fbpx

Archive for “Youth Speed Training” Category

Athlete Development through the Ages

It is no secret that the development of the young athlete is multifaceted and it is the responsibility of the coach and/or trainer to take into consideration developmental, physical, and psychological aspects of training. 

Stodden et al. (2008) has developed a model proposing that motor skill development, physical fitness, and perceived competence interact synergistically over time and will lead to increased physical activity and healthy weight trajectories over time from early childhood into adolescence.1 

The crux of the model proposes that the early development of gross fundamental motor skills, promoted via early movement experiences and opportunities to be active will lead to positive trajectories of the child’s overall development.

Specifically, the development of multi joint, ballistic skills (e.g., locomotor and object control skills) can directly improve not only coordination and control, but also muscular strength, muscular endurance, power, agility, and cardiorespiratory endurance. In addition, positive developmental trajectories of these physical attributes will promote positive body composition, physical activity, and psychological attribute trajectories. 

In addition to promoting motor skill development in a traditional sense, integrating developmentally-appropriate resistance training will further enhance the development of the young athlete. 

Understanding how to integrate multiple aspects of training necessitates understanding the background and developmental status of each individual athlete.

Athletic development across the lifespan is a complex process that is heavily influenced by the cognitive and physical maturity of the individual. Unfortunately, conditioning and fitness programming for the developing athlete have most often been designed around “watered down” routines initially intended for adult and elite-level athletes. 

Not only is such practice of limited effectiveness, but also can put the young athlete at risk for acute and chronic injury. By understanding the process of motor development and designing programming that is not only developmentally appropriate but also fun and engaging, the trainer and/or coach, is quite literally laying the necessary foundation for motor skill and injury prevention. 

Perhaps most importantly, appropriate practice at the early stages of development also establishes an early love for physical activity that will be essential for overall health and fitness later in life.

The ultimate goal, wouldn’t you agree?

 

Learn more about the development of athletes through the ages and what to consider as a coach/trainer? We would like to send you a free Video doing just that- where IYCA CEO and LTAD Expert Jim Kielbaso breaks down Training athletes from Start to Finish 

References/Resources:

1-Stodden DF, Goodway J, Langendorfer S, et al. A developmental perspective on the role of motor skill competence in physical activity: An emergent relationship. Quest. 2008;60:290-306.

Essentials of Youth Fitness & Conditioning Text by Toby Brooks, PhD, David Stodden, PhD & Jim Kielbaso, MS

Pelvic Tilt Control for Athletes – Jim Kielbaso

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and owner of Impact Sports Performance in Novi, Michigan.  He has authored multiple books, articles and training products and has spoken at events around the world.  He holds a BS in Exercise Science, an MS in Kinesiology and has gone through multiple certifications through the IYCA, NSCA, NASM and more.  Jim is a former college strength & conditioning coach and has trained thousands of athletes at every level of competition.  He runs a successful NFL Combine training program in Michigan and has been hired as a consultant for major sports programs like the University of Michigan Football Program and the University of Kentucky Basketball Program.

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

 

Training the Hip Flexors for Sprinting Speed – Nick Brattain

The hip flexors are often neglected in training programs, and this article will outline the importance of training them and will give you several exercises to strength the hip flexors.

Sprinting is a movement that requires tremendous coordination throughout the body. Not only do the limbs need to move in perfect rhythm with optimal synchronization of the muscles, there also needs to be smooth transmission of the neurological signals sent throughout the body. hip flexors stretch

Unfortunately, a lot of coaches overlook important aspects of sprinting because they tend to focus on the big blocks of speed training such as technique, strength of the big muscle groups, and mobility through our major joints. 

While all of those things are important,  I want to address the hip flexor group which is one of the most often overlooked aspects of sprinting.  Hip extension has been getting a lot of publicity over the years, but many of us forget to include hip flexion exercises into our training programs.  

Understanding the Hip Flexors

The hip flexor is a muscle group made up of the Iliacus and Iliopsoas, with assistance from the Rectus Femoris and Sartorius muscles. The hip flexor muscle group is responsible for flexing the hip, or, bringing the knee up toward the shoulders. 

As you can imagine, this motion is imperative to movement. Even the act of walking requires this muscle group to lift the thigh with each step. You can also imagine the amount of work this muscle group does during athletic events. Not only lifting the leg repeatedly, but also doing so in a powerful and explosive fashion when the athlete is required to accelerate.  

More than just its ability to lift the leg, the hip flexor group is responsible for the body’s ability to slow the leg down as it passes behind the body after toe-off during a stride. The hip flexors go through a rapid lengthening followed by a rapid shortening as they help bring the leg forward during the swing phase.  

This motion requires a great deal of eccentric strength from the hip flexors in order to control the lengthening of the muscle before the explosive concentric contraction. This muscular quality can be the difference between a fast, efficient athlete and an athlete who will struggle greatly in competitive sport. 

There are multiple factors at play here including: hip orientation during movement, core strength and involvement, and the position of toe off relative to center of gravity. We’ll save these elements for another time in order to focus on how hip flexor strength affects running form and technique.

When you hear coaches talk about running mechanics you often hear them refer to front side and back side mechanics. This simply refers to what is happening to the leg on the front side or back side of the body and is an easy way for coaches to assess and cue athletes to understand their motion. As the leg passes under the body during the stance phase, it alternates from a front side to a back side position. As the leg passes under the body, the foot stays on the ground for a short period of time before it begins to travel upward and behind the hip. This backside position (circled on the photo) is the position I would like to address.

The characteristics and capacity of the hip flexor muscle group have a dramatic affect on what happens in this back side position. They will impact how far back the leg travels, the height of the foot above the ground, the path of swing back to the front side, the time is takes for the leg to travel back to the front side and eventually how high the knee travels upward in the front side before moving back down. 

Here are two examples of athletes, in stride, doing exactly what we are addressing. 

hip flexors weakness in running

As you can see with the athlete on the left, the back leg travels much further backward away from the body as compared to the athlete on the right. Also, you will notice the orientation of the leg compared to the timing of the stride. Both athletes are approaching touchdown within their stride, however, one athlete is still completely extended behind the body while the other athlete is in the mid-swing phase preparing to enter front side swing. This will obviously have an effect on the timing of the movement. For the athlete on the left, with the back leg extended at this point in the stride, she will have very little time to get the leg back into a front side position to prepare for the next stride. 

Now, as mentioned before, there could be a number of factors at play here, so I don’t want to make it seem like hip flexor strengthening will fix everything. 

Assuming the athlete is able to maintain proper posture and orient the hips in a neutral position, the hip flexor can now be evaluated in its effectiveness and control. 

When observing an athlete from the side during upright sprinting you can begin to evaluate the hip flexors capacities in movement. When you observe athletes that have an extended rear leg with a high heel kick (as you see in the athlete on the left), you can begin to assume that they likely have less eccentric strength within their hip flexors. 

As the foot travels backward under the body and into the air, the hip flexor is working to slow the limb in order to re-accelerate it forward. Athletes with good hip flexor strength will be able to move the leg back under the hip much earlier in the stride such as what you see with the athlete on the right.  

The concentric strength of the hip flexor is also very important and has the responsibility of lifting the knee upward prior to the leg driving down to the ground. However, like with the back side heel kick, there are many other factors to take into account. 

Training the Hip Flexors

Knowing the importance of hip flexor strength in running, what can we do about it? I believe one of the most beneficial and specific things we can do with athletes is high-volume form running drills. Whether it be the A series, B series, or C series, there is high demand on the hip flexors. Doing this over extended distances and/or times allows us to create a specific means of strengthening and conditioning the hip flexors. The technical benefits of these drills should not be overlooked, but the impact they have on the hip flexors is often overlooked. 

Other tools that can be used include hanging and supine leg lifts, ankle band resistance exercises, resistance band exercises, or a multi-hip machine if available. These are all very beneficial and should make their way into a training program especially when weak hip flexors are suspected. Incorporating isometric holds and eccentric resistance in the movements is also recommended. 

Here are some additional examples of hip flexion strengthening exercises that can be incorporated into your routines:

 

These are just a few examples of exercises, but how you choose to train the hip flexors will depend on how the rest of your training is implemented and the equipment available  The key is that it is being addressed.  High-volume training is unnecessary, and  you will typically train the hip flexors after your speed work and the main lower-body lifting exercises.  When athletes begin to sprint and train the hip flexors, they often get quite sore, so be sure to start slowly and give them time to recover between sessions while they adapt to the new stimulus.  

Take some time to assess your athletes running mechanics and hip flexor strength, and start to include hip flexion exercises into your programs.  You’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes as you watch your athletes improve both their mechanics and speed. 

 

Nick Brattain is the owner of Brattain Sports Performance in Louisiana. Nick is also the High Performance Coach for Isidore Newman School as well as the Louisiana State Director for the National High School Strength Coaches Association. As a graduate from the University of Indianapolis, Nick was an All-American Sprinter on the track team. Since then Nick has dedicated his career to speed development in athletes of all ages.

 

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

speed & agility certification

 

What We Can Learn About Athlete Development From Elite Athletes – Jim Kielbaso

As our NFL Combine Training program gets started, it is always exciting for me to get to know and help a group of talented, motivated athletes. It’s also a time that makes me examine athlete development in a different way.

Most coaches discuss athlete development in terms of working with young athletes in an effort to help them prepare for the future. With these guys, I get to look at the process backward and evaluate what they may have missed at some point in their development. So, it’s amazing to see these guys in the morning, watch 8-year-olds in the evening, and think about everything that happens in the years between.

Through the years, I’ve seen some interesting trends, and the training we do with the older guys always helps us train younger athletes more effectively because we have a chance to “look into the crystal ball” a little and see what they will need as they get older.

Sometimes you’ll hear coaches say things like “If he had used my methods, he would have been so much better.” I don’t look at it like this at all. So many things go into athlete development, that we don’t know exactly what would have happened if their training was different.

So, without judgment, I simply notice some trends in these guys that help me do a better job with younger athletes in an effort to clear up some issues before they are a problem down the road. While many of these guys will play professional sports, their development isn’t always as pretty as you’d expect.

Four things that I have noticed are:

  • Misunderstanding of strength & size
  • Lack of attention to movement quality
  • Lack of attention to flexibility/mobility
  • Under-appreciation for recovery

What’s interesting about this is the fact that we, as coaches, can help younger athletes avoid these errors before they become a problem. Let me briefly address each area so you understand what I’m thinking:

Misunderstanding of strength & size

Many high school and college-level athletes feel like they either need to get as big and strong as possible or they don’t value it at all. Some of that depends on the sport they play, and some depends on their environment or what their coaches value. We need to help athletes put strength/size into perspective, and teach them that these qualities should be developed as a PART of their overall development. In some cases, it’s a small part, and in other cases, it’s more important. But, concentrating ALL of your effort on lifting weights if usually not what athletes need.

Don’t get me wrong, MANY athletes lack strength, so they need to make this priority.  But, many others simply don’t understand how strength training fits into a comprehensive athlete development program, and it’s our job to teach them.

Lack of attention to movement quality

I’m always surprised at how few elite level athletes have gotten much coaching on the way they move. They often haven’t been taught footwork, running technique, or posture, and it’s incredibly rare to meet an athlete who has been coached on their overall quality of movement.

We spend a ton of time teaching acceleration and sprinting mechanics as we work on the 40-yard dash. In many cases, this is the first time they’ve ever gotten this kind of in-depth instruction.

We also give them feedback on the way they look when they move because scouts want to see fluid athletes who can move through space effortlessly. This is about footwork, posture, and the subjective qualities that make them appear to be more or less athletic. I’m talking about things like taking too many choppy steps, heavy feet, rounded backs, flailing arms, or robotic movements. These qualities need to be taught at an early age so athletes feel more natural moving this way. Trying to teach 23-year-olds how to change this in six weeks is not ideal.

This always makes me realize how important it is for us to teach kids these things when they’re younger, and I hope you do the same.

Lack of attention to flexibility/mobility

College coaches tell me all the time that their athletes come in stiff, and they wish there was more of a focus on flexibility/mobility in high school. Then, I hear high school coaches talk about how tight their kids are, and they wish they would have done something about it earlier.athlete development stretching

I see the same thing when training guys for the NFL – a lot of athletes simply don’t give enough attention to this.

So, we need to recognize this pattern and make sure we spend enough time keeping athletes mobile and supple. That doesn’t mean we need to turn kids into contortionists, but flexibility/mobility should be a part of every program. Whether that comes in the form of quality strength training, movement training, or direct flexibility/mobility work is up to you, but make this a priority before it’s a problem that affects everything they do.

Under-appreciation for recovery

Athletes often think that more is better and they believe that they can handle much higher volumes than they should. They rarely take recovery seriously. Instead, they have poor diets and severely lack sleep. The combination of high-volume training and poor recovery is a recipe for disaster.

Sometimes that disaster is obvious and athletes get sick or hurt. More often, it’s discreet and manifests itself as a lack of progress. Athletes train, train, train, but never get the results they desire because they simply don’t understand that recovery is the key to progress.

Athletes usually think that the stimulus (i.e. training) is where are of the gains take place. They don’t realize that the stimulus is simply a way to get their bodies to adapt and improve during recovery. Without adequate recovery, the stimulus won’t elicit great results.

We need to teach athletes the value of recovery, and how to schedule their training to maximize the results. We also need to teach them that all activity dips into their recovery, so their practice schedule, individual skill lessons, physical education classes, and performance training all need to be considered together not by themselves.

I hear athletes say it all the time – “I’m OK. I can do more.”

Yes, I know you CAN do more, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be helpful. Trust me, I’d rather have an athlete want to do more than one who doesn’t do anything, but motivated athletes just keep doing more until there is a problem. We can teach them the value of appropriate scheduling and how to maximize their recovery.

There are many things that go into athlete development, so I find it fascinating to examine the process from the top down just as much as from the bottom, up. We will always need to give young athletes variety, teach them a love for moving, and give them quality training at the right times throughout their development. Hopefully, understanding these trends will help you create programs that allow athletes to avoid these issues and become the best versions of themselves as they develop.

 

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and owner of Impact Sports Performance in Novi, Michigan.  He has authored multiple books, articles and training products and has spoken at events around the world.  He holds a BS in Exercise Science, an MS in Kinesiology and has gone through multiple certifications through the IYCA, NSCA, NASM and more.  Jim is a former college strength & conditioning coach and has trained thousands of athletes at every level of competition.  He runs a successful NFL Combine training program in Michigan and has been hired as a consultant for major sports programs like the University of Michigan Football Program and the University of Kentucky Basketball Program.

 

The IYCA 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:

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:

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.

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:

 

In the Fast Lane – A Speed & Agility Roundtable

Having quick, agile athletes is vital to most sports, so it should be a focus for every strength and conditioning program. We asked a roundtable of experts how they satisfy the need for speed in their training.

When thinking about speed and agility, many people picture the highlight-reel moments—an Olympic sprinter blazing through a 100-meter dash, a wide receiver breaking away down the sideline, or a baseball player stealing second. What do those three scenarios have in common? The athletes are running in a straight line. However, as strength coaches know, speed and agility training is not so straightforward.

Linear speed is undoubtedly important, but the ability to stop, start, and change direction is just as crucial, say the strength and conditioning coaches in our roundtable discussion (See “Our Panel” below). They don’t agree on everything, though. In fact, a few of them hold opposing views on the merit of equipment like ladders and dot mats.

Clearly, there is a lot to consider when putting together an effective speed and agility program for athletes. Here, five performance training experts give their varied takes.

OUR PANEL

Andre Bernardi, CSCS, USAW, PES, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at North Greenville University. He is a certified specialist in speed and explosion through the National Association of Speed and Explosion and holds a sports conditioning specialty certification through the American Council of Exercise. Bernardi is also a certified specialist in sports nutrition through the International Sports Science Association.

Sean Edinger, MS, SCCC, USAW, is Assistant Athletics Director for Athletic Performance at Syracuse University, working specifically with the football team. He is responsible for conditioning players for new Head Football Coach Dino Babers’ up-tempo style of play. Prior to Syracuse, Edinger served as the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Bowling Green State University for two seasons.

Jeff Kipp, MS, CSCS, RSCC*D, is Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston. Before Strake Jesuit, he was an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the University of Kansas and spent 10 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the United States Air Force Academy. He presents often on speed development at conferences and has authored many books for the NSCA about the topic.

Adam Linens, MS, CSCS, ATC, PES, CES, is an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Oregon, working specifically with the men’s basketball team. Previously, he worked with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers and the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.

Josh Robertson, SCCC, is the Strength and Conditioning Coach at Conway (S.C.) High School. He was the Assistant Director of Speed, Strength, and Conditioning at Appalachian State University from 2006 to 2010 and served as Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Wofford College from 2004 to 2006.

What’s your overall philosophy regarding speed and agility?

Jeff Kipp: Speed is important to almost every sport. For instance, I tell my soccer players, “How many balls are there on the field? Only one. So what’s everybody doing out there? They’re jostling for position, trying to get into an open spot on the field, or trying to stay with their man.” Being able to run fast and change directions efficiently is imperative to all of those activities.

 

When I’m putting together speed and agility programs, I incorporate exercises that will teach athletes how to load and control the body effectively, as well as generate force. However, I look at strength, speed, and agility equally, so I don’t focus all my effort on weightroom or acceleration work and then forget things like lateral movements. Programming this way makes for a balanced approach to all aspects of athletic performance.

Adam Linens: In my experience, all athletes want to do is go fast. But speed and agility training is not about how fast a player can accelerate, it’s about how fast they can stop and then reaccelerate multiple times. When NBA players get to the final years of their careers, they have no problems starting—they have problems stopping, landing, and changing direction. Those skills require the most eccentric strength, so I try to instill them early in my players’ careers.

That being said, much of what I teach is based on linear speed development. Although basketball athletes don’t need a ton of linear speed training—since they play a change-of-direction sport—good technique for linear speed will transfer to change-of-direction work and other movements.

Josh Robertson: When you focus on speed and agility, you get better athletes. Combine the correct weightlifting methods with the correct speed and agility rest periods and drill distances, and the result will be a great speed and agility training program.

Sean Edinger: First, there’s pure genetics—some kids are just fast. Then, there’s the ability to move efficiently and quickly stop, start, and change direction, which can level the playing field and raise up players who might not have as much God-given talent.

Andre Bernardi: We want our athletes to be able to put their feet on the ground and get from point A to point B faster than their opponents. Skill sets aside, if they do that enough times over the course of a game, they are likely to come out on top.

How do you improve speed and agility?

Edinger: Athletes, particularly when they first get on campus, need to get stronger in terms of horsepower. A lot of them have a limited amount of force they can produce, and I help them develop it in training.

The real trick when you’re talking about speed is getting athletes to engage their fast-twitch muscles: How quickly can they display force? To work on this, we do bounds, skips, box jumps, lateral jumps, and lateral movements and take-offs. We only do a few per set because I want maximum effort on each rep.

Spending too much time on plyometrics for speed work can be counterproductive, though. If you do plyometrics and athletes get tired, they’ll start spending a lot of time in contact with the ground, and you won’t get the benefits you want. A huge part of this is a lack of conditioning. If players are out of shape or think they’ll struggle to get through a workout, they’ll hold back.

As far as agility training, I don’t place a lot of stock in ladders, dot mats, and things of that nature because football players don’t use any of that footwork on the field. For example, remember when swing dancing was a big thing a few years ago? People looked like they could dance, but they just memorized the steps. It’s the same thing with ladder and dot drills. Athletes might look like they’re getting more agile, but they’re simply memorizing the footwork and executing it at a high rate of speed. There’s no momentum buildup, and they don’t have to stop and change direction.

Kipp: I have standard plyos that I use. I start with a snap-bound into base positions to teach athletes how to load the body. Then, I move into jumps where players drop into a position, hold it, and generate force. Over a longer period of time, such as an entire offseason, we’ll get into faster response exercises that incorporate the stretch-shortening cycle. This will include true plyometrics—multiple broad jumps, multiple squat jumps, and scissor jumps—that accentuate explosion.

Linens: I like to use ladders and hurdles to instill proper balance, body positioning, linear speed, and lateral quickness. We start with specific ladder drills to teach forward-to-backward change of direction, hip rotations, and pivoting. Then, I’ll get into more advanced drills with hurdles and cones. After that, we progress to reactionary training, where I use numbered cones, colored cones, or pointing in different directions to get athletes to react. During these sessions, I also like to use lateral resistors around their ankles to strengthen their hips.

Bernardi: We focus on the basics. We’ll warm up, and then we’ll do something I call “rapid response,” which is a quick-feet drill where players try to pick up and put down their feet as fast as possible. After that, I may do something like a mirror drill.

With agility, I’m pretty simple. I’m a big ladder and footwork guy. I stick to pro-agility drills, zigzag drills, and a lot of activities where athletes react off a partner. This really represents the demands of most sports because athletes constantly have to react quickly during competitions.

What role does technique have in speed and agility training?

Linens: Technique trumps everything. Some coaches overload athletes with repetitions or resistance when their movements aren’t correct to begin with. This only ingrains bad habits.

Instead, I’ll teach a drill and make sure athletes have good technique before moving forward. After they’ve gotten proficient in the drill, we’ll add some resistance. However, I don’t add so much resistance that it makes the movement look sloppy. My general rule is: The more sport-specific a drill, the lighter the resistance.

Edinger: It’s important to remember that less is more. If you can only get 10 technically perfect reps out of a player, then 10 is what you’re looking for. Don’t make him try to do 15 or 20. When you’re talking about movement and speed in particular, never train a player after his form starts to falter. As soon as there’s a breakdown in technical proficiency, you need to stop—cut the drill, change the drill, or stop the session.

Bernardi: Teach technique work—foot placement, knee drive, and arm swing—before you do anything else. Once that’s accomplished, you can instruct athletes to put their feet into the ground and increase stride length or stride rate to maximize speed development.

To instill these movements, we’ll do a lot of quick shuffles where athletes claw the ground with their feet. From there, we may progress to a bound and then to a sprint, all the while emphasizing foot contact.

One of my favorite drills to stress technique is a march progression with a sled. Players start off like they’re doing a wall drill and switch to a slow march to emphasize their knee coming up and the ball of their foot driving to the ground. They do that a couple of times, and then it goes into a fast march. The drill ends with athletes pushing a sled, which really highlights the knee drive.

How do you make speed and agility training sport specific?

Kipp: I’ve always thought that you don’t train speed and agility for the sport—you train athletes to become faster, more agile performers at their sport. There are going to be times in every sport when an athlete is out of position and needs to react. If you didn’t train them to be versatile with their body positions and able to move through a full range of motion, it will affect how well they can react.

Edinger: I don’t subscribe to a sport-specific training mindset. Rather, I slant things to be like the sport I’m training. The drills that we use with Syracuse football are very specific to the sport and specific to what my coaches want players at each position to do. There are certain steps and movements for each position, and it’s important that the athletes practice them over and over until they become second nature.

For example, since wide receivers run routes where they push a defender, stop, come back, and run a hitch, we have them do a drill where they work on stopping in three steps. Throughout the action, their shoulders must be over their knees, and their knees must be over their toes. This way, they get the correct portion of their cleats into the ground and remain balanced. This drill is included in all their individual agility sessions.

Linens: I take the sport, break it down into different movements, and then teach corresponding pieces of it through a drill. I’m not teaching basketball skills, but our speed and agility training can focus on footwork related to an open step or crossover step that will help players drive to the basket or shuffle on defense.

Robertson: When I train an athlete on speed or agility, that is the training—not sport-specific speed and agility exercises.

What role does strength training play in your speed and agility work?

Kipp: It takes strength to slow the body, stop the body, and then reaccelerate in any given direction. So the stronger athletes are, the more easily they can stop themselves and create force against the ground to accelerate.

Linens: Strength training enhances speed and agility, and speed and agility enhance strength training. If you think of different concentric and explosive speed movements, they all require triple extension. We focus on triple extension in a lot of the exercises that we do, such as squat variations, dumbbell variations, kettlebell swings, arm dumbbell snatches, and clean variations.

To enhance change of direction, we emphasize single-leg exercises in the weightroom. I try to get athletes comfortable with balancing, exploding, controlling, and decelerating on one leg. Some of our exercises include variations of step-ups and lunges, single-leg Romanian dead lifts, and rear-foot elevator squats, as well as dumbbell split jerks.

Bernardi: Any opportunity I get in the weightroom to have athletes drive their knees and cycle their feet is going to make them faster. So I like doing speed squats and different lunge variations where athletes are focusing on their knee drive. We also do a lot of step-ups to develop speed.

Robertson: Going down below parallel in the back squat is the foundation of how we move. When athletes can lift more than their bodyweight in the back squat with speed in the movement, their speed and agility will go through the roof.

What advice would you give strength coaches who are starting to build their speed and agility programs?

Robertson: Don’t try to do too much. In America, we think you can take a zebra and run him in a thoroughbred race. We believe training will improve him or running him into the ground will change something mentally to enhance his performance. But this approach is detrimental because it attempts to do too much.

Some strength coaches have what I call “a box of hammers.” They pull out a small hammer and beat on the athlete and tear him down. When that doesn’t work, they get a bigger hammer. The next thing you know, the athlete is broken. They might say the athlete wasn’t good to begin with, but I’d say they didn’t train him right.

Kipp: Create a road map. Have a plan for where you’re going and how you’re going to get there, but understand there are going to be bumps along the way. Also, keep your eyes and ears open for new ideas. When it comes to speed and agility training, every coach out there can benefit from listening to their peers.

This article brought to you by our partnership with Training & Conditioning Magazine.  For more great articles, visit their website.  

Pete Croatto is a freelance writer based in Ithaca, N.Y. He can be reached at: pscroatto@gmail.com.

 

If you’re looking for more information on speed training, the IYCA recently released a new course called Speed Testing Mastery.  This couse walks you through all the details of how to get athletes to run a faster 40- or 60-yard dash.  The course includes 10 instructional video modules and a detailed 8-week training program.  Also included is video analysis of 7 athletes that clearly show you exactly what to look for when coaching athletes.  Learn more about Speed Testing Mastery.

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.”

Sprinting Mechanics – How to Run Faster: Paul Aanonson

Coaching Sprinting Mechanics must not be ignored in speed training!

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

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

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

Why does learning sprinting mechanics matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Sprint Video Overview:

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

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

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

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

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

Step 6: COG: Where the foot lands.

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

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

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

*STRIDE TO TURNOVER RATIO

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

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

 

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

 

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

speed & agility certification

 

Building Agility From the Ground Up – Brett Klika

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Body awareness activity: Body Letters

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

Visual awareness activity: *Group Tag (Hand Signs)

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

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

Directional awareness activity: *Quick Feet Reaction

 

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

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

Temporal awareness activity: *My Gears

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

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

Spatial awareness activity: Hop Guesser:

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

Proprioceptive awareness activity: 4-Way Balance 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Top 10 Tips for Training Young Athletes – Jim Kielbaso

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

kids meeting athletes

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

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

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

Jumping Progressions – Jordan Tingman

When a new athlete comes into a collegiate program, one thing I have noticed is their lack of ability to properly execute correct jumping mechanics. When jumping incorrectly, an athlete is at a much higher risk of injury, but also is at risk of not achieving their full athletic potential.

 

These are the flaws I noticed most often in jumping technique:

  • Valgus knees on load and explode
  • Lack of postural strength
  • Poor eccentric strength
  • Not getting to full extension on explode
  • Loading with the upper body dropping forward and not with the legs
  • Incorrect arm swing on load to explode
  • A lack of single leg strength

When helping an athlete learn how to properly execute a jump of any sort, there are simple steps to break down any jump to ensure they are executing each rep efficiently.

Regardless of how much you break down a jump, overall strength training and core training are required to build strength and kinesthetic awareness to each individual, so pairing these jumping progressions with a complete strength development program would be the most beneficial. Without a strong base of strength and body awareness, power will almost always leak somewhere.

Many of the ideas in this article have originated from watching the videos and ideas of Coach John Garrish at North Broward Preparatory School in Florida.

Step 1: Eccentric Loading

(LOAD)

The first step to any jump is to eccentrically load the legs.  Many athletes tend to load into a valgus knee position during the rapid eccentric pre-stretch, so practicing this step on its own can be very beneficial. If you are still having problems with valgus, giving them a tactile cue, such as a band around the knees, can help them feel whether they are pressing out against the band and away from a valgus knee position.

+With hands on hips, have the athlete start in a normal athletic position.  On cue, have them rapidly bend at the knees and hips to create tension in the legs, loading them while maintaining proper alignment in the knees.

+If your athlete is struggling to even maintain correct loading in this position, stay here until they master it with proper technique.  Too often, we are in a rush to progress, but there is rarely a need to rush this process.  

This short video demonstrates how to perform this part of the movement.

Step 2: Vertical Jump from Non-Counter Movement (NCM) Load

(LOAD/PAUSE/EXPLODE) (NCM Vertical Jump)

After your athlete properly executes the load position, the next step in the progression is to explode. A great way to make sure your athlete is properly executing each step of the vertical jump is to add a pause following each position.  This is not how an athlete will actually jump in competition, but it’s an excellent way to slow the process down so that athletes can concentrate on fundamentals.  

+ Start the athlete with hands on hips and cue the load position explained above.  Have them pause for one second at the bottom to maintain a correct loading position.  On your “Explode” cue, have them rapidly straighten their legs to jump as high as they can without arm movement.

+ One thing to look for while the athlete is EXPLODING, is full leg and hip extension.  Are they straightening their legs out and getting their hips through? Full leg and hip extension ensure proper firing of all leg and glute muscles. Often times, athletes will only lockout at the knees and miss getting through with the hips, limiting full power potential.

+ Another thing to look for is whether the athlete is extending with their legs or their upper body.  Many times, an athlete lacking strength will overcompensate by violently throwing the upper-body backward vs. extending through the legs and hips.  Watch the sequencing of the jump to see if they are using the upper body to a greater extent than the legs.  

Step 3: Vertical Jump from NCM Load to Stick

(LOAD/ PAUSE/EXPLODE/STICK)

Once the athlete has properly completed steps 1-2 efficiently, we can add in an eccentric “stick” landing at the end. Continue to cue the athlete through each part of the jumping progression, then at the end of the EXPLODE the goal is to return to the initial LOAD position by sticking the landing.  Have them hold this position until your call.  You may have to demonstrate what this looks like so they understand how to stick the landing under control.  Explaining that it will look like a gymnast sticking a landing helps many athletes visualize what they should look like.  

+Ensure the knees are driving out upon landing rather than in a valgus knee position. Correct knee positions in the final stick.

Step 4: Add in Arm Action

Once your athlete has efficiently completed steps 1-3, you can add in violent arm action on the load to explode. Have the athlete violently throw the arms long and back behind the pockets on LOAD, then violently reach them up in cadence with EXPLODE.

Step 5: Make it quicker

You can have your athlete start on your call, but allow them to move through the entire sequence on their own with proper mechanics.  Make sure you are still correcting any imperfections while they do it on their own.  Once the athlete has gone through the progression, he/she should start to self-correct so there’s no need to over-coach at this point.  Still, when you see an athlete making the same mistake over and over again, it’s important to give them feedback because they may not even know they are making the mistake.  

Step 6: Try it with different jumps

+You can use these progressions for a wide variety of jumps including Broad Jumps, Lateral Jumps, single leg jumping variations and so on.

+Incorporate mini hurdles

+Try a jump combo (ex. Depth jump to stick to box jump to stick)

When eventually adding in boxes, make sure it’s a box that the athlete can safely jump to rather than struggling to land on top. The box should be just high enough that the athlete should be able to fully extend the hips and jump onto the box, landing safely in an athletic position on top of it.  There is no need for athletes to pull their feet up and land in a deep squat position on top of a box.  This will only get athletes thinking about pulling their feet up instead of executing the actual jump with good technique.  

Once your athlete can successfully complete a jump, you can try adding in different variations such as medicine balls to perform a slam to vertical jump or a lateral slam to lateral jump.

This video shows several examples of the jumps discussed above, but you can get creative and more sport-specific as your athletes progress.

Jordan Tingman – CSCS*, USAW L1, ACE CPT, CFL1 is a graduate of Washington State University with a B.S. in Sports Science with a Minor in Strength and Conditioning. She completed internships with the strength & conditioning programs at both Washington State University and Ohio State University, and is currently a Graduate Assistant S & C Coach at Eastern Washington University.

 

The IYCA Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course is the most comprehensive and scientifically sound speed & agility certification available.  With several hours of video instruction and a 249-page manual, you’ll be an expert in teaching and developing speed, agility, and explosiveness in athletes of all ages.  Learn more about the CSAS certification by clicking the image below.

 

Plyometrics – 3 Ways They May Be Hurting Your Athletes: Phil Hueston

I cringed and threw up in my mouth a little when he said it. “I know my girls are ready to play. We do thirty minutes of plyometrics at every practice, three days a week.” The earnest young volleyball coach went on to tell me he’d done his research and had “adapted” the program done by a certain university women’s volleyball program.

By adapted, he meant he threw away all the functional strength training, core training and stability-oriented training that laid the foundation for the plyometric work. He meant that he ignored the tissue quality, corrective exercise and active recovery work done by that university’s female volleyball players.

What he meant by “adapted” was that he took what was about 5-10% of a training program meant for year-round, single-sport athletes who were grown adults and made it essentially 100% of the training program. Thirty minutes of jump training, plyometrics and knee pounding fun and games.

At the start of every practice.

For 11-year-old girls.

The “old me” would have wanted to throat-punch this guy. I know that because the “new me” kind of wanted to as well…

But I took a deep breath and said: “tell me more.” And he did.

His description of his “program” gradually morphed into his complaints that his girls weren’t taking the program seriously. He knew that because of the number of ankle and knee injuries his team was suffering. “We do the plyos to prevent injury.”

In my head, I could hear myself saying, “no coach, you do the corrective exercise, core training and strength training to prevent injury. You do the plyometric training to improve athletic expression, hone context-specific athletic skills and improve explosive power.”

But hey, he did have a degree from the University of Search Engines…

So how do coaches and trainers go so wrong with the use of plyometrics in training programs? Good question! There are several key ways that we can hurt athletes with plyometrics. They are:

  • Choosing inappropriate activities for the athletes in question
  • Excessive volume
  • A lack of foundational strength & power

Let’s look at these 3 areas, along with some simple remedies for “plyometric overdose:

1. Choose your weapons carefully – Choose appropriate activities to train plyometrics. There are a number of factors impacting selection. These include age, gender, developmental level, training age, sport, and overall training and practice load.

If you’re working with 6 – 8 year-olds, your best bet for a plyometric activity may be a simple quick step drill or a single-leg “hop around” activity. Working on low-level, static plyometric activities with your youngest clients can help them develop movement skills in the frontal plane as well as a degree of reactive “stiffness” in the ankle and knee.

Once established, this increased ability of connective tissues to receive stress, create stored potential energy and then release it will become a key element in overall increased force production.

For older athletes, carefully increase the intensity and complexity of the activities. Pay close attention to developmental levels and responsiveness to coaching. Progress from static quick steps to transitional quick step movements in the frontal or sagittal plane, allowing your athletes to learn how to manage reactive and responsive forces in small amounts first.

Try progressing your athletes to “2-to-1’s” as they exhibit mastery in lower level plyometric activities. This one is simple. Have your athlete start in an athletic stance and perform a ¼ to ½ squat followed by a moderate height/intensity jump. Landing on one foot, the athlete is directed to “stick and hold” the landing for 2-3 seconds. It’s easy to progress and very effective.

Progressions include the coach calling out the landing foot as the jump is initiated, jumps over a low hurdle, jumps in the frontal or transverse plane, and the addition of either a ball to catch or other secondary, low-degree-of-difficulty activity.

In what will undoubtedly be my “burn-him-at-the-stake” statement, I will say without hesitation that I never use Box Jumps with my clients. The Box Jump might be the least useful “plyometric” activity I can think of. If you want a great expression of high-speed hip flexion and panic-driven self-preservation, fine. But as an expression of plyometric power and ability, the Box Jump (at least as it is taught and used in most gyms and programs I’ve seen) is weak, at best, and dangerous/counter-productive at worst.

That being said, I’ve got a gym full of plyo boxes, so what now? Don’t jump ON the boxes.  Instead, teach athletes how to decelerate and reactively explode coming OFF the boxes. Try these:

Stability Tempo Deceleration Jump – the athlete gets on a 12-18” box and “steps” off, landing on both feet. The goal is to decelerate the landing at a controlled and decreasing speed as the athlete nears the bottom of the squat position. So, moving slower as they get nearer the floor. Progress to single leg, lower to higher boxes as mastery is acquired.

Depth to Broad Jump – using the same start as above, the athlete explodes out of the bottom of the landing position into a broad jump. Progress to single leg, lower to higher boxes and jumps in the frontal plane.

Zercher-Loaded Seated Vertical Leap to Parallel Landing – Sit the athlete on a 18-24” box, holding a 10-30 lb slam ball or sandbag Zercher style. The athlete is instructed to drive through the heels and perform a vertical leap, minimizing forward lean during the takeoff process. Land into a parallel squat position.

If girls with minimal training exposure are the target audience, age and gender combine to influence activity selection. Q-angle in girls increases as girls enter, and pass through puberty. So girls in the 6 – 9 age group will likely exhibit less Q-angle related movement deviations than girls in older groups. Take what you observe, place it within the template of what we know and decide on activities accordingly.

2. Minimal effective dose – Contrary to one of the most popular (if largely unspoken) mantras in the fitness world, more is NOT better. In fact, when it comes to plyometric training, more is probably far worse than not enough, and certainly not as effective as just right.

So work on the Goldilocks concept – not too hot, not too cold, just right.

Plyometric activities should be dependent on the phosphagen, or ATP-PC energy system for fuel. So rep counts for most high-intensity plyo activities should be kept in the 3-8 range. If you need proof of that, watch an athlete perform an “A” skip over about 25 yards or so. Note the execution speed (rather than the speed across the ground) as the athlete gets into the 15-20 total rep range. You’ll notice the movement pattern change slightly and the execution speed of each rep begins to slow. What began as an effortless, flowing movement becomes more labored.

And yes, I’m aware that Olympic, pro and elite athletes may be exceptions to this rule. How many 10- or 15-year-old pro athletes are you training?

The “A” skip is a fairly low-level plyometric activity with a moderate level of pattern complexity. You can imagine how quickly the energy system, reactive pattern, and stabilization for a frontal plane single-leg hurdle hop might break down, right?

I’d much rather get 6 well-executed movements than 20 reps of gradually decreased proficiency due to system fatigue.

The other simple thing to remember is that, even when performed well, plyometrics are subject to plenty of multi-planar forces. They are, then, high-risk as well as high-reward.

So from the simple standpoint of risk mitigation, fewer, better-executed reps makes more sense than a pile of crappy ones.

Plyometrics are not conditioning activities. They are context-specific, skill development activities. Use them wisely and sparingly.

3. Foundation firstPossibly the most oft-committed sin of programming plyometrics is that of putting the skill before the foundation. Movement must dominate and strength levels must be adequate to deal with the increased ground reaction force.  If you want your athletes to become great jumpers, weak legs just ain’t gonna cut it. It astonishes me how many coaches (sports or strength/performance) just don’t realize that.  Let the intensity of your plyometric activities increase as the stability, strength, overall movement quality of your athletes rise. Without adequate stability and strength, the risk of injury from plyometric activities begins to outweigh the benefits. For most of my athletes, single leg stance is the first skill to master. It doesn’t sound like much, but SL stance is critical to the brain creating the proper recruitment patterns for knee stability. Younger athletes will struggle more with it, but you should be able to challenge your older athletes pretty early in your program. One of my favorite ways to connect stability patterns to movement is to connect a stability tempo exercise with a strength tempo lift, followed by a low rep plyometric activity. By using movement patterns with some overlapping neural pathways, we connect the stabilization patterns to the explosive ones, increasing quality and results overall.

The bottom line is that without a foundation of strength, plyometrics are not only risky, but they’ll also never be as effective as possible.


Strength is king and every other athletic skill is subject to it.

Plyometric exercises are a great way to express and develop athletic power. I’ve suggested some ways to avoid the potential pitfalls of plyo training, and I hope this helps improve your programming.

In any case, let’s do less “adapting” and pay more attention to the details – and our athletes.

Keep the faith and keep after it!

 

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.

Using Agility Bags to Develop Game Speed

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

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

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

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

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

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

BAG DRILL 1

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

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

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

BAG DRILL 2

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

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

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

BAG DRILL 3 – MIRROR DRILL WITH BAGS

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

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

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

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

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

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

BAG DRILL 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Athlete Development Model – Jim Kielbaso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Rethinking Long Term Athlete Development – Jim Kielbaso

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually, the stages looked like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social/Environmental

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parental Support

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

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

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

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

Coordination

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

complete athlete development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The old “windows of opportunity” Long Term Athlete Development model is a thing of the past.  Learn the truth about LTAD and how to approach athletes at every level in the IYCA Certified Athletic Development Specialist, 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:

Force Vectors & Speed Development – Kevin Hollabaugh

Learning about force vectors in speed development can change the way you instruct, cue and provide feedback to athletes training for speed.  I am a firm believer that a coach who is good at teaching speed and agility is good at understanding vectors of force and how they need to be used in order to gain efficiency in expressing movement language.

A vector is a quantity having direction as well as magnitude, especially as determining the position of one point in space relative to another. In other words the direction in which you apply force into the ground directly correlates as to how you will be able to move and how fast you will be able to move.

You can break down each phase of sprinting (acceleration, transition, and max velocity) and see that each phase requires a slightly different force vector to in order to allow for an efficient movement language. (see figure 1).

As we can see from figure 1 the first 10 to 20 meters we require the body to move and displace more horizontal power. As we begin to transition into more top end speed or max velocity we will notice that vertical forces play more of a key role than do horizontal. Now do not be mistaken as we still want the athlete to move as fast as possible horizontally its just the body position become more vertical which lends foot strike to happen underneath the hips as opposed to behind the hips. This change in force vectors is what lends top end speed mechanics to having more vertical hip displacement than we will see in acceleration.

It is critical to understand where these force vectors needs to be applied in order to see small mechanical breakdowns that occur when watching an athlete sprint. For instance if an athlete is striking the ground in a top end phase in front of the hip rather than just under it can make a world of difference. Each foot strike in front of the hip in this phase is what we call a horizontal breaking force and is why Usain Bolt wins most of his races. Each time an athlete strikes in front of the hip they are actually slowing themselves down. Watch this video and you will notice that Bolt loses the acceleration phase only to win the race as his foot strike allows him to keep his velocity while everyone else is slightly breaking.

As you can see if you watch the foot strikes you’ll notice what I am talking about as they relate to the hips the vectors it creates and it’s impact on speed. To finish up, I shot this short video as well to try and help you better understand vectors and their influence on speed in relation to the hips.

Coach Hollabaugh’s coaching experience has taken him from the University of South Florida to sports performance facilities in Cincinnati, and Indianapolis before creating the ProForce program. Kevin started the ProForce program from zero clients in October 2014 and now has reached over 400 athletes and has become the training destination for baseball players in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Kevin also serves as an adjunct professor for the University of Cincinnati where he teaches Methods in Applied Strength and Conditioning for the Athletic Training department, and works for the Pre-Sports Administration Program.

 

Force Vectors are an important part of speed training, and they are a large part of the IYCA Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course.  Click on the image below to learn more.

speed & agility certification

 

 

Acceleration Mechanics – Jim Kielbaso

Acceleration mechanics are incredibly important to address with athletes who need to improve their speed.  This is a “behind-the-scenes” video of Jim Kielbaso teaching acceleration mechanics to a group of athletes preparing for the NFL Combine.

Jim has done other videos and written articles on acceleration mechanics, but rather than just talking about it, this video shows him actually teaching athletes so you get to see exactly how he explains things.

Some of the main points covered in this video include what Jim calls the Power Position, stride length, body lean, knee drive, head position and an explanation about WHY all of these things will increase an athlete’s speed.

Being able to teach these concepts in a cohesive way is important for any coach responsible for speed and agility training with athletes.  While this video shows how acceleration mechanics are explained to experienced athletes, the same mechanics also need to be addressed with younger athletes using different language and teaching cues.

Of course, you don’t have to use the same exact language and cues in your teaching, but this video will give you plenty of ideas for how you can teach your own athletes about acceleration mechanics.  Take the words and video demonstrations that Jim uses in the video and create your own system of teaching athletes this important concept.

We also encourage you to share this video with other coaches and even use it when teaching athletes.

The IYCA Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course and certification go into depth on acceleration mechanics, top end speed, agility mechanics & drills, programming for speed, and programming for different ages.  It includes 69 videos, several done-for-you programs and a 249-page manual that is the most comprehensive written material on speed development in the industry.

Click on the image below to learn more about the IYCA CSAS

acceleration mechanics from the IYCA

6 Speed & Agility Tips for Coaches – Jim Kielbaso

Coaches are constantly asking me for speed & agility tips to make their programs more effective. After talking with hundreds of coaches and looking at what is happening all over the country, I have come up with six keys to increasing the effectiveness of any speed & agility program.  Here are the 6 simple speed & agility tips:

1. Educate the athletes. If your athletes don’t have an understanding of why they are doing a drill, there is a good chance they are thinking of it as torture or punishment. It is up to you to explain the purpose of a drill so the athletes fully understand how it impacts performance. Typically, this will motivate an athlete to work harder because they will understand how their hard work will pay off in the game. It also helps you, the coach, to choose drills that will actually benefit the athletes.  If you don’t have a clear understanding of the purpose of a drill, you’re probably missing something.

I can’t tell you how often I see coaches lining up cones, ladders and boxes in the name of speed and agility training, but the movements used in the drills have absolutely nothing to do with the movements used in the sport. If you have to explain how it will help the athlete, you are more likely to choose appropriate drills.

2. Focus on mechanics. Allowing your athletes to do drills with faulty movement patterns is speed & agility tips jim kielbasolike a golf pro watching his student hit ball
after ball with terrible flaws in his swing, and never providing any corrective feedback. Athletes practice sport skills and play games all the time, but they are rarely taught how to move properly; they are just expected to know how. But, if a kid has never been shown how to do something, how can you expect him/her to do it correctly?

Of all the speed & agility tips listed in this article, this may be the most important.

It is up to you to teach your athletes some of the most basic movement concepts in sports – running, cutting, shuffling, pivoting, jumping, etc. Athletes are not learning this anywhere else, so it is up to us to teach them these valuable movement skills.  This is exactly what the IYCA Certified Speed & Agility Specialist (CSAS) course teaches, which is why it is such an important course for anyone working with athletes.

Begin by teaching them like they have never performed these movements in their lives. In my writing and seminars, I refer to this as Movement Training, and by implementing Movement Training concepts into your speed training program your athletes will always end up farther ahead.

3. Quality not quantity. Too often, SAQ workouts turn into conditioning sessions. Remember, the goal is improving speed and agility, not aerobic fitness. Keep the work periods short and the rest periods long so the athletes can give 100% effort on each drill. You are trying to teach the nervous system how to work more efficiently, so the athletes need to be fresh. If the rest periods are too short, the work periods too long, or the athletes are simply fatigued from previous work, mechanics will disintegrate and the same old faulty movement patterns will ultimately be reinforced.

For optimal speed development results, keep the work periods to 2-10 seconds and the rest periods as long as 20-60 seconds or even longer if the intensity is extremely high. Explain that you will be giving long rest periods so the drills can be done with maximum intensity, and stick to your word.


4. Sport specificity.
As long as you are trying to teach your athletes to move more efficiently, it makes sense to practice movements that will actually be used in a game. Sprinting and cutting are used in just about every sport, but don’t forget about the very specific skills your athletes need to perform on the field or court. These movements include shuffling, stopping, pivoting, faking, spinning, cross-over running, backpedaling, etc.

As much as possible, include these movements into your SAQ sessions. Baseball and softball players should practice starting sprints like they are stealing a base. Volleyball players should incorporate lunging, approach steps and jumps into their drills. Football receivers should practice their routes. Quarterbacks should incorporate drop steps and linemen should start drills from 2-, 3-, or 4-point starting positions. Use your imagination to create drills that mimic competition.

Ladder drills and plyos are great general training methods, but if you don’t make your athletes practice their most important movements you should never wonder why they don’t perform them well in a game.

5. Consistency. As I stated earlier, SAQ programs are meant to train the nervous system. The best way to make this happen is to consistently practice sport specific skills so the nervous system learns the optimal movement patterns. 5-20 minutes, 2-3 days per week is all it takes.

You can make this happen by adding two short drills to your warm-up routine, or including one or two sport-specific drills into the beginning of each strength training session. This does not mean strength movements that “resemble” the sport movements – I’m talking about actually doing a couple of sprints or agility drills before each workout. As long as technique is emphasized, this brief, consistent practice will add up and allow your athletes to perform these skills perfectly on the field or court without any thought.  You basically have to take the other five speed & agility tips listed here, and apply them consistently to get the best results.

6. Long-term development. Another major problem I see in a lot of SAQ programs is implementing them a few weeks before the season, hoping for a miracle. Starting these drills 2-3 weeks before your first game is simply too late for major benefits to be seen.  Unfortunately, many coaches hope that a few simple speed & agility tips will work like magic.  That’s not how athletic development works, so make sure you have enough time to make a real impact.

You will certainly see benefits from doing SAQ drills during your pre-season, but working the drills into your year-round training program will elicit maximum results. Pre-season training should focus on technical/tactical skills and conditioning. Too often, though, I see coaches conditioning the athletes during the off-season; this is a waste of time and energy. If you have contact with your athletes during the off-season, work on strength, movement training and technical skill development for the greatest long-term results.

If you can teach your freshmen how to move, and include a few minutes of practice before every strength training session, imagine what a difference that will make by the time they are juniors and seniors. It’s never too early to teach kids how to move. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Introduce changes gradually, and continually attempt to make improvements. Speed and agility training will have a positive impact on any team, and incorporating these six keys will help you run the most effective program possible.

I hope these 6 speed & agility tips help you create more effective programs that will make a bigger impact on them.

Click on the image below to learn more about the IYCA Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course, the most comprehensive, and scientifically sound speed & agility certification in the industry.

speed & agility certification