One of the problems that I see when watching youth sports is that many of the athletes have poor fundamentals. The major thing that many of them lack is the ability to run effectively and efficiently. Obviously Strength and Conditioning Coaches notice things like this. What gets me is, why doesn’t anyone else notice it? Don’t the sport coaches see it? What about the parents that sit at every practice and game? It may take an expert to fix the problems, but it doesn’t take one to recognize that there is a problem. When I watch young athletes run, I see arms flying in all directions, bodies out of control, etc. Nobody notices this? Even if the coach can’t fix it, he should realize that there is a problem and refer the kid to someone who can. Or he can ignore it and let the kid continue to use poor movement patterns. This leads to inferior performance and injury issues. So why doesn’t someone do something? I guess it would make too much sense.
Football might have it right. What do they have right? The sports development model. The sport of football is probably doing it better than any other sport simply because they only have one defined season. The American football season starts in August/September and plays out over the next several months. There aren’t opportunities to play organized tackle football year round. While college and some states do have “spring football”, that isn’t quite the same thing. Spring football is generally about three weeks of organized practices. It isn’t the same as playing a true spring season. It’s not like soccer, softball, baseball, wrestling, volleyball, and lacrosse players that play travel ball and participate in tournaments during the 8 months that their school team isn’t in season.
So how does this help football player development?
It cuts down on overuse injuries – what do you think causes all of the arm and shoulder problems in baseball? Year-round throwing maybe?
It forces coaches to work on other things during the off-season – lifting, speed, agility, etc. According to most sport development models, there should be a defined “off-season” where these skills become the focus.
It makes the football season more special for everyone – when you play year round on multiple teams, how much does each win or loss matter? The legendary John Wooden didn’t want his players playing in the off-season partially for this reason.
It’s too bad the so many other sports have taken other approaches to sports development. I’m not sure that playing year-round is good for the athletes and is the best way to develop them long-term. Unfortunately, there are a few youth football leagues that are starting to have a true spring season in addition to playing in the fall. Hopefully this concept doesn’t become the norm in football.
We’ve all seen some amazing performances during the Olympics the last two weeks. We’ve seen athletes display amazing abilities. The question in my mind right now is, just how far can these athletes go? Remember when a sub 4 minute mile was unthinkable? That is until Roger Bannister ran one? Remember how it used to be watching the men’s 100 meter dash? Then Usain Bolt came along and started blowing everybody away. Today’s athletes routinely perform feats that were unimaginable when I was a child. Just how far can they go? With the ever growing amount of research and knowledge into sports performance, are we nearing the limits of human potential? Or have we just scratched the surface? I personally hope that the latter is the case. If it is, the next 30 years are going to be loads of fun.
I spent the past week working at a sports camp for young kids. The camp used a large local park that was open to the public. During several of these days, I saw a local Strength & Conditioning coach working privately with a young athlete (about 13 years old). During my breaks I tried to sneak a peak at what drills they used. While I didn’t see anything new, what I saw did make me think about working smart vs just working hard. What I saw each day wasn’t smart work, it was just hard. I saw lots of repetition of drills, but very little teaching and correction. While working hard can be the focus of certain days or certain drills, it seemed to be the focus of every day for this athlete. While I wasn’t close enough to hear what the coach was saying to the athlete, I didn’t see the coach trying to demonstrate or correct any technique. What I saw was a series of drills run over and over until the kid was exhausted. Most of the young teens that I have trained need a lot of fundamental drills and a lot of technique work so that they can develop their basic athletic skills. That is working smart. That is also smart coaching. S & C coaches get paid to develop athletes. Yes, sometimes that involves working them hard. However, when dealing with young athletes, there should be a lot of smart work. That should be what differentiates a S & C coach from the average person – the ability to teach an athlete, not just run them through some drills. A great coach is a great teacher.
Here are 2 other related posts that you might enjoy:
I found this article about sports specialization for softball players. If you know me at all, you know that I’m not a fan of kids specializing in one sport. Two points from the article did encourage kids not to specialize:
College coaches want multi-sport athletes because they are more well rounded
“…multi-sport athletes do tend to be more well-rounded and often out-perform those who focus only on a single sport. Often the skills from one sport translate into an advantage in another, such as explosiveness in basketball or agility in soccer.”
These two statements probably don’t come as a surprise to most strength and conditioning professionals. Unfortunately there are numerous other things in the same article that try to discourage multi-sport athletes. I won’t get into all of the details, but I do have one question. If playing multiple sports helps a person to develop into a more complete athlete and makes them more desirable to college coaches, why are so many athletes still playing a single sport year-round??? To add to this, many of the athletes who specialize become physical trainwrecks before they ever make it to college. Lets also not forget to mention those that mentally burn out. So if it’s not benefitting the kids, who is this helping? There are only 3 parts to this equation – the athlete, the parent, and the coach. We’ve already decided that specialization isn’t helping the athlete. That only leaves the adults. When did sports stop being about the athletes themselves?
So, what’s the solution? It’s very simple. Stop trying to convince parents and kids that playing one sport year round is the only way to go. Not only is there another way, playing multiple sports is the best way to develop athletes. Maybe if athletes weren’t being “encouraged” (forced) to focus on one sport, it would solve a lot of issues.
My wife and I were helping at church this weekend and the kids were playing “red light, green light“. As I watched the kids play, I realized how much value simple games like this have. The game makes you start, accelerate, then stop when presented with a stimulus. Kind of reminds me of sports. Think about how much time we spend trying to teach athletes these very skills. As I watched the kids, I tried to watch their footwork as they played. Did they have perfect footwork? No. But you know what? It wasn’t that bad either. No one was complaining, nobody was forcing anyone to play, and nobody blew out an ACL. The kids just had fun.
I remember several years ago when a veteran PE teacher told me that it was terrible that they had taken dodgeball out of the PE curriculum. He explained that dodgeball teaches kids to throw and helps them to develop agility, coordination, and balance. Now, I understand that dodgeball has gotten a bad rap because somebody ends up getting picked on in the game. I get that in the kinder, gentler society that we are a part of, games like this have been pushed aside. Unfortunately, I believe that the development of athletic skills is a positive that we shouldn’t overlook.
For some reason in the U.S., we are in such a hurry to find the next phenom that we aren’t letting kids play these simple games and develop their basic skills. We are too much of a hurry to get a kid to specialize on the field or the court so that they can get offered a college scholarship. There needs to be a major shift in our thinking in this country. A lot of folks are probably doing more to mess their kids up than they are to help them. Young kids should spend more time playing “red light, green light”, “tag”, “dodgeball”, and numerous other simple games. In the end, it would create better athletes who weren’t physical and mental wrecks by the time they are 18 years old.