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Archive for “training young athletes” Category

The Super Power of Great Coaches and Leaders – Brett Klika

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 5 skillsets that comprise emotional intelligence are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motivation
Motivation is a measure of your drive to succeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Keeping Young Athletes Training – Brett Klika

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coach and Athlete Name Recognition

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

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

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

Parent Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incentives for Progression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Single Leg Squat Variations – Jordan Tingman

Single Leg SquatUnilateral exercises, or single-leg squat variations, are beneficial for a variety of reasons including that they require stability, they have the potential to eliminate imbalances, and they can help create awareness of weaknesses. The single-leg squat has been utilized commonly in knee rehabilitation settings such as with individuals experiencing patellar tendinitis or going through a return-to-play protocol with knee surgeries. Considering the stress that sport has upon the knees themselves, implementing exercises that stress the knee joint is imperative when preparing the body for these demands. The single-leg squat is a great way to strengthen not only the larger muscles of the leg but also all of the stabilizing muscles of the hips due to the nature of the unilateral exercise.

Though there are many benefits of the single-leg squat, they can be fairly difficult exercises to perform. Here are some ways to progress and strengthen the single-leg squat movement pattern:

Important things to note:
Some of the variations in the video emphasize the eccentric portion of the single-leg squat.  At first, many athletes struggle to perform the concentric portion of these exercises, so performing the lowering portion will help build the strength necessary to eventually control the full range of motion.  Focusing on the eccentric portion of the exercise is beneficial not only to strengthening the muscle fibers but it creates tension on the tendon structure of the knee joint itself. Challenge the eccentric portion with time under tension spending around 3-5 seconds on the descent during the exercise vs focusing on the concentric portion.  Athletes will still reap the benefits of utilizing the variation and will eventually increase their strength to a great enough degree to perform full range of motion repetitions.

If utilizing a longer eccentric time, perform around 4-8 repetitions on each leg for 3-4 sets.

If focusing on a normal tempo, utilizing higher repetitions (8-10) may be more appropriate. Determining the repetition ranges will depend on the athlete’s ability or what phase of training they are in.

You can also perform the single-leg squat variation in multiple planes using a variation of the Y-balance test:

Performing these movements can be done utilizing sliders or standing on a single leg and tapping the toe to each of the same positions. You can challenge this position by having the balancing leg on a foam pad to add more of an ankle stability component.

Since the Y-balance test holds validity in assessing an athlete’s limb-to-limb symmetry, adding these movements into a warm-up may also prepare the body for all the different planes associated with many sports.

Utilize these single-leg squat variations in conjunction with other exercises, including bi-lateral squats, to create well-rounded programming that addresses many needs.
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, as well as a Graduate Assistantship in S & C at Eastern Washington University.  Jordan is a competitive Olympic weightlifter and is currently training athletes of all ages near her home in Seattle, WA.

 

 

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes, and it has recently been updated!.  The course includes several hours of video instruction (including a complete Olympic lifting instructor course) and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

10 Ways to Improve Athleticism in Young Athletes – Jeremy Frisch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

How to Get Better at Push Ups – Jim Kielbaso

It’s no surprise that many athletes want to get better at push ups.  It’s a foundational exercise that requires no equipment, and How to get better at push upscan be done anywhere.  Many coaches also look for ways to help athletes get better at push ups, but simply doing them more often isn’t a great way for many people to improve, especially those who aren’t capable of performing many good push ups.

When I work with athletes who struggle with them, but want to get better at push ups, I take a three step approach that has worked for hundreds of athletes.  This approach is outlined here and demonstrated in greater detail in the video below:

  1.  Teach them proper technique.  Often, I see young athletes use poor form because they either can’t or haven’t been taught.  I like to start the process by giving some instruction and cues that I can build upon as we train.
  2. Take advantage of negative (or eccentric) push ups.  Humans can produce about 20% greater force eccentrically than concentrically.  That means that we can perform the lowering phase of a push up much easier than the raising phase.  We can take advantage of this phenomenon by utilizing negative push ups in an effort to gain enough strength to perform full reps.
  3. Slowly progress from negatives with good form to full push ups with good form.  Having a slow system of progression can really help athletes get better at push ups in a fairly short amount of time.

Watch this short video to learn more about these steps:

Of course, effort and consistency are key to making progress, but taking advantage of this 3-step approach gives you a simple system than can help just about anyone get better at push ups.  By teaching proper technique, reinforcing it through the use of negatives, and slowly forcing the body to adapt (get stronger), you can give athletes the ability to take advantage of this foundational exercise.

Athletes that struggle to perform push ups often struggle with other exercises and movements because they lack the postural strength & stability to maintain main positions.  Once athletes can perform quality push ups, it will open up a plethora of variations and options that can be utilized when training for improved sports performance.  Learning how to use free weights, sprint faster, and improve a variety of sports skills will be enhanced by the ability to perform push ups.  Take advantage of this method to not only help athletes get better at push ups, but to improve their ability to control their bodies in sports.

 

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

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

Pelvic Tilt Control for Athletes – Jim Kielbaso

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Complete Achilles Tendon Treatment for the Sports Performance Coach – Greg Schaible

When working in an outpatient orthopedic rehab or sports performance facility you will commonly be treating Achilles Tendon injuries.

That could be an Achilles Tendon Rupture, Achilles Tendinitis, or Achilles Tendinopathy. All are slightly different in their mechanism of injuries but all have the same milestones and goals to progress through in order to experience a full recovery. Obviously a rupture will take a longer time frame to recover than a tendinitis or tendinopathy scenario (but that’s probably a topic for a completely separate post).

***Be sure to pay special attention to step #3 as this is often missed by many rehab clinicians and strength coaches

The first step into the process is understanding the influence of pain on the problem as well as anatomy and biomechanics influence on the problem. These are two separate issues, as often pain does not correlate directly with the amount of tissue damage present. This makes it important to understand the guidelines of pain (what is okay to work through and what is not okay to exercise through).

We discuss this in the below video:

The other important consideration we pointed out in the video above is the anatomy of the calcaneus. The shape of the heel creates a compression force on the Achilles tendon when stretched which is important to consider if the pain or location of the injury is at the base of the tendon or if the tendon is highly sensitive. For these reasons, it is often NOT a good idea to stretch your Achilles tendon (especially when you are experiencing pain).

Once you understand the pain and irritating factors it is important to understand how to re-establish capacity back into the tendon without aggravating the tissue.

We do this through strengthening in a NON stretched position FIRST. Then start gradually working our way back into STRENGTHENING THROUGH a stretched position. Not hanging out for 30 seconds in a sustained stretched position.

In Part 2: the video below we discuss our two favorite exercises to start accomplishing this:

Step #1 and #2 are the easy parts of the rehab gameplan. However, this will probably only solve about 70% of cases. In the other 30% of cases, you need to consider other factors that may be influencing pain, as well as return to play scenarios for those involved with higher levels of activity!

To understand this further we need to consider the two main archetypes of feet you will see…

A pronated (flat) foot, and a supinated (high arch) foot.

Depending on what media and other healthcare providers have led you to believe, you probably feel that both flat feet and arched feet are undesirable. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth!

Both types of feet are necessary for everyday tasks. It’s no different than the ability to rotate your head right and left. Flat feet and arched feet are two extremes that the body should be capable of experiencing both. If the foot is not adaptable at creating both, and experiencing both at the correct moment, then you limit the foot’s capabilities.

During gait or walking our foot SHOULD experience supination, to pronation, to re-supination. That is normal and necessary mechanics of walking, gait, running, etc.

Pronation is needed to absorb force (store potential energy) or absorb/attenuate forces. Supination is necessary to produce force by creating a rigid foot.

The body’s ability to re-supinate the foot is accomplished through the windlass mechanism. Which is only created by getting great toe extension. The only way to get great toe extension during gait is by allowing the foot to pronate and weight bear over the great toe as your center of mass moves forward (horizontally) during gait, walking, running, etc.

If you cannot pronate effectively, you will not create an effective windlass mechanism and thus not experience re-supination. So all those towel scrunches or tripod foot exercises you are doing with the knee straight have little carry-over to life as during walking, running, etc we are moving forward! The tibia is moving forward, the knee is moving forward, the hips and body are moving forward…

So we must pronate effectively to allow our body, knee, and tibia to move forward. Load the foot and the kinetic chain. Experience pronation effectively and let the body get over the great toe to effectively utilize the windlass mechanism to re-supinate the foot and prepare for propulsion. The video below will hopefully give you a better understanding:

This above step #3 is often the most overlooked problem to Achilles injuries as well as many foot/ankle/knee problems. Understand it, and you can make a world of difference for people who seem to be constantly stuck in a state of injury or rehab purgatory.

Finally, the last step in the process is exposing the tendon back to a situation similar to sport.

Sure eccentric loading is great for the tendon histology development, and the athlete will certainly experience eccentric loading of the tendon in sport. However, a concept often overlooked is the ability to create co-contraction of the kinetic chain to distribute or absorb force more effectively. When running or jumping, the body needs relative stiffness in the ankle (as well as all the other joints) to not crumble when applying a force into the ground. Then store the potential energy to propel themselves forward. Look at any sprinter at top-end speed or dunker taking off from a one-foot jump approach.

Those who do it effectively create a lot of stiffness around their joints at ground contact. Meaning you will not see a large counter movement occur during a one-foot jump approach (or really even someone who is more of an elastic two-foot jumper). A sprinter you will notice a very stiff an rigid foot and even knee at ground contact. This is because the body is co-contracting the calf, hamstring, quad, and glute to quickly apply force and absorb force through the kinetic chain.

In video 4 we discuss some of my favorite dynamic exercises that take into account teaching co-contraction at ground contact.

If you found this article helpful, you will probably love the newly revamped Youth Athletic Assessment Specialist 2.0 course that I helped create for the IYCA.  I hope this gives you a better understanding of the Achilles tendon and how to address it in your training programs.

 

Dr. Greg Schaible is a physical therapist and strength coach specializing in athletic performance and a regular contributor the the IYCA. Greg is the owner of On Track Physiotherapy and owner of the popular online education resource Sports Rehab Expert. Greg works with athletes and active individuals of all ages. As a former athlete himself, he attended The University of Findlay and competed in both Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field where he earned honors as a 5x Division II All-American and a 6x Division II Academic All-American.

 

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

Top 3 Upper Body Pulling Exercises – Jordan Tingman

Upper body pulling exercises are one of the most neglected movements in poorly designed programs, but they are absolutely vital to creating well-balanced athletes.  It’s also common to see these exercises performed very poorly with very little attention given to correct posture, control, or form.  Because many athletes enjoy pushing exercises so much (like bench press, push-ups, etc.), adequate pulling is necessary to provide balance.  Many coaches adhere to the rule that the volume of pulling should match the volume of pushing, and some like to perform a greater amount of pulling.  While vertical pulls like pull-ups, chin-ups, and pulldowns are all outstanding exercises, this article will focus on horizontal pulls or rows.

Pulling exercises can be done utilizing a variety of equipment, and changing up the implement can often keep training more interesting and engaging.  The rest of this article will focus on three pulling variations that I enjoy including in my programming.

The first variation is fairly common, but a staple in any rowing progression – the prone dumbbell row. This is a great exercise because it allows for the athlete to focus on the important upper body postural components of rowing. Telling the athlete to maintain an upright chest on the bench allows for them to naturally eliminate the use of the upper trap/shoulder. This allows athletes to squeeze the shoulder blades when pulling, which is difficult for many athletes to do when learning how to pull. Ensure your athlete is reaching a full range of motion in these exercises, allowing them to protract and retract the scapulae while rowing. This often needs to be addressed separately with specific scapular retraction reps/exercises in order to help athletes learn how to control this movement.  Cue “elbows back” and rowing “low to the pockets” to again, make sure that they are utilizing the proper musculature.  You can also place your hand between the scapulae and cue the athlete to squeeze your hand with their shoulder blades as they lift the weight.  Many athletes will actually push their shoulders forward as they row, so time must be spent on this.

Pausing at the top of each rep is also difficult for many athletes.  This obviously makes the movement more challenging, so many athletes take the easy road and neglect the pause.  This is particularly true when heavier weights are used.  Pausing at the top allows you to focus on scapular retraction and builds strength at the peak of the contraction.

The second variation I include in my top 3 pulling exercises is the single-arm ring row. This is a challenging exercise, especially with those lacking a lot of core stability or upper body strength. This is a progression of the normal ring or TRX row. Begin by making sure the athlete has adequate core and upper body stability and strength to perform the exercise. You can make this more challenging by inverting it.

The last variation I include is the half kneeling single arm banded row. This can also be done with the athlete being directly under the band, gbut can also be done with the band attached at a higher angle to create a more vertical pull compared to the variation shown. The half-kneeling position challenges posture and core stability in addition to performing the rowing exercise.

Using just dumbbells, bands, and rings allows you to perform these exercises in most settings, and they give you enough variety to keep athletes interested.  I also like using these variations to space out larger groups when super-setting exercises.  For example, you may super-set the banded row with an upper-body pushing exercise or a squat.  You can set up the band away from the other exercise to create space and to keep traffic moving.

Try these three pulling exercises in your programs to help create balanced upper-body strength and use them as part of a progression to more difficult exercises.

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, a Graduate Assistant S & C Coach at Eastern Washington University, and is currently working at D1 Sports Performance in Boise, ID.

 

 

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

5 “Non-crunching” Core Exercises for Kids – Brett Klika

It’s hard to have a discussion about athletic performance and injury prevention without mentioning the “core”. Despite what many have been lead to believe, the core is not so much a handful of specific muscles as it is a relationship of muscles involving the upper and lower body that work together to properly transfer energy and maintain the integrity of the spine.

When coaches are able to help young athletes properly develop this relationship of muscles involving both the anterior and posterior hips, shoulders, and torso, it creates a strong foundation for athleticism.

This requires much more than doing crunches.

It’s important to understand that in order for the core to do its job, the involved muscles must coordinate to stabilize and mobilize properly. The more we can facilitate this coordination with young athletes, the better.

Isolation-type exercises (think crunches and back extensions) do have a place when it comes to activating muscles involved with the core. However, movements that force kids’ brains and bodies to “figure out” how to coordinate the mobilization/stabilization actions of the core have a lot more ROI when it comes to athletic development.

The five exercises below are examples of movements that require young athletes to coordinate the muscles involved with their core as they move in different planes of motion and orientations with gravity.

Bear, Crab, Butterfly
This movement series not only challenges aspects of reaction and coordination, it provides a 360-degree challenge for the muscles involved with the core relationship.

Instruct athletes as to the following movement cues:

  • “Bear”: Athletes hold a crawl position with the knees off the ground
  • “Crab”: Athletes turn over into an inverted quadruped position with hips parallel to the ground
  • “Butterfly”: Athletes support their body weight in a “standing side plank” position with their legs apart

Alternate between the 3 cues in random order for 20-30 seconds.

Crab Rolls
In addition to providing a 360-degree core stability challenge, Crab rolls challenge and activate a young athletes vestibular system. This helps in improving balance and body orientation.

  • Begin in a “bear crawl” position with the knees of the ground.
  • Without letting their hips touch the ground, the athlete turns their entire body over so their hips are now facing the sky in a reverse quadruped position.
  • The athlete then continues to roll back to the “bear crawl” position without letting the hips touch the ground.
  • Continue for 15-20 yards
  • As the athlete rolls to change body orientation, cue them to keep their hips as high as possible

T-Birds
Proper movement of the scapula is often neglected in regards to its contribution to the core relationship. Many kids struggle with proper protraction, retraction, elevation, and depression of the scapula due to poor posture and thoracic muscle tone. This makes it difficult to stabilize the thoracic portion of the torso effectively, decreasing the amount of power than can be translated through the core.

This exercise engages the muscles of the scapula and thoracic area, both important components of posture and core strength/stability.

  • Begin with the athlete lying prone on the ground with arms out perpendicular to the upper body. Thumbs should be facing upward. The chin should be “packed” as if to be holding a large orange or small grapefruit between the chin and throat
  • Keeping their feet on the ground, cue the athlete to raise their thumbs towards the sky
  • After holding for 2 seconds, return to the bottom position
  • Repeat for 10-15 repetitions

Weighted Spelling Bee
The muscles involved with a young athlete’s core must be able to initiate and control movement in a variety of planes of motion. This exercise challenges core stability and strength in a variety of constantly changing planes of motion.

  • Provide a weighted implement (appropriately weighted Sandbell®, medicine ball, weight plate, etc.)
  • Instruct the athlete to begin in an athletic position with feet even with or slightly wider than shoulder width. The narrower the stance, the more challenging the exercise becomes
  • The weight should be held out away from their body
  • Cue the athlete with letters, numbers, shapes, and/or words that they must “spell” with the weight, using a range of motion from the ground to above their head
  • Repeat for about 30 seconds, or when you witness fatigue

Bird Dog Rodeo
This exercise is a dynamic, advanced version of the standard Bird Dog exercise.

  • Begin with athlete in a quadruped “all 4’s” position
  • Cue the athlete to extend their opposite leg and arm until they are parallel to the ground.
  • While the athlete attempts to hold this position, alternate pushing on their outreached arm and leg, attempting to knock them off balance
  • If there hand or foot touches the ground, the coach receives a “point”
  • Repeat for 20 seconds each arm/leg
  • If the coach cannot score any points, they do 20 push-ups after the activity is over

Consider these core movements and others that go beyond crunches to help your young athletes develop the tools they need to perform for life!

 

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

 
 

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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(C) feel competent (“I am capable”), 

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

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

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

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

…painter

…musician

…writer

…singer

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

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

What are you curious to know more about? 

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

How do you want to connect with people? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are a student-athlete.

You are also more than a student-athlete. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Top 3 Squat Variations – Jordan Tingman

In this article & video I go over the ways that I personally coach each of the 3 squatting variations I chose. I understand that some of these may be done by other coaches, and while I respect other coaches opinions, this article outlines how I personally like to coach these exercises. 

While most people think about the back squat as their top squatting variation, I’ve taken a slightly different approach in this article.  Please don’t take my list to mean that I don’t love the back squat, but the three exercises I’ve listed are my personal favorites, and all of them give coaches plenty of ways to coach, assess, and progress.  I’ve also decided to choose three different bilateral movements because I wanted to stick with bilateral variations rather than get into all of the unilateral options that can be done.  Of course, I love unilateral squat variations, but I stuck with my Top 3 favorite bilateral options here.

Front Squat

The first exercise in this video is the front squat.  As mentioned in the video, this is a great exercise because you get so much from just one movement. Challenging core strength, posture and position while strengthening the lower body.  The front squat is the first squat variation, other than a goblet variation, that I utilize with my athletes, because it truly develops great movement mechanics and understanding of an upright posture with a barbell while squatting. 

Barbell Box Squat

The second exercise I go over is the barbell box squat. This is an exercise that can be done so many ways, but I cue my athletes to maintain tension in the core and legs throughout the entire exercise. This can be a great progression exercise when dealing with an athlete struggling to reach depth. Have the athlete start at a higher box height as shown in the video, and then progress them downwards by using lower boxes or pads to change the height they are squatting to. Controlling the movement down to the box, pausing slightly above the box maintaining tension, then exploding out is a great way to incorporate speed training into a squat pattern. 

Overhead Squat

The third exercise is an overhead squat.  I understand that this is potentially the most advanced squat variation, and I do not use this very often in my programming, but it is another exercise that you can get a lot out of if done correctly. This challenges posture and position, upper body strength and stability. This can be used as an accessory exercise or in a warm-up if performing movements like the snatch.  It can also be utilized as an assessment as explained in the video. If programming this for your athletes, ensure that they have good quality movement before loading the exercise itself. 

Look for more Top 3 lists soon.  In the meantime, give these a try in your programming.

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

Brain Development Through Exercise – Brett Klika

As youth strength and conditioning coaches, we know that teaching kids movement skills at a young age increases the likelihood they will be active and athletic for life. What we sometimes take for granted, however, is the dramatic impact these physical skills have on the overall development of a child’s brain.

A growing body of evidence is now highlighting how movement during the early developmental years of high neuroplasticity plays a key role in the development of areas of the brain responsible for memory, informational processing, impulse control, and behavior. In the current world of youth inactivity, this means that our role as movement coaches is critical not only for physical development, but cognitive development as well.

It’s important that we not only understand the relationship between movement and brain development, but can communicate this information to the parents, teachers, and other youth influencers in our community.

Below is outlined some of the important functions that different types of movement training have in regards to developing a young athlete’s brain.

Aerobic Exercise and Brain Development
One of the broadest fields of study on movement and brain development has looked at the impact of aerobic exercise on the brain. It appears that even the simplest exercise program that elevates heart rate for an extended period of time can impact a young athlete’s brain development in the following ways:

Positive impact on structures and activity in the prefrontal cortex
The prefrontal cortex is an area of the brain that is responsible for many of our rational behaviors such as reasoning, problem solving, impulse control, and creativity. Collectively, this is often referred to as “executive function.” (8)

Aerobic exercise has been demonstrated to increase activity in the prefrontal cortex, particularly in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex. The anterior cingulate cortex plays a role in motivation, attention, and emotional regulation. With increased activity in this region, children demonstrate improved measures of behavior. (3)

Increased Size of the hippocampus
The hippocampus is a structure in the brain responsible for memory, spatial navigation, and behavioral inhibition. Aerobic exercise appears to increase the size of the Hippocampus, resulting in improvements in memory and math performance. (2,7)

Increase basal ganglia volume
The basal ganglia is an area of the brain associated with controlled movement, procedural learning, and cognition. It appears aerobic fitness increases the volume of this area of the brain, having a direct impact on the decision-making process between stimulus and response. In other words, young athletes learn to think before they act! (1)

Increased brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
BDNF acts like a fertilizer for neural tissue. Aerobic exercise appears to increase BDNF levels in the brain. This aids in the growth and maintenance of a variety of critical brain structures. (5,7)

Angiogenesis
Angiogenesis is the growth and proliferation of new blood vessels. Research has observed that aerobic exercise increases angiogenesis, and as a result, blood supply, to key areas of the brain associated with learning and behavior. (4)

The above list just scratches the surface of how something as simple as elevating a young athlete’s heart rate can improve their capacity for learning and behavior. However, youth strength and conditioning often move past merely elevating the heart rate as they help kids develop a large toolbox of athletic movement.

Let’s take a look at what some of these coordinated movement patterns can do to the development of the brain.

Athletic Coordination Training and the Brain
Adapting to the different rhythms, spatial constraints, body positions, and other factors of athletic movement appear to impact the brain as well. Dr. John Ratey, a best-selling author and pioneer in researching the impact of movement on classroom performance suggests that as the complexity of a movement activity increases, so does the number of synaptic connections in the brain. (5)

The more of these connections that can be formed, the better opportunities children have to improve their brain/body connection. Below are some specific ways increasing movement complexity impacts the brain.

Crossing the midline
There exists an imaginary vertical midline that divides the brain and body into two equal hemispheres. Within this functional model, the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice-versa.

When a limb from the left hemisphere of the body attempts to cross over to the right hemisphere, and vice versa, it creates temporary confusion in the brain. In order to continue to control the action of that limb, information has to be rapidly exchanged between the hemispheres of the brain.

The “highway” in which this info is exchanged is called the corpus callosum. When young athletes are forced to cross their midline with the upper or lower body, the hemispheres of the brain get to practice this passing of information. This improves the smoothness of movement transitions and may also help neural communication within the hemispheres of the brain, especially when these activities are performed when kids are young.

Balance Spelling (Progress to Balance on One Leg)

Different movement tempos
The constant acceleration and deceleration of many athletic activities places a large demand on the different areas of the brain associated with timing and rhythm. In his book, SPARK, Dr. Ratey discusses research examining how varied, irregular movement tempo increases BDNF in the brain to an even high degree than repetitive movement. (5)

Additionally, the area of the brain that addresses movement tempo is also active when executing grammar skills. Research has discovered a relationship between a child’s ability to adapt their movement rhythm and their proficiency with grammar skills. (6)

In other words, the constant tempo changes of agility drills not only improve on field performance, it helps grow young brains!

My Gears

Balance and body orientation challenges
When children do physical activities that require them to balance and/or change the orientation of their body to the ground, they challenge the brain structures associated with the vestibular system. This system is anchored by inner ear structures that can determine the position of the head in relation to the ground, in addition to the speed and direction the head is moving.

As a young athlete’s head changes position, the vestibular system sends out signals to other limbs, joints, and muscles to do what’s necessary to “right the ship”. The more a young athlete is forced to go through this process, the better the system works.

Inactive kids often demonstrate a poor or reduced vestibular function. They either have to fidget constantly to provide positional feedback to the brain, or they are overly sensitive to movement, particularly fast movement. Either way, it can lead to disruptions in attention and behavior.

4-Way Balance and Move

All of the above are in addition to the other short and long-term social, health, and other benefits from being highly active as a child.

Apply this understanding of the brain/body connection to your assessment and programming of young athletes. Additionally, make sure the parents, teachers, and other influencers in your community understand that your role as a youth strength and conditioning coach extends well beyond creating star athletes.

Take pride in your role helping kids sweat, smile, and get smarter!

Reference List
Chaddock, L., Erickson, K. I., Prakash, R. S., VanPatter, M., Voss, M. W., Pontifex, M. B., Kramer, A. F. (2010). Basal ganglia volume is associated with aerobic fitness in preadolescent children. Developmental neuroscience, 32(3), 249–256.
Christiansen, L., Beck, M. M., Bilenberg, N., Wienecke, J., Astrup, A., & Lundbye-Jensen, J. (2019). Effects of Exercise on Cognitive Performance in Children and Adolescents with ADHD: Potential Mechanisms and Evidence-based Recommendations. Journal of clinical medicine, 8(6), 841.
Colcombe, S. J., Kramer, A. F., Erickson, K. I., Scalf, P., McAuley, E., Cohen, N. J., Elavsky, S. (2004). Cardiovascular fitness, cortical plasticity, and aging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(9), 3316–3321.
Lees, C., & Hopkins, J. (2013). Effect of aerobic exercise on cognition, academic achievement, and psychosocial function in children: a systematic review of randomized control trials. Preventing chronic disease, 10, E174.
Ratey, J., & Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (First ed.). New York, New York: Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group.
Reyna L. Gordon, Carolyn M. Shivers, Eleizabeth A. Wieland, Sonja A. Kotz, Paul J. Yoder, J. Devin McAuley. Music rhythm discrimination explains individual differences in grammar skills in children. Developmental Science, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/desc.12230
Thomas, A. G., Dennis, A., Bandettini, P. A., & Johansen-Berg, H. (2012). The effects of aerobic activity on brain structure. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 86.
Tomporowski, P. D., Davis, C. L., Miller, P. H., & Naglieri, J. A. (2008). Exercise and Children’s Intelligence, Cognition, and Academic Achievement. Educational psychology review, 20(2), 111–131.

 

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:

Metabolic Conditioning for Athletes, Part 3 – Phil Hueston

This is the last of a 3-part series on metabolic conditioning for athletes. In Part 1, we discussed what metabolic conditioning is, what energy really is and what it means for the human body and, more specifically, your athletes. I broke down the three principle energy systems in the body and how Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP,) the “secret sauce” of energy for movement and other bodily functions, is used in the body.

In Part 2, we discussed the 3 forms of metabolic conditioning and the reasons to use each of these with your athletes. (We’ll very briefly review these again.)

In this last part of the series, I’ll break down the “how-to’s,” with some detail regarding what activities to include for various sports and how to maximize metabolic conditioning for your multi-sport athletes.

First, let’s quickly review parts 1 and 2. 

In 2011, Bergeron defined metabolic conditioning as “exercises that impose a moderate to high demand on the cardiovascular system and energy metabolism of the active muscle fibers to meet with the muscles’ repeated high energy requirement.” (Current Sports Medicine Reports, 2011) Metabolic conditioning is the improvement of energy storage, delivery and usage through the application of activity to the movement system of the body.

Energy can be neither created nor destroyed, only shifted in form. It’s this shape-shifting quality that allows us to have 3 separate energy systems for activity in the human body. The key to all of it, like any good recipe, is the “secret sauce.” In this case, that’s ATP.

The 3 energy systems we care about are 1.) Phosphagen (ATP-CP) System, 2.) The Glycolytic (Anaerobic) System and 3.) The Aerobic System. To keep them straight, you can think in terms of how long your athlete can “go” and how much force can be produced while going.

The Phosphagen System allows high force production, but short duration of work. Lots of ATP being created and lots being used. Creatine phosphate plays a role here. You get massive force, but only for about 30 seconds, with a 1 to 5 minute rest phase needed to fully recover. There are no fats, carbohydrates or oxygen involved in this process. It’s an anaerobic energy system.

The Glycolytic System gives you more time, but less force production over that time. It involves the breakdown of carbs into pyruvate, then into either lactate (when oxygen isn’t plentiful) or acetyl co-enzyme A (when oxygen is available.) The latter is taken up by mitochondria for the production of ATP. The former is involved in a process which creates issues surrounding the buildup of metabolites and other cellular “trash.” (Technical term there, don’t just throw it around.) This system will give you 30 to 60 seconds of decent effort (maybe several minutes, depending on which studies you read) with a rest time of 1 to 3 minutes to refuel.

The Aerobic System will let you go long, but not hard. (Get your mind out of the gutter!) If you’re going 5 minutes or longer, this is your energy system. Of course, we’re talking about relatively low force production. 

Aerobic energy production involves ATP synthesis within muscle mitochondria and uses blood glucose, glycogen and fats as fuel. A very large amount of ATP is produced, but that production is slow compared to the other processes. Because force output tends to be low, recovery times can be short.

In part 2, we discussed the 3 forms of metabolic conditioning:

  1. Anaerobic-based – Based on muscles and systems, this form prefers ATP-CP as it’s energy source. Beginning in the Phosphagen system, there will be a slight shift into the Glycolytic system as muscle fatigue sets in. Preferential use of this system will lead to a preference for it. This form of conditioning strengthens muscles as well as improves the body’s endurance. It is peripheral in nature, creating conditioning in muscles and systems primarily, with overall endurance as a secondary benefit.
  2. Aerobic-based – This is more central in nature, providing overall work capacity and endurance conditioning for activities of varying speed, intensity and duration. It introduces cardiovascular parameters into the conditioning process, but can also be accomplished by means that are not necessarily “aerobic” in nature.
  3. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – All energy expended for all activities other than eating, sleeping and exercise or sports. It’s both central and peripheral in nature. It’s also not what we’re concerned with in this discussion.

There are lots of reasons to do metabolic conditioning with your athletes. Among them are increased calorie burn, improved metabolic efficiency and flexibility, improved Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), improved cardiovascular capacity, quicker recovery times, improvements in lean mass, improvements in brain chemistry and cognitive function, and better sport- and context-specific skill development.

While metabolic conditioning has benefits for every athlete, from a program design standpoint, we’re largely going to be focused on what I refer to as “sprint-based” sports. Whenever I get the chance to talk to sports coaches, I like to ask them about their “conditioning.” All too often, their answers make me cringe.  We can do better.  

Even with the massive amount of evidence and information publicly available detailing the shortcomings of long duration activities at improving athletic outcomes in the majority of sports, most coaches are doing it “the way we’ve always done it.” The problem is, the way they’ve always done it has always sucked. We just know better now.

Long runs around fields, huge numbers of “sprints” with little or no rest between, agility ladder or hurdle work with no rest between reps. The list, unfortunately, goes on and on…and on.

What if we look at conditioning for sports from the perspective of metabolic conditioning for sports? In other words, let’s make conditioning look and feel more like the way the sports look and feel. And no, I don’t mean that literally. Your baseball and softball players don’t need to do rope slams with weighted gloves on to get faster hands (I’ve seen that). Your lacrosse players don’t need to carry a telephone pole around the field to “strengthen the shoulders to hold the stick up the entire game” (Yep, I’ve seen that, too). And don’t even get me started on wall sits for hockey players and gassers for football players. Ugh.

Here are the key elements to consider when designing metabolic conditioning programs and sessions for athletes.

  1. Work-to-rest ratios – what does game play look like? How much of the game is spent at full speed? How much rest does the athlete get? Is that rest on the field, waiting for the next thing to happen or on the bench? While work-to-rest ratios need not exactly match those of a given sport, getting them close brings a certain “relatability” for the athletes with whom you’re working. 
  2. Module design – Are you using circuits? Are you using cascading fatigue, wherein you stack 3-4 activities of increasing difficulty one after the other, with an extended rest period at the end? Are you using active rest? Passive rest?
  3. Sports movements – What are the movement variables associated with the sport? Rotation? Direction change? Contact? Does the sport tend to be either lower- or upper-body dominant?
  4. Key injury patterns – What are the most common injuries in the sport? Can you create higher levels of resistance to those injuries with proper metabolic conditioning?
  5. Space and equipment availability – How much room do you have to work with? What kind of equipment is available? Is there enough for all the athletes involved?
  6. Number and skill level of athletes – How many are you working with at one time? Will partner work make your program flow better? What are the athletic levels of your athletes? How variable is it from one to the other?

Let’s look at some simple guidelines for designing metabolic conditioning work for specific sports. The challenge for most of us is that many of our athletes are multi-sport athletes. Because of this, context-specificity is more important than sport-specificity. With context-specific conditioning, we would design for the types of movements most beneficial to the sport, along with a general application of cardio-respiratory, strength endurance and skill development concepts based on the sport or sports being targeted. 

For example, when training football players, a 1:3 or 1:4 work-to-rest ratio makes sense. The average play lasts about 6-10 seconds, with time between the end of one play and the beginning of the next being 25-35 seconds. Since we want maximal power and cardio output during the work phase, shorter is better here. Working for 60 seconds really doesn’t make sense and won’t give us the targeted metabolic conditioning we’re looking for.

10 seconds of all-out work, followed by 30-40 seconds of rest makes sense if we’re trying to match game conditions. Mixing up these ratios to occasionally mimic the “2-minute drill” is appropriate as well.

I prefer explosive and high-output activities. Plyometric jumps, hops and even push-ups are great for this. Try to alternate lower- and upper-body dominant activities from one station to the next. Crawl patterns are practically a must for football players. Medicine ball and Dynamax ball activities are also great for these. Hurdle shuffles, ladder jab steps and even arm shivers on a heavy bag are good, too. Sled sprints and band-resisted activities like shuffles and high knee running in place also fit. Very heavy carries like Farmer or Zercher carries are appropriate, too.

Lacrosse and soccer pose a different challenge. While a lot of coaches will tell you how much their players “run” during a game, it’s not really the case. Starting, stopping, changing directions and actual play on the ball make up a significant portion of time on the field. So does walking and standing still, even if coaches don’t want to admit that. For the record, I’m not suggesting that standing still should be part of your metabolic conditioning program for athletes. 

For lacrosse and soccer, multi-directional movements should compliment explosive and high-output activities. Medicine ball and Dynamax activities, speed and agility work as well as band-resisted activities are great here. Body weight movements like crawl patterns fit here, too, as do sled sprints and heavy carries. For these two sports, I’m a fan of variable work-to-rest ratios. When using explosive activities, I prefer shorter work periods. If agility ladders, hurdles and slightly lower output activities are on the menu, I will typically lengthen the work period to as much as 30-40 seconds. 

My personal preference is to use either high output, shorter work time programs or lower output, longer work time programs during any one session. During a training week for these sports, I will adjust these variables from one session to the next. Movement mastery is important. In my opinion, it takes time for a training effect to “stick,” so bouncing back and forth during a training session doesn’t really make sense to me.

For baseball and softball, including some rotational power development activities makes sense. Rotational Dynamax wall throws and band rotations are good choices to add to the mix.

Basketball and volleyball may warrant some added plyometric work. The caveat here is that you must be aware of the volume of plyometric work being included in regular practices. This is especially true with volleyball, where coaches regularly include (often far too much) plyometric activities in their practices.

Let’s finish off here by building out a metabolic training session for ice hockey players. This can easily be used with field hockey and lacrosse players as well. Ice hockey is an interesting application, since every coach has his/her own view on how long a shift (work time) should be. Most coaches shoot for 45 seconds to a minute, with 1-3 “shifts” in between. 

In theory, every hockey shift is played at full speed and power. In reality, that just ain’t so. As a result, we don’t need to match the exact work time. If we stick to a 1:1 rest-to-work ratio, we’ll get the job done. 

Let’s work with a 45 seconds on, 45 seconds off formula. During the “off” periods, you can choose to have your athletes perform light mobility work or do some SMR. Remember that the goal is to get maximal output during work periods and maximal recovery during rest periods. Most hockey teams have about 20 players (“-ish,”) so we’ll build 5 work stations. Total work time per circuit will be 3:45, with equal rest time. We can get 3 rounds done in about 23 minutes.

Station 1 – Lateral Hurdle Hops (1 hurdle/athlete)

Station 2 – Alternating Single Leg Push-up (regress as needed to match ability levels)

Station 3 – KB Swing (KB Squat to High Pull works well here, too.)

Station 4 – Dead Ball Slam or Alternating Rotational Dynamax Wall Toss (the latter adds an element of positional shifting and setting, since they’ll switch positions each rep. This is great for rotational sports in general.)

Station 5 – Ladder “Icky” Shuffle to Reverse Shuffle (have each athlete use 3 boxes of the ladder and you’ll only need two ladders.)

This is just one simple exercise combination. In the words of the old-time comics, “I got a million of ‘em!” And so do you – you just may not have thought about it like this before.

There’s a reasonable combination of footwork, low level plyometric work, hip drive, strength endurance and rotational power built right into this simple 5-station circuit. Certainly this will work to make any athlete better. But imagine discussing this with a hockey, lacrosse, baseball or softball coach. If you can relate this work to improvements on the ice or field, your buy-in level from that coach will increase significantly. Same for your athlete and his/her parents.

I normally advise my athletes that if they’re really getting tired or just need a drink, they can break for one station if needed. Odd that it almost never happens. But that’s the nature of competitive athletes, isn’t it?

I hope this series has helped open some eyes to the value of metabolic conditioning for athletes. While we normally think of metabolic conditioning in relation to efforts around fat loss or weight loss, the benefits to our athletes can’t be ignored. Like most of my colleagues in the strength & conditioning field, I believe strength is the key to every other athletic skill. But we need to give our athletes every weapon we possibly can. Metabolic conditioning helps provide some of those weapons.

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, and it was recently updated to include even more information than ever.  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.

Foot & Ankle Strengthening for Athletes – Jordan Tingman

You may have heard that many injuries and long-term structural issues can arise from issues in the feet.  The feet and ankles are often neglected in training, but we should really be focusing a lot of our attention on the quality of movement coming from the feet. Structurally, the feet and ankle areas are comprised of many bones and ligaments, and if not able to move properly/efficiently, these structures may not function the way they should under stress, which can easily lead to injuries and compensations.

The foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments.  There are also 7000 nerve endings in each foot that not only feel different sensations, but more importantly, help us balance, move, stabilize, and sequence movement strategies throughout our bodies.  The structure is intricate because the foot has to perform incredibly small and subtle movements in order to shift weight during complex movements, remain rigid yet supple, and respond to a wide variety of stimulation.

Literally every force we deliver or accept from the ground goes through the feet and ankles.  When we jump or run, we usually think of our quads and glutes creating large amounts of force to propel our bodies.  While this is true, all of those forces ultimately have to go through the foot.  So, neglecting this area would be a major oversight.

Many coaches are intimidated by the complexity of the foot and ankle.  Doctors and therapists spend years to learn the intricacies of this area, so how could we possibly know everything about the foot and ankle?

We don’t have to.

While it would be very beneficial to have a deeper understanding of the foot/ankle, the truth is, incorporating any sort of foot and ankle prep into a program will offer benefits to the athlete. You can incorporate simple exercises into a dynamic warm-up before a practice/training session or you can incorporate them throughout a workout!

I’m not suggesting you are intentionally ignorant of the subject, but it’s not necessary to get overwhelmed and decide to do nothing at all.  Instead, gather as much information as you can, and choose some simple exercises that do no hard and can help keep your athletes healthy and functioning properly.  If these exercises cause pain or reveal more complicated issues, definitely refer them to a specialist.

Here are some simple exercises that you can add to the beginning of your workout:

Foot/Ankle Video

When considering all the different planes that the ankle works in, it is nearly impossible to train every single movement or range of motion, but we should try to provide as much variety as possible in order to strengthen them!

Banded Ankle Work

Always consider how you’ll fit these exercises into a complete program.  You probably won’t have time to perform every exercise shown, but don’t let that stop you from including at least one thing aimed at training this important area.

 

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

Beginners Guide to the Hip Hinge – Brett Klika

The hip hinge. 

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

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

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

Step 1: Sensory Prep

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

Step 2: Practice the Gross Movement

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

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

Over/ Under Wall Touches

 

Step 3: Learn to Move the Hips Horizontally

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

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

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

3 Cone Reach

 

Hips to Wall

Step 4: Keep the Knees Soft

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

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

Step 5: Keep the Chest Up

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

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

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

T-Bird

Bird Dog

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

Elbow Knee Squat

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

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

 

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

Developing Athleticism in Your Warm-Up – Erica Suter

I have hope for kids.

Sure, we can complain that playgrounds are vacant, physical education teachers are being laid off, and recesses are becoming shorter, and kids are doomed, but I beg to differ.

There is a glimmer of light in the youth athletic development world.

Since kids spend most of their time with their primary sports teams, team coaches have the opportunity to incorporate skills into practices that build athleticism.

But why is this important?

Kids are not getting enough movement variety at team practices to develop the totality of their bodies, from coordination, to flexibility, balance, strength, and speed. Without a diversity of movement patterns, kids run the risk of overuse injury due to muscle weakness and asymmetries in their bodies. Moreover, they hinder their potential for improved speed, agility and endurance.

While there are some kids who get outside to sprint, play Capture the Flag, Four Square, and Flag Football with the neighbors, it’s few and far between.

More often than not, kids go to school, come home, stay inside, do homework, go to school again, then go to their primary sport practice. 

Rinse and repeat for years and years.

Let me ask you this: if your child is a single-sport athlete, are they getting enough movement outside of their team practices?

Because this much I know: youth athletes are at their team practices a lot. And during this time, they get the same, repetitive movements that target just one aspect of developing athleticism.

Take the single-sport soccer athlete, for example: they perform movements with the same muscle groups every week – the quads, hip flexors, and calves – from all of the shooting, tapping their feet on the ball, and jogging. And this goes on from age 6 until high school, given the way travel clubs are structured today, and how much parents push kids to specialize early.

It is concerning, to say the least.

Not only is the accumulation of the same muscle movements a recipe for overuse injury, but it does our kids a disservice when our aim is to develop them into strong, well-rounded humans. And to optimize their speed and agility potential, we need to get them strong in areas that do not get as much love at their team practice. 

Do you think doing toe taps on the soccer ball will improve speed and force production?

Now, let me ask you this: are your kids getting outside and climbing, picking up rocks, building tree forts, or doing anything to develop upper body and anterior core strength outside of this team practice time?

It’s important to put the athlete first, before the sport. If you are a parent, it is critically important you take your kids to the best gym out there: the playground. Here, kids can gain a plethora of basic motor skills like running, hopping, jumping, climbing, and balancing. 

And taking the conversation back to team coaches, you have immense power to impact your youth players by adding athletic skills into your warm-ups.

If you execute these movements before every session and game, it adds up into something magical over the years. Think of the basic motor skills like putting pennies in a piggy bank: the more we compound them, the more athleticism we have in the end.

Adding athletic skills to your warm-up will not only develop kids into their strongest selves for the long-haul, but it will serve as a good warm-up for physical game readiness, and mental focus by exciting the nervous system. It is also easy to do and takes less than 10 minutes.

Here are several drills to add to your dynamic warm-up to help your kids become beasts: 

Coordination

Coordination is one of the first things kids should work on to better develop speed and contralateral movement of the arm and legs. Here are two drills to try:

Forward Skip

Perform 2 sets, for 20 yards.

Lateral Skip


Perform 2 sets, for 20 yards each.

Flexibility

This much I know: kids need to stretch more. What I like about the two drills below is they give you a bang-for-your-buck with the ankle and hip mobility, as well as balance components.

Plank Cross Crawl Inchworm

 

Perform 2 sets, 5 each leg.

Knee Tuck Holds 

Perform 2 sets, 15 seconds each leg.

Balance

The strength and balance of the itty bitty feet of our kids plays a huge role in performing movements on one leg efficiently. Sprinting at top speeds, for example, is only possible if kids can handle the forces placed on their feet. Changing direction and being agile, too, calls for balance and stability on one leg without rolling an ankle.

Toe Walks

 

Perform 2 sets, for 20 steps.

Eyes-Closed Balance

Perform 2 sets, for max time.

Strength

Kids as young as 7 can begin strength training to some degree. Even using their bodyweight and holding themselves up is enough to develop a solid foundation. You would be surprised how difficult these two drills are for kids, so let us start building them up now:

Crawling

 

Perform 2 sets, 20 steps.

Crab Walking

Perform 2 sets, 20 steps.

Speed

The best way to develop speed in young ones is to have them sprint fast and often. Small-sided practice games and having them stand around is not enough to develop their running. I urge you to add sprint variations to your warm-up, especially as a competitive chase drill or race:

Reaction Roll To Sprint

 

Perform 2 sets, sprint 15-20 yards.

Circular Cone Reaction Speed Drill

Perform 2 sets, sprint 15-20 yards.


Lateral Movement

Navigating through the frontal plane is a movement kids are not exposed to enough. The Lateral Squat Stretch helps with their hip mobility and be more comfortable with moving sideways and preparing for agility. The Side Shuffle with Hold is great for reinforcing “athletic stance” with the knees slightly bent, and hips back. This position is powerful to better help kids change direction safely and quickly.

Lateral Squat Stretch

 

Perform 1 set, 10 each side.

Side Shuffle with Hold 

Perform 1 set, 5 each side, with them holding athletic stance on your clap or cue. 

Start with these movements in your warm-up and you are on your way to developing more coordinated, stronger and faster youth athletes. I urge you to use these as a stepping stone to create your own variations as well. After all, the sky is the limit as far as helping our young players and ensuring they make the most of their time at practices.

We want to provide them with as many tools in their athletic toolbox as possible, so they get better at their primary sport, but also they open up other opportunities to excel elsewhere as healthy humans.

When it comes to young kids, develop the human first, and the player second. 

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.

 

 

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Letter to Parents: From Jim Kielbaso – Let Them Struggle

Dear Parents of Young Athletes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Jim

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

 

To learn more from Jim, check out the IYCA Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course.  The CSAS is the most comprehensive and scientifically sound speed certification in the athletic development profession.  It truly prepares you to teach and develop speed.  Click on the image below to learn more.

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How to Develop Mental Strength in Youth Athletes – Jill Kochanek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical tips for building mentally strong athletes

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The IYCA is dedicated to helping create better experiences for young athletes all over the world, and the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

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

Dear parents of young athletes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Jim

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and 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.