Archive for “youth fitness” Category

The Cornerstones of Coaching Athletes

The first coach a child has is likely to be the most unqualified coach the child has. This has it’s ramifications.  We can’t over look the fact that every coach has the opportunity to improve THEIR game.

Look, it’s important for every coach to equip themselves with a high level of knowledge and education. No matter how long or short the stent is as ‘coach’ or how young/old their athletes are, this holds true.

Coaching youth, is a specialist role and we must treat it as such. Obtaining the label “coach” doesn’t make a instantly qualified coach.

Kids are not “mini-adults”, and having a coach that understands the nuances of coaching our children, is game changing!

Matter of fact, we’d argue that the first coach a kid has should be one of the most qualified when it comes to understanding the nuances.  It’s in these early days that a child will likely develop a love for their sport or not. The tone can be set, and often times the coach is key player in this.

We can’t take this lightly, as this is a BIG responsibility.

The influence of a coach can be powerful in a positive way, and in a negative way. Being an effective coach is important. This can be defined a number of ways but we thought it best to ask some athletes’ themselves, and get their take on it.

Here are some of the answers.

Stated by a Multi-Sport, 15 year Old

“An effective coach is someone that knows how to say what they mean exactly how they mean it, an effective coach loves what he does but knows how to create a hard working athlete, a true athlete, they don’t take it easy on their athletes and they know exactly how much to work them and when, how to teach them to deal with any situation that is thrown at them “

Stated by a Multi-Sport, 12 Year Old

“An effective coach is someone who cares about their players but will also push them to be the best no matter what.”

Stated by a Multi-Sport, 13 Year Old Female

“An effective coach means being a good communicator, setting high standards, having a balance between yelling and not”

Stated by a Multi-Sport, 15 Year Old

“An effective coach is relatable, understanding, supportive, pushes you to get better, allows you to be you, and inspires you to keep playing.”

Stated by a Collegiate Baseball Athlete

“An effective coach is positive, smart, helpful and experienced”

Stated by Multi Sport 17 Year Old

“Maintains a good mix of seriousness and fun, cool-headed, makes intelligent decisions, maintains good relations with the players, defends the players, no (negative) yelling, does their best to actually teach and help players grow game IQ”

Conversely, ineffective coaches were described as bias, selfish, inexperienced, unfair, lack of game knowledge, discouraging, unclear in what they wanted of the team, got mad easily, gave in to parent-player politics, disorganized and the list goes on.

It was no surprise that the athletes polled expressed that their favorite coaches were those who were most effective and that their least favorite coaches had more of the characteristics expressed as ‘ineffective’.

Although these are merely a snapshot, and they are opinions, we truly believe there is some merit to them.

What we can also conclude is that there are some cornerstones that, when coaches ‘practice’ them, they will improve the experience for athletes.

Cornerstone #1:

Cultivate a Culture That is Positive & Caring

A culture of approachability, autonomy, fun and learning can be highly motivating and encouraging for young athletes. The kids want to be there and they carry the ‘culture’ beyond the game and even within other friend groups or families.

This kind of culture promotes development and transformation within each individual athlete. It must be done consistently and coaches who do this, often become known for how they lead their teams, and what their values are.

They may even be, ‘sought out’.

Cornerstone #2:

Be a Pro at Communicating

A youth coach has to be able to effectively communicate with parents, players and other professionals. The most successful coaches consistently work towards mastering the craft of communication.

Unfortunately, although this cornerstone is so incredibly important, many coaches don’t prioritize it and may even blame others’ for not understanding them. If you find that your message isn’t landing with others’, it may be time to assess your approach.

Communication is a skill that we can all build!

Cornerstone #3:

Specialist Knowledge Suited for the Position

This is one of the most overlooked cornerstones. It’s not enough to have ‘played the sport back in the day’ to sufficiently and successfully coach our kids.  Being labeled coach doesn’t mean you are suited for the position and the greatest coaches know this and seek out support & education.

What many don’t realize is, there are many developmental nuances that require the coach to understand and practice when it comes to our youth. Not only that, consider all the different ways that kids need to be coached & taught.

A “cookie cutter approach” is a disservice to young athletes.

It’s also not enough to know just about the ‘technical’ aspect of the game. Sure, you can teach someone how to throw and catch, shoot, dribble, or the number of other technical skills but that doesn’t make them a good athlete.

This cornerstone is integral for the coach who wants to truly develop athletes to their fullest potential!

Check out this free resource to learn more about Training Athletes Through the Ages and some of these nuances we must consider.

Cornerstone #4:

Demonstrate Proficiency in Applying the Knowledge

It’s not enough to know, you must also apply the knowledge. The greatest coaches can distill down their education and translate it to our youth, at THEIR level in a way they can apply it.

Over complicating and over coaching on the delivery, is detrimental.

Those who can demonstrate proficiency in the delivery and application of that which they have learned, are on their way to becoming an exceptional coach who is the catalyst for exceptional experiences.

Keep working on this! It’s a skill that we can all build.

Top 3 Priorities of Coaches

Coaches are the catalyst for transformation. They help a child become better tomorrow than they are today. In order to do this well, it essential for a coach to take care of themselves.

Here are a few Priorities of a coach when it comes to that:

  1. Prioritize their own mental fitness & Personal/Professional growth.
  2. Prioritize their own physical well-being.
  3. Prioritize their own emotional health.

Coaches are playing a very important game. Every day they show up to coach our future generations.

Now let’s get after it!

We’d love to hear from you. Comment below which Cornerstones are your strongest and which ones you need to work on.

Also, don’t forget to snag our Free Training on Developing Athletes from Start to Finish

-Thank you

The International Youth Conditioning Association

Why Youth Sports is a Losing Game and We Must Change

As an industry, we are playing a losing game right now and it’s time to look in the mirror. Consider this, if seven out of ten employees quit their job at a company due to burnout or overuse, it’s fair to assume the company would be concerned.

So what makes the youth sports industry any different…why aren’t we paying attention to our younger kids, seeing the red flags or doing something about this?

Perhaps some are, but it’s going to take MUCH more.

You may be wondering what we are talking about, and this is the first step…awareness.  It starts here and in this article we hope to bring awareness to the problem and a staggering statistic that is plaguing our industry and setting our children and future generations up for failure.

In a recent study, by the American Academy of Pediatrics they stated that although over 60 million children and adolescents currently participate in organized sports, attrition rates remain staggeringly high, with 70% of youth athletes choosing to discontinue participation in organized sports by 13 years of age.

Look around your teams, training sessions and end-of-season parties, the likelihood is that 7 out of every 10 athletes will be done playing sports before they reach high school

Most likely, the majority of those 70% will either get injured and sit or burnout and quit. This isn’t even considering the possibility that some athletes’ that remain playing, only do so because they feel they have to or are obligated to.

According to the study, the professionalization of youth sports is widely considered responsible and is a result of high volumes of training, the pressure to specialize which can increase odds of injuries, overtraining and burnout (2,3).

Burnout, however,  is only one reason for dropout, others on the list include a loss of interest, lack of available time, interest in other activities, lack of playing time and lack of fun.

If you are reading these numbers as a coach, trainer, parent, athletic director or ANYONE who facilitates or coaches teams, we hope that it strikes a chord. Perhaps, even, there may be doubt about theses statistics?

If that is the case, don’t take it from us, get out there and educate yourself with credible resources and research.

In a take home message from Pediatric Child Health, participation in organized sports should be aimed at the developmental level (which may not be the ‘chronological age’) of the participants so that they enjoy being physically active. (2)

Children should be encouraged to participate in a variety of activities and avoid early specialization.(2)

Parents can be instrumental in promoting physical activity and sport participation in their children by ensuring that children are having fun at their development level. To provide a basis for lifelong involvement, parents and coaches should strive to provide positive sport experiences for children that match their interests and developmental capabilities. (2)

We hope you are asking…how do we fix this?

This is a question we’ve been asking for years, and the truth is, we need to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to reverse these trends.

We must change as a collective industry if we want to move toward a more sustainable direction for our young athletes. Parents, sport coaches, trainers, sport organization officials and schools must collectively come together and collaborate versus compete. We must work in synergy, not against each other, and we must keep the athlete a priority.

Are you with us?

So, where do we go from here?

There are some STOPS & STARTS we recommend so we set our future athletes up for the WIN not just in sport, but in life well into adult-hood.

1. START teaching foundational and functional skill development while promoting a well rounded approach to their overall development as an athlete respective to their athletic & developmental age. (Learn more about Long Term Athlete Development and Physical Literacy and how to do this)

2. START facilitating workouts & practices that are engaging, memorable and exciting with age appropriate games and training to keep sessions and practices engaging and FUN. (See the Long Term Athlete Development Model)

3. START encouraging and planning for athletes to take adequate time off- at least 1 or 2 days a week- to rest and recover.

4. STOP encouraging athletes to specialize, defined as: “year-round intensive training in a single sport at the exclusion of other sports.”(3) START taking OFF 2-3 months (they don’t have to be subsequent) from individual sports.. 

5. START supporting athletes’ in playing another sport while taking a ‘break’ and/or START seeing a Certified Performance Coach who is Certified to teach Long Term Athlete Development and Physical Literacy principles. (Recommended Certification)

6. START emphasizing and celebrating athletes in their process goals vs their performance outcomes.

7. START prioritizing the WHOLE athlete. Encourage mindfulness and emphasize overall habits of athletic health (Hydration, Nutrition, Sleep, Mindset, Motion, Relationships, etc). Seek out or become a specialist beyond the ‘skill of the game’ when needed.

8. START implementing the Long Term Athlete Development Model and reinforcing Physical Literacy principles or seek out a performance professional who is Certified to Coach athletes at their developmental and athletic ages, which could be different than their chronological age. (Recommended Certification).

9. STOP coaching all athletes the same. START understanding how they need to be coached to be most successful, and adjust to meet them where they are at.

10. Lastly, START 1-9 as soon as possible!

There is no doubt that involvement in sports can be extraordinary and positive experiences for young athletes, but we have a long way to go in providing these experiences consistently.  We believe that this should be the duty and mission of every Sport Coach, Sports Organization, Athletic Director, Performance Professional and Parent.

As an organization, The IYCA strives to positively impact the healthy living habits and behaviors of tomorrow’s generation. We know that developmentally-sound, purposeful, and fun movement exposures provided through conditioning, fitness and sports are critical building blocks in developing from the younger years and well into adulthood.

The first step is awareness, then education and action!

We know that some may read this right now and not take action, but some of you will be ready to join this mission and take action. If that is you, keep reading! Below are  two of our best resources that will start to bridge the gap that is causing our athletes to drop out, burnout and lose.

If you are a community builder and want to play your part in reversing this staggering trend in your community, then the IYCA Certified Athlete Development Specialist is the perfect stepping stone to furthering your knowledge in order to provide extraordinary long-term experiences for the athletes you work with.

If you are looking to learn more and further your knowledge on how to develop athletes long term in a healthy and appropriate way but aren’t in need of a certification, then a great next step would be Long Term Athlete Development: The Lifelong Training Roadmap


Now, let’s go WIN THIS game!

– The International Youth Conditioning Association



1. Joel S. Brenner, MD, MPH, FAAP; Andrew Watson, MD, MS, FAAP; COUNCIL ON SPORTS MEDICINE AND FITNESS https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/153/2/e2023065129/196435/Overuse-Injuries-Overtraining-and-Burnout-in-Young


2. Sport readiness in children and youth. Paediatr Child Health. 2005 Jul;10(6):343-4. PMID: 19675844; PMCID: PMC2722975.

3. Jayanthi N, Kleithermes S, Dugas L, Pasulka J, Iqbal S, LaBella C. Risk of Injuries Associated With Sport Specialization and Intense Training Patterns in Young Athletes: A Longitudinal Clinical Case-Control Study. Orthop J Sports Med. 2020 Jun 25;8(6):2325967120922764. doi: 10.1177/2325967120922764. PMID: 32637428; PMCID: PMC7318830.

Physical Literacy: The Game and Beyond

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

This is NOT appropriate or effective and can set kids up for failure. It can also put the young athlete at risk for acute and chronic injury.

By understanding the process of motor development, the coach or youth fitness professional will be far better equipped to create long-term programs that are developmentally appropriate every step of the way. This will only optimize the experience of the young athlete in the game and beyond the game.

Physical literacy is the goal and the cornerstone of basic human movement and fundamental movement skills. It is described as motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and engage in a physically active lifestyle (1. Longmuir C, Boyer C et al.)

The youth fitness professional, parents and sport coaches must apply the concepts of physical literacy in order to ensure that the child may have the best opportunity to develop and achieve success in movement, sport, and life. 

This needs to be a combined effort from coaches, trainers, parents/guardians, and children.

Developing the fundamental movement skills (e.g., walking, running, and jumping) happens early on in a child’s life. Unfortunately, being unable to perform fundamental movement skills can restrict later opportunities, which is why it is vital to develop physical literacy early in the child’s life. 

As coaches, if we hope to create great athletes who have a chance at being successful for the long haul, then your programs must be based on Long Term Athletic Development.

Just like a baby must learn to roll over before crawling, crawl before standing, stand before walking, and walk before running, your athletes need to build a foundation for elite level athletic performance before they can reach their maximum potential.

When athletes specialize early and skip critical steps in building this foundation, they are at extreme risk for injury and burnout. The trouble is, building that foundation early isn’t always sexy. And often coaches may not understand the exact steps to building the foundation.

However, that’s not your fault! Many are inundated with ‘influence’ of non-experts in this area and it’s at a detriment to our kids.

When it comes down to it, you and the athletes want results, and you’ve been told that specialization is the way to do it. Unfortunately this is wrong and setting our athletes up for failure, in their game and beyond their game. 

But the trends are shifting, and it’s time to get back on the path towards Physical Literacy and Long Term Athlete Development for EVERY athlete!

The very first step in any effort towards change, is to gain education. Our Long Term Athlete Development Roadmap is the perfect place to start or enhance your current knowledge. 

Will you join the mission with us? 

We cannot do this alone and we need other parents, trainers, school administration, sport coaches and professionals to stand up for Long Term Athlete Development and Physical Literacy.

It’s time to move. Our athletes’ will thank us!

We’d love to hear from you, don’t hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments!


1. Longmuir C, Boyer C, Lloyd M, Yang Y, Boiarskaia E, Zhu W, Tremblay M. The Canadian Assessment of Physical Literacy: methods for children in grades 4 to 6 (8-12 years). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4532252/#CR1

2. Gleason, D, Brooks, T, Fleming, W.  Long Term Athlete Development: The Lifelong Training Roadmap. https://iyca.org/ltad/

Athlete Development through the Ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ultimate goal, wouldn’t you agree?


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


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

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

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:

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

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:





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:

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 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.

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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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:



Perform 2 sets, 20 steps.

Crab Walking

Perform 2 sets, 20 steps.


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.



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:

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

Dear Parents of Young Athletes,

I get it.  You want your kid to be better at sports.  And, taking a lesson this week (hitting, shooting, dribbling, etc.) from a sports skills coach will produce a quick results so your child will experience success this weekend. 

I have three boys who play sports, so I definitely understand where you’re coming from.  We all want our kids to succeed. 

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

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

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

It will definitely help…to a certain extent.

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

Just so we’re on the same page, “athleticism” refers to things like body control, speed, coordination, balance, quickness, kinesthetic awareness, and the way a person moves. 

Sports skills are all about technical expertise at skills like dribbling, shooting, hitting, etc.  Being more athletic makes it much easier to learn and master sports skills, but being good at sports skills does not necessarily make an athlete more “athletic.”

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

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

Athletes who have both traits have a very high ceiling.  

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

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

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

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

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



P.S. If you are a parent who likes to further their education, you can learn more about how to Train athletes from Start to Finish in this free resource

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.


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.   



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.


Narrow Your Niche, Increase Your Impact – Brett Klika

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

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

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

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

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

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

5-8 Year Old Athletes

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

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

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

Female Athletes

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

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

Athletes with Special Needs

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

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

Homeschooled Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Empathy in Coaching – Jim Kielbaso

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits of empathy:

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

How to develop empathy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improving Strength to Weight Ratio with Your Youngest Athletes – Brett Klika

According to the Centers for Disease Control, it appears that roughly 32% of children are either overweight or obese. Compound this with large scale youth inactivity and the result is a growing number of young athletes who will struggle with poor strength to weight ratios beginning at a young age.

As youth strength and conditioning coaches, we are in a position to help these children improve this important component of health and athleticism while minimizing frustration with our youngest athletes. While bodyweight exercises may prove troublesome for these youngsters, there are other effective movement strategies that can help them build the strength to move with more confidence and competence as they get older.

Consider the movement strategies outlined below when working with young children whose bodyweight stands in the way of their ability to move effectively.  

Strength implements

Exercises with dumbbells, kettlebells, Sandbells, medicine balls, etc. can be performed with weights well below that of a child’s body. While a 100-pound child be not be able to move their entire body mass effectively during a push up, they may be able to perform a dumbbell bench press or med ball throw with a 10-pound implement.

Consider an inactive and/or overweight child’s joint and muscle proprioceptors. When a large amount of load is placed on, such as bodyweight, they are quickly overloaded and send the “abort” signal to the surrounding structures. Using implements with lighter loads not only improves coordination and strength, it preps their proprioceptive system to manage load more effectively.

Not only will these exercises help them improve their strength to weight ratio over time, they will most likely enjoy them and be willing to perform them with a greater level of intensity.

Sandbell Spelling


Overhead Press


Vertical Slams


Pushing, Pulling, Gripping, Carrying

Pushing, pulling, gripping, and carrying activities can be done at sub bodyweight loads, but have a tremendous positive impact on the proprioceptive system. Pushing and pulling can be done without the impact of gravity. Pushing/pulling sleds, pulling ropes, and similar exercises minimize the negative impact of increased bodyweight and allows for heavier loads to be used.

Gripping activities like farmer walks and suitcase carries not only impact the hands and forearms, they aid in improving shoulder stability. As proprioceptive strength and stability improves at the shoulder, exercises like pushups and pull ups become more attainable.   

Pushing, Pulling, Carrying


Suitcase Carry


Alternate Grabber


Assistance exercises

While improvement in strength are usually observed with increases in training load, actively assisting movement can help develop motor coordination patterns that slowly translate to strength in “under-strong” young athletes.

For example, a child may not possess the hip, leg, and core musculature strength to stabilize and mobilize everything necessary for a lunge or squat.  Suspending an elastic band overhead and placing it under a child’s arms or having them hold it to unweight their body as they move can allow them to perform the movement correctly. Over time, slowly decrease the thickness of band that is used until it becomes unnecessary.

During assistance exercises, kids are able to go through full joint range of motion and their brains and bodies learn the proper neuromuscular sequence. For overweight children, this may be the only way they can perform these movements initially.


While isometric exercises still involve a child’s bodyweight against gravity, removing the complication of dynamic movement can help their proprioceptive system develop the proper stability needed in a given body position.

For example, a pushup requires not only the stability of the hips and spine to integrate the whole-body movement, it requires the concentric and eccentric strength to control the body moving down and up. Focusing on merely the aspect of stability in the static position, children can then slowly add the additional component of movement either against gravity or with some form of assistance.

It is important however to monitor a child’s ability with these exercises. If they prove too difficult, consider using implements, etc. to improve strength.

Push Up Plank


Wall Sit


All of the movement strategies above not only help inactive and/or overweight children improve their strength, they contribute to an increase in physical activity. Strength goes up, bodyweight goes down. The result is improved athleticism, success, and enjoyment with physical activity 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.

How Physical Activity Enhances Brain Power – Erica Suter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s dive in:

1. Give them movement autonomy.

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

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

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

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

2. Do cross-body movements daily.

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

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

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

Cross Crawl

Crawling Coupling

3. Make fitness fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Training Kids With Autism: The LDD Approach – Eric Chessen

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

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

“Squat.” (Then I demonstrate the squat)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Top 10 Posts of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metabolic Conditioning for Athletes, Part 2 – Phil Hueston

In Part 1 of this series on metabolic conditioning, I explored what energy is and how the body’s energy systems work. In this article, let’s have a practical look at what metabolic conditioning is and why we should do it with athletes.

The 3 Forms of Metabolic Conditioning

Metabolic Conditioning comes in three basic forms, two of which relate directly to exercise and training:

1. Anaerobic-based – According to Plisk, this is “Motor unit activity, substrate flux and force-speed production patterns such that anaerobic bioenergetics pathways are preferential.” (1) In other words, this form is based on muscle and system functions that prefer the ATP-CP system. Using it preferentially tends to lead to further preference. Your systems will get better at using this form, with a preference for it.

It’s peripheral in nature. We’re talking about muscles and the movement systems of the body. This includes voluntary and involuntary movement, so that twitch or tic you get is also dependent on this system. Think of it as the conditioning that strengthens muscles as well as the endurance of the body.

It buffers the hydrogen ions that accumulate in cells via the production of lactate (not lactic acid, as most folks like to say.)

As fast-twitch, or Type 2X fibers begin to fatigue, we see a slight transference from the ATP-CP system to the Glycolytic system. So, you can remain in an anaerobic metabolic conditioning state even as the principle energy system begins to fail.

2. Aerobic-based – Aerobic energy production is more “central” in nature and provides overall work capacity and endurance for activities of varying speed, intensity, and duration. While arguably more critical to quality and span of life, it can be accomplished through means that are not traditionally “aerobic.”

Aerobic metabolic conditioning integrates cardiovascular parameters into the conditioning process. These include heart rate, cardiac output, blood flow distribution, arterial pressures, total peripheral resistance, left ventricular stroke volume and arterial & venous blood oxygen content.

3. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – All energy expended for all activities other than eating, sleeping, and exercise or sports.

According to Levine “changes in NEAT accompany experimentally induced changes in energy balance and may be important in the physiology of weight change.” (2)  It can account for 270 to 480 calories per day, on average.

Energy. Metabolism. Energy metabolism. They’re all neighbors. Co-workers. You get the idea.

Why metabolic conditioning for athletes, anyway?

Yeah! Isn’t metabolic conditioning really for older, chubby people who are sick of looking like whales at the beach?

Yes and no. Yes, it helps with fat loss. No, it’s not just for the crowd trying to avoid the Porky Pig look.

What are the real benefits of metabolic conditioning for athletes?

Let’s take a look.

For a lot of coaches, metabolic conditioning is just a way to “kick the asses” of their athletes. Some athletes have even been conditioned to buy into this idea. I, for one, would greatly appreciate if those coaches would find work in another industry. Waste management, maybe.

Metabolic conditioning can be tough, and it probably should be, if it’s really going to be effective. Your metabolic conditioning program should challenge your athletes, but it should also make them better!

A quality metabolic conditioning program can provide the following benefits to athletes:

1. Serious calorie burning – While probably a bigger concern for the fat loss athlete than for competitive athletes, it’s an important consideration. While calorie burn during your training session is important, it’s really the boost in metabolic rate after the session that’s important.

Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) contributes to the “afterburn effect.” This occurs because the body is in an oxygen debt after intense exercise and is in the process of repairing muscle tissue. Add to this the lactate factor and EPOC becomes a pretty big deal. Metcon can enhance EPOC and keep the metabolism jacked.

Improvements in lean mass for athletes come with several other benefits. When an athlete’s metabolism is more efficient, he/she uses nutrients more efficiently. Protein and nitrogen uptake are improved and the rate of calorie expenditure per unit of work performed is positively affected.

Athletes can also become more “metabolically flexible.” (3) This means their bodies become able to perform at high levels using either carbs or fats for fuel. Conversion of fats to usable fuel gets more efficient and energy levels don’t vary as much.

2. Improvement to cardiovascular capacity – While steady state, low intensity exercise like jogging or a bike ride can have real impact on cardiovascular function and aerobic capacity, metabolic conditioning has been shown to improve VO2 max better than traditional aerobic exercise.

Perhaps more important, recovery times from high-intensity activities improve. That means when your athlete goes all out, they recover the ability to go all out again in a shorter time.

3. Improvements in hormonal profile – Metabolic conditioning has been shown to improve the profile of hormones that are involved in lipolysis, or fat burning. Metcon seems to intensify the positive hormonal profile results from just strength training. Recent research has shown an improvement in free testosterone in men who perform HIIT, or high-intensity interval training. (4)

4. Improvements in lean mass – Metabolic conditioning can help spur dramatic improvements in lean mass. While you’re unlikely to see large-scale increases in total mass or muscle size, metabolic conditioning contributes to reductions in body fat.

One benefit of the lean mass changes resulting from proper application of metabolic conditioning is one that many athletes understand, but few really talk about. After all, it’s become a little bit politically incorrect. I’m talking, of course, about the intimidation factor.

Few things are more intimidating to a less-conditioned athlete than the raw, hungry look of a lean, muscled athlete. Even athletes who aren’t “huge” look far more intense and scary when their muscles are showing. Any football player who has lined up across from someone whose muscles are on full display can attest to that…

5. Sport – or context-specific skill development – Especially with metabolic conditioning targeting the ATP-CP system, sport- and context-specific skills are often ideal for inclusion in programming. Because the work time is relatively short and the rest time fairly long, athletes can focus on perfecting skills like jumping, landing mechanics and direction change without losing any of the other benefits of metabolic conditioning.

If you have athletes preparing for combines, showcases or other recruiting-related or similar events, using metabolic conditioning to improve those skills is ideal. Drills like the Pro Shuttle, 40/60 yard dash starts, 10 yard splits, L Drills and others can be connected with other activities to increase metabolic conditioning while perfecting important skills.

You can even tie in sports skills like hitting a ball, ball handling skills, shooting or sprawling for wrestlers or shooting for soccer, lacrosse or hockey players with other conditioning activities to achieve the desired met con effect.

6. Improvements in brain chemistry – After accounting for stress and other life factors, we know that intense exercise like metabolic conditioning will improve the neurotransmitters in the brain, CNS and even the gut. Endorphins are released during and after intense exercise. Serotonin and dopamine levels are improved through exercise that pushes us near the point of physical exhaustion.

With regard to gut hormonal health, metabolic conditioning may be just what your athlete needs. Shorter duration, higher intensity exercise is believed by some alternative medicine doctors to “shock” serotonin receptor cells in the gut lining and improve the flow of gut serotonin. Long duration exercise, however, has been shown to damage gut linings and potentially lead to leaky gut syndrome. (5)

7. Improvements in cognitive function – There is so much research showing how exercise, particularly intense exercise, improves the cognitive function of the human brain that it should be a “no-brainer” by now. Sorry, bad joke. Neural pathways involved in working memory, recall, analysis and problem-solving all benefit from exercise. Some of the influence is hormonal, while some is structural and energy-related.

Another important way cognitive improvement happens is via an increase in Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF. BDNF is a brain protein which acts on specific neurons to improve long-term memory. It also has positive effects on the hippocampus, cortex and forebrain. All these areas are crucial to learning, memory and higher thinking. BDNF also has the ability to stimulate neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells from stem cells.

Moderate to intense exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on levels of BDNF in the brain and blood. This indicates a neuroprotective function for metabolic conditioning. (6, 7)

Are you with me that metabolic conditioning isn’t just for overweight, swimsuit model wanna-bes yet? You should be, or at least open to the idea.

Metabolic Conditioning workouts should be designed with the needs of the user in mind. The activities in which the exerciser will engage outside the gym should influence what is included in the training program. In the next part of this series, I’m going to show you how I use metabolic conditioning in my athlete’s programs.

We’ll review some general guidelines for designing these modules. I’ll also give you some sport-specific examples of skill-building through metabolic conditioning and a few ready-to-use programs for you to swipe and try.

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


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


  1. Plisk, S.S. (1991). Anaerobic metabolic conditioning: A brief review of theory, strategy,
    and practical application. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, 5(1), 22-34
  2. Levine, J.A. (2004). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Nutrition Reviews, 62(7), S82-S97.
  3. Brooks, GA, and Mercier, J. Balance of carbohydrate and lipid utilization during exercise: The “crossover” concept. Journal of Applied Physiology 76(6): 2253-2261, 1994.
  4. Herbert, P., HIIT produces increases in muscle power and free testosterone in male masters athletes. Endocrine Connections, Vol 6, Iss 7, Pp 430-436 (2017)
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