A Holistic Approach to Developing Athletes in Multiple Sports
One would think that with the sports specialization “epidemic” in the United States, there would be very little need for an article discussing better ways for developing athletes in multiple sports. In reality, MANY of our high school athletes are indeed playing multiple sports in high school.
Thanks to the information provided by the IYCA and other educators in the strength and conditioning field, more and more coaches and parents are being exposed to the Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) model and promoting the multi-sport athlete.
I have the very rare opportunity to be on both sides of the sports performance training industry. I work as a private strength and conditioning coach at my own facility. I am also a High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist (HSSCS) at a small school in South Carolina.
Due to the size of the high school (about 300 students), most of our athletes play multiple sports in order to field full teams. As such, I have worked out effective strategies for properly developing athletes who play multiple sports. Here are some tips for training the multi-sport athlete in the high school environment.
Incorporate the Functional Movement Screen (FMS)
One important goal of the HSSCS is to keep athletes safe and help decrease the risk of injury. The multi-sport athlete could be arguably considered “in-season” at all times, with most playing club or travel sports in the summer, as well. This high amount of sports participation increases the likelihood of injury.
The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) can be a valuable tool in helping the HSSCS identify potential risks and inefficiencies the athlete may demonstrate. Such information is critical in making the most of the limited training time available.
Give Developing Athletes Homework
Giving athletes exercises to do at home is a great tool for the highly motivated athlete at any skill level. One way to do this is to provide “travel packets.”
In these packets, athletes will find mobility sequences, soft tissue/self massage programs, and body-weight exercises that can be performed independently at night. This is a great reason to start a YouTube page for any strength and conditioning program.
Get Them Stronger
With the multi-sport athlete, the focus in the weight room should be strength. Most of these developing athletes participate in the in-season conditioning that the sport coach requires.
After all, coaches usually cannot tailor the program for a few specific athletes. Programming for strength gains around competitions with multi-joint exercises—such as deadlifts and squats with single leg and shoulder strengthening exercises—can help the HSSCS take advantage of this key developmental stage.
Implement a Sport-Specific Agility Program
Very rarely will I use the term “sport-specific” but I feel it is necessary here. There will usually be a two-week transition period for athletes who are moving from season to season unless they go deep into the post-season (which is always a good thing).
For example, after football season, the athlete may have a brief transition period moving from football to basketball season. During this time, it is important for the HSSCS to implement an agility program that will meet the needs of the basketball player in order to improve performance and also assist in the prevention of injuries.
In the previous example, the athlete would perform the agility program on the basketball court to get used to the surface along with movements specific to basketball.
Meet with Coaches
The topic of getting coaches to buy into a program will be addressed in future articles. It is a critical topic that is imperative in helping build a strong sports culture at the high school level.
Meeting with coaches to discuss the needs of the multi-sport athlete is not just good for the athlete, but will also build cohesiveness and improve communication among the staff. This is a time to share the need for athletes to “do their homework” as well as address any other issues that may arise. Getting your school’s Athletic Trainer involved is a great idea, as well.
Reinforce Proper Nutrition and Rest
Multi-sport athletes are seemingly on the run all the time. Constantly having practices or games after school along with academic requirements and an ever-increasing social calendar can lead to decreased sleep and recovery as well as inconsistent eating habits.
Such behaviors increase the risk for injury, over-training and increased fatigue. Working with other school staff members and educating multi-sport athletes on the need for appropriate sleep, hydration, and nutrition is an important key in optimizing health and preventing injury.
A great tip would be to organize a “field trip” to the school cafeteria to educate athletes on appropriate lunch choices.
Bottom Line for Developing Athletes
I love the fact that this article is about developing multi-sport athletes. It is a refreshing topic in a time where sports specialization is impacting youth at an alarming rate. With that said, the multi-sport athlete has their own needs and risks that the HSSCS must plan around in order to trigger optimal results.
About the Author: Josh Ortegon
Joshua Ortegon is co-founder and the Director of Sports Performance Enhancement at Athlete’s Arena in Irmo, SC. Joshua earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Science from Western Michigan University in 2000.
As an IYCA-certified High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist, speaker, and writer, Joshua has helped establish Athlete’s Arena as the premier high-performance center in South Carolina since 2005.
Joshua has worked with a wide range of athletes from youth to professionals specializing in the areas of injury prevention, return to play and performance enhancement.
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