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Archive for “Coaching Young Athletes” Category

The Super Power of Great Coaches and Leaders – Brett Klika

Great coaches know how to connect with their athletes beyond “X’s and O’s”.

We all know brilliant coaches who understand programming and tactics, but when it comes to igniting a fire within their athletes, they can’t seem to make it happen. We also know coaches with an “adequate” level of knowledge and experience that have athletes who will run through a brick wall for them.  Coach in weight room

Research on the world’s most successful coaches and leaders points to the fact that tactical knowledge and experience are only a small part of what makes them successful. Effective coaches must also have the skills required to gain trust, commitment, and buy-in from their athletes.

For years, these skills were considered the “intangibles” of effective leadership that only a few gifted coaches possessed. A rapidly expanding field of research in leadership and performance has now identified these specific skill sets that allow great leaders to create an optimal relationship with those they lead. Together, these skillsets create the critical leadership attribute called emotional intelligence, or EQ.

Coaches with a high level of EQ are able and willing to adjust their communication style to the needs of their athletes. They are aware of their own attitudes and behaviors and how these impact the training environment. Emotionally intelligent coaches reflect on how they can continually improve their ability to communicate and inspire the best performance in their athletes.

Imagine refining your leadership skills to develop an even more effective relationship and communication style with your athletes. Consider how the ability to quickly develop trust, buy-in, and enthusiasm can help you further unlock their potential.

The good news is that emotional intelligence can be developed. Just like a movement skill, it can be broken down into individual components that can improve with training.

The 5 skillsets that comprise emotional intelligence are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social Skill

Let’s look at how you can add EQ to your coaching IQ by developing the individual skill sets of emotional intelligence.

Self-awareness
Self-awareness is the ability to identify your strengths, weaknesses, values, and impact on others honestly and accurately. This awareness can be general or situational.

Developing the skill of self-awareness can be challenging, as it requires you to be vulnerable enough to move past ego and insecurity. When something isn’t working in the coach/athlete relationship, it requires you to honestly reflect on your role in this shortcoming.

To develop this skill set, self-reflection is critical. However, it’s also important to gain feedback from colleagues and mentors while resisting the urge to become defensive. Record yourself coaching and evaluate what you do well from a communication standpoint, and what you can do better.

Identifying a personal weakness doesn’t suggest failure any more than identifying a strength suggests complete mastery. The goal of continual personal assessment isn’t to label, justify, or judge your behavior. It’s merely information. When you are aware of this information, you have the ability to develop and access more effective coaching tools that match the needs of your athletes.

Self-regulation
Self-regulation is the ability to consciously control your actions, reactions, and moods.

Gaining control over emotional response can be difficult. Consider, however, how your mood and/or emotional reactions impact your training environment. If you show up to a training session in a bad mood, already agitated, how do you expect your interactions with athletes to go? When this happens frequently, what does this do for your ability to gain trust and buy-in from your athletes?

To develop the skill of self-regulation, consider the situations that bring out your most ineffective emotional responses. In what specific ways do these emotional responses impact the training environment? Is this the training culture you aim to create? Now, identify and write down more effective ways to deal with these situations. As you are coaching, look for opportunities to exercise these more effective emotional responses.

Motivation
Motivation is a measure of your drive to succeed.

It could be assumed that all coaches are motivated to create success with their athletes. However, notoriety, promotion, financial gain, and other self-serving aspects of motivation can come into play. While pursuing success for your athletes can result in all the above, the most effective coaches are motivated by achievement for the sake of achievement.

What motivates you as a coach? Consider the aspects of coaching that have made you voluntarily go above and beyond. What gets you excited? What pulls you to give everything you have to your athletes?

Do you get just as excited when a young athlete improves at a skill as when a high-profile professional athlete does? Why or why not? There’s no wrong or “bad” answer when you reflect on your personal sources of motivation. Just be aware that when athletes trust that your core motivations are in line with theirs, you have the greatest opportunity at positive impact.

Empathy
Empathy is your ability to understand and acknowledge others’ emotions and how these emotions impact their performance.

An empathetic coach tries to put themselves in their athletes’ shoes and considers their emotional makeup. A struggling athlete may be having problems at home or in the classroom, impacting their on-field performance. Acknowledging these struggles and offering words of encouragement while still holding high standards for this athlete is more effective than continually rebuking their performance.

The age, ability level, and background of our athletes can impact their emotional make-up on a daily basis. Consider the person you were when you were in middle or high school. How about college? What were the different challenges you dealt with? How would you want a coach to help you manage these challenges while helping you improve your athletic ability?

Empathy is not merely justifying and/or accepting any and all athlete behavior. It’s merely acknowledging that your athletes come from diverse backgrounds and experiences that impact their emotional makeup. Developing awareness and effective strategies to manage various emotional states shows you care about the athlete as a person.

Social Skill
Social Skill is the ability to develop rapport with others. As a coach, it’s critical for your athletes to know you have their best interests in mind. This goes beyond the tactics of training.

A coach with great social skill can quickly relate to and gain athletes’ trust by connecting on a “human” level. This can be as easy as asking an athlete how they are feeling, or what they did over the weekend. It could be demonstrated by actively listening and asking questions when an athlete shares something about their life. Either way, this demonstrates that the coach/athlete relationship isn’t merely transactional.

When you demonstrate a genuine interest in your athletes as people, they learn to trust that you have their best interests in mind.

Great coaches are always looking for opportunities to become more effective in leading their athletes to excellence. Consider the skill set of emotional intelligence and your own improvement with these skills could significantly impact young lives.

 

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.

 

The IYCA Certified Athletic Development Specialist is the gold-standard certification for anyone working with athletes 6-18 years old.  The course materials were created by some of the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the industry, and the content is indisputably the most comprehensive of any certification related to athletic development.  Learn more about the CADS certification here:

The Right Time for Youth Athletes to Start Training – Brett Bartholomew

When is the right time for youth athletes to start training?  This is a question parents ask all the time, and it’s something that athletic develop specialists need to be able to address in great detail.  The key to the entire process of long term athlete development is to expose athletes to as many different activities as possible and not rush the process.

Of course, it’s not that simple.  The IYCA’s flagship certification, the Certified Athletic Development Specialist, is an entire course dedicated to this process, so there are many things to take into consideration.  We need to understand how to teach exercises adequately, choose exercises appropriately, create a proper training schedule, change exercises/programming when necessary and more.

Long-time friend of the IYCA, Brett Bartholomew, spends a lot of time addressing coaching & communication issues, and he has become one of the industry’s foremost experts in that area.  But, because Brett has had such a wealth of experiences, he often addresses other important topics.  In this video, Brett gives an amazingly concise answer to the question of when athletes should begin training:

To be clear, Brett’s does not go into detail on the specifics of developing athletes, but his explanation almost perfectly mirrors the views of the IYCA – give kids lots of different activities, avoid specialization, understand training age, don’t focus on competition, and “slow cook” the process.

Often, experienced coaches know a lot about athletic development, but have a difficult time putting all of their knowledge into words.  This is the kind of video you can share with other parents and coaches to help them understand the process without going into too much detail.

We hope Brett’s video helps you verbalize the importance of the LTAD model, and gives you ammunition to continue doing what’s best for young athletes.

 

Brett Bartholomew is a strength and conditioning coach, author, consultant, and Founder of Art of Coaching™. His experience includes working with athletes both in the team environment and private sector along with members of the United States Special Forces and members of Fortune 500 companies.

Taken together, Brett has coached a diverse range of athletes from across 23 sports world-wide, at levels ranging from youth athletes to Olympians. He’s supported numerous Super Bowl and World Series Champions, along with several professional fighters in both professional boxing as well as the UFC.  Visit ArtofCoaching.com for more information or follow Brett on all social media platforms for daily updates.

 

For more information on developing athletes, the IYCA Certified Athletic Development Specialist is the gold-standard certification for anyone working with athletes 6-18 years old.  The course materials were created by some of the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the industry, and the content is indisputably the most comprehensive of any certification related to athletic development.  Learn more about the CADS certification here:

Keeping Young Athletes Training – Brett Klika

Few things will help a young athlete develop physical skills at a higher level than consistent training. As youth strength and conditioning coaches, much of what we know from the legendary Bompa’s, Balyi’s, Drabik’s, and Verkhoshanskys of the world has been based on their observations working with kids daily, in a completely immersive institutionalized setting, for a long period of time.

We are faced with a very different model of consistency here in the United States. If you are working as a youth strength and conditioning coach in the private sector, young athletes’ participation in your program is treated more like an “additional activity” than a necessary aspect of their long-term development. 

When mom and dad’s time, money, and energy aren’t too constrained, their child gets to participate in your program. At the first sign of any scarcity of these resources, parents will find a reason to discontinue.   

To create more consistency, measurable results, and business sustainability, it’s important to evaluate how to create a business model and training environment that keeps kids and parents engaged for the long-term with our programs. 

In my over 15 years of creating youth fitness programs of all sizes, in addition to SPIDERfit Kids’ current consultation with youth sports and fitness organizations around the world, this is one of the challenges I’ve set out to tackle. 

Taking into account my own experiences in addition to parent questionnaires, market research, and other “experiments” done by the coaches we consult with, we’ve been able to identify some critical aspects of creating a business model and training experience that increases long term retention for 5–12 year-old athletes. 

While not all coaches have the ability to impact their employer’s business model, below are some simple aspects of the training environment that we’ve found to increase program adherence.

  1. Coach and athlete name recognition
  2. Parent communication
  3. Incentives for progression  

Coach and Athlete Name Recognition

One of the fastest and easiest ways to create a community where young athletes feel like they belong is for coaches and other athletes to know and use their names as soon as possible. Likewise, young athletes should know their coaches and other program participant’s names. If a young athlete doesn’t know their coach’s name after their first day of training, it’s a missed opportunity that trivializes the coach’s engagement. 

This isn’t something that happens passively for most so I encourage coaches to make it a pillar of their program. It should immediately become obvious to everyone involved that knowing everyone’s names is a critical aspect of your program. 

When a child feels like they belong, they feel a sense of accountability and community. This is relayed when they’re talking to their parents about their experience with your program.  It is more difficult for parents and young athletes to leave a program where they feel like they are part of a community. 

Parent Communication

Remember, most parents of young athletes pay for a program that they don’t’ stick around to watch.  Somewhere between when parents drop their young athletes off and when they pick them up, you’re most likely doing some cool stuff to enrich their child’s life. How do parents know that? 

I’ve learned that coaches can’t assume parents have any idea what’s happening with their child between drop off and pick up.  Young kids aren’t exactly forthcoming in sharing the details of a day of training either. 

This makes it critical for coaches to connect with parents either in person, on the phone, via email, or by text at least once per week.  Once a child is old enough to drive themselves to training, communication doesn’t have to be as frequent. 

To keep this communication concise and effective, I recommend the “4 Sentence Conversation”:  

  1. Tell the parent something their child did well that day/week.
  2. Share a unique personality trait that their child has that allows them to be successful (“Logan is really using her arms well when she runs. She’s such a good listener, she really takes coaching well.”)
  3. Share one thing you are working on.
  4. Share how this skill contributes to one of the long-term goals shared by the parent or athlete.

This level of consistent feedback brings parents into the process. It leaves no question as to where their investment of time, money, and energy in your program is going. They are less likely to discontinue participation when they understand where their child is in the developmental process. It doesn’t hurt that they get to know you better either. 

These conversations are also a very personalized forum to encourage sign-ups for future programs in addition to soliciting testimonials and referrals. 

Another step you can take to bring parents into the process is to regularly text a picture or video of their child in action. Obviously, be sensitive to parent concerns about pictures of their child, but I can honestly say I’ve never had an issue sending a parent a picture of their child in action when they are not there to see them. 

The above steps provide a consistent answer to “what am I paying for?” This increases the value of your program so it becomes a higher priority on the endless list of things kids are doing or could be doing.   

When looking at the different interventions we have taken with coaches in order to help them improve their program adherence with 5-12 year-olds, frequent 1-1 parent interaction has emerged as one of the most important factors. 

Incentives for Progression

Another way to keep kids and parents excited and engaged with a long-term developmental program is to clearly define developmental benchmarks for skills and recognize kids for accomplishing these benchmarks. 

Consider the success of the “belt” system in martial arts for keeping kids and parents engaged with the program. A young martial artist and their parents are aware of universal criteria for progression. To get the next belt, they have to do “X”.  Once they do “X”, they earn a public symbol of accomplishment and acumen; a colored belt.   

In terms of youth strength and conditioning, picture creating levels designated by a colored wrist band, t-shirt, or other designation. To earn a certain color of wristband, a young athlete has to display competency with a list of skills and accomplishments.

For example, for a “Level 1” wristband, youth athletes would need to:

  1. Identify relevant gym equipment by name
  2. Identify specific anatomy
  3. Recite a gym mantra or ethos by memory in front of a group
  4. Perform 1-3 fundamental movement patterns with developmentally appropriate criteria
  5. Perform an at-home chore, activity, etc. a certain number of times with parent signature 

Once the athlete accomplishes these criteria, they receive an appropriately colored wristband or other awards. They are immediately aware of what they must do to accomplish the next level.

Notice the criteria for progression involve skills beyond exercise. This allows a coach to reinforce the expectation, culture, and positive external influence of their program. 

The coaches I have worked with that have implemented this type of system report that:

  1. Kids become more engaged in the learning process. They want to master skills so they can get to the next defined level. 
  2. Parents are more aware of specific skills and why they are important to the process of development. They also value the at-home progression criteria that compels their kids to do things they usually wouldn’t do; like making their bed, clearing their dinner dishes, etc. 
  3. Assessments have become more relevant to the needs of young athletes. The focus shifts to the quality of a movement vs. merely the magnitude. This ensures that the focus of progression at young ages is skill proficiency. 
  4. Coaches are able to expand their expectations for things outside of exercise. They are seeing more at-home adherence in addition to increased attention to other aspects of their program they deem important. Imagine how much more efficient coaching becomes when athletes are expected to understand basic anatomy, equipment vocabulary, and other important aspects of training.  
  5. Kids are staying in their programs longer. 

The more I’ve worked with coaches from different organizations and programs, it’s become more and more clear that when it comes to creating a program that maximizes engagement with kids and parents, it’s not so much what we do, but how we do it. These concepts seem so simple, yet we as coaches often forget their importance. 

The best training program in the world in a disengaged, disconnected environment fails to deliver results for anyone involved. 

There are also quite a few factors associated with the business model, like how payments are collected (EFT!), how frequently programs are run (no “gaps” between programs!), and others that impact program adherence. However, not every coach in an organization has influence over these factors. 

Whether you own a youth fitness facility or work for one, remember to take the above steps to create a training environment that gets parents and kids excited to be committed for the long haul.  

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.

 

The IYCA Certified Athletic Development Specialist is the gold-standard certification for anyone working with athletes 6-18 years old.  The course materials were created by some of the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the industry, and the content is indisputably the most comprehensive of any certification related to athletic development.  Learn more about the CADS certification here:

10 Ways to Improve Athleticism in Young Athletes – Jeremy Frisch

Like King Arthur searched for the legendary Holy Grail, many coaches, parents, and sports performance experts are on a quest to find the perfect way to improve athleticism and develop young athletes into world champions.  So far, no perfect formula has been created.  There are simply too many variables involved for anyone to create a magical pathway that can be replicated over and over again to churn our world class athletes like a factory.improve athleticism

Instead, science and experience have taught us a lot about athletic development so that we can apply fundamental principles and methods throughout an athlete’s life, sort of like an artist painting a picture.

Jeremy Frisch has come up with a list of 10 ways to improve athleticism in young athletes that draw on many of the fundamental principles taught in all IYCA materials.  As you read this list, you should appreciate the simplicity of what is being shared.  As many people look for new, sexy, and innovative ways to developing athleticism, Jeremy has drawn on his experiences working with thousands of young athletes to boil things down into simple tasks that need to be repeated and varied throughout a child’s life.

Enjoy Jeremy’s list and be sure to comment below:

1. Jumping: Jumping is the secret weapon to develop explosiveness… there is no such thing as jumping slow. Jump for height, jump for distance, jump over, sideways, side-to-side, one foot, two feet and with twists and turns. The more variety the better the coordination developed.

2. Sprinting: The best age to develop the foundation for speed is ages 7-11. Kids need not worry about technique and should only be concerned with effort. Max effort will help self organize technique. Simply challenge them to give their best effort by using racing, chasing and relay races.

3. Calisthenics: The simple stuff like we did back in P. E. Remember jumping jacks? How about the lost art of jumping rope? Calisthenics are a fantastic tool for warming up and coordination activities. Simple? Yes… but much more effective than jogging around a soccer field if the goal is to improve athleticism.

4. Gymnastics: Gymnastic activities develop body awareness, landing/falling skills, static and dynamic positions, balance, body toughness. You don’t need Olympic routines to get benefits, simply learning how to roll, cartwheel and various static holds can go a long way to improve athleticism.

5. Strength: Strength training is not just lifting weights. For children it can come in other forms like tug of war, monkey bars, rope climbing, play, parkour and ninja warrior. The key is using activities that require the athlete to create muscular tension.

6. Pick-up games: Any sports game like flag football, baseball, basketball, wiffleball, etc. or made up classic games like capture the flag, dodgeball and pickle. The key is minimal adult intervention. Let the kids decide the rules, winners and losers.improve athleticism through pick up games

7. Tag: (the athlete maker) The game of tag develops all around agility. Sprinting, stopping, starting, spatial awareness… mixed in with a whole bunch of decision making and, of course, all-around fun. Tag carries over to almost every sport. Play in different size spaces or make up different rules for variety.

8. Stop playing one sport all year around: Multiple sports develop multiple skills…the more skills the better the all-around athlete…skills transfer! Physically, the body gets a rest from repetitive stress and mentally, the athlete stays fresh from new activities.

9. Screen time: Limit screen time as much as possible. Eyes get fixed in a two dimensional landscape, and sitting for long periods is not good for anyone. Sensory overload without a physical outlet creates stress, anxiety and angry outbursts.

10. Have Fun: If young athletes have fun they are 90% there. When kids have fun, they come back and the more
consistency they have the more skills they develop over time without even realizing it.

 

Jeremy Frisch is the owner and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Massachusetts. Although he trains people of all ages and abilities, his main focus is to improve athleticism in young athletes, physical education, and physical literacy.

Jeremy is the former assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Holy Cross athletic department. Prior to joining Holy Cross, Frisch served as the sports performance director at Competitive Athlete Training Zone in Acton, Massachusetts. In 2004, he did a strength and conditioning internship at Stanford University. Frisch is a 2007 graduate of Worcester State College, with a bachelor’s degree in health science and physical education.

The IYCA Certified Athletic Development Specialist is the gold-standard certification for anyone working with athletes 6-18 years old.  The course materials were created by some of the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the industry, and the content is indisputably the most comprehensive of any certification related to athletic development.  Learn more about the CADS certification here:

Effective Communication: Starting the Conversation – Jill Kochanek

Effective communication is based on the needs of each player and team. When coaches give players voice, we can more fully understand what our athletes need to feel optimally supported. This post offers coaches useful activities for addressing what effective communication means for their team and athletes. Though just a starting point, this session is an example of how coaches can start a conversation with players to glean valuable information about their needs and co-create team standards for effective communication.

As many of us finish up the winter season, I want to bring up a topic, which comes up a lot in my work with athlete and coaches: effective communication. This entry explores what effective communication means for your team and athletes. To do so, I offer a recap of a session on effective communication that I’ve facilitated with my high school student-athletes. You might consider integrating any, or all, of these activities as an off-the-field preseason session. These activities are meant to draw on team knowledge and co-create communication standards with your athletes. Reflection and discussion centers on several questions: What type of communication does an athlete/teammate need and when? What constitutes effective communication on our team? What does effective communication look like in action? Feel free to use, leave out, or adapt any aspect of this session to best fit you as a coach, your context, and athletes.

Before I overview the session, let me give some background on what led me to the “communication” drawing board. Last year, communication became a point of emphasis for my high school girls’ team. We started the season with a young squad, only one senior, a sizable freshmen class, and several returning players who had only joined us the year prior. Some might call this a “rebuilding year.” I cringe when I hear that statement because it can shift a coach’s focus from improving based on where athletes are at to a preoccupation with proving oneself (as a coach or team). When coaches adopt this mentality, doing so can come at the expense of athlete development. Optimally challenging (and raising the bar for) players becomes a more difficult task when we safeguard against defeat and lower expectations before our players even step onto the field. As coaches, let’s not fall into this trap!

Young teams might lack the foundational skills that you wish they possessed, but these groups present a unique opportunity for coaches as culture creator to establish—and reinforce—good habits. If coaches plant these seeds with athletes early on, they are more likely to internalize those behavior patterns and model them for new and future players.

As a younger group, we not only lacked on-field communication but also clear standards for what effective communication meant on our team. The mix of inexperience and diverse player personalities led to instances of ineffective communication: younger players feeling as though older players were bossing them around, and older players feeling as though younger players were not listening or committed. After a few conflicts between players, our coaching staff decided that the group would benefit from more an explicit conversation on effective communication.

Here is a breakdown of the session—keeping this caveat in mind: as with technical/tactical skill building, culture building and behavior change are on-going processes. One session on effective communication will not be a complete cure-all. Consistent reinforcement is essential for players, and coaches, to internalize desired values and actions. As coaches, we not only need to model these behaviors. And, we need to encourage players when they effectively communicate and own our mistakes when we fall short of doing so.

Effective Communication Session Synopsis

Activity I: Effective communication on our team
I started by asking the girls to think of a recent moment in which a teammate effectively communicated to them (e.g., encouragement, instruction, suggestion, or criticism). They wrote down who that teammate was, what happened, and why the communication was effective for them. This was meant to guide athletes to self-reflect on their needs, but also gave them a chance to recognize their teammates.

Debrief: As a group, we discussed their responses. I did not have each girl share their who-what-why, but took notice of which players spoke up (or did not) and who was actively listening. Several girls offered their responses, and I probed players to consider commonalities and differences across examples. We distilled these anecdotes down to key characteristics of effective communication on our team, which were honest, direct, & positive. With this definition, I emphasized to players that it’s not just what we say that is impactful, but how we communicate—that communication needs to be honest and selfless. Praise that is not earnest can undermine our legitimacy as the communicator and backfire. At the same time, our communication should aim to help teammates be successful—to build each other up—not break us down. When players know that teammates mean well, and are genuinely trying to support our success, they will be more open to receiving corrective instruction (or constructive criticism) and less likely to take feedback personally.

The first reflective activity helped our group established what effective communication means for our team. While we might define communication that is honest, direct, and positive as our team standard, I asked players to consider if, and how, effective communication might depend on the individual and context. Though we might defer to honest, direct, and positive feedback in most teammate interactions and team situations, how we communicate may depend on who we are working with and how they show up on that day.

Activity II: Effective communication as individual and context specific
I asked each girl to write down what kind of communication they need from their teammates (or coaches) when they are having a good day versus bad day. I clarified that the good-bad day scenario could be for a host of reasons, including but not limited to sport-related events. I invited each player to share her perspective with the group in this second activity. In this case, I wanted to give each person the opportunity to speak to her needs, and likewise teammates (and myself) the chance to listen and gain insight into how to best support each player. Here were some of common responses from our group:

“I am motivated by the little things. It’s a huge boost when you catch me, and let me know, that I doing the little things well.”

“I want limited feedback on my bad days.”
“Hold me accountable when things aren’t going my way.”
“I just want you to tell me what to do!”

“I need positive reinforcement no matter what kind of day I am having. I had a bad coach when I was younger. He would always scream at us, and it’s still hard for me to shake that.”

Debrief: Once players shared what they need in terms of communication, I identified some of the common themes and differences across our responses. Then, I circled back to our team captains and asked what they thought were key take-home messages from our activities for us, as a team, to take away from the session and how we put that information into action. Give them the space and agency to communicate to their teammates, establish expectations, and define actions. After they spoke, I validated their responses and asked if anyone else from the group has something to add.

Conclusion
This session is one example of how to start a conversation with your players to glean valuable information about their needs and co-create team standards for effective communication. Effective communication is individual and context specific—based on the needs of each player and team. When coaches give players voice, we can more fully understand what our young people need to feel optimally supported. At the end of the day, it’s not about us – it’s about them.

Facilitating a session on effective communication, however, is not a quick fix—it’s a starting point. Consistent reinforcement of effective communication when coaches catch players doing so is necessary for all team members to internalize those behaviors. Along with praiseworthy actions, coaches need to attend to “challenge moments”: when players (or coaches themselves) fall short of effectively communicating based on team standards. Coaches can use “challenge moments” as opportunities to reinforce desired behaviors (or acknowledge their own mistakes) and encourage athletes to see mistakes as a part of the learning and culture-building process.

Politics and Athletic Development? – Jim Kielbaso

This election season has really gotten me to think about things in a way that relates to athletic development and the business of strength & conditioning. Now, before you get upset thinking I’m gonna talk about politics, I’m not!  Instead, I’ve noticed that the way we consume politics is very similar to the way we consume information about strength and conditioning, and it’s probably not the best way for us to make decisions.

In my opinion, one of the most important traits we can have is the ability to keep an open mind, research facts, and not get swept up in feelings, half-truths, and people saying whatever they feel like.

I’m talking about strength and conditioning right now, not politics!

I’m talking about understanding complex training concepts and knowing the facts.  But, the only way you’re going to know the facts is by digging deep and finding out what actually works, not what people SAY works or what you FEEL works.

A lot of people make programming decisions based on things like “well, so and so said this” or “I’m doing this program because this other coach or sports figure does it” or “I really think this looks cool.”  I also hear A LOT of people say things like “in my experience….” Well, experience certainly matters, but if you haven’t been in coaching for years, trusting your limited experience could be a mistake. You may want to count on the experiences of people who have been doing it for 20, 30, 40 years.

And, saying you read something doesn’t automatically make it a fact. If you read it in a magazine, on a blog, or on Twitter, that is NOT the same as reading it in a scientific journal, taking a course, or learning from a coach who has been in the trenches for 20 years. These are big differences and the election cycle kind of got me thinking about this because I’m noticing a lot of people also making both their political AND training decisions based on small bits of information without getting more details.

We see something on Instagram from someone with a bunch of followers, and we instantly think it must be the truth instead of digging deeper, doing our own research and getting the whole story.  So, whether it’s politics or strength & conditioning, it’s important to get the whole story before you make a decision.

I think we need to think about foundational concepts and ignore too much hype or what “everybody else is doing.” We don’t need to pick sides and follow people blindly based on who your friends like.  Do you really decide who to vote for by seeing signs on the road? Or do you make up your mind based on facts and digging in and actually learning about what’s going on?

Are you able to sift through the garbage on the internet? In both cases, politics and strength and conditioning, we are on absolute overload with garbage.  In politics, they call it fake news.  In S & C, it’s called bro-science.  There’s too much out there and it’s hard to sift through it all. How can we sift through it all? We can’t. It’s impossible. But you can’t check social media and call that education. It’s not. It’s just social media where there are no fact-checkers, and there’s just too much out there to keep track of everything.

It has really become a challenge for many professionals to dive deep into a topic because we’ve gotten so used to short blips of information. Many coaches make training decisions based on a YouTube video or Instagram post. If you see something on social media, that should prompt you to dig deeper into what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, and how you’re making your decisions. It shouldn’t be your only source of information.

Unfortunately, I don’t really have a perfect way of telling you to sift through the garbage other than explaining what I do. First, I find lots of different sources of information. Of course, I use social media, but I also go to scientific journals, I take courses, I have multiple degrees, I read lots of books, I attend conferences, and I go to people who have many years of experience in the industry who put out quality information and who are in the trenches daily.  These people have been doing it for years, documenting the results, analyzing their experiences and their programs, and then making decisions based on those analytics.

I try hard to determine what the actual training effect is going to be from any exercise or stimulus.  You need at least a basic background in anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology to understand how the body might adapt to a particular stimulus, but this is very, very important.  You also need to have an understanding of HOW MUCH of a stimulus is necessary in order to elicit an adaptation.  We also know that our nervous system can learn new skills, but if we don’t know a little about motor learning, we may not understand exactly how to get the nervous system to learn quicker.

Yes, you actually need to understand the processes involved in adaptation. Otherwise, you’ll watch a cool looking exercise on Instagram and decide to use it just because it’s new.  New might look cool, but it is not always good or useful.  There may be a reason that no one has ever seen this exercise.  Maybe it’s fluff.

Along with the effectiveness of a training stimulus, you have to weigh the risk vs. benefit to help determine whether it’s the right choice to include in a program.  For example, when I see kids standing on stability balls or doing circus tricks, I feel like the training benefit is incredibly small while the risk is fairly high.  Or, I’ll see kids stacking a bunch of plates up on top of boxes to see how high they can jump.  Again, the training benefit of jumping onto a box is no greater than jumping in the air as high as you can and landing on the ground, but the risk is MUCH greater.  So, I personally don’t feel like the risk outweighs the benefit.

I will also try to determine if something is economical.  Basically, is this new exercise or training method worth the time an athlete will have to put into it?  Does it give you a good “bang for the buck” or is the potential benefit so small that it’s basically wasting time.  And, every time you choose to do an exercise, you are simultaneously deciding to NOT do every other exercise in the world.  So, it better be worthwhile.

Finally, I have to decide if a particular method is right for every athlete or just for certain athletes.

I like to find multiple people or sources to discuss training so I can understand several angles. I try to take in as much as I can and keep an open mind while I’m doing it.

It is okay to change your mind. It’s certainly good to question the validity of new things, but it’s also OK to learn something new and admit that you’re either wrong or didn’t know something.  Mike Boyle is one of the most respected coaches in the profession, and he has changed his mind many times.  In politics, it would be called a flip-flop.  In training, it’s called learning and evolving….which is good!

So, I hope you can see that this wasn’t supposed to be political at all, but the way we consume politics has many parallels to the way we have been consuming training information.  I think it’s time to take a step back, slow down, and dig deeper into topics.  We should have a thorough understanding of training methods before we use them with athletes.  If we don’t, we are walking blindly through the forest, hoping to find a path home.

And, I think we can all agree that we can be better than anything happening in politics.

 

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and owner of Impact Sports Performance in Novi, Michigan.  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.

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 (including a complete Olympic lifting instructor course) 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.

Pelvic Tilt Control for Athletes – Jim Kielbaso

Pelvic tilt control is something that frustrates both coaches and athletes, but it is often not addressed very thoroughly.pelvic tilt   Coaches may recognize an exaggerated arch in the lower back, but that’s just one part of the equation.  The ability to control anterior and posterior pelvic tilt is critical to sprinting, squatting, hinging, and a variety of athletic movements.  Many athletes struggle with these movements because they simply don’t know how to create or control pelvic tilt.

For example, when you see an athlete struggle to maintain a flat back during squatting or hinging, they may not be able to control anterior pelvic tilt.  When you see an athlete sprinting with excessive lordosis, it may look like they can’t get their knees up or they have excessive backside mechanics, but this often stems from an inability to control the pelvis and maintain a neutral position.

Coaches often want to assume that these issues stem from strength or mobility issues, so we begin with stretches in an attempt to create better muscular balance.  This is not wrong at all – tight muscles can create all sorts of issues – but flexibility may not be the root problem.  More often than not, I’ve found that athletes simply cannot control or create anterior and posterior pelvic tilt.  They don’t have the proprioception or muscular control necessary to control these motions.  If he/she doesn’t know how to fire their abs, lower back, and glutes properly, they will appear to be “stuck” when asked to perform certain motions.

When this happens, I often use something I call the “Rubber Pants Full of Water” technique to teach athletes what it feels like to control anterior and posterior pelvic tilt.  The following video goes into much greater detail on this technique and others I use to help teach athletes how to control this important motion:

Try the Rubber Pants Full of Water technique or the homework exercise described in the video to get athletes to begin controlling their pelvic tilt.  You will find it much easier to teach common movements, and it will help them develop the ability to control their posture during any kind of movement.

 

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and owner of Impact Sports Performance in Novi, Michigan.  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.

If you’d like to learn more about developing athletes, the IYCA Certified Athletic Development Specialist is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and athlete development.  Click on the image below to learn more about the CADS certification program.

 

An Open Letter to Student-Athletes: Who Are You Without Sports? – Jill Kochanek

My name is Jill, but everyone calls me Jake. No one ever called me Jake, however, until I joined the Amherst College Women’s Soccer Team.  As a timid freshman, I was eager to prove myself and determined to play the sport that I love. With an upperclassman named Jill already on the team, during preseason my coaches asked me if I went by another name. I hesitated; I had always been Jill. Shortly after though, in the chaos of competition, my teammates’ commanding calls blended my initials, “J-K” into “Jake.”  

In the beginning, I accepted Jake but did not fully embrace the nickname.  I recall a teammate commenting that her brother’s name was Jake and another teammate telling me that her dog was named Jake. Great— I thought—there goes the cool first impression I was trying to make. Over the course of four seasons though, I would answer to Jake more than Jill on the field, in the classroom, and even at home. Eight years later, the name has stuck. My parents, siblings, old friends from Amherst and new friends extending from those Amherst ties all call me Jake.

Jake would stick with me in more ways than one: just as Jake grew on me, so did I as a player, teammate, and person. As Jake, an inexorable force outside of me but inseparably linked to me pushed me. It kept me tirelessly attacking and defending, following and leading, in formation with twenty other women in Amherst purple. As number 26, I felt that force drive me across the darkening grass—six and back, eighteen and back, half field and back, full field and back.  At the end of each practice as the sun set on Hitchcock field, sweat poured down our necks leaving our bodies as we set ourselves on the line to sprint again. Nourishing the field below our tired feet, sweat was the one thing we all agreed to sacrifice. In my senior season, that sacrifice would prove worthwhile and culminate in a league championship, NCAA Elite Eight match, and a record of 20-0-1. These tangible gains were just the beginning.  

On the field with my teammates, I learned how to be selfless; how to trust and be trusted; how to embrace my strengths and fearlessly confront my weaknesses; how to commit, be patient, and own my/our process: the next achievable step. I learned that what you communicate matters but “how” (you say something) given the “who” (you say something to) makes all the difference. And, I learned how important it is to control life’s controllables. My teammates challenged me to be a leader—a servant: someone who does not stop with bringing out the best in themselves but lifts others up. Inspired by their sacrifice, I grew to be a better player, teammate, and person. I grew to be Jake.

My student-athlete story seems to have a happy ending. It does. And—not but—and, it’s not without some unexpected challenge. In the last 10 minutes of our NCAA Elite Eight match against Messiah College, we were down 0-1. I was physically and mentally drained. I awkwardly, stretched out my right leg across my body to go for a loose ball. Off-balance, I tore my ACL and meniscus. I hobbled off the field and knew something was wrong but didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t want to concede. I asked our athletic trainer to try and tape my knee up to give me support and go back in. But I couldn’t walk. I was done.

Tears rushed down my cheeks and fell to the grass like the collective sweat that rushed down our necks. I wanted to be inside the lines again. I yearned to still be a part of our sacrifice. To be living the collective commitment we made to one another. To be on the field playing the game that we loved. In those final moments, I was flooded with a sense of loss. 

I am fortunate to have played injury-free for most of my high school and college career. We were fortunate to have made such a deep run into the NCAA playoffs alongside teammates and coaches who I’d do anything for. In those final moments and months to follow during my recovery process I felt a range of strong emotions. I felt gratitude for my experience, for the protected time I’d have to fully recover rather than rush back to play at the start of the next season. I felt relief that my body had held out. And, I also felt loss. I felt lost. 

I knew our season and my soccer career were soon coming to an end. But, I was not prepared for when it actually did. When the final whistle blew. 

I share my student-athlete story with you because at some point for all of us, sports will stop. There will be a day when the final whistle blows for all of us. A day when we all play our last game, when we are—like I was—left asking: Who am I?

For all student-athletes, not just our graduating seniors, this shutdown presents us with a unique opportunity to pause. To reflect and remember: why do you love sports? 

Maybe it’s the power of movement—the sense of freedom and empowerment you feel moving your body and seeing what you can do. 

Maybe it’s a love of competition—of the process, of challenge, of taking risks and testing your limits, of learning new skills and game strategies. 

Maybe it’s being a part of a team. Working together through adversity—making lasting friendships, building trust and having fun through all the little moments: the team dinners, bus rides, and locker room dance parties.

If it helps, we have 3 basic psychological needs as humans, the need to: 

(A) feel a sense of autonomy (“I have choice, control and agency”). 

(B) feel a sense of belonging (“I am valued and supported”), and 

(C) feel competent (“I am capable”), 

If you look down this list of “maybes”, you’ll notice that these reasons highlight all 3 of our basic needs. What we can call our ABCs—Autonomy, Belonging, and Competence. Meeting these needs supports our inner motivation and overall health and well-being.

So, what are your ABCs? Why do you play your sport/sports? Maybe you’ve got reasons outside the ABCs. Even better. The point is to take this time during the quarantine to reflect and be honest with ourselves. What’s your “why”?

During this shutdown it’s also important for student-athletes (at any age or stage) to ask: who am I without sports? It’s a both-and. Not an either-or.

You can be both an athlete/teammate/competitor and be a:

…painter

…musician

…writer

…singer

Tell me (and— coaches and parents if you’re reading this ask your student-athletes to tell YOU):

What energizes and excites you? What would get you out of bed at 5:30 AM for/to do?

What are you curious to know more about? 

What do you want to spend more time doing? What do you want to try? 

How do you want to connect with people? 

What larger purpose do you want to serve? How do you want to contribute? 

For the high school and college seniors graduating this spring, the COVID-19 shutdown has cut your season short and brought your career to an abrupt end. You are likely feeling a bitter sting: our harsh reality has replaced celebration and closure with COVID-19 restrictions. The senior year you thought you’d have, the special end-of-year events that would seamlessly, properly close this chapter of your life and open a new one may have instead been filled with uncertainty, loss, and sadness. Senior student-athletes I feel with you. And, I am here to tell you that you are not alone. Whatever emotions you are experiencing are valid and understandable. Allow yourself the time and space to acknowledge what you’re thinking and feeling. What you are going through is hard.

When you reflect on why you play and what/who you are grateful for, know that you will always carry with you your reasons for playing, valuable lessons you learned, and memories you made. It took me time after I played my last game to realize that:

My student-athlete experience was a process of discovery. Soccer was a meaningful setting that helped me discover aspects of who I am—a trusted teammate, lifelong learner, and performer who loves to commit to a big-picture vision and goal and to work the small actionable steps needed to get there. Soccer was a context that brought these aspects of “me” into focus. Soccer gave me a supportive, challenging space—and opportunity— to work towards being my best self: to embrace my inner-Jake.

I found so much meaning in, I drew so much of my self-worth from sports. And while I found so much of myself through sports, and—not but—and, I now know that sports are not ALL of me. Sports are not ALL of you. 

Identity is who you are. It’s a word with a paradox at its core (Stryker, 2017). It means that two things that are not exactly the same can be substituted for one another as if they are the same.

When we say “I am a student-athlete” the “am” is like an equals sign. Your individual sense of being something, a category (e.g., student-athlete, musician) that you consider yourself belonging to. You and the category, however, are not the same exactly the same.

You are a student-athlete.

You are also more than a student-athlete. 

Human beings we are weird. Don’t read the term “weird” in the negative sense: we are unique, dynamic, complex, and multi-dimensional.

Know that so many of the reasons you played sports, the lessons that you learned, memories that you made will stick with you. These are forever a part of you. Also know that your life, your identity, and your “why” do not end here. They don’t end with athletics. You might find that an activity, experience, or context fulfills you like sports do or did. You might also find that these different pursuits excite and inspire you in unique ways that sports did/do not offer you. 

You have so many gifts to share with us beyond what you do on the court, field, track, diamond, and pitch. There is a whole world out there with people, place, and opportunities beyond sports to explore. 

This open letter is not a “how-to”—with specific steps on what I think you should do. Only you can determine the steps that are best for you. Only you can chart your course: Be brave. Be curious. Be true to your whole self. Share that whole person with us. Your whole self is your best self, and when we know the true you, we will all be better. 

My name is Jill but everyone calls me Jake; I embrace when they do and I know now that there’s so much more to Jill than Jake. 

Jill Kochanek is a doctoral student at the Institute for the Study of Youth Sport at Michigan State University. She is also a high school soccer coach. As a coach-scholar, Jill is passionate about bridging the research-practice gap to make sport a more inclusive, empowering context. Her research and applied work centers on helping athletes (and coaches) take charge of their own developmental process and social progress. If you enjoyed this article, feel free to visit her youth sport coaching blog, bothandcoaching.blog, for posts that address other topics related to sport psychology and sociology and follow her on Twitter @bothandcoaching.

 

The IYCA Certified Athletic Development Specialist is the gold-standard certification for anyone working with athletes 6-18 years old.  The course materials were created by some of the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the industry, and the content is indisputably the most comprehensive of any certification related to athletic development.  Learn more about the CADS certification here:

Autonomy: Building Relationships & Buy-In – Jared Markiewicz

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on developing relationships and buy-in as a coach. All of this comes from Self Determination Theory, and Jared Markiewicz has used these exact processes to work with his staff and clients. Part 1 addresses the concept of Relatedness. Part 2 addresses the concept of Competence, and this edition addresses the concept of Autonomy. We highly encourage you read all three parts of this series and consider implementing these concepts into your coaching or business activities.

Intro

Autonomy is the ability to have or make decisions that lead to a direction. 

Basically, you get an opinion that is heard regarding the direction that is taken. And since adolescent athletes have LOTS of opinions, what better way to motivate them than by listening to their opinion.

Additionally, there are levels to autonomy that we will break down simply into two categories:

1) Low control choices are simple THIS or THAT questions guiding simple task selection.

2) High control choices are more complex, necessitating a greater understanding of the variables that exist to drive a team or group towards the mission.

As it relates to motivation levels, the level of control rises as it’s recognized the individual’s motivation is more intrinsically driven.

So, how do we apply this concept to a gym full of coaches and athletes? Simply put, those wanting more autonomy need to EARN THE RIGHT (ETR).

Stated over and over again in this series, “Earn The Right,” gives the person looking for motivation a reason to stay engaged. The more they push to get better, the more they will receive feedback demonstrating your confidence in them.

The end result, they are more in control of their path to achieving greatness than most anyone has offered them before. And you get to be the one providing it to them!

Coach to Staff

When issues or new opportunities arise, they are great times to utilize your team, give them their first amendment rights and often come up with great ideas or solutions.

But to do so, you as the leader need to establish some firm guidelines.

To explain this, let’s compare the process to creating a beautiful house.

The first step to building a beautiful home is laying a solid foundation so it lasts a long time.

In your gym, that is simply your mission or value statement and your core values.

Then a house needs a frame, something it can stand on and can handle most anything you add to it without collapsing over. It’s unlikely to be noticed unless it’s a problem but people are drawn to certain layouts over others.

In your gym, that is the training environment: the actual organization, structure and feel of your facility.

Once you have those pieces in place, your staff understands enough to get involved in the process of how to complete the house and make it incredible.

So when an issue arises or an opportunity presents itself, your team has the tools to weigh in on a solution and be a part of the process.

You as the leader are no longer expected to have all the answers. More importantly, the solution will likely be one with far more insight than if you sat in your office staring at the wall struggling for hours on end.

But insight doesn’t mean perfection. Mistakes are likely to happen. It can be difficult for a business owner to shoulder the mistakes of his staff and not want to step in to just do the job right. That is NOT delegating.

Action Step: offer low control choices for your staff members to allow them to build confidence and truly take ownership in their role on your team. If they make mistakes early, it shouldn’t be devastating to your business.

And, if your approach is slow but consistent, the long-term result will be a collaborative think tank of ideas and solutions by your highly motivated staff members.

Coach to Athletes

Picture this: you are first learning how to bowl.

One coach says, “to bowl well you must take 5 steps, hold the ball in your right hand exactly and cross your right leg behind you after you toss the ball.”

A different coach says, “I’m going to show you a number of ways to get a bowling ball down the lane effectively and then I want you to choose one and try it yourself.”

Which coach do you want? Or, which coach do you want for your child?

Giving athletes choices with constraints allows them to explore, feel empowered and still maintain a safe and effective path to higher performance levels. It’s all about autonomy with constraints.

Choices in a training session can be provided at a young training age as long as the constraints are narrow.

For a new athlete to your program, a simple question of, “did that feel hard OR easy,” will be enough to help you gauge their abilities/attitude while allowing them to be involved in the process. It’s a choice no matter how minuscule it might seem.

As they Earn The Right, the conversation can evolve towards the actual program makeup, recovery from training/practice/competition and optimization of their training cycles.

Providing choices has also highlighted an unexpected outcome for some of our athletes.

Occasionally we come across the “problem athlete.” We have all coached this boy or girl. They struggle with the standards of a school curriculum and a, “do this or else,” approach doesn’t jive with them.

We have found athletes like this thrive when given choices and a say in what goes on. They don’t always get what they want, but the fact that they have a voice and we acknowledge it makes for an adherent and driven athlete.

Action Step: Start giving choices to your athletes during warm ups, as they go through their ramp up sets or in the conditioning portion or play portion of the training session. Areas that will be minimally affected by options and are unlikely to cause you stress about them not doing the right thing (because we all know we will!)

We have the ability to improve the processing and learning of our athletes while instilling confidence through choices; so let’s do it!

Staff to Athlete

It’s your job to create structure for your staff to best coach the athletes they work with.

Therefore, it’s time for your coaches to better manage their groups by implementing the Earn The Right mentality with their athletes.

When they provide athletes some control over the direction of their training, it can generate authentic leadership within the team or group.

It all comes down to questions. This is probably the most difficult systematically speaking. You need to teach your staff not only how to ask quality questions but also how to listen and respond accordingly.

To make it simple and gain traction for your staff with their athletes, they can use the image of a dangling a carrot in front of a horse.

At the beginning of the session, ask the athletes this, “we have 5 minutes at the end of the session that I want to leave open to you to decide how we use it. We can either foam roll or play a game. Tell me your decision and if we are efficient, we can possibly have 10 minutes for Spiky ball hoops (crowd favorite at FIT).

Not only will you get more efficient work done but also you will start to have athletes step up and shepherd the flock when someone is getting off track.

Action Step: Have your coaches ask the athletes what they want. Then provide them an opportunity to earn it without making it a guarantee.

When you create a system for choices with constraints by simply asking questions, it can breed leadership and buy in like no other.

And what leader doesn’t want a staff that has efficient training sessions full of motivated athletes, stepping up as leaders.

It’s a win/win/win!

Wrap Up

As leaders, we all aspire to a weight room culture of massively bought in athletes and coaches.

But, your motivation and passion isn’t enough. You have to put the effort in to learn what drives your team and your athletes.

When you lay down a foundation based on a well-researched model like the Self Determination Theory, you can then build your own creative structure on top! Then the process can be fun and inclusive.

And when you set expectations for your staff and your athletes that ownership isn’t given but EARNED, you are on your way to massive buy in from everyone involved.

jared markiewiczJared Markiewicz is the founder and CEO of Functional Integrated Training, in Madison, WI.  Jared has worked with a wide array of athletes including middle schoolers, collegiate and professional athletes, as well as adults – all looking to find the best version of themselves.  He sits on the IYCA Advisory Board, has gone through many IYCA certifications, and is a regular contributor and speaker for the IYCA.

Jared holds a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s also a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM-CPT), an Advanced Sport Performance Coach through USA Weightlifting, a Level 2 Functional Movement Screen Specialist, a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach (PN1) and a golf fitness instructor through Titleist Performance Institute.

 

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.

Beginners Guide to the Hip Hinge – Brett Klika

The hip hinge. 

While this is one of the more foundational movement patterns for young athletes to learn for both the field and weight room, it’s often one of the hardest to introduce.

The fact is, young athletes naturally hip hinge during horizontal jumps and other movements with a horizontal component. It’s when we break down the movement and make it a conscious pursuit that kids struggle.

Struggling with this myself for many years, I developed a step-by-step series to help athletes as young as 6 years old develop the basic foundations of a really good hip hinge. 

Step 1: Sensory Prep

Doing any athletic movement correctly requires a working knowledge of the parts of the body and what these body parts can do.  As coaches, we call this “body awareness” and this ability is necessary for our athletes to respond effectively to our coaching cues. 

It’s easy to make the mistake (like I did) in assuming that the kids we work with are well versed in body awareness.  While they have the basic ability, it’s not sharp and refined when they are young. 

To remedy this, I started to integrate the basic movement cues of the hip hinge and other movements into “Simon says” type of warm-ups and games. These would be introduced during warm-ups and games independently of teaching the hip hinge.  

For example:

  • Feet inside/outside/shoulder width
  • Weight on toes/heels/midfoot
  • Knees locked/bent/soft
  • Hips forward/ back
  • Chest down/ up
  • Back rounded/straight

Notice the pairing of contrasting movement. This helps the athlete develop a proprioceptive “3-d model” of space and body orientation in their head before it’s put into the context of a single coordinated movement like the hip hinge.  With these coordination pathways now wired, coaching cues for a movement become easier to understand and execute when it comes to teaching a specific skill. 

Step 2: Practice the Gross Movement

Play is a great teacher, so I found that before I would introduce the specifics of any movement, I would introduce games and other activities that would create the movement naturally. For example, activities like broad jumps require kids to hinge their hips horizontally back in order to get more distance. 

Even simple horizontal “reaching” activities like found in the video below offer a great introduction to the hinge. 

Over/ Under Wall Touches

 

Step 3: Learn to Move the Hips Horizontally

When it comes to teaching the specifics of the hip hinge and other movements, I’ve found that breaking the movement into various components and introducing/reinforcing each individually is much more palatable for young athletes. I also found it’s important to be patient and spend as much time with each component as necessary. 

For example, the first step in teaching the hip hinge is to have the young athlete consciously move their hips horizontally back. For a single training session, week, or even cycle, the next step shouldn’t be introduced or coached until they mastered this. 

While other components of the hinge will be demonstrated and likely executed to a degree, the focus of coaching cues, drills, and activities should be moving the hips back horizontally. I’ve found most young athletes can master this pretty quickly with activities like those below.

3 Cone Reach

 

Hips to Wall

Step 4: Keep the Knees Soft

Once an athlete can consciously move their hips back horizontally on cue, the focus then goes to controlling the knee angle. For weight room movements involving the hip hinge, it’s important for kids to understand the “soft knees” concept. Kids generally default to completely locked knees or full positive- shin- angle squats.  I’ve found that teaching kids to understand and control knee angle helps set up the mechanics of the rest of the hip hinge movement.  

The concept of “soft knees” is best introduced during sensory prep activities where they experience the immediate contrast between knees that are bent, locked, and soft. This can be reinforced during activities similar to the ones for step 3. For “3-Cone-Reach” instead of a cone on the ground, have them reach towards head-hi points on a wall while hinging their hips back. 

Step 5: Keep the Chest Up

While most young athletes will master the previous steps fairly quickly, this is where things slow down. Young athletes’ lumbar and thoracic extensor muscles are generally pretty deconditioned. 

Days spent in classrooms slumped over desks and hours spent hunched over electronics weaken this aspect of the posterior chain.   As they hinge their hips back keeping their knees soft, their lumbar and thoracic spine will often flex forward. It’s like as humans, we’re always trying to get back to the fetal position. 

Before reinforcing this specific aspect of the hip hinge, it’s important to make sure the extensor muscles of the trunk and posterior chain are adequately strong. This can be done with activities like those below.

T-Bird

Bird Dog

After these, the drill below has worked well for teaching proper thoracic extension for both the squat and hip hinge. 

Elbow Knee Squat

Once young athletes master these components of the hip hinge, they are ready to learn the more advanced/refined versions. It’s important to note that perfect movement is not the daily goal. Helping young athletes to develop better movement over time while maximizing fun and minimizing frustration is. In the latter, we increase athlete buy-in, engrain long term movement patterns, and increase the likelihood that our athletes will become active and athletic for life. 

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

 

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

Letter to Parents: From Jim Kielbaso – Let Them Struggle

Dear Parents of Young Athletes,

One of the most important skills your child can learn from sports and training is how to struggle with something and eventually overcome it. 

Unfortunately, it can be pretty difficult for us to watch our kids struggle, and our natural instinct is to help them so they don’t have to experience that pain.  Trust me, I have a hard time with this as a dad, too, so I understand. It’s hard to watch my kids struggle and fail because it breaks my heart. But, kids grow exponentially faster, and become more resilient, when they learn how to work hard and struggle for something they want.  

I recently heard Olympic figure skating champion Mark Hammill talk about the years leading up to his massive success.  He said that all anyone ever wants to talk about are his successes, but he talked about how important it was for him to lose and fail over and over again before that.  He talks about how it developed tenacity and a thirst for success because he hated the feeling of losing. The struggles are what turned him into a champion.

If we rush in to rescue our kids from every obstacle in their way, they’ll never learn how to do it for themselves, and they may never develop the grit it takes to succeed in any endeavor.  We all know that life is full of obstacles, so we better help them learn how to overcome them.  

As hard as it is to watch your child fail, teach them how to turn setbacks into comebacks.  Michael Jordan often talks about how impactful it was for him to get cut from his high school basketball team.  That year, he probably grew more than any other year of his life because he wanted to prove his coaches wrong. That setback helped him develop a mindset, attitude and work ethic that propelled him on to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time.  Had he made that team, it’s possible that he would have never developed that spirit, and we might not even be talking about him.

There is a saying in sports that pretty much sums it all up – “skills from struggles.”  

Growth comes when people are challenged just above their skill level.  This forces us to learn something new, try a little harder, and understand things more thoroughly because we have to keep up with those around us who can already perform the task we’re struggling with.  Of course, putting a child in a situation where they are completely over their head can be demoralizing, so it’s important to give kids appropriate challenges so they can feel a sense of accomplishment as they improve.  

Kids who achieve early successes without having to work hard will often get passed up later in life as others learn how to work hard and overcome setbacks.  Early achievers need larger challenges than others at a young age to keep them constantly improving rather than being satisfied with simply being better than kids on their team.  

I’ve seen this happen many, many times in my career, and I even see it in very talented high school athletes who struggle mightily in college because they have never had to work extremely hard to keep up. They get very discouraged, their confidence drops, and they often end up giving up on the sport they were so good at when they were young.  

I also see the parents of these kids get very frustrated and wonder what happened to their super-talented child.  

The same principle applies to other areas of our lives such as academics, work, and social situations.  We don’t necessarily need to “encourage” mistakes, but we often learn much more from difficult situations than when things are easy.  Let your kids learn that they may fail a test if they don’t study. Let them have friends get angry if they aren’t good friends. Let them get fired from a job for not working hard.  Let them sit on the bench when they don’t practice hard. Let them experience painful feelings.

And, don’t rush to rescue them from these difficult situations.  You don’t have to pile on and ridicule them for making mistakes, but try to look at these struggles as opportunities for your kids to learn valuable skills.  Just try to balance being “there for them” with letting them struggle.  

So, while it may tear your heart out to watch your child struggle, it’s probably exactly what they need once in a while to help them learn how to dig down and figure out how to get better.  This is probably going to hurt you more than them, so good luck with this….and wish me luck too.  

Sincerely,

Jim

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.

 

To learn more from Jim, 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

Competence: Building Relationships & Buy-In – Jared Markiewicz

In the first installment of this mini-series surrounding the Self Determination theory, we discussed using relatedness to better motivate your staff, athletes you coach and structuring a system so you can teach your staff how to better motivate athletes.  It’s highly recommended to go over Part 1 first, so take a few minutes to review that if you haven’t already.  

The second part of this mini-series focuses on competency and using it in the same way to drive motivation. So let’s dive in!

Competence: Coach to Staff

Motivating your staff to continually improve can be challenging at times. They may seek out education on a regular basis,  but the question is: How do they actually take what they learned and apply it?

Our solution for a few years now has been a weekly “Trainer Talk”

It occurs every Thursday and all coaches are expected to attend or have a damn good reason why they can’t be there. At the beginning of every quarter, each coach chooses one week in which they will present on a topic of their choice.

Having a set date early in the quarter allows the coach the ability to discuss:

  1. Key topics in our training systems or the industry
  2. Key takeaways from clinics/workshops recently attended
  3. Specific topics of interest that can evolve our training programs 

Once they get comfortable, it allows them an opportunity to teach everyone on staff, head coach included.  As a result, when a coach who has largely been in the student role is given the teacher role, motivation skyrockets!

Additionally, it gives our coaches the ability to seek out training philosophies that excite them and then collectively think tank on how we could implement pieces into what we already do.

Action Step: Implement a version of “Trainer Talk” with your staff at least 1x/month that involves your entire coaching staff.  

Initially, it might be difficult to get volunteers to step into the teaching role so I suggest starting with a mini TED talk day where you and a few other coaches present short education pieces. 

Goal: Bring to light the vast competencies on your staff to foster growth and development of professional knowledge.

Competence: Coach to Athlete

What would your answer be if someone asked you what your biggest strength is athletically? Harder yet, your biggest weakness?

Tough questions, right? 

Self-awareness is such an important part of any athlete’s ability to achieve the best they are capable of. 

Asking difficult questions like this during the initial conversation with an athlete provides 3 advantages:

  1. Create a framework of process vs. outcome based goal setting
  2. Recognize who they are as an athlete and develop a continuous improvement mentality in ALL facets of athleticism and sport skill
  3. Help them understand what they excel at, while recognizing other teammates likely excel at something different, catalyzing high level teamwork

As a coach, understanding their answers can provide a foundation to build an individual’s motivation while training.

During training, we can coach an athlete up on how a particular program or movement will help them overcome their weaknesses. Make sure when you reference this, it’s about them getting better, not matching those that already excel. 

More importantly, when they are performing something they excel at, empower them to be a leader. They have the competence, so acknowledge it and encourage them to help teammates and lead by example. 

Action Step: Implement a question or series of questions early on in the process with a young athlete. The big key here is to keep revisiting it. Part of self-awareness for a young athlete is the coach reinforcing competencies. 

Goal: Improve self-awareness for your athletes

**If you coach in a team setting, asking these questions will provide you the knowledge to position athletes in a role they will be comfortable with. Then you have set them up to thrive individually and collectively!

Competence: Staff to Athlete

Martial arts has this down to a science: if you achieve a set series of skills and can demonstrate them repeatedly, you will earn the next belt. 

Why is this such a motivator?

  1. It’s cool as heck to progress to the next level, developing a sense of PRIDE
  2. Athletes want to keep growing and learning by continuing their progress to the coveted Black belt!

At FIT, we use colored rubber bands in a similar fashion.

Our athletes need to demonstrate competency and proficiency of the core lifts: bench, squat, press, deadlift and clean, to earn the next band.

Testing week is exciting and motivating because if they have put the work in, there is a good to great chance they will level up in the band they have. 

Consistency builds competence, building performance enhancement!

HOWEVER, not all athletes are motivated by this. Many are, but almost every group will have one outlier, maybe more. 

That’s the human element we as coaches have to ALWAYS take into account.

So engage and ask those athletes how they are motivated. And then follow through on that during testing periods. (Just don’t let them tell you they are motivated by money, I only fell for that once!)

Ultimately, it’s about the athlete visualizing a path to “level up” and working to achieve that. Athletes will buy into a good training program over time, but it’s helpful early on to give them opportunities to achieve success, via bands or belts or whatever. We have found this significantly helps motivation when they plateau slightly or even lose some strength during a sport season.

Action Step:  Enlist the help of your staff to identify what structure already exists and figure out where there is the potential for levels or progressions to be created. It’s highly likely you already do something where you have pre-requisite steps that must be completed to get access to doing a movement. For example, to power clean, an athlete must demonstrate the ability to deadlift well and show the ability to get into a good front squat rack position and do a balanced front squat.

Then display it prominently to your athletes and give them SOMETHING as recognition of leveling up. It can be really simple until you get great buy in from them and your coaches.

Goal: Improve ADHERENCE to the training and therefore the speed of skill development by formally recognizing an athlete’s ongoing mastery.

 

jared markiewiczJared Markiewicz is the founder and CEO of Functional Integrated Training, in Madison, WI.  Jared has worked with a wide array of athletes including middle schoolers, collegiate and professional athletes, as well as adults – all looking to find the best version of themselves.  He sits on the IYCA Advisory Board, has gone through many IYCA certifications, and is a regular contributor and speaker for the IYCA.

Jared holds a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s also a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM-CPT), an Advanced Sport Performance Coach through USA Weightlifting, a Level 2 Functional Movement Screen Specialist, a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach (PN1) and a golf fitness instructor through Titleist Performance Institute.

 

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.

Letter to Parents – From Jim Kielbaso: Balancing Skills & Athleticism

Dear Parents of Young Athletes,

I get it.  You want your kid to be better at sports.  And, taking a lesson this week (hitting, shooting, dribbling, etc.) from a sports skills coach will produce a quick results so your child will experience success this weekend.  I have three boys who play sports, so I definitely understand where you’re coming from.  We all want our kids to succeed. 

It makes logical sense: work on a skill + use it in a game = success & happy kids.

It seems easy, and it’s not necessarily wrong.  It’s just not a complete equation.  

Make no doubt, working on skills will help.  A good coach will help a soccer player pass, trap, and dribble better.  A good hitting coach will refine your swing and help you get more hits. And, a good volleyball coach will help you serve, bump, and hit better.  

It will definitely help…to a certain extent.

Just remember that improving sports skills does not necessarily mean that their overall athleticism is improving.  These two things are very intertwined, but also very different.

Just so we’re on the same page, “athleticism” refers to things like body control, speed, coordination, balance, quickness, kinesthetic awareness, and the way a person moves.  Sports skills are all about technical expertise at skills like dribbling, shooting, hitting, etc.  Being more athletic makes it much easier to learn and master sports skills, but being good at sports skills does not necessarily make an athlete more “athletic.”

The traits involved in athleticism lay the foundation for most sports and are typically developed before age 14. They can certainly be improved well beyond age 14, but it becomes much more difficult to change the way an athlete moves as they get older because motor patterns (the way our nervous system organizes firing patterns to create and control movement) are more ingrained at this point.   A young person’s nervous system has much more “plasticity” which is essentially the ability to change, adapt, and learn new skills. This is also why it’s usually easier for young kids to learn a new language.

A highly athletic, low-skilled soccer player can easily get into position to make a play, but may not be able to take full advantage of the opportunity because of the low technical skills.  On the other hand, a highly-skilled, low-athleticism player can control the ball, but won’t be able to get into position where their skills can best be utilized.  

Athletes who have both traits have a very high ceiling.  

Both traits can be improved, but it is much harder to develop athleticism later in life than it is for a good athlete to improve skills.  In fact, many world-class athletes didn’t focus on their “main sport” until after age 14, so there is plenty of evidence showing that “good overall athletes” can develop great skills later (there are certainly exceptions to this, but I’m not trying to cover every aspect of every sport in this short letter).  While good athletes can pick up new skills later, the opposite is not true.  A young, highly skilled, low-athleticism athlete will often get passed up when highly athletic kids start to practice their skills.

Getting passed up is frustrating for everyone, and is often the reason kids stop playing or enjoying sports.  It’s the result of short-term development, and it’s much more difficult to address later in the developmental process.  That’s why it’s so important to spend time on these things with young athletes.

So, I’m not telling you to stop practicing your sport.  Not even close. There is no doubt that practice will pay off.

Just don’t forget to work on overall athleticism, especially at a young age when it’s much easier to develop.  It’s actually pretty easy to insert athletic development activities into sports practices, but coaches have to understand and appreciate the concepts of athletic development rather than focusing exclusively on sports skills.  

The hard part for parents to understand is that you won’t necessarily see the benefits immediately.  Developing coordination and athleticism takes a long time and won’t help your kid make the last second shot this weekend.  Developing an athlete is a long-term proposition that requires patience and balance. Just make sure your child is working on things like speed, balance, and coordination just as much as sports skills at a young age so it’s easier for them to refine their skills later.  

Sincerely,

Jim

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.

 

How to Develop Mental Strength in Youth Athletes – Jill Kochanek

A common question that I get from coaches is: How can I make my athletes more mentally tough? For as big of a buzz word as mental toughness is though, the concept is a black box. In this post, I’ll open up that box and bust 4 harmful myths about mental toughness. Dispelling these myths is vital for coaches to actually help young athletes develop mental strength and support their overall mental well-being. Before we get there, however, it’s important to consider our current context. That is, why are coaches concerned about developing mental strength in this generation of youth athletes?

Research on Generation Z athletes and preliminary findings from a study I’m conducting with athletic directors across Michigan offer insight. This response from one coach (also athletic director) echoes the perspective of other sport leaders and (partially) resonates with me in my coaching:

“Today’s generation of youth are, for lack of a better term, soft. It’s not necessarily their fault. The environment that they are growing up in is different. Everyone gets a participation trophy. Kids just are less willing to work hard, to work through failure, and grind it out. And parents aren’t letting kids fail. In the classroom and on the court, parents pave the path for their kids. ‘Helicopter parents’ who used to hover have become ‘snowplow’ or ‘lawnmower parents’ who push all the adversity out of the way so that kids never get the chance to learn how to deal with pressure and failure.”

Like this coach, I work with some parents who get out the snowplow at times. I also work with caring and level-headed parents. Consider that parents, like players and coaches, don’t live in a vacuum. The pressure that parents face navigating the youth sport system (the privatized one with a high price tag and year-round training option only) is challenging. We need to confront these challenges through a lens of contribution rather than blame. Coaches need to work with parents and players (and administrators) to ensure that every youth athlete has an empowering sport experience.

So, how do we help young people learn to grow in/through adversity in sport?

First we need to define what mental toughness. And I’ll pose the same question to you as I do to coaches who bring up the topic: How do you define mental strength?

Better yet, engage in this quick reflective exercise: Think of a time when you felt mentally tough. What was the situation? What were your thoughts/feelings/actions in response to that situation?

Now compare your practical knowledge to one prevalent definition within sport psychology. Mental toughness regards values, attitudes, cognitions, emotions, and behaviors that refer to an individual’s ability to thrive through positively and negatively construed challenges, pressures, and adversities(Gucciardi et al., 2009).

This definition is dense. But the complexity and nuance are important to unpack in order to fully understand what mental toughness is and how coaches can best support athlete mental strength and well-being. Let’s debunk some commonly held myths about mental toughness in sport (and life) in order to work through, and from, this new definition.

Myth 1) Mentally tough athletes always think/feel positive thoughts/emotions
Mental toughness involves observable and less visible behaviors such as thoughts and emotions. But people who show mental strength DO NOT always think self-affirming thoughts or feel 100% confident. More positivity does not translate to more mental toughness. Being overly positive and unrealistic in our thinking can undermine our performance and motivation; when we set unrealistic expectations for success and continually fall short, we are less likely to work hard and persist through challenges. Instead, mental strength requires realistic beliefs about our abilities. It requires trusting in and focusing on our individual process—on improving rather than proving oneself— regardless of the situation.

Mentally strong people are also aware of “negative” thoughts and emotions. They thrive through positive and negative situations, which can be external (e.g., game conditions) and internal (e.g., fearing failure). Athletes who show mental strength have courage to acknowledge and examine negative thoughts/emotions to gather information about their situation. For example, if a player feels frustrated because of a team conflict, that athlete shows mental toughness by attending to their “what” (emotion) and “why” (reasons for the feeling) rather than suppressing their frustration (which likely makes team dynamics worse). Mentally tough individuals don’t ignore negativity. They embrace all aspects of their experience to move forward and act in accordance with their values (e.g., use team conflict to strength group relationships).

Myth 2) Mentally tough athletes are not emotional or sensitive.
This myth harkens back to Tom Hanks’ memorable line from A League of Our Own, “There’s no crying in baseball!”. Being mentally tough does NOT mean that you feel fewer emotions or are less emotionally sensitive. As debunked in myth #1, mentally strong people are deeply aware of their emotions. Mental strength requires that we are willing to acknowledge and validate our emotional experiences. In doing so, we recognize that emotions are a common aspect of being human: we are not the only one, and are not wrong for, feeling sadness, guilt, and fear. By mindfully processing emotions, mentally strong athletes can then decide how to best move toward accomplishing their goals. That is, they can consider why they feel the way that they do, and whether/how those emotions are helping or hurting them achieve their aims.

Myth 3) Mentally tough people push through more (physical) pain.
Mental toughness is NOT measured by the number of wind sprints an athlete can push through. I think, or at least I hope, that coaches are steering away from running youth athletes until they puke as their method for building mental toughness. This old-school approach is not only unintelligent but irresponsible. I am not suggesting that all fitness training is bad. But improperly training athletes and risking their physical/psychological health while claiming that you’re “building character” is abusive.

Mentally strong athletes train hard and smart. Training hard and smart means guiding athletes to push their physical limits in developmentally appropriate ways, and also setting boundaries to ensure long-term performance, development, and well-being. Mentally tough athletes understand that proper rest and recovery are a part of their training process. They are disciplined, consistent, and patient. And, they have the humility and courage to step out of the game if injured when “just playing through it” for the short-term glory jeopardizes their long-term goals.

Myth 4) Individuals working through mental health issues are mentally weak.
Mental health issues are becoming more prevalent and visible across competitive sport levels. Advocacy efforts of professional athletes (e.g., Kevin Love, Missy Franklin, Michael Phelps) have helped spark open conversation about mental health issues. These efforts are important because mainstream sport culture celebrates a “no pain, no gain” mentality and silences talk about mental health. Given increases in mental health issues among Generation Z athletes (and youth generally), talking about mental health and disrupting the notion that mental health struggles and toughness are incompatible are critical.

Mental strength includes (learned) attributes and skills that enable individuals to thrive in performance situations. Everyone has the ability to improve their mental strength, but the process to do so is unique to each person. While athletes with mental health issues may experience more adversity that hardly means they are mentally weak. In fact, athletes actually demonstrate and develop incredible mental strength through, not in spite of, their mental health struggles as Michael Phelps describes here.

Practical tips for building mentally strong athletes

Coaches are in an ideal position to challenge myths about mental toughness in order to help youth athletes build mental strength and change sport culture. Here are 4 practical tips to do so.

1. Work with, rather than, around parents.
Encourage parents to let their kids fail. More than this, communicate to parents and players that failure is necessary for learning and growth. Failure as necessary feedback conveys that “success” is not just about the outcome (i.e., winning) but about committing to a young athlete’s individual process—to becoming the best version of one’s self and getting better each day.

2. Create a “brave” space for athletes in training and games.
Coaches cultivate brave spaces by creating (optimally) challenging situations in which athletes are on their “learning” edge. For athletes to learn to embrace physical and mental challenges and uncertainty, coaches need to praise moments when players have the courage to take risks and attempt difficult tasks. We need to narrate that these moments are prime opportunities for growth so that athletes see value in pushing past their comfort zone. Brave spaces also have boundaries, and coaches must help athletes set these. We need to teach athletes how train smart and listen to their bodies. Along with giving athletes encouragement to test their limits, we must emphasize that recovery is a part, not the absence, of training.

3. Encourage athletes to become aware of their thoughts and emotions.
Invite athletes to view these internal experiences—whether they appraise them as positive or negative—as normal and potentially useful for achieving their goals. Guide athletes to define their values and long-term goals. Regularly check in with players and pose reflective questions to help them consider why they feel or think the way that they do, and whether/how those thoughts or emotions are helping or hurting them achieve their goals. Help them become aware of and responsive to their own (and others’) emotions instead of suppressing them or avoiding perspective taking.

4. Leverage social media to help athletes develop mental strength.
Social media impacts how our young people view failure and their development of mental strength. Social media is often used as a platform to make ourselves appear perfect. We rarely post (or view posts) of failure or adversity and more often see images of championship celebrations and college signing day. While I don’t want to discourage people from celebrating their successes, coaches can help athletes understand that social media largely shows the “positive” parts of others’ process. As coaches, we can use examples of professional athletes working through adversity to start conversations with youth athletes. We can also think critically about what we post (and invite athletes to do so), by asking the question: Is my post an effort to prove myself (and appear perfect) or capture my process?

 

Jill Kochanek is a doctoral student at the Institute for the Study of Youth Sport at Michigan State University. She is also a high school soccer coach. As a coach-scholar, Jill is passionate about bridging the research-practice gap to make sport a more inclusive, empowering context. Her research and applied work centers on helping athletes (and coaches) take charge of their own developmental process and social progress. If you enjoyed this article, feel free to visit her youth sport coaching blog, bothandcoaching.blog, for posts that address other topics related to sport psychology and sociology and follow her on Twitter @bothandcoaching.

The IYCA is dedicated to helping create better experiences for young athletes all over the world, and 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.

Letter to Parents – From Jim Kielbaso: What Did They Do When They Were Young?

Dear parents of young athletes,

I know you want your child to be the best, so I can understand why you like to watch training videos of world-class athletes so you can have him/her do what they’re doing.  You’re probably assuming that whatever the best athletes are doing is what your child should be doing, so they will end up like them.

I get it.  And, I know you just want to give your child the best, so they can be their best.     

Unfortunately, it seems like you’re missing one key component here – your child isn’t a world-class athlete yet, so he/she has different needs.  

World class athletes train a certain way because they have built a solid foundation of movement, strength, mobility, work capacity, power, skill, etc.  Their needs are more about refinement than development, so their training is very different than what they did when they were younger and trying to get to where they are today.  

Instead of looking at what the pros are doing NOW, look at what they did when they were your kid’s age.  This will give you insight into what helped them develop the foundation of athleticism they have today.  

Most world-class athletes participated in many sports/activities when they were young.  They typically engaged in more hours of various activities than less successful athletes, but they almost always did it because they loved it.  Athletes who achieve high levels of success have an internal drive at a young age to play sports. They wanted to go to the back yard or playground and practice because that’s what they loved doing. 

You can also look at professional sports clubs in other parts of the world where they start developing athletes at a young age.  In addition to playing plenty of soccer with amazing coaches, European soccer clubs have young kids doing all sorts of different activities like gymnastics, calisthenics, etc. that essentially act as their “second sport.”  Those coaches have seen the process play out through many years of coaching, and they don’t want their young athletes doing the same movements over and over again because it leads to injuries and a lack of overall athletic development. 

They don’t do these same things with their elite players because they understand that athletes at different ages/levels need different things.  The older athletes are lifting weights, doing structured speed work, and in the case of their elite professionals, fine-tuning their bodies to ensure longevity and optimal performance.  Training changes at each level because the needs are different. 

So, while it’s really interesting to watch videos of Stef Curry, Usain Bolt, Mike Trout, and Cristiano Ronaldo training, try to remember that they have very different needs than your child.  What you see them doing now is not what they did when they were your child’s age, so it would be inappropriate for you to copy their training programs.  

Instead, focus on fundamental motor skills, give them physical activities outside of their main sport, keep sports fun, and teach them to value the slow process of constant improvement.  Have them play other sports, and let them explore the full capacity of their bodies.  While you might not see the payoff this weekend, this is the path that most world-class athletes took, so have patience, and enjoy the experience of watching your young athlete slowly develop.   

Sincerely,

Jim

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.

 

Fun Games for Athletes – Erica Suter

Using fun games for athletes is a big part of the IYCA training philosophy, but many coaches simply don’t have enough games or fresh ideas in their repertoire to keep things interesting.fun games for athletes

“Left foot here!”
“Decelerate!”
“Sprint!”
“Dribble!”
“Faster!”
“Accelerate!”
“Be aggressive!”

Ever watched a youth sports practice and heard the coach instruct so much that it sounded like an ongoing commentary?

Nowadays, over-coaching runs rampant and is killing the fun, creative, and competitive nature of our youth. As much as coaches think they have every ounce of control over their players and are making them better from the flood of cues, they aren’t.

And chances are, if you’ve run an agility session, set up a swarm of zig-zag cones, and barked at kids on how to cut faster, their response was deflated and their movements were inefficient. Or maybe you’ve run a conditioning session, set up full-field suicides, or made them jog the good-old-lap around the field. Did you seem them run with excitement and full speed? My guess is ‘no.’

fun games for young athletesOn the other hand, if you had a session with fun games for athletes, like a game of tag, set up no limitations, and gave minimal coaching cues, their response was amped-up and their agility was faster than you could say undulating periodization. Not only that, but they were elated in their response and had unlimited energy to run around.

Less instruction. Less cues. Less screaming. Less rules. Less limitations.

Aiming to control every move, turn, and action of our youth athletes becomes counter-productive to building their creativity, improving their problem solving, and developing their basic motor skills in an exploratory fashion.

To that end, kids are so malleable – from their bodies to their brains – they crave novelty and the idea of simply “figuring it out.”

Allowing kids to play and enjoy a game at practice fills their souls with exuberance and life, while helping them improve balance, coordination, stability, agility, strength, conditioning and so much more.

Here are several ways to train various athletic skills using fun games for athletes:

1. Chase Races 

Let’s talk about training maximal speed.  Yes, let’s.

What kills me about self-proclaimed youth speed trainers, is they are getting technical just to get technical.

They have kids line up in a sprinter’s start, or perform A skips, or tap their feet through a ladder, or perform a monotony of wall acceleration drills. For the full hour session!

To avoid the mundane nature of drill sergeant sessions, I have an idea: to get kids faster, how about having them race?

Because no amount of barking “pump your arms!” or “drive your knees!” will suffice. What’s beautiful is, when you have them face an opponent, you bet their form cleans up and they’re going as hard as they can.

Race. I urge you.

I’d go as far as to say to vary the starts, or the stimuli that initiates the drill, whether this is auditory or visual or even touch.

Another nice tip is to give the leader a start from a disadvantage so they have to hustle to not get chased down, and the “chaser” has to work extra hard to catch them. This also eliminates boredom, and adds some spontaneity.

And as far as efficient agility, here is an amazingly fun game for athletes that improves shin angles, center of gravity, and maximal effort:

2. Mirror Drills
Competing to keep up with a teammate in the form of a mirror drill is one of the best ways to elicit maximum effort, while  tapping into the visual senses.  Here are a few examples of some of my favorite mirror drills:

3. Non-Primary Sport Games

When was the last time you had your soccer team play handball? Or your basketball team try dodgeball? Or your wrestling team play Capture the Flag? Or your softball team arm wrestle? It bodes well to venture away from the primary sport to explore athleticism further, and expose kids to a diverse menu of movement.

One of my favorites is 1v1 dodgeball. Though not my athletes’ primary sport of soccer, there is a myriad of skills carryover going on here: reactive ability, spatial awareness, upper body power, stability, and agility.

There’s also something magical about being put in an uncomfortable situation and being forced to adapt.  When using fun games for athletes, they don’t always need to be “sport specific” because you’re developing all-around athleticism and giving them a chance to utilize the skills you’ve trained in a way that’s different than normal.

4. Strength Competitions

This much I know: you can’t go wrong with getting strong.  Having competitions with the various strength and power movements, such as Pull Ups, Planks,  Jumps, Tosses, is a great way to create culture and get kids excited about training.

Here are a few competitions to try:

Broad Jump Competition for Lower Body Power – The only rule for this one is that players must stick their landing in order for their best measurement to count. What I’ve found is, instead of having them perform reps of jumps on their own, this competition actually improved their form.

Long Toss Competition for Upper, Core, and Hip Power:

Pull-Up Max Hold Competition for Upper Body and Core Strength:

Chaos Bear Hugs Competition for Core Stability and Wide Base of Support:

And this is just the beginning.

The best part about being a youth coach is that you have the freedom to be as creative as you like, to have fun with your drills, and to experiment with what makes kids compete, while smiling and laughing at the same time. You will find that you are just as pumped-up as the kids when executing fun drills in your sessions.

I hope these fun games for athletes help you to serve your players better, and inspire you to build off of the basic movement skills while you add your own sprinkle of fun and play.

Erica Suter is a 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.

 

The IYCA Certified Athletic Development Specialist is the gold-standard certification for anyone working with athletes 6-18 years old.  The course materials were created by some of the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the industry, and the content is indisputably the most comprehensive of any certification related to athletic development.  Learn more about the CADS certification here:

Overlooked Keys to a Great Push Up – Greg Schaible

The push up is one of those exercises that everyone loves to do, but few athletes or clients do them exceptionally well….

This video goes over three of the most important technical aspects of the movement: 

Most people understand the first point. The elbows should be at 45 degree angle or slightly under. Not too in close to the body or flared out really wide either.

Scapula thoracic positioning is a high priority during a push up. Rib cage retracted at the top of the push up with scapula sitting flush on the thorax. 

An important part of the serratus is to protract the scapula but also retraction of the rib cage. At the top of the push up, you should not see a medial border prominence of the scapula. At the bottom position of push up the scapula retracts. push up

Ensuring the athlete is avoiding hyper extension at the low back and anterior pelvic tilt will go a long ways to help this. The body should move as a unit up and down from the ground. A common analogy I use is “imagine your body as an elevator moving up and down together.” Keeping the position of the torso sturdy with the ribcage stacked over the pelvis helps locks in the mid-section, making it easier to move as a cohesive unit.

A final and often overlooked aspect of a push up is a slight forward lean when dropping down toward the ground so the chest is in line with the hands. Then pushing slightly backwards while pressing back up to the top position so the hands are directly underneath the shoulders. This angle of pressing is very similar to the bar path you should use while doing a bench press.

Pressing back is also an important component that helps the serratus become more active as you are pushing up towards 90 degrees even slightly above at top position of push up. Those who struggle with getting the medial inferior border flush on the thorax tend to benefit greatly from this aspect. As the shoulder moves to 90 degrees of flexion and slightly past the serratus becomes most active. So if you imagine pushing up and back, the shoulder starts moving through more flexion which often results in better usage of the serratus with the exercise.

Most people understand the first point. The elbows should be at 45 degree angle or slightly under. Not too in close to the body or flared out really wide either.

Scapula thoracic positioning is a high priority during a push up. Rib cage retracted at the top of the push up with scapula sitting flush on the thorax. 

An important part of the serratus is to protract the scapula but also retraction of the rib cage. At the top of the push up, you should not see a medial border prominence of the scapula. At the bottom position of pushup the scapula retracts. 

Ensuring the athlete is avoiding hyper extension at the low back and anterior pelvic tilt will go a long ways to help this. The body should move a unit up and down from the ground. A common analogy I use is “imagine your body as an elevator moving up and down together.” Keeping the position of the torso sturdy with the ribcage stacked over the pelvis helps locks in the mid-section, making it easier to move as a cohesive unit.

A final and often overlooked aspect of a push up is a slight forward lean when dropping down toward the ground so the chest is in line with the hands. Then pushing slightly backwards while pressing back up to the top position so the hands are directly underneath the shoulders. This angle of pressing is very similar to the bar path you should use while doing a bench press.

Pressing back is also an important component that helps the serratus become more active as you are pushing up towards 90 degrees even slightly above at top position of push up. Those who struggle with getting the medial inferior border flush on the thorax tend to benefit greatly from this aspect. As the shoulder moves to 90 degrees of flexion and slightly past the serratus becomes most active. So if you imagine pushing up and back, the shoulder starts moving through more flexion which often results in better usage of the serratus with the exercise.

Dr. Greg Schaible is a physical therapist and strength coach specializing in athletic performance and a regular contributor the the IYCA. Greg is the owner of On Track Physiotherapy and owner of the popular online education resource Sports Rehab Expert. Greg works with athletes and active individuals of all ages. As a former athlete himself, he attended The University of Findlay and 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.

 

Dr. Schaible was instrumental in putting together the completely updated version of the Youth Athletic Assessment Specialist 2.0 course that covers a wide range of screens, performance assessments, and advanced assessment techniques.  Learn more about the YAAS 2.0 by clicking the image below.

11 Ways to Manage Challenging Parents and Coaches – Brett Klika

When youth strength coaches discuss their barriers to success with young athletes, dealing with difficult parents and coaches is often high on the list.

In nearly 20 years as a youth strength and conditioning coach, I’ve had thousands of positive experiences with parents and coaches. It’s amazing to work as a team to create a 360-degree support system that functions to amplify a young athlete’s success in sports and life.

I’ve also had experiences that left me questioning if I wanted to remain in this profession. Overbearing parents, undermining coaches, and a dysfunctional interaction of all of the above can derail the unique opportunity we have to positively impact a child’s life.

Over the years, I’ve developed some powerful strategies to solidify and improve overall cohesiveness with parents and coaches. It’s important to realize that for the most part, everyone involved with the development of a young athlete is acting on what they believe to be the best for their child. Engaging in a constant battle of “who is right” always ends poorly.

A far more effective approach is to establish clear communication and expectations, so everyone involved understands the intended outcome and their values with the process are aligned. It’s also important to evaluate the role our own ego plays in making or breaking a relationship.

Below are 11 different strategies that have proven successful for me in my career to create a functional, positive relationship between myself, parents, and coaches.

1. During the initial consultation, focus the questions and conversation towards the athlete. At times, this may require respectfully and artfully “cutting off” the parent if they try to answer a question directed towards the athlete.

Even though this appears to be dismissing the parent, I have received repeated feedback that this made the parent feel at ease because they knew I was focused on the needs of their child. It also helps establish an initial dynamic without being confrontational.

2. When talking to parents and coaches, prioritize a “how can we help you?” tone as opposed to “this is what we do with athletes” tone. Ask questions like “What do you value in a coach?” “What do you see as the ultimate outcome of your child playing sports?” This not only provides valuable insight, it helps parents and coaches feel heard vs. spoken to. This makes them more confident that you have their best interests in mind.

 

3. Listen to the language that parents, coaches, and athletes use when describing what they need/expect from a program. This is the language they understand, even if the semantics are off a bit. Whenever possible, use their language when sharing the details of your program. Don’t’ start a battle of egos by coming off condescending. There will be plenty of time for semantics while training.

4. Develop an understanding of where their points of concern may be with your program before it begins. You may use play and games frequently. You may take time to build a progression. You may focus on general aspects of conditioning vs. sport specific training (as you should). While these represent the best approach to training youth, the parent or coach’s lack of understanding of the process may cause reason for question.

Address these concerns out of the gait. “We use a lot of games to teach athletic skills because…” “You’ll see them doing a lot of things you may have seen in physical education classes. We do this because…” Addressing these at the onset of a program both verbally, and in a concise take-home document helps establish an expectation. They may decide that your approach isn’t in line with theirs, right or wrong. This saves headaches down the road!

5. Communicate frequently with coaches and parents. Most parents and coaches start to become overbearing when they don’t know or understand what you are doing with their child. Learn to keep things brief and specific. If parents are not present at training, take video whenever possible. When a child is training in a group, make sure to check in with each parent at least once per week. A quick face- to- face or text puts their mind at ease and lets them know you are on top of things.

6. When a parent brings an athlete to train, get their coach’s email address and let them know you are working with the athlete. Ask questions and frequently update the coach. When the coach is in the loop and respects your work, parents (even difficult ones) are more likely to as well.

7. If working with a coach and his/her team, make sure you have a line of communication to parents. This could be an occasional email, newsletter, or other way to create value for your services. When you have parents support, coaches often follow suit. After all, most coaches are ultimately hired and fired by some form of parent intervention.

8. Consider the “optics” of your training environment to coaches and parents. Even if you’re doing what would be considered the “right” stuff, if athletes aren’t engaged, challenged, and moving it doesn’t look good. You may be practicing great squat technique but if the training room is silent, your athletes are dead-faced, and there’s no sweat on their brow, it’s a hard sell to everyone involved.

Learn how to do the right stuff in a way that leaves young athletes sweating, smiling, and smarter.

9. Don’t undermine a coach, even if you don’t agree with their approach. There is no positive outcome in this scenario. If differences arise, immediately have a discussion. If a solution cannot be reached, part ways ASAP. From experience, I can promise this will actually save time, money, and headaches. There are a lot of kids that need and want your help.

10. The same as above goes for a coach that undermines your work. Have a discussion and make a decision ASAP. Don’t go to war. Attempting to bash one another’s reputation can have nuclear implications to everyone’s ability to help kids. Take the high road and prove them wrong in your community with action and reputation. Trust me, they will sink their own ship.

11. Check your ego. I’ve witnessed so many strength coach/sport coach/parent relationships go south due to semantic arguments and over-dogmatic convention. The same bad experiences we’ve had with parents and sport coaches, they have probably had with professionals like us.

Resist automatically dismissing parent and coach concerns about your program. This is hard to do. It’s true that some relationships just aren’t going to work, but it’s important to evaluate your role in increasing or decreasing the likelihood of this.

While all of the above will dramatically decrease the obstacles you face with parents and coaches, “toxic” individuals still exist. Make sure you’re not contributing to the sludge, cut them loose, and move on. These decisions can be difficult because we truly care about their kids and we may depend on the income.

From experience however, I can attest that the time and energy drain from these relationships create a drastically negative net result on impact and income. A single parent or coach can derail your ability, energy, and interest in helping kids.

When we communicate, listen, and check our own ego more often, we have a greater opportunity to help more kids become active and athletic for life.

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

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

 

Relatedness: Building Relationships & Buy-In – Jared Markiewicz

Setting the Foundation for Motivating Athletes

I want to walk you through a situation that happens to me often in the gym:

I see my athlete, Drake, and his heels are coming off the floor as he transitions from the eccentric to the concentric portion of the squat.

So I cue him: “drive down through the floor to stand up.”

Now I walk away to coach someone else since his set is done. 

A few minutes later, I am watching from a distance and I see after his second rep, his heels come off the floor. But then rep 3, 4 and 5, he adjusts and plants that foot hard into the floor, not only coming up more balanced, but faster!

I’m PUMPED!!!!

So after the set I go over, give him a big high five and ask, “Man Drake, did you feel that? You came up so fast and stable, that was great!”

And he goes, “Um yeah I guess I felt that…”

Ever happen to you?

Here’s the thing, almost no one we train is going to get as excited about squatting or a perfectly executed wall drill as we are.

But motivation, or “buy-in” as it’s been termed, is CRITICAL if we want our athletes to excel and stick with us for the long haul.

And if we want to improve “buy-in,” with ANYONE, we need to satisfy three components on a regular basis: relatedness, competency and autonomy.

  • Relatedness: our ability to connect with the individual’s interests, desired outcomes and pain points
  • Competency: providing the structure to develop knowledge and skill sets beyond their current baseline, ideally with carryover to performance and resiliency
  • Autonomy: establishing guidelines and boundaries so the individual can take ownership in achieving the desired outcome

These basic needs were recognized by Dr. Edward Deci and Dr. Richard Ryan, as important factors for increasing motivation levels in individuals and necessary for optimal growth and function. (see Self-Determination Theory)

For the typical coach, you are going to have three scenarios where it is your job to make sure motivation levels are consistently improving i.e. “increasing buy-in”:

  • Coach to Staff
  • Coach to Athlete
  • Staff to Athlete

This short video will help explain these concepts and scenarios, and set up a series on how to implement this information.

In the following video,s and the upcoming series on this topic, I will walk you through some simple action steps and the goals associated to create better buy-in.  We will explore the differences between how you will approach each of the scenarios (coach-staff, coach-athlete, staff-athlete) for the three components (relatedness, competency, autonomy) so that you can slowly apply these techniques for each situation.

By taking and applying these concepts, you will develop stronger, long-lasting relationships with both your athletes and staff – the key to making a big impact on our industry!

Let’s begin with the concept of Relatedness.

Relatedness: Coach to Staff

When creating “buy in” from your staff, it’s important for them to understand your past: where have you been, what have you done and what have you learned.

You want them to know you can relate to them. More importantly, you want to shorten the learning curve.

You have career capital to call upon, both good and bad. Give them a jump start by emulating your good experiences and applying the lessons behind the bad ones. As the Golden Rule states, “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

And since we are talking the Golden Rule, listening and learning is a two-way street! EVERYONE loves to tell their story. So ask where they came from, what they have done and what they have learned. You will go further faster than ever before.

Action Step: Consistent conversations with your team or staff. Schedule them if necessary. We call ours “Huddles”

Goal: Learn and apply the knowledge you have gained to strengthen the common ground you all stand on TOGETHER!

Relatedness: Coach to Athlete

Scenario #1:

Coach – “Hey, how was school today Camryn?”

Camryn – “Good” –without ever looking up from her phone…

Scenario #2:

Coach – “Hey Camryn, I see you are on your phone, who is your favorite person to follow on Instagram?

Camryn – “Huh? You really want to know? Um, well it’s this hockey player but you don’t probably know her”

Coach – “Probably, but if you like her, I’m curious why. What makes her interesting to follow?”

Pretty easy to see which series of questions is going to stimulate a conversation and develop a level of relatedness not often achieved between adult and teenager.

When conversing with your athletes, you have to meet them where they are. We are NOT working with mini adults, despite what they might want you to believe!

Asking questions relevant to things they care about may take some work on your part. But aren’t the greatest teachers and parents making that kind of effort everyday? Why wouldn’t you, if you are a great coach?

Additionally, technology interrupts every social setting a teenager encounters. So when you do get an answer from them, give your undivided attention and ask follow up questions. You will be amazed how effective this can be!

Action Step: Have five go-to questions to create a conversation (adjust and replace as needed)

Goal: Achieve a response that leads to a brief conversation (at least) from all of your athletes in a reasonable amount of time. If possible, jot down some notes to study and recall later.

For some coaches with only a few athletes, the goal above might mean you need to get creative and you should have a conversation like this multiple times a week. For other coaches, who are in charge of 200 athletes across various sports, this may take some time.

Know your situation and adapt to it!

Relatedness: Staff to Athlete

“Oh man, Coach Jared is training us today! Where’s Coach Max, he’s way more fun!”

Music to my ears ☺

As you transition off the training floor, you don’t need to go out of your way to be an a$$hole coach. Let’s face it, there are plenty of a$$holes in this world already.

Instead, if you empower your staff to develop stronger relationships with your athletes, the above scenario will become more and more common over time.

So how do we get through the double whammy of getting coaches to “buy in” to the idea of getting our athletes “bought in?”

My answer: coCompetition and prizes!

Action Step: Create a challenge where the staff member is expected to get and recall responses from Athletes. To get started, you need three things

What your staff values for prizes
Parameters set: time, amount of touches/recalls, information expected
Opportunity to test and measure it!

For Example:

Performance coaching staff loves burritos (wait what coaches DON’T love burritos!) So the prize is a $25 gift card to Chipotle
Parameters:
Duration: Month of June
Info: Favorite pet/Favorite show/Favorite food
Goal: Ask 75% of their athletes (you calculate the number for them) and expect them to recall five of them at the end of the month.
Give them a spreadsheet to write these down but tell them they can track the info however they like
Test it: Any coach that gets all 75% and recalls the five randomly selected athletes gets a gift card to Chipotle

Goal: Increase trust level between athletes and staff without your involvement.

These videos and descriptions should give you a fairly thorough understanding of how to integrate the concept of Relatedness to multiple situations.  Stay tuned for the rest of this series when we address Competence and Autonomy.

 

jared markiewiczJared Markiewicz is the founder and CEO of Functional Integrated Training, in Madison, WI.  Jared has worked with a wide array of athletes including middle schoolers, collegiate and professional athletes, as well as adults – all looking to find the best version of themselves.  He sits on the IYCA Advisory Board, has gone through many IYCA certifications, and is a regular contributor and speaker for the IYCA.

Jared holds a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s also a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM-CPT), an Advanced Sport Performance Coach through USA Weightlifting, a Level 2 Functional Movement Screen Specialist, a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach (PN1) and a golf fitness instructor through Titleist Performance Institute.

 

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.

Narrow Your Niche, Increase Your Impact – Brett Klika

We’ve all heard the old adage “A Jack of all trades is a master of none”.

This holds true to nearly every aspect of life, including the role many of us have assumed as a youth strength and conditioning coach.

In becoming a youth coach, we’ve definitely narrowed down our focus of mastery. However, within “youth” there are now more varied needs than Youth Fitness Coachever. Sport coaches, classroom teachers, and parents are now looking for specific solutions to the specific needs of niche populations within youth.

These niche populations may not be served effectively under the “come all” strength and conditioning program model many offer within their facilities and institutions.  Strength and conditioning coaches willing to be in tune with, and master, solutions to specific needs within their community have an opportunity to change the message of their program from “We can help A child” to “We can help YOUR child”.

As you can see, the latter is a much stronger message and mission if I’m a parent or organization selecting a program for my young athlete(s).  This makes your program not merely “A” program available. It makes it “THE” program available for a specific demographic. The result is an ever-growing, long-term, successful program with a uniquely positive impact on the community.

Consider the 4 youth niches below that may represent underserved needs within your community.

5-8 Year Old Athletes

Despite the ages of 6-12 representing some of the most critical years for motor development, few quality development programs are available for the youngest cohort in this age range. There was a time that physical education took care of these kids, but statistics suggest that is no longer the case.

Many professionals shy away from working with young children due to inexperience, lack of patience with short attention spans, and children’s largely unfocused, endless energy. With proper training, resources, and experience however, this energy can fuel a fun and engaging program for this demographic of kids who need it the most.

While many shy away, tremendous opportunities exist for those who are knowledgeable, passionate, and focused on helping grade school age children.

Female Athletes

Fortunately, sports are not the “boys club” they once were. Sports participation amongst young women and girls is at an all-time high.  Despite this increase, young women’s access to quality strength and conditioning programs is often limited compared to their young male counterparts. Due to an inaccurate cultural convention, misinformed coaches, and a variety of other factors, strength training has not traditionally been embraced as part of young female athlete culture.

Coaches that create exclusive opportunities to educate young female athletes and their communities about the importance of strength training for performance and injury prevention have the opportunity to stand out in a crowded market.

Athletes with Special Needs

A growing number of youngsters are being diagnosed as “special needs” due to behavioral or developmental pathology. These kids benefit greatly from exercise programs, however, few coaches have experience or expertise with this demographic.

A variety of courses, certifications, and other educational opportunities are becoming available for those looking to help these kids.  Programs that specialize in working with athletes with autism, ADHD, and other special needs offer a much-needed service to an underserved population.

Homeschooled Children

Nearly 2 million children are homeschooled in the United States. These kids have standard academic requirements that include physical education. They also participate in sports. Parents of homeschooled children often struggle when it comes to creating a physical education curriculum for one child.

Additionally, homeschool parents are challenged with finding opportunities for their kids to socialize with other kids during school hours.

Coaches and facilities that are in tune with the needs of homeschooled kids and parents have an opportunity to offer a needed service with little to no market competition. Additionally, these kids are not bound by the hours of the typical academic day. Groups and classes can be run during the typically “slow” hours in the morning or early afternoon.  

Serving these special niches requires more than merely adding a class to your schedule. Parents, coaches and communities value experts. An expert will prompt a parent to overcome the barriers of money, transportation, and time to bring their child to a program.

If you are looking to grow your programs by becoming an expert that serves a niche, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What are the specific aspirations/fears of the parents/athletes associated with this niche?
  2. What education/experience is necessary to serve this niche?
  3. Why are you passionate and committed to serving this specific population?
  4. What are the needs outside of exercise that could be addressed with these kids/parents?
  5. What key organizations could you create a relationship with that could act as a referral or endorsement for your program?
  6. Who are others that have created programs for this specific demographic?

The answers to these questions can help you and your business increase your success and positive impact within your community.

 

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.