Post Season Recovery For Athletes – Why?

Rugby Tackle Pic

Do you think they might need some recovery time after a season of plays like this?

I’m a huge believer in athletes getting a chance to rest and recover after a season is over.  I’ve seen too many times when kids go directly from one season into another season or into hard off-season training.  Most often this happens when the kid goes from a school sports season right into a club season.  Many times people don’t see the reason for kids to take a break.  The reasoning is that the kid is young, they can handle it.  Many times they don’t handle it as well as we think that they do.  Giving them a break between seasons can help in numerous ways.  Why to the kids need a break:

  • Physically banged up – after a season, an athlete is physically banged up.  They have aches, pains, and injuries that they have played through.  Before they move into their next season (or heavy training), a short break can help them to heal up these aches and pains.  They won’t be able to perform or train at 100% if they don’t get well.
  • Mentally/emotionally tired – a sports season is also tiring in non-physical ways.  Several months of being on the go with practices, games, travel, homework, and everything else can wear on an athlete mentally and emotionally.  We often forget all of the stresses that happen during a season.  If you have a bad game or practice, it can be hard to just forget about it and move right into doing homework or whatever else you have to do.  Just like with adults, “bad days” can go home with kids and affect other areas of their life.  Add in the constant emotion of games (and the occasional “team drama” that occurs) and it can wear athletes out (and coaches and parents too).
  • To enjoy life some – I remember talking to one athlete who played her sport year round. She loved her sport and wanted to get a college scholarship.  To accomplish her goal, she played on her high school team as well as several travel teams.  She had to ride 1 1/2 hours each way to travel practice twice a week and then play on weekends. Part way through the school year she was exhausted, had numerous aches and pains, and wasn’t having much fun.  Look, even pro athletes take a break after the season to spend time with family and friends, travel, and relax.  If they can do it, why should we expect younger kids and teens to go year round without a break? Let the kids have a little fun sometimes.

Now that we know why athletes need to recover, the next questions are things such as how long?  What should they do during this recovery period?  What shouldn’t they do?  This will all be answered in my next post.

See you then.

Mark

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Don’t Skip The In-Season Training Program

Sometimes sports coaches amaze me.  Over and over again, I see them emphasize the off-season training program.  They push the kids to lift, run, and lift some more.  While most of these programs are “voluntary”, participation is always highly encouraged.  So what about once the season starts?  That’s a different story.  Guess what the first thing to get cut out is?  Yep, the strength program.  During the season, the priority is to spend time practicing and prepping for games.  However, why does the strength program always seem to get cut out?  Take a look at the average sports practice.  How much time is wasted due to poor planning & coaching?  A lot.  Yet instead of making practices more efficient so that a coach can fit in the in-season strength program, they just eliminate it.  So what does this do for the kids?  Nothing positive.  The two major things skipping the in-season program does are both huge negatives:

  1. Decrease in strength – During the season, an athlete is going to get worn down, banged up, and possibly lose some strength.  If they don’t lift during the season, they will definitely lose strength.  So what do you do?  Keep them lifting.  While the kid may lose some strength during the season, the stronger they stay late into the season, the better that they can play late in the season.
  2. The injury factor – It’s widely accepted that lifting weights helps to decrease the chance of injury.  Guess what?  It may also help to decrease the time missed if a player does get an injury.  Research on high school football players compared time missed by players who received similar injuries.  It was found that those who were participating in an in-season strength program missed 1/3 of the time of other players with similar injuries.  Not all injuries can be prevented, but most coaches, players, and parents should be willing to take steps to limit the time lost from injury.

I think that these two factors are good enough reasons to make the in-season program a priority.  Why don’t sport coaches feel the same?  I guess that S & C coaches just have to keep looking for opportunities to educate sports coaches.  Maybe one day things will change.

Check back next week for more on how to design a good in-season program.

 

Mark

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Gentle Reminders From Coed Softball

Bats ;ic

A few months ago, my wife convinced me to join a coed softball team with her.  I’m not really a softball person, but she knew several members of a team and they needed a few players.  I figured out that I could fit it into my work schedule so I agreed to play.  I thought that it would be good since I haven’t played anything competitive in awhile.  Little did I know how much softball would help me.

I can honestly say that I’ve had fun playing.  I’ve also enjoyed the competition and the personal challenges.  Being a little older I tended to get more bumps, bruises, and dings in my body than I seem to remember from my younger days.  Some things haven’t changed much though:  I still get frustrated when I make mistakes and excited to make good plays and win games.  So what has all of this done for me?  It’s made me really examine each bump and bruise, each mistake, every high and low.  You know what?  It helped remind me what it’s like for my athletes when the same things happen to them.  It made me remember why athletes don’t want to “sit out” when something hurts.  It reminded me of the emotions that play such a large role in sports.  While I know that coed rec league softball isn’t exactly the Olympics, it still helped remind me what it’s like to have a little “inner fire” inside.

While I hadn’t really forgotten any of these things, it was still good to experience them again.  When we deal with athletes we can’t afford to forget what it was like to be one.  If we do forget, we won’t ever be able to truly connect with them and understand them.

Mark

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Why Junction Boys Syndrome Still Exists

The May issue of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research has an excellent article called “The Junction Boys Syndrome”.  The syndrome title is based on the book and movie called “The Junction Boys”.  These both tell the story of the year that “Bear” Bryant took over as head coach at Texas A&M.  He took his players off-campus for a brutal pre-season camp.  Numerous players were injured and/or quit the team during the camp.

The article by Scott Anderson discusses the fact that modern football “training regimens are too often built on tradition versus based on science and place players at-risk”.  He then gives us information and facts about the 21 nontraumatic deaths in NCAA FBS football since 2000.  Sixteen of these deaths occurred during strength and conditioning activities.

Is Anderson right?  Yes,  Are many of these deaths caused by the “tradition” of intense work making tougher and better football players?  Unfortunately, yes.  Why is this?  There are numerous resources available to help people design safe and effective training programs.  There are also qualified Strength & Conditioning coaches to design and implement the programs.  We even have Certified Athletic Trainers who can help monitor athletes for signs of medical problems during workouts and then care for them if necessary.  So why do we still have deaths?  I think that there are three main reasons:

  1. Influence of the Football Coaches – The S & C world is full of stories of sport coaches dictating how they want the strength and conditioning program run.  While some of this has to do with trust and respect, if the S & C Coach is qualified and competent, let them do their job.  If they aren’t qualified and competent, then hire someone who is.
  2. The “I’ll Make You Puke Mentality” – While I understand the get tough mentality, I think that if a S & C Coach uses puking as the goal for the workouts that he designs, it’s sad.  With all of the research and knowledge at our disposal, there should be a better goal that they can come up with.  Vern Gambetta has discussed his thoughts on work and makes a good point “…puking at the end of a workout is not the measure of a good training.”
  3. Tradition – It is true that in some instances, football training is still in the dark ages.  Top this with the fact that there are still numerous veteran coaches who believe in doing things traditionally, and it leads to problems.  New research is published all of the time to help show what works and what doesn’t.  S & C Coaches should constantly be trying to learn and use this knowledge to make their programs better.  As for the football coaches, see #1 above.

Should we still have nontraumatic deaths during football training?  No.  The last thing that any of us want is for one of our athletes to die due to the training program that we have designed and overseen.  Scott Anderson ends his article by saying that it is time for these deaths to stop.  I don’t see how anyone could disagree.

Mark

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A Healthy Breakfast?

Breakfast Pic

You know what?  Most teens eat horribly, especially when it comes to breakfast!!  While there could be numerous reasons for this, many times it just comes down to laziness.  Yes, I know that there are some people whose eating habits are affected by their current financial situation.  I understand that fully.  However, most of the time when you ask kids why they didn’t eat breakfast, some version of the phrase “I didn’t have time” is what you get.  In other words, “I didn’t get my lazy self out of bed early enough to eat”.

So, how does this affect us as coaches?  Let’s use a typical example.  Assume that Johnny eats dinner at 7pm.  Then after going to sleep for the night, he skips breakfast the next day.  Eventually he eats lunch about noon,  and then heads off to practice after school.  Is it any wonder that Johnny starts to run out of energy about an hour into practice?  He’s eaten one meal in 20 hours?  What did we expect to happen?  I can’t tell you the number of  times that I’ve had kids start to feel dizzy, weak, nauseous, etc during practice.  Guess what?  About 75% of those kids skipped either breakfast or lunch.  It doesn’t matter what you do to help that kid feel better, until he or she eats a meal, they are won’t be able to practice.  If you add an in-season workout into the mix, the situation gets even worse.  Even during the off-season, you can’t get a good effort from an athlete that doesn’t have any energy.

So what do I do when I encounter this?  You have to use it as situation to educate the athlete.  They may not be able to perform today, but if you don’t educate them the situation will reoccur.  Explain all of the details about why they feel like they do and how they can prevent that in the future.  Now, when I deal with teenagers, I try to simplify things for them.  Since the most common excuse is a lack of time, I try to point out to them how they can eat something fast, even while rushing to meet the bus.  Oftentimes I suggest things like granola bars.  I explain to them that these aren’t an ideal breakfast, but I point out that they are better than nothing.  I figure that if a kid already uses a lack of time as a reason, I can’t expect him to get up 30 minutes early and fix eggs, toast, etc for him or herself.  I can however at least get them to put some food in their belly.  That’s why I start with simple things.  Hopefully as they get in the habit of eating something, I can eventually encourage them to eat healthier.

Mark

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Simple Workouts

Weightroom Pic

What do you do if you don't have all of this to work with?

All Of That Equipment

Sometimes we can become overwhelmed when we have a variety of equipment to use during training.  We discover exercises that we “must” include often.  We also have lots of others that we like but can only fit in occasionally.  Then we seem to have the “like them but never seem to work them into the plan” exercises.  Of course, we all have some exercises that we choose not to use for one reason or another.  I’ve been in situations before where we had so much equipment that we could never work all of it into a training program in a month’s time.  Was that a problem?  Not at all.  First, that’s much better than not having enough.  Secondly, I have a hard time believing that a solid training program would have found a way to use all of the equipment.  But the question is, what equipment do you really need?  Maybe not as much as you think.

Keeping It Simple

For example, today  I used a jumprope, a physioball, some steps, and a few medicine balls for all of my own workout.  I was able to include explosive exercises, plyometrics, leg work, and core exercises.  Throw in a few cones for speed and agility work and you could have easily created an effective workout for most athletes.  So I ask again?  How much do you need to be effective?

I have always liked the idea of including a variety of different drills and exercises in my programs.  Notice I said “the idea”. The use of variety in training programs is a delicate balancing act and it’s not always the best idea to add in new things. Obviously anything new has to be geared to your athletes’ needs and level of experience.  I also try to keep in mind that it’s better to master a few drills than to learn many and master none.  Even so, sometimes I will take a day and “change things up” somehow.  I may change the order of things in the workout or I may add in some slight variations of old exercises.  One of my favorite things is to go old school with the equipment that I use. I like to use jumpropes, med balls, and various bodyweight exercises. I also tend to keep the exercises and drills simple. This isn’t a day that you want to be teaching a lot of of new things. However, simple drills and simple equipment does not equal an easy workout. The workload and what the athlete gets out of the workout is up to the coach. These “simple” workouts can challenge athletes in new ways and break up the drudgery of the normal workouts.  It can do the same thing for coaches.

Sometimes it’s possible to focus on using everything that we have at our disposal and get away from the basics.  Don’t be afraid to simplify things sometimes.  It will be good for your athletes.

Mark

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Coaching = Teaching

How long should you work with an athlete on a new skill?  A few minutes?  A couple of sessions?  A month?  What if they are really struggling to pick up the skill?  Do some athletes just “never get it”?

Correcting Mistakes Pic

To be a good coach, you must be a good teacher.

While it does seem that some athletes seem to pick up a new skill faster than others, there are a few things to keep in mind during the learning process.

  • Learning Styles – There are 3 different learning styles:  auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Make sure to utilize all three styles in teaching.  This will give you a much better chance at getting through to the athlete.
  • Repetition – The key to learning and perfecting a new skill is repetition.  According to motor learning scientists, it takes 300-500 reps to learn a new skill.  That will allow the body to form a “motor program” to help it complete the skill the same way almost every time.  What about changing a bad habit?  That can take 3000-5000 reps to change that faulty motor program.  That explains why it is sometimes easier to teach an inexperienced athlete a skill.
  • Coaching Is Teaching – Want to see a great teacher?  Find a great coach.  They are able to find ways to get through to their students so that they learn.  They break things down into parts, use cue words to guide, give correction when needed, and give praise when needed.  They are determined to find a way for the athlete to learn the skill.
  • All Athletes Are Different – Sometimes one athlete picks up a skill very quickly yet may it take another athlete a lot longer.  The question is, how long do you keep trying?  Do you ever just give up?   Former NFL coach Chuck Knox used to believe that all athletes could learn if their coach was a good enough teacher.  Great coaches get creative and try to find a way that will work to teach the athlete.

We all spend time trying to find the next “super exercise” or to create the perfect program.  While it is important to constantly evaluate these things, if you want to be a great coach, work on your teaching.  They best way to get better is to watch other coaches.  See if you can pick up a few tips on how they teach a skill or drill.  It will make you better.

Mark

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The Sport Specialization Solution

Softball Catcher Pic

How many games has she played this year?

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:

  1. College coaches want multi-sport athletes because they are more well rounded
  2. “…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.

Mark

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Slacktastic

Slacktastic.  Huh?  That isn’t a word.  It should be.  Want a definition?   Here it is: an athlete with fantastic potential who tends to be a slacker during strength & conditioning sessions.  Now that you know what it means, I’m sure that you can think of an example.  We’ve all dealt with this athlete before.  You know the kid, the one with great potential, the one who halfway does his warmup, who you always have to wait on to start a drill because he or she is taking their sweet time, the one who always complains and has an excuse.  Yeah, that kid.  Usually these kids have been gifted with decent athletic skills.  That’s why they tend to be slackers, because they’ve always been able to get by on their natural ability.  When these athletes are training individually or in a small group, it becomes harder for them to be a slacker.  Even though they may still try to get out of things, hopefully this can be cured through good coaching.  What about in a large group setting?  That is when the slacktastic athlete really comes out.  When the weightroom has more bodies in it, these athletes tend to find ways to take their time, skip exercises, etc.  In an ideal situation, there will be multiple coaches in the room to help with supervision.  Unfortunately, especially in high schools nowadays, there is rarely enough supervision to coach effectively and to eliminate problems.  That’s when it becomes very important for coaches to “have eyes in the back of their heads”.  That’s also when a coach has to make sure that what they see from a kid is really what they are getting from the kid.  I’ve heard stories of kids putting on a great show when they know that the coach is watching.  If they aren’t being watched, their slacktastic qualities shine through.  Part of being a great coach is truly getting to know your athletes.  This is part of that.  Discovering that a kid isn’t putting out 100% also gives a coach (or parent) a chance to teach some life lessons.  This is a valuable part of athletics that should never be overlooked.  Of course, possibly the greatest reason to hold these athletes accountable is because it can affect your team.  Other kids are great at picking up on these sorts of problems.  Many times the hard working kids will know who doesn’t go all out.  This then leads to negative feelings, especially if the kids that don’t work hard all of the time still get lots of playing time.  These issues tend to stay small as long as things are going well.  However, as soon as the team faces adversity these problems tend to snowball.  The best way to prevent these sorts of issues?  Hold all of your athletes accountable every day.  Make sure that the “superstars” realize that you know if they aren’t giving 100%.  You can also try to create competitive situations where the “slacktastic” athetes will be held accountable by their teammates.  While it can be a challange to deal with those who don’t go all out every day, dealing with and solving this issue is part of good coaching.

Mark

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