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Archive for “Coaching Young Athletes” Category

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 owner of Impact Sports Performance in 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.

 

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.

Empathy in Coaching – Jim Kielbaso

Many coaches pride themselves on having high expectations and holding athletes to them. Setting standards and holding athletes accountable is a great way to raise their levels of performance and maturity. But, as the concept of emotional intelligence (EQ) grows in the coaching world, we’re finding it more and more important to understand what’s underneath the way athletes act rather than always taking the “my way or the highway” approach.  While a balanced approach is optimal for most situations, it’s important to understand how EQ can positively contribute to many coaching situations.  

In Daniel Goleman’s book Working With Emotional Intelligence, he determined that there are five fundamental features of EQ, each with their own benefits:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Empathy
  4. Motivation
  5. Social skills

While all of these are important, empathy may be the most difficult for coaches to utilize. To be empathetic means you are able to identify and understand others’ emotions i.e. imagining yourself in someone else’s position.  It does not mean you have to take on their feelings or change your expectations.  

Coaches often have a difficult time with this because we are focused on processes, strategies, solutions, and outcomes. Anything that might get in the way of progress is to be demolished so the goal can be accomplished. Having empathy seems like it’s going to slow everything down which often makes coaches feel like they’re lowering their standards. That’s a misapplication of empathy, and usually suggests a lack of understanding.

Let’s take a look at the benefits Goleman laid out and some ways he suggests for developing empathy (these have been altered slightly for coaches):

Benefits of empathy:

  • Provides you with an understanding of how an individual feels and why they behave in a certain way. As a result, your compassion and your ability to help someone increases because you respond genuinely to concerns.
  • Especially helpful when delivering constructive feedback.
  • Being empathetic shows your team that you care. For example, if a coach reacts angrily after finding out that an athlete has been arriving late because a family member is unwell, the team is likely to react negatively towards the coach. It would be more favorable for the coach to be understanding and agree on a plan of action with the athlete.
  • Athletes will respect you more and subsequently, performance, unity, and cohesiveness will improve.

How to develop empathy:

  • Imagine yourself in someone else’s position. Even if you have not experienced a similar situation, remember a situation where you have felt the same emotion an athlete is experiencing.
  • Practice listening without interrupting. This can be very difficult when you are angry, so self-control must be practiced.
  • Observe the athlete and try to gauge how they’re feeling.
  • Never ignore an athlete’s emotions, for example, if an athlete looks upset don’t disregard this – address it.
  • Try to understand first, rather than form a judgment immediately. For example, you may initially feel annoyed by an athlete who seems cold or disinterested. However, after discovering they suffer from social anxiety you may feel more sympathetic, which can help you communicate more effectively with that person.
  • To communicate your empathy, keep your body language open and regulate your voice to show your sincerity. This does not mean you take on the feelings; you simply understand them.

Because empathy seems “soft” to many coaches, it can feel like you’re giving up a lot of control and lowering expectations. Coaches often (incorrectly) assume that they have to take on the burden of an athlete’s emotions. This is not the case at all.

Understanding feelings and taking them on are two very different things. Coaches should strive to understand, but you rarely want to take on the emotions of others. That’s not only unhealthy, it will cloud judgement and your ability to lead and make decisions.

While you’re understanding one athlete, you also have to be aware that the rest of the group still needs you, so you have to learn how to address emotions without disrupting everything else around you. Sometimes you’ll need to wait until there is a natural break in activity. Other times, you can pull an athlete aside while the others are completing a task that doesn’t require as much direct supervision.

Coaches also make the incorrect assumption that they have to fix everyone’s problems if they listen to them. Again, this is not the case. Understanding emotions does not mean you are responsible for fixing whatever created them. This can be difficult because coaches love to solve problems, but that is not usually recommended.  In fact, it is often appropriate to explain to an athlete that you are not there to “solve” their problem.  Instead, you may be able to adjust your approach based on the knowledge you have about what they are dealing with.  

Having empathy may be most important with younger athletes who have yet to experience true “ignition.”  Ignition is essentially a potent experience that causes a person to fall in love with their passion.  For athletes, that can be experiencing success, having fun, or meeting someone impactful.  Daniel Coyle wrote about ignition in his book The Talent Code, and wrote an excellent essay called Rules of Ignition that is a highly recommended quick-read if you’re not familiar with the concept.  

Once a child falls in love with a sport, he/she will go to great lengths to participate and improve their skills.  This is what drove Wayne Gretzky to practice shooting hour after hour or Magic Johnson to dribble and play from sun-up to sun-down.  Unfortunately, most young athletes never experience this.  Without a passion for a sport, it makes it very difficult for kids to fully enjoy practicing and makes it nearly impossible for them to spend the energy necessary to achieve great success.  

When we recognize that an athlete has not experienced this kind of ignition, we may be able to take a slightly different approach than we would if the athlete was 100% bought-in.  Because we know how important passion is to athletic success, we may even try to be the catalyst that creates that passion.  Simply knowing that an 11 year old athlete had a bad experience with a sport may be enough for us to realize how important it is to create an exceptional experience in order to get the “train back on the tracks.”  A properly timed word of encouragement, an honest compliment, or a little extra time spent 

On the other hand, knowing that a 15 year old athlete is fully engaged and motivated may prompt us to turn up the intensity and raise the demands in order to accelerate progress. 

Other times, a good coach can use EQ to actually motivate an athlete.  By putting yourself in the athlete’s shoes, you’ll have a better understanding of what might motivate them.  You’ll know what to say, how to say it, and when to say it.  Rather than using generic motivational statements, you’ll be able to personalize the message because you’ll see each athlete as more than a science experiment. 

Seeing the whole person through EQ allows a coach to use a much wider range of coaching, teaching, and motivational tools.  It will help strengthen relationships and open up more opportunities to make a positive impact.  Taking the time to develop empathy and EQ can pay off in ways that other coaches will never experience, and should be seen as being just as important as technical skills.  Practice the tips above, and over time, you’ll notice positive changes in both yourself and your athletes.  

Action Potentials, Plants & Paul Revere: The Spread of LTAD & A Call to Action – Joe Eisenmann

Currently, there is considerable interest, discussion and debate about long-term athlete development (LTAD) in America. The IYCA is one of several groups educating and creating awareness on this topic, and there have been several excellent blogs and resources made available.

My entire life has been dedicated to the growing, maturing, exercising, and performing youngster. In the past year, I have given several talks along the lines of ‘LTAD: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ that cover a range of topics and concepts such as the current issues in youth sports and physical activity; the history and underpinnings of Long Term Athlete Development; the USOC American Development Model and the NSCA Long Term Athlete Development position statement; athleticism, physical literacy, and fundamental movement skills; training and sports science; and implementation.  Along the way, I unearth the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

(If you are interested in hearing the full story consider attending the 2019 IYCA Summit, May 3-4 where I will be presenting a more in-depth analysis of LTAD.)

Since several other IYCA articles have outlined the basic tenets of LTAD, I’m not going to repeat them here. Likewise, most of us, if not all, are familiar with the ills of youth sports (e.g., over-competition and undertraining, early specialization, bad coaching, ‘microwaving’ young athletes, the win at all costs culture, overzealous parents, pay to play, etc.), along with inadequate school physical education and the resultant low levels of physical activity and fitness in today’s youth. Collectively, these issues add up to a repulsive grade of ‘C’ on the Aspen Institute’s Project Play Report Card on Youth Sports and the US Physical Activity Report Card. And, many consider this “grade inflation”!

So if I’m not going to write about principles of LTAD, what do I want to convey in this piece?

I’ve said this many times – we have the framework – a blueprint for athlete development and quality coaching. Now, we just need to implement it and hold the adults running youth sport programs accountable! And yes, that is easier said than done. But if we truly want to realize the human potential and outcomes of a physically active and fit culture and a youth sports system that provides a positive experience than it’s worth our time and energy.

Action Potentials, Plants and Paul Revere

So what the heck do action potentials, plants and Paul Revere have to do with LTAD? There is a word that ties these things together – propagation.

An action potential generated at the axon hillock propagates as a wave along the axon. The current spreads out along the axon, and depolarizes the adjacent sections of its membrane.

Plant propagation is the process of growing new plants from a variety of sources: seeds, cuttings, and other plant parts.

And Paul Revere? Recall from elementary school history and the Revolutionary War – One, if by land, and two, if by sea. These were the words penned in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem of Paul Revere’s midnight ride to alert the Patriots how the British were coming.  

But still, what does this have to do with propagation? And LTAD?

Paul Revere was a propagator of information as he rode north towards Lexington alerting colonial militias along his route. In turn, by the end of the night about 40 riders were spreading the news and alerting others about the British Redcoats.

Think about it – an action potential, plants, and Paul Revere. From 1 signal, 1 piece of a plant, and 1 man grew a vast wave that impacted many.

spread of ltad

A call to action and a challenge….to propagate

So the good news is that there is increasing attention and interest in LTAD (or at least the ills of youth physical development) – we see it in news media, social media, and the USOC and its National Governing Bodies are beginning to push the American Development Model.  

However, we need to propagate and spread the message. If I am Paul Revere, you – the youth sports performance specialists, the physical educator, the strength and conditioning coach – are the next set of riders equipped to carry the message.

There are several reasons that the strength and conditioning coach can have an impact on LTAD in the community. First, the general skillset of the strength and conditioning coach includes the ability to teach the fundamental movement skills of body control, locomotion and object control and also the foundational movements of squat, lunge, pushes, pulls, rotation, sprinting, jumping, and change of direction.

Another important role the strength and conditioning coach (especially those with sport-specific acumen and experience) can fill is that of a coach educator and coach developer in the community. An off-season and/or pre-season coach education clinic that goes beyond the X’s and O’s (tactical) and provides a framework for quality coaching is well within the abilities of most strength and conditioning coaches. This clinic may include topics such as: the role of a coach, effective communication, motivating young athletes, teaching skills, designing effective practices, character development, and leadership. In addition, this is a good opportunity to discuss the general principles of LTAD and fundamental movement skills acquisition.

Beyond this one-time coach education, the strength and conditioning coach could potentially serve as a Coach Developer – educating, mentoring and overseeing the volunteer coaches in terms of appropriate coaching behaviour, practice planning, and conducting a practice with the overall goal to develop and improve coaches so that players maximize their potential at all ages.

So, this is my challenge – put this article done and start thinking about how you can impact your community. Who are the stakeholders that need to be involved? How will you communicate and work collaboratively with the coaches, parents and other stakeholders? You have the understanding of LTAD and the skillset to educate and implement fundamental movement skills and proper strength and conditioning activities that develop athleticism, and you have the ability to lead. What are you waiting for? Let’s go, you are Paul Revere – spread the word and prepare the foot soldiers for battle!

Men are mortal. So are ideas. An idea needs propagation as much as a plant needs watering. Otherwise both will wither and die.

B.R. Ambedkar

joe eisenmannJoe Eisenmann, PhD has dedicated his entire career and lifestyle to the physical development of young people in the context of physical activity, youth sports and fitness. His diverse roles have included youth sports coach, professor, researcher, strength and conditioning coach, sport scientist, Director of Spartan Performance and Director of High Performance and Coach Education at USA Football. Currently, he works with Volt Athletics, SPT, the NSCA, Leeds Beckett University and the UC-Irvine Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center. He can be reached at joeeisenmann@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @Joe_Eisenmann

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

How Physical Activity Enhances Brain Power – Erica Suter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s dive in:

1. Give them movement autonomy.

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

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

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

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

2. Do cross-body movements daily.

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

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

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

Cross Crawl

Crawling Coupling

3. Make fitness fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Athletic Scholarships & Dream Teams – Greg Schaible

The allure of earning athletic scholarships drives people to take massive action.  This phenomenon has been around for years, but it seems to be intensifying.  This article will address some of the factors involved in earning athletic scholarships and will use my personal experiences to illustrate the challenges of this process. 

Competition vs. Talent Stacking

First it was the Dream Team!

Then it was the Big 3 with Lebron, Wade, and Bosh.

Now it’s the Warriors or pretty much anywhere Lebron is playing.

It seems to be most prevalent in the NBA but certainly it happens across all pro sports to a certain extent. For TV ratings and viewership this is probably just going to become the new normal within professional sports. It’s starting to happen more and more at the collegiate level with recruits teaming up and all heading to one school to play ball. I even see this to some extent in high school with players transferring schools just to play on a different team.

While it certainly can make for some exciting teams. I think we need to be cautious of how much we let this mindset start trickling down into high school and especially youth athletics.

Before I give my argument against the Dream Teams, I want to first give a reason why they can be beneficial for an athlete.

Competition creates improvement. Without competition complacency starts to set in. If you are constantly competing against (or practicing against) someone just as good as you, if not better than you, it will force you to up your game.

I’ve experienced this first-hand running track in college. My event was the 400m. We had five really good 400m runners on that team, but only four were going to make the relay team. It pushed all five of us to be better and continually push ourselves in practice. Practice, as we all know, is where the improvements are made, so if practices are not competitive, nobody gets better.

Going to a “Dream Team” where you would get to practice and compete with the best of the best only makes sense then….right?

Possibly… If that is your mindset going into the move.

However, if that competitive mindset isn’t already established. The athlete may just be taking the easy route to wining a championship and perhaps college exposure and earning athletic scholarships.

A big part about youth and high school athletics is developing a competitive mindset.

Some would call it grit or resiliency.

Giving athletes the easy route to championships at an early age may do more harm than good both in that athlete’s career, and their approach to life.

And, for most kids, that is what athletics should be about – learning about life and how to deal with adversity through lessons learned in sports.

Coaches and parents need to encourage a developmental process for kids. They are certainly not going to have that outlook initially, especially in the day and age of social media showing highlight reels but never highlighting the process.

Obsession with D1 Athletic Scholarships

Kids (and parents) have a love affair with D1 athletic scholarships. In my opinion, the whole D1 scholarship is over-glorified. If you or your kid has the opportunity for a D1 scholarship, that is an awesome accomplishment, and you should take pride in that! However, it shouldn’t be the reason you pick a school, and it’s not the end of the world if you don’t receive any D1 offers.

I grew up in a small town (graduated with just over 100 kids in my class). Needless to say, my high school isn’t the first stop on a big D1 school’s recruiting trail.

I played football, basketball, and track in high school and received interest from a number of DII and DIII school to play different sports. It was my dream as a kid though to go D1. I eventually did get a couple letters from D1 programs saying I could be a preferred walk-on in Track, and if I scored points in the conference meet, that I could work myself into a scholarship.

With aspirations to go D1, I jumped at the opportunity!

A couple lessons here: 1) If you are good enough, schools will find you….usually.  With social media, YouTube, and highlight tapes being passed around, it’s very easy for a school to catch wind of you. 2) I was extremely naive in high school, assuming that colleges would find me.  It may sound contrary to point #1, but you have to be pro-active about the process.  

I sent out zero highlight films to schools and went to zero showcases for any sports. Schools still found me, but I would have received many more offers if I’d done a little more work to be seen. If you are serious about wanting to play at the next level and earning athletic scholarships, you need to make it a point to be seen. Go to showcases, send film to schools you’d like to go to even if you don’t think they’d watch. I’ve heard of several athletes getting athletic scholarships by doing this. It shows the coach you care, and if they offer you a scholarship it’s usually because a specific intangible they see in you or you fit well with the system or coaching scheme they run.

But again, don’t forget about YOUR ability to develop as an athlete and a person. This is what I did not understand when choosing a university.

I ended up going to that D1 program as a preferred walk on, only to be cut from the team at the end of the very first semester on campus. People from relatively small towns are not exposed to how many great athletes are actually out there. Up until that point, I was always the best on the team and had never been cut before. I thought athletic scholarships were pretty easy to get. 

Getting cut sucked! But looking back, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

I ended up transferring to a DII school and ran track at the University of Findlay. Like I mentioned before, we had five really good 400m runners on that team and many other very talented athletes. This taste of adversity forced me to work harder to get better. When all was said and done, I ended up running faster times than anyone from the D1 school I was originally cut from. I also had the opportunity to compete nationally at the DII level earning All-American honors. I received an athletic scholarship in undergrad, and, after my athletic career was over, I worked as a graduate assistant for the athletic department as I finished my doctorate degree.

I say none of this to brag, but to only bring your awareness to the possibilities elsewhere!  It’s all about finding the right fit.  I feel very fortunate that I found the right fit.  

Most athletes who play a sport in college are going to be doing it for the love of the game, the competitiveness inside of them, and the perks that come along with being an athlete at a University. Some will have the ability to take it to the professional level. Like I said before, if you are good enough, someone will find you no matter if you are DI/DII/DIII or junior college.

Select an environment that allows you to develop as an athlete but also a person. Go to a school where you can both compete and play (in practice and games). Choose the opportunity to play, and as a result, you will get better!

One final aside.

The ability to go somewhere to play a sport you love, and possibly receive athletic scholarships for it, is a privilege (no matter the level) that not many people get. I see way too many athletes waste the opportunity by not taking advantage of it with their academics. I didn’t know it at the time, but being cut and transferring also saved me 10-20 years of paying down student debt.

Sports can bring you countless opportunities if you choose to look at it that way. It’s important to recognize that it’s an opportunity to grow as an athlete and person, so don’t put up blinders and have tunnel vision to what may seem glamorous at the time.

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.

Training Kids With Autism: The LDD Approach – Eric Chessen

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

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

“Squat.” (Then I demonstrate the squat)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Conditioning Games for Young Athletes – Brett Klika

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

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

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

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

Letter Agility 

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

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

Dirty and Clean 

This is a great activity for large spaces and teams.

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

Compass Calisthenics 

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

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

Human Cone Drill (Jumping Jacks) 

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

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

Partner Mirror Drill 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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:

 

Top 10 Posts of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metabolic Conditioning for Athletes, Part 1 – Phil Hueston

Metabolic conditioning has been a “buzz phrase” in the fitness profession for many years now. Before that, it was the subject of research dating back at least 40 years.

So when I hear a certain “Biggest Loser” trainer telling the world she coined the phrase, I just have to shake my head.  Ummm, yeah….I’m gonna need you to stop that. If you could just go ahead and remember it’s a science phrase, that’d be great. Thanks!

Metabolic conditioning (metcon) has been defined as the use of exercise to increase the storage and delivery of energy for any activity.

Bergeron defined it in 2011 as “exercises that impose a moderate to high demand on the cardiovascular system and energy metabolism of the active muscle fibers to meet with the muscles’ repeated high energy requirement.” (Current Sports Medicine Reports, 2011)

Essentially, metabolic conditioning is the improvement of energy storage, delivery, and usage through the application of activity to the movement system of the body.

What is energy, exactly?

We’ve all felt a little less than energetic. We’ve probably all been in a room full of people brimming with energy. Little children seem to have endless amounts of it.

But what is energy as it relates to the human body? Where does the energy to run our body systems come from? What fuels movement? When we run low or need more, where does it come from?

The truth is that energy is all around us. All matter is energy, in all its forms. We use energy to workout and we use energy to drive our cars and heat our homes.

The first law of thermodynamics says that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. It can only change phase or form.

Einstein figured this out when he postulated his theory about energy. He used the formula E=mc² to explain it. E is energy, m the mass of an object while the c² represents a constant, in this case, the speed of light in a vacuum. By his formula, we can ascertain the amount of energy inside any mass. A change in the energy of an object would result in the mass changing and vice-versa. He created his now-famous formula to quantify the way in which mass releases energy, and how a huge amount of energy can be released from a relatively small amount of mass. He also realized that there is a lot more energy inside an atom than in its valence electrons (unpaired electrons in the outer shell of an atom.) So if you split an atom, you release an amount of energy many times that contained in the electrons in the shell.

But, let’s talk about how this applies to us and the energy our athletes need – the energy for movement and cellular activity. To better understand metabolic conditioning and its impact on energy storage, delivery, and usage, let’s, as the King said to Alice, “begin at the beginning.” 

Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the secret sauce for physical activity. It’s been called the “molecular unit of currency.”

All energy in the human body comes from the conversion of this high-energy, badass phosphate to lower energy, less-badass phosphates. In the simplest form of energy transfer,  a hydrolytic process takes place (meaning water is required,) and ATP is converted to ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) or AMP (Adenosine Monophosphate – this occurs with far less frequency.) Some energy, some heat, and one proton are released. Then, the ADP molecule connects with an inorganic phosphate to resynthesize the ATP molecule.

Here’s an easy way to put it. A ball with 3 legs and a hat gets splashed with water. A spark flies out (energy,) there’s a short burst of flame (heat) and the hat (hydrogen) and one leg (phosphate) fall off. After the water clears, the ball goes looking for a fresh hat and a new leg, which are apparently pretty easy to find. And just like that, we have another 3-legged ball and the whole dance starts again.

But even with a cool, easy visual like that, the process of energy production is not that simple. Since we use muscle and body systems in different ways and for different periods of time, using different muscles and types of muscles, we need different energy delivery methods to match the needs of each.

There are 3 different energy systems we work with. Which one takes the lead depends on how long, and how hard, we ask the body to go.  Let’s explore how these work and how they relate to metabolic conditioning.

Blast off – Phosphagen (ATP-CP) System

If you want to go hard and fast, but not very long, it’s all about the ATP-CP. The ATP-CP system, also called the Phospagenic pathway, is the system of choice when full power or intensity is needed for a short period. When maximal or near maximal power is needed by muscles, the demand for ATP goes through the roof. Just gotta have it and gotta have it now!

The ATP-CP system is the quickest way to resynthesize ATP and deliver the goods. Creatine Phosphate, or CP, is stored in muscle and is happy to donate a phosphate to the cause in order to facilitate the resynthesis process. At least, nobody’s heard CP complaining about it to date. When muscles use ATP for energy and leave behind ADP, CP provides a phosphate so ADP can become ATP. So, ADP + CP = ATP + C. That Creatine molecule will then pick up an inorganic phosphate and re-form CP.

It’s a real Jerry Maguire kind of moment…

This is an anaerobic energy system, as no oxygen is needed to resynthesize ATP. No fats or carbohydrates are required, either. Because of the speed of the process, it is ideal for high-intensity activities lasting no more than about 30 seconds. But there is also a limited supply of stored ATP and CP in skeletal muscle, so fatigue hits fast, and often hard.

To recap, the Phosphagen energy system is ideal for short-duration, high-intensity muscular activity because:

  1. It requires no oxygen for completion
  2. The ATP resynthesis is rapid
  3. All the components required are stored in the contractile proteins of muscle (but in limited quantities), and
  4. Few chemical reactions are required to split off the phosphate groups from either Creatine Phosphate or ATP to fulfill the energy requirements of the cell.

Sprints, Olympic and maximal lifts come to mind. Sports like football, baseball, softball and track and field events like the 100m dash, throws and jumps also fit this pathway. Due to the massive, rapid power output here, recovery can be anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes, depending on the current conditioning level of your athlete or client.  Typically, coaches refer to this kind of training as more explosive in nature, but it can have a role in metabolic conditioning if programmed correctly.  

The “in-betweener” – Glycolytic System

But what happens when we want to go at it a little longer, but still put some oomph in the work? Well, we have an app for that. Okay, an energy system.

The Glycolytic energy system is designed for activity between 30-60 seconds and up to 4 minutes, depending, of course, on which studies you believe. It’s the next fastest method of resynthesizing ATP.

Here, carbohydrate is broken down through a series of chemical reactions to form pyruvate. The first of these is a process called glycogenolysis, where glycogen is broken down into glucose. Each molecule of glucose that is broken down to pyruvate in this process yields 2 molecules of ATP.

 

The trade-off here is that not a lot of energy is really created, but the process is pretty fast. When glucose breaks down to pyruvate, it can go one of two ways: it can be converted to lactate or converted to a metabolic intermediary known as acetyl coenzyme A, or acetyl-CoA. Acetyl-CoA is sucked up by mitochondria for oxidation and production of more ATP.

The conversion to lactate happens when the need for oxygen is greater than the supply, like during anaerobic exercise. When oxygen is plentiful and muscles are oxygen-happy, like during aerobic exercise, pyruvate (as Acetyl-CoA) enters the mitochondria and goes through aerobic metabolism.

Sometimes, though, this method of energy problems has issues. When oxygen isn’t supplied to muscles el rapido, anaerobic glycolysis takes place. Anaerobic glycolysis is a dirty slob. It leaves behind a mess of hydrogen ions, causing muscle pH to drop. This is known as acidosis. But that’s not all. We also get a buildup of other metabolites like ADP, inorganic potassium and free Potassium ions.

As you might imagine, all this metabolite trash causes trouble. Here’s some of what can go wrong:

  1. Inhibition of specific enzymes involved in muscle contractions and in metabolism
  2. Inhibition of calcium release from muscle storage sites. Problem! Calcium is the trigger for muscle contractions
  3. Interference with the electrical charges in the muscles

This all contributes to a reduction in the ability of muscles to contract effectively. As a result, muscle force production falls and exercise intensity decreases. In other words, you lose strength and power.

Working sets of weightlifting, jump rope sets and running distances of 400m and up come to mind as representative of activities needing this energy system. Sports like hockey, soccer, lacrosse and basketball also fit this pathway. Recovery time here is generally 1 to 3 minutes.  When most people talk about metabolic conditioning, it is usually the anaerobic energy system that gets challenged.  

Going the Distance: Aerobic System

The aerobic system is quite complex, the most complex of the three systems. This is likely an outcropping of the long-held understanding that the human body evolved for aerobic activity. Aerobic metabolic reactions, which happen with oxygen, are the genesis for the majority of cellular energy in the body. This form of ATP resynthesis is the slowest of the three types.

The aerobic system does its work in muscle mitochondria. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as mitochondrial respiration. Blood glucose, glycogen and fat fuels are used to resynthesize ATP within the muscle mitochondria. The aerobic system includes the Krebs cycle (Citric Acid or TCA cycle) and the electron transport chain.

(Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Here’s how it happens:

For carbohydrates, glycolysis metabolizes glucose and glycogen into pyruvate. This is used to create acetyl-CoA, which makes its way to the Krebs cycle. The resulting electrons are transported along the electron transport chain, with ATP and water being produced.

When glucose is completely oxidized via glycolysis, the Krebs cycle and the electron transport chain, the resulting yield is 36 molecules of ATP for every glucose molecule metabolized. So for those of you keeping score at home, that’s 18 times the amount produced by anaerobic glycolysis.

When the aerobic system relies on fat for energy, things are a little different. Fat is stored as triglyceride and can be found in skeletal muscles, where it’s called intramuscular triglyceride, and in adipose tissue under the skin. Fat represents the most plentiful source of energy in the body. Yes, even if you’re not “fat.”

Triglycerides are broken down through lipolysis into free fatty acids and glycerol. The free fatty acids are shipped off to the muscle mitochondria, where carbon atoms swing into action to produce acetyl-CoA in a process called beta-oxidation. Once acetyl-CoA has been formed, fat metabolism looks just like carb metabolism. Electrons go to the electron transport chain and form water and ATP, acetyl-CoA gets crammed into the Krebs cycle.

The result? Fatty acid palmitate produces 129 molecules of ATP. This helps explain why low-intensity activity in the “aerobic zone” can be continued for such long periods, often until the exerciser nods off and tumbles off the treadmill…

For activities lasting longer than 5 minutes, the Aerobic system is the energy provider of choice for the body. Capable of handling easy to moderate intensity activity for hours, it can generally also recover quickly.

Coming next…

If we’re going to use metabolic conditioning with our athletes, I think it’s important to have a basic understanding of energy systems and their application for our athletes. In the next part of this series, we’ll take a look at some of the questions and issues surrounding metabolic conditioning as it applies to athletes and their training.

In Part 3 of this metabolic conditioning series, we’ll put it all to use. We’ll explore sport- and context-specific programming variables for metabolic conditioning and other concepts that may just put your athletes “ahead of the game.”

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

 

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

Top 10 Tips for Training Young Athletes – Jim Kielbaso

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

kids meeting athletes

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

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

These 10 tips provide an overview of the most important concepts to understand when training young athletes.  For more in-depth information on the concepts and specifics on how to implement them, the IYCA encourages you to go through the Certified Athletic Development Specialist, which 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:

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Owner of Impact Sports Performance in 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.

Escape the Achievatron Machine – Andrew Simpson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. AWARENESS

Be honest with yourself.

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

2. CLARITY OF VALUES

What really matters the most to me?

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

3. RECOGNIZE and REWARD

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

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

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

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

* Never feeling like I am enough

* Always needing more

* Loss of motivation at some point

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

* Burnout. 

* Continual decrease in joy and passion for your sport.

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

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

 

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

 

Is the Guru Always Right? – Brett Klika

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds are, we’re both right.

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

Medicine Balls

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

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

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

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

Back-pedaling

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

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

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

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

Resistance Tubing with Handles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quickly answer these questions:

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

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

These tools can be different for everyone.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 6-9

Game/exploration-based fitness activities:

Frog Hops:

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

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

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

Ages 10-13

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

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

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

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

Ages 14-18 years old:

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the 1-foot eyes-closed version:

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Use your hips, not your knees!”

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

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

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

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

It’s easy to chalk this disconnect up to:

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

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

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

“Pre-load” Vocabulary When Coaching Young Athletes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Body Part Callouts Video 

Body Moves Video

Stop!

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

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

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

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

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

Identify the Obstacle

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

“Backboard!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Creating Athlete Buy-In with Joe Powell

How do you get athletes to like and trust you?

While most coaches are worried about exercise selection, technique and programs (which are all important), none of that matters if you can’t create athlete buy-in.

Unfortunately, many coaches think this is just about personality and most think their personality is a perfect fit for coaching.  While your personality is certainly an important factor, there is much more to it.

In the video below, Jim Kielbaso talks with Utah State Strength & Conditioning Coach Joe Powell about how he creates trust and buy-in.  Joe has the ability to make this happen, so he’s sharing some of his experiences and thoughts on the topic so that you can do the same.

To learn more about creating athlete buy-in, we strongly suggest you check out Brett Bartholomew’s course titled BOUGHT IN.  This is an in-depth, comprehensive course that will help you understand exactly how to create trust and buy-in with your athletes.  Click on the link or image below to get a free video and more information about Bought In.