Youth Training & Athletic Development

baby with ball pic

Is this too young to specialize?

There was a good article published recently about developing young athletes.  It focuses on sports specialization in young athletes.  Besides the normal reasons I have used to put down the practice of early specialization, it cites another major one.  It points out that according to much of the work on Long Term Athletic Development, if a child specializes at too early of an age, they will fail to develop basic athletic skills.  The lack of these skills will then limit their overall athletic potential.  I believe that this is 100 % correct.  I recently watched a high school sporting event.  While I was at the event, I spent time analyzing the basic athletic skills of some of the athletes (running form, agility, etc).  While some of the players were certainly gifted, it was obvious that many of them had never been coached on basic running form and footwork.  Many of the athletes on the field were getting by purely on natural ability.  I saw some of the fastest players on the field display poor form.  If they had been trained to run well previously, they would have been much faster.  Not only would they have made their team better, they would have been better individually.  Obviously that should appeal to those who are chasing college scholarships.

So, while early sport specialization can increase the chance of injury for your child, it can also actually limit their overall athletic development.  Ironically, isn’t that the opposite of what certain people keep saying?  It seems that many coaches continue to convince parents and kids that playing one sport year round is the way to go.  My advice when you hear statements like this – don’t believe it!!!  Give your child a chance to try other sports, train to develop their overall athletic skills, and last but not least, to be a kid.

Mark

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USTA Tennis Conference 2011

Tennis Player Pic

I spent this past weekend at the USTA Tennis Performance & Injury Prevention Conference.  I always enjoy going to events like this and learning new things.  I also think that listening to the perspectives of others helps to make your mind work.  It forces you to rethink the way that you have always done things.  Hopefully this makes me a better coach.

The presenters did an excellent job of giving info that was useful for all that were in attendance.  This says a lot because the audience was made up of individuals with all types of backgrounds – MD’s, Athletic Trainers, Physical Therapists, Tennis Coaches, and Strength & Conditioning Coaches from a multitude of settings.  Presentations covered the biomechanics of the tennis strokes, strength and conditioning, warm ups, and there were many sessions on injuries specific to tennis.  While each speaker had their own experiences and point of view to share, many of the presenters ended up “on the same page” with some of their advice.  There also didn’t seem to be any big egos present among the presenters or attendees.  To top it all off, the USTA did a great job of making everything was run smoothly.

I learned a lot about that not only will help me when I train tennis players, but some of the info will help me to train other athletes also.  Look for some of tidbits that I learned in my future blog posts and newsletters.

Mark

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Happy Thanksgiving Diet Tip

Turkey Pic

Don't let too much turkey put the brakes on your training

It seems to be an American tradition that on Thanksgiving, we all join our family for good times and food.  Lots of food.  Generally most of us load our plates too full and eat way too much.  Unfortunately, one day of gluttony can throw off your diet and your training.  Want a quick tip to help keep your diet and training on track?  Exercise before you eat.  Research has shown that exercising prior to eating can increase your metabolism, decrease your appetite, and lesson the amount of fat in your blood.  Now I’m not suggesting that you disappear on Thanksgiving morning for a 3+ hour workout.  Just come up with something that is short and to the point.  Keep the intensity level high and get it done fast.  That should be enough to gain the benefits without having to miss out on family time.

Don’t forget to check out the Sports Upgrade site to see all that we do.

Have a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Mark

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Football Fanatic Craziness

Football Warmpu

How good of a job does your S & C Coach do?

If you know me, it’s no secret that I love college football.  It’s much more exciting to me than watching the NFL.  As we get near the end of the season, it’s always interesting to hear the fans perceptions of their favorite teams coaching staff.  If a program isn’t heading in the right direction, it doesn’t take long for the fans to start calling for coaches to be fired.  Of course, if a team seems to fall apart late in games or gets lots of injuries, the fans always blame the strength and conditioning staff.  I have to say though, that the best comment that I have heard about this recently was that this is the staff member that fans are least able and qualified to evaluate.  I’ve got to agree with this.  Here are a few reasons why:

  • Fans have no idea what is involved in the day to day running of a strength program.  I could never begin to give an accurate assessment of the job that an insurance salesman does, why should he be any better at evaluating what a S & C professional does?
  • They also have no idea what level the players were at when they began the program.  We have all seen fantastic athletes who excel in high school purely on athletic ability.  Once they get to college, they aren’t the only big fish in the pond.  If they’ve never had to work hard in the weight room, they may be behind when they get to college.  It may take them some time to catch up.
  • Many factors go into the success of a team during a season.  Yes, conditioning level is important.  However, if a team has very few quality backups, it leads to the starters staying on the field even longer.  It doesn’t matter how many sprints that you run during practice, football is an intense game, especially for the big bodies on the O-line and D-line.  Eventually, everything will catch up with them and they will get tired.
  • Injuries happen.  I’ve worked with teams that did the same work in the offseason that previous teams had done.  Once the season starts, for some unexplained reason, they seem to have a rash of one type of injuries.  I’ve seen seasons where teams were hit by a string of shoulder injuries to players, or ankle injuries, or knee injuries.  These injuries took a toll and made it more difficult for the team to succeed.  Yet those players worked hard in the weight room in the off-season, not only to get stronger but to help prevent such injuries.  Sometimes that’s just the way that things happen.  I’ve also seen players get injuries that limit what a player can do in practice, yet they are able to heal up enough for the game each week.  Many times fans don’t know all of the details off what goes on behind the scenes.   Therefore, they don’t realize how this can affect a players play and development.
I realize that fans love evaluate everything about their team, especially if the season isn’t going well.  It’s part of what makes things interesting. However, when it comes to the S & C staff, fans might want to consider a few things before calling for peoples jobs.  Just something to think about.
Mark
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Coaching is Teaching

Want to see somebody have an epic fail?  Here’s the simplest way that I know:  show an athlete how to do something (a drill, an exercise, etc) and then tell them to go do it.  Oh yeah, and after you tell them to go do it, take zero time to actually COACH them on the drill.  You know what happens?  They fail!!!!  Wanna guess why?  Because you didn’t coach them!!  I know, this never happens in the real world, right?.  Wrong.  It does, every day.

Coaching Pic

Coaching isn't showing, it's teaching.

Here are three reasons that it shouldn’t happen:

  1. No matter how great the drill/ exercise is, if the athlete doesn’t get coached in the correct way to do it, they will never perfect it (and learn what they should from it).
  2. Every time that the athlete does the drill they are creating a muscle memory pattern.  If the athlete does the drill incorrectly, they are cementing that poor technique into their memory.  It is much easier to teach a new pattern than to change an ingrained one.
  3. Safety is probably the biggest reason.  If you don’t coach them, not only will they use bad technique, they may get away with unsafe technique.  The last thing that you want is for an athlete to get hurt because you didn’t coach him/her.
Remember, coaching is teaching.  To be a good coach, you have to take an active role.
Mark
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The Athletic Position For Sports

The Athletic Position

No matter what sport the athlete plays I’ve always been a big believer in teaching them the role of the athletic position (or stance) while training them.  It plays a huge role for athletes in sports such as volleyball, football, baseball, tennis, and basketball.  While I think that many coaches try to get their athletes into this position, I’m not sure that they try to explain the importance of this stance to them.

Beach Volleyball Pic

What is an athletic position?

An athletic stance is one in which your feet are about shoulder width apart, your weight is centered on the balls of your feet, your knees and hips are flexed, your torso is leaning slightly forward, and your head and shoulders are up.

Why Is It Important?

While for many athletes, being in an athletic stance my come somewhat naturally, that may not be the case for all of them.  Athletes need to be comfortable in this stance and they need to be able to get into (and out of) this stance quickly.  Why?  Because this stance is involved in many sports.  This stance is the one that athlete get into before jumping vertically, it is a defensive position in basketball, it is part of a power clean, and the list goes on and on.  If you look at the beach volleyball picture above, the 2 players that are on the ground are in variations of an athletic stance.  It’s true that neither one is a perfect example, but we are also looking at an isolated picture.  Think about the position that the two other players were in just one second earlier. Right before they jumped, they both would have been in an athletic stance so that they could maximize their vertical jump.  Athletes may only stay in an athletic stance for a brief time, but they must be comfortable getting into and out of that stance. If not, it will impact their speed of play and efficiency.

Make sure 

Make sure to include teaching of the athletic stance in your training.  It plays a vital role in many sports and your athletes need to be comfortable in the stance.  They also need to understand why this stance is important, not only for their specific sport or position, but also the role that it plays in jumping and other skills.  With today’s athletes asking “why” more and more, this may help them to understand the importance of this position better.

Mark

 

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At The Top Of Our Game

We’re happy to announce that our blog has recently been added to Alltop.com fitness list.  (Ok, I know that we are a sports performance blog, but it’s the closest category that they have.  Beside, we’re happy as anything to be listed there).  If you’ve never visited alltop you should check it out.  They list blogs and sites on all types of topics.  I’ve visited their site for a couple of years and always find lots of good info when I go there.  Since each blog is reviewed before it is added, they pride themselves on listing “all of the top” blogs.  Check it out.

Featured in Alltop

Mark

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Building The Agility Toolbox

Tools Pic

Are you giving your athletes the right tools to succeed?

Many times when I talk about agility training to my athletes, I explain to them that I am trying to give them a set of “tools” to help them to compete better. I like using the analogy of tools because I feel that it works well for what we are trying to accomplish.  As I tell the athletes, most of us have a toolbox at home.  It usually has a hammer, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, etc.  If I need to hammer a nail, I go and get the hammer.  If I need to loosen a bolt, I grab a wench.  In some situations I don’t need the hammer, and in some situations I don’t need a wrench.  I pick the most appropriate tool for the task and use it. It doesn’t matter what sport an athlete plays – football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, or anything else, many of the agility movements are hard to predict and practice for.  My job is to give athletes the tools (skills) and teach them how to use them.  I explain to them that once they are in a competition, I want their body to be able to react by instantly making the most efficient movement possible at that moment.

How do I accomplish this?

  • Evaluate the athlete and the skills that are needed for their sport
  • Teach them the basic skill(s) that they need to learn
  • Have them learn simple drills using the skills
  • Once they have begun to improve, make the drills more complex

It’s really just basic coaching/teaching.   I do try to show my athlete what I want them to learn out of each drill and help them to understand why the skill is important in their sport.  When they have gotten better at a particular skill or drill, I will make the drill more complex.  I do this by either adding a reaction component or incorporating another skill at some point in the drill.  Either of these will make things more difficult for the athlete and will further begin to cement that skill into their “toolbox”.  As the drills get more complex, it also takes them closer to the point of being sports specific.  I know, the only thing that is truly sports specific is playing the sport itself.  We still need to strive to get drills as close to what may happen in a sport as possible.  This definitely includes making the athlete react to something as part of a drill.  (I’ll write more about this in a later post).

When you plan out agility training, make sure that you are stocking your athletes toolbox with tools that they can use.

Mark

 

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Motivation For Sports Training

Any idea how many hours of training it takes for an athlete to perfect their sports skills?  The Soviets believed in the 10 year/ 10,000 hour rule.  They felt that it took an athlete 10,000 hours of practice spread out over 10 years to achieve their maximum potential.  That works out to about 20 hours per week for 10 years.  That doesn’t take into account school, work, family, friends, travel, vacations, and all of the other stuff that seems to fill up our time.

Clock Picture

What motivates you through all the hours of practice?

So, where does an athlete get the motivation to endure all these hours of practice and keep going?

  • Parents?
  • Coaches?
  • Teammates?
While all three of these can give some external motivation, the fact remains that the athlete had better be able to provide their own source of internal motivation. If they can’t, they won’t be able to achieve much.  If the athlete doesn’t want it bad enough, no coach, parent, or teammate can get them to put out 100% effort every day.  We all have days when we feel sluggish or unmotivated.  That’s where external motivation can help.  We all reach points of frustration in our development.  Again, that’s were external motivation from others can help.  However, if the athlete can’t motivate themselves to go all out, to put in extra practice time, to get plenty of rest, to eat right, and to do all of the other things that are necessary to excel,then they will NEVER achieve their fullest potential.
If you work with young athletes, it’s never a bad idea to find some time for teaching about life.  It doesn’t matter if the kid grows up to be an athlete, a salesman, a DJ, a teacher, or anything else, they need to learn the importance of giving 100 % effort so that they can excel in their chosen field.  That’s one lesson that is more important than sports.
Mark 
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Looking For Ideas From Old Stuff

As a coach, I’m always looking for ideas and trying to get better.  One thing that I’ve found useful is to go back and look at old handouts and notes from conferences that I have attended programs I have been given, etc.  It seems like you never get to see every presentation that you want to (or need to) at conferences.  Even if I do get to see a good one, I’m always trying to glance at the handouts, look at the slides, listen to the speaker, and somehow take notes.  That’s why I look to look back at this info at some point later in time.  I usually look at some of it in the days right after attending a conference but some of it waits until later.  That’s the info that I like to pull out when I have a question that I want to answer.  I might want to look for drill ideas, compare programs, or try to get better in an area that I want to improve in.  That’s when I go to the presentation handouts.  I know that some folks probably just toss most off this stuff out after a few years, but I view it as a valuable resource.  I very much believe that you can’t just copy someones program or way of doing something and make it work just as well for yourself.  However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get some good bits of info from other people and add them to the knowledge that you already have.  This is part of becoming a better coach.  So, don’t just throw out those old notes – use them to get better!!!

Mark

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