-season Training– In season is a tough time to introduce any group to strength training. I was not fortunate enough to have a pre-season period. Because we were starting in-season both the girls and their coaches were worried about soreness, about muscle pulls, and about decreased performance. As a result we went with our old stand-by, the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid. Trust me, it was me that looked stupid. Thank god no one watched the first few workouts. It was like herding cats without a whip. All I could think of was “thank god no one is watching this mess.”

In order to get the workouts done after practice at the rink we went as basic as possible with nothing but sets of dumbbells that we brought to the rink and stored. We had about ten minutes after practice to get our lifts in. On the bright side, we needed no warm-up as the players came almost directly from the ice. The program consisted of two sets of squat jumps, 2 sets of split squats paired with two sets of push-ups followed by two sets of 1 Leg Straight Leg Deadlift paired with Dumbbell Rows. Ten reps for everything except squat jumps which were 3×5.  

Even in this simple setting it is tough for one coach to teach 20 girls in 10 minutes.  On day two we established a rule. Don’t talk. Try to keep quiet and do your work for 10 minutes. It worked. Things began to slowly improve. Nothing I was proud of, but a system started to fall into place. After a few workouts we amended rule 1 to read “no talking to anyone holding a weight.” This meant they could talk between sets, but not to the person lifting.

We managed to string together 1-2 workouts per week and at least get acquainted with the basics.

Big lessons? Small goals, small victories. Rome was not built in a day. The big key for me was to not get frustrated and to keep the girls improving and engaged. I had my eyes on the off-season.

Off Season

Fast forward a few weeks and we began our off-season workouts. I always say in-season training is like going to the dentist. Being an in-season strength coach is like being the dentist. People dread seeing you. You represent extra work, extra time, extra rules. Off-season is entirely different. Now, as a strength and conditioning coach, you are viewed as a person that can make a difference. We stayed with our KISS concept and continued to attack basic patterns. I quickly realized that pairs were going to be good and tri-sets bad. We could not focus on two things at once, much less three. Tri-sets were designed to get more rest between heavy sets on major exercises. Tri-sets allowed us to stay research based and get 3-5 minutes between heavy sets. If the workout challenge is neural/ motor learning, this isn’t an issue. For beginners, pairs make more sense. As coaches we can concentrate and focus on point 1 above, Keeping It Simple _________.

Basic patterns matter- we work on clean / front squat combos nearly every day. I don’t know if there are two more important exercises for young athletes. Please note, we have 15 lb bars and 5 lb training plates. Most of the girls are just getting to the 45 lb bar after about a month.

Three Big Lessons

Lesson 1- KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. In my case the stupid one was me. In order to get any learning done we needed rules. Enforce rule 1- “You can’t talk to anyone else.” As I said, after day two I softened slightly and I amended rule one. “You can’t talk to anyone who has weight in their hands.” With kids you need to really work on focus and attention. It is a constant battle. Be positive, but keep emphasizing focusing on the work and minimizing chatting with kids.

Lesson 2- Design the program for the group, don’t fit the group to the program. Ask yourself  questions like “ are they learning or lifting?” Learning takes lots of repetition. Lifting needs control of things like volume and intensity.  Ask yourself another simple question. Is the motor pattern the challenge or, is the load the challenge.  Fro most kids the challenge should be the motor pattern. You are working on teaching exercises, not strength training. There is a difference.

Also, forget mobility work and stretching if you only have an hour or less. Time is king and basics take time. Splits squats are mobility. Squats are mobility. A good basic routine is a mobility routine.

Lesson 3- When coaching kids, you might really need two programs. Program 1 is a learning program for beginners with a limited number of basic exercises done for more sets. Program 2 is a strength program. We have tried one-size-fits-all, and it doesn’t work. This summer our program will be based on proficiency and training age. Those who have been with us for multiple summers, and are proficient, will have one program. Beginners will have another. Proficiency in my book means “can they do a clean and a squat.” If they can’t, teach them. Limit variety and increase the number of sets. Nothing teach like repetition.

Side note- repetition and repetitions are not the same. We want more perfect sets. Not a few high rep sets. Create motor patterns, not stress. Three sets of five gives us fifteen quality reps, and three opportunities to coach. Two sets of ten might provide more volume but less coaching opportunity and more opportunity for technique to deteriorate.

The big takeaway? Coaching kids is tough. They will challenge all your coaching skills, and that can be really good for you.

Mike Boyle is the owner of Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning and runs the popular web-site StrengthCoach.com.  He has been the strength coach for the Boston Red Sox and Boston University.  Mike has been called one of the most influential coaches in the industry for his ability to teach, coach and explain training processes.  He has written multiple books and has spoken all over the world at conferences, clinics and seminars….and he also loves coaching kids.  Mike was a guest on Episode 3 of The Impact Show – the official podcast of the IYCA.

 

Be sure to register for the 2017 IYCA Summit, April 27-29 in Detroit, MI.  Click the image below for details.

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