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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Simple Games for Developing Young Athletes

Kid With Basketball Pic

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.

Mark

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Youth Training & Development Part II

As everyone was putting out their “best of 2011” lists recently, I came across a post that goes right along with my thoughts on sports specialization. It brings up some good points.  Rather than rehash the post, I encourage you to read it and see how well it echos my thoughts.  It also gives us a few new points to think about in the sports specialization argument.  Check it out here  How young is too young to specialize in a sport?

Happy New Year!!

Have a great 2012!!

Mark

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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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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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Go Speed Racer

Speedy
Is speed important?

The old saying is “Strength thrills, speed kills.  If he’s even, he’s leavin’ “. How true is that saying?  Is speed the most important skill for an athlete? It probably depends on the sport, but for most athletes, speed plays a huge role in how competitive they are.  Isn’t speed largely genetic?  Can you really make someone faster with training?  Yes!!!

Every year, potential draftees for the NFL, NBA, and other sports leagues spend lots of money to work with sports performance experts prior to the draft.  Their goal is to improve their strength, speed, and other measurable factors so that they can get drafted higher.  While some of these athletes have track backgrounds that have helped them out, many of them have gotten by on genetic speed ability alone.  Once they focus on speed training for 4-6 weeks, it isn’t uncommon for some of them to shave .2 of a second off of their 40 yard times.  Keep in mind that these are some of the best amateur athletes in the world.  They have been training hard for years and they are still able to make major improvements in their speed when they receive focused training on their form.

How does this apply to other athletes?  Try this for starters – the next time you go watch a youth sporting event, pay attention to how many times a kid gets beaten by two steps or less.  In soccer, how many times does a kid get beaten to a free ball?  In baseball, how many baserunners get thrown out by a step or two?  In football, how many times does a player need an extra step or two to get by (or catch) another player?  From watching all of the sporting events that I have in my life, I can say that it happens A LOT!! One or two steps often makes all of the difference.

So, is speed the most important skill for an athlete to have?  It is more important in some sports than others, but in most sports the fastest athletes have a distinct advantage.  When you compete don’t you want to have that extra step or two?  I’d bet that you do.  Keep this in mind when you train.

Mark

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5 Reasons Genetic Testing Of Athletes Is Wrong

Track athlete

"Don't worry son, it's your parent's fault that you can't run track. They gave you bad genes. That's why you failed the genetic test."

Genetic Testing of Athletes

It’s hard to believe, but one day this could be the reality.  Little Johnny (or Susie) could be told that they can no longer play a sport because ‘they don’t have the right genes for it.”  In case you haven’t heard about it, there are now companies out there who will provide genetic testing of kids for athletic purposes.  The companies claim that they are trying to help the parents so that their kids can be steered to sports that they are the most suited for.  I’ve got some problems with this whole concept.

5 Reasons Genetic Testing of Athletes Is Wrong

  1. Specialization – Don’t we have enough of an issue with kids specializing in one sport too early?  Isn’t this going to make things that much worse?  In case you aren’t aware of my views of focusing on only one sport, you can read my thoughts here.  There are a lot more athletic and medical personnel who share my viewpoint due to burnout issues and physical wear and tear on the bodies of young athletes.  The testing companies say that it will save you money because you won’t put your child in something that they won’t  be that good at.  Of course they’re going to say that – they are selling their product.
  2. Goes Against What Sports Teach – You remember all of the things that sports teach a kid – hard work, dedication, perseverance, teamwork, not giving up, etc.  Guess what?  Genetic testing robs your kid of the chance to learn many of those basic things.  If they are put into something that will always come easier to them than some other sports, then how will they learn to do something when it is difficult for them?  Additionally, if you already know that you have the necessary tools, what’s the motivation to work hard to develop them further?As for teamwork, one of the issues with teams is that every person is not exactly the same.  You have to learn to work together and realize your strengths and weaknesses.  That might be hard to do in a sport where all of the athletes have the same gifts.
  3. Injury Information – One of the factors behind genetic testing is that it could possibly identify players who are at risk for certain injuries.  Maybe there is some benefit to this in certain cases.  However, most of the parents who most want the testing done on their kids are focused on one thing only – a college scholarship!!  Guess what parents?  As soon as your future college coach finds out that you are at greater risk for certain injuries, oops, there goes the scholarship down the drain.  Years ago I was involved in a discussion about female ACL tears and femoral notch width as a factor.  The discussion eventually turned to the a question of what would happen if college coaches ever wanted to know this information about potential signees.  Ethics dilemma?  You bet!
  4. Telling Kids Something Else They Can’t Do – It seems like in our modern society, we’ve become the ultimate people organizers.  We want to label everyone!  The world has turned into a place that has provided an excuse for everyone and whatever they do.  Do we really need to put more labels on kids?  Why can’t we just let them be kids?  Why do we have to tell them that they won’t be good at something else?  For many kids sports is a temporary escape from “life”.  Maybe we should keep it that way.
  5. Do We Need A Test? – I understand that the test gives exact details about what a kid is capable of.  Do we really need a test for this?  If you want to know if a kid is fast, have him race other kids.  If you want to know if he’s a good jumper, test his vertical jump.  As a young kid, training won’t have had much of an effect yet.  Just compare your kid to other kids and see how they perform.  If they are naturally fast, or strong, or whatever else, then you probably know enough.

Let The Athletes Be

Obviously somebody thinks that this is a good idea (probably the people making money off of the tests).  I’m all for using technology to help coaches and athletes.  I just think that genetic testing goes too far.  I like the excitement of seeing someone develop and use their God given ability, regardless of what that is.

Mark

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Don’t Forget The Arms….

Jessee Owens during the 1936 Olympics

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the feet.  Today, I thought that I would address the arms.
 
I spent part of last week volunteering to help some 9-12 year olds in a camp.  My job was to teach them flag football.  During the week, I had a few opportunities to watch the kids and see how they performed the various drills (when they weren’t pouring water on each other and whatever else they could think of).  It amazed me how many of the kids didn’t use their arms correctly while running.  Arms were flying sideways, going in circles, and pretty much doing everything except being used to run like an “athlete”.  Now, I understand that the kids were young and had never been taught how to run.  It just made me think about a few how important the arms are.  
 
How important are your arms in sprinting?  The action of your arms is connected to the action of your legs.   Don’t believe it?  Try this simple drill.  Stand up and jog in place allowing both your arms and legs to move.  Now pump your arms faster and faster.  What happens to your legs?  They move faster!!!!  See, I told you they worked together.  This is a drill that I like to use when I start discussing arm mechanics with athletes.  No matter if they are 8 years old or 28, they can quickly figure out the importance of using your arms.
 
If you take a look at the above picture of Jesse Owens and two other runners, you can see arms a legs working together.  Each of the athletes is at a slightly different point in their stride but they are all using similar mechanics.  When the left knee drives upward, the right arm moves with it and vice versa.  In young, untrained runners this one of the most glaring problems.  Just like the kids in camp last week, their arms move through multiple planes instead of simply moving anterior-posterier.  This incorrect movement makes the body work harder and makes it slower going from point A to point B. 
 
Does this only apply when running in a straight line like a track athlete?  Not at all.  Look at the rugby picture and check out the arms. 
Rugby Pic

These guys know how to use their arms to run

These players are in the process of changing directions and they are still using their arms to help out.  The arms can help you to accelerate when you run and change directions.  One of the first things that I try to evaluate and correct in an athlete is the use of their arms.  Then I keep on them through running drills, conditioning, agility drills – pretty much any time that correct arm usage is important.   It really helps them to run better in all directions and to be a better overall athlete. 
 

Mark

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Year Round Sports – Agggghhhhhh!!!!

 

Calendar Pic

 

Last night I went to a local business networking event.  It’s always interesting to meet new people and to connect with them.  One lady told me the story about how much it helped her son to have worked with a strength and conditioning coach when he was in high school.  Positive experiences about our profession are always great to hear.  Then we got into the part of the story about her son’s athletic career after high school.  That’s when things got interesting.

The son was a catcher in baseball and was active in the high school band.  He played high school baseball in the spring and then played on other teams the rest of the year.  Now, most of us can predict where this story is going.  Eventually playing baseball and being in the band caused too many conflicts.  Instead of his school trying to work things out he is forced to choose between the two.  He chose to stick with baseball.  Once he graduates he has opportunities to play in college.  By this point:  a) he has started having shoulder problems  b)  he’s burned out.  Any ideas why this may have happened????  Playing year round baseball maybe????  The best jocks in high school used to be 3 sport athletes.  Not anymore.  Now everyone wants to “specialize” thinking that this will lead them to that brass ring that they all want, a college athletic scholarship.  Yet all to often it winds up with similar results.  The kid either doesn’t want to play sports in college or they play for a year and decide that it isn’t that much fun anymore. 

Why does this keep happening?  Are parents and coaches not realizing the issues?  If a kid wants to play a sport year round, I am ok with that at a certain age.  Like I said, if a kid wants to do it. It shouldn’t be because a coach or parent says to do it.  I think that it’s a problem if a 10 year old is playing year round baseball (or any other sport).  Let him/her try other sports.  It will develop their overall athleticism and they might actually have some FUN doing it.  Even if a kid only wants to play one sport, give them a break at some point.  Let them recover mentally and physically. Focus on strength, speed, and agility training.  That will develop their athleticism.  It can also be a time to “prehab” the body to prevent injury during the season.   Maybe some parents and some coaches need to take a realistic look at things.   For every kid that is able to get a college scholarship in the year round model, lots of other kids end up hurt and burned out.  There are reasons, for example,  that major elbow surgery is being done on teenage baseball players.  This never used to happen.  What changed???  Think about it.

To bring this all to a happy ending, the son from the baseball story is now playing in an adult softball league.  There is no pressure, it’s just for fun and he’s having a blast.  I’ve heard similar endings to other similar stories. The athlete still enjoys playing, but they just want to do it for fun. 

The take home point = the year round sports model needs to change.

 

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