Having worked with dozens of coaches over the years, I know that every single one of them wants nothing but the best for their players. They are typically consumed by the desire to get an extra edge for their kids that will put them ahead of their peers. And it eats at them to see one of their kids go down with a serious injury, especially if they feel it could have been prevented.
Today, the dream for many sports coaches is to give their kids that edge by having a great off-season program, a development system that plays a key role in the success of their team’s upcoming season. In this ideal scenario they see players coming back to them faster, stronger, more injury resistant, and with a stronger group bond for having worked so hard together.
In reality, this is not happening as well as it should. Many coaches are scraping together off-season training based on what they used to do, have found an eager but inexperienced strength coach who puts together a program for their team to follow, or are using an outdated training system that used to pass for ‘cutting-edge training’ about 25 years ago. The results they will see from any of these scenarios may have some positive impact, but nowhere near as much as it could be having with a few critical tweaks.
For anyone using or planning to use a team training program for their athletes, know that there are ways to enhance the program you are using without having to start from scratch. Make sure these 8 critical guidelines are all in place if you want to really see your kids come back physically and mentally tougher for next season:
1. Have A Plan
This important first step is so basic that it is often missed. Just saying ‘I want my kids working out’ is not enough. What, specifically, do you want them to get better at? And how do you or your coaches plan on achieving these objectives? Your off-season staff and your team coaching staff should be in full agreement of what the biggest problems were last season that training can address so those designing the program can create a cycled plan for getting the exact results the head coach wants to see.
2. Take The Long Road
We live in an instant access world these days, and that mindset tends to lead towards an instant gratification approach to performance training as well. When you are dealing with kids, who often times are still growing, ramping up the intensity of training too quickly can have extremely negative consequences. Tendonitis, muscle strains, and some bigger injuries come up more often when taking part in a ‘quick fix’ type of workout program.
A smart team training program is always looking to improve on something, no matter what time of year, but does so with the understanding that you are never going to do everything all at once. Your players will be much better served by a philosophy of developing the complete individual year-round, and not how much they get better in a 4 or 6 week block.
3. Create A Focused Atmosphere
Read any books on how elite talent is developed – “The Talent Code”, “Outliers”, and “Talent Is Overrated” to name a few – and they all point to the 10,000 hour rule for reaching greatness. The basic idea behind this concept is that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to become great at anything.
The key phrase in there is ‘dedicated practice’, meaning that all of your focus is on the task at hand. It does not mean that showing up and going through the motions will help you accumulate the time needed to improve.
Team training can be a difficult setting to achieve maximum focus because of friendships, competitiveness, and the overall social nature of many teenagers. But if you really want to get the most from your program, training that is focused on the task at hand is a standard that coaches and supervisors must priortitize.
4. Bring Some Energy!
Being focused on the task at hand does not mean it should be like a library in your training room. To the contrary, this is hard work and you’ll need to maximize the energy output of your kids at the same time as they are dialed in to their drills.
A common mistake is to just turn the radio up really loud and let the music provide the noise. That can be helpful on occasion and with advanced groups, but loud music removes the coach-athlete interactions, teaching moments, and positive conversations between teammates that could be taking place. It also promotes a mindless approach that lowers focus and attention to detail.
A truly energizing atmosphere is one whose foundation is built on positive bonds shared by a group working towards a challenging goal that is important to all of them. There is something incredibly motivating about being around a team or group whose intrinsic desire to succeed is almost palpable.
Coaches and training room supervisors play a huge role in fostering this kind of atmosphere. Lead with an energetic and positive style that you are comfortable with, be an interactive presence with everyone in your group, and confront those who are not there to do things the right way. Over time and with a respectful approach to everyone, you’ll have the right atmosphere in place.
5. Personalize, Personalize, Personalize
Football players need to be fast and strong, soccer players need speed and endurance, basketball players need vertical jump power. Every sport has its own unique needs, and programming must take that into account.
But does even sport-specific training go far enough to address the needs of all your players?
Let’s say you are working with a basketball team and 5 of your players need to improve explosiveness, 3 are always getting hurt and need corrective training, while 4 more lack the conditioning necessary to play well deep into a game. How do you run a ‘basketball-specific’ workout program for a group like that?
I’d say in almost 100% of team training scenarios, there is no way a One-Size-Fits-All workout program will serve the needs of all your players. Coaches must come up with even more personalized workout programming to make sure every single player gets what they need to improve their game for next year.
6. Pay Attention To Details
Performance training is a science, with a wide range of variables. The results you see in the end will be a byproduct of how well every last detail is implemented, and coaches must be vigilant in regards to how well their athletes are following the program as intended.
This means correcting technique on an exercise, using the right resistance, progressing at a proper pace from one workout to the next, and ensuring rep/set schemes are followed as intended. Do it all right and you’ll get more from the same hour of training than the teams who are allowing all the little things to slip through the cracks.
7. Focus On The Entire Range Of Athletic Skills
Remember that strength training is just one aspect of athletic development. A well-rounded workout program can address all of these areas:
Speed & Agility
And within each of those categories there is a wide range of tools available to address each need in a slightly different way. Simply put, if you are a slave to strength training using barbells and dumbbells then you are missing out on so much more your players can be doing to maximize their time.
8. Be Flexible, Your Athletes Schedules Demand It
Kids playing sports, especially if they are dedicated to maximizing their game, are extremely busy these days. They may be trying to juggle academics while playing on multiple teams before they even consider adding performance training to their day. Make sure you are aware that many hard-working, dedicated kids are going to need some schedule flexibility in order to pull off working with you, too.
Find creative ways to get workouts in so those who truly want to get better have a range of opportunities to fit team training into their schedules. Maybe you have a range of times to come in, or create workouts that can be done quicker than the typical 1 hour session. But most importantly, do not get down on a kid if they are not 100% committed to what you want them to do without knowing all you can about why they may not have time to work with you every day after school.
Coaches have thousands of small opportunities every single day to make a positive impact on their kids. It can come from personalizing a program, correcting technique, giving encouragement, picking them up after a failure, and even with simpler acts that show them you are about more than just winning games. Make that impact every minute of every day, and you will transform the lives of each athlete who is lucky enough to work with you.