Teen Athletes: Extra Recovery Needed?

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Is your teen athlete getting enough recovery time?

One two separate occasions recently, I have had some sort of discussion about recovery for teen athletes.  Once was with a coach and once was in response to a comment on my blog.  Both of these got me thinking about the demands that we tend to place on teenage athletes.  I don’t think that we always account for all of these when we plan out our training programs. As coaches, we often think that the athletes are only practicing or exercising when we see them.  However, that isn’t always the case.  So what does the “average” teenager do in a normal day?

  • School
  • Homework
  • Chores at home/job
  • Social time
  • Eating, showering, and other necessary things

So what about their sporting activities?

  • Practice for sport #1
  • Practice for sport # 2 (if applicable)
  • Travel time necessary for away games/practices
  • Strength training/conditioning
  • Miscellaneous sports activities – pick up basketball, PE classes, etc

While not all of these apply to every teen, this isn’t that uncommon for some teens.  I have talked to many teens who are involved in multiple sports for a large portion of the year.  They try to squeeze in as many practices, games, and strength & conditioning sessions as they can in the course of a year.  So where does that lead?  It leads to athletes who are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.  It leads to athletes who aren’t happy, who suffer academically, and who end up a physical mess due to never getting enough breaks and recovery time.

So what should we do as a coach to help?

  • Get to know your athletes – Do they play other sports?  When?  How often do they practice/play?
  • Try to coordinate – I’ve seen too many times that a coach tries to keep their athletes going year round and never give them a break.  Try to work things out with the athlete and their other sport(s).  Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work out too often.  Usually it’s because the ADULT EGOS get in the way.
  • Give athletes ample recovery time – Plan it into your season and your training.
  • Educate your athletes – I realize that athletes (and parents) won’t always listen to you.  Regardless, you should still make every effort to educate them about recovery and overtraining.
  • Don’t be afraid to make an athlete take a break – The best thing for them may be to send them home for a few days and make them take a break.  Of course, you can’t control what they do during this time off, but hopefully they actually rest.

We can’t control everything that our athletes do, especially when they are away from us.  Also realize that we haven’t even touched on nutrition, sleep, the growth state that teens are in and how they affect recovery.  As a coach, we know that all of these things work together and drastically affect how our athletes recover and perform.  However, coaches need to focus on what they can control.  Make sure that you know all of the demands placed on your athletes, plan appropriately, and attempt to educate them.  Even though many things are out of our control, hopefully taking these steps will help.

Mark

 

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Injuries Happen

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Marcus Lattimore, Running Back for The University of South Carolina

If you keep up with sports, there’s no doubt that you heard about the injury to Marcus Lattimore this past weekend.  While I’m not a South Carolina fan, I loved watching him run the ball.  Even though he was coming off of ACL surgery last season, he was still a  great back with an incredible future in front of him.  While I’ve never met him, a lot of people have great things to say about him as a person.  I’m one of many people who is hoping a praying for a full recovery for him.

Now comes the really unfortunate part of things.  I’m sure that Lattimore lifted, ran, conditioned, rehabbed, and did everything else that he should have done to be 100% healthy and to prevent any type of injury.  I’m sure that his ATC’s, PT’s, and S&C Coaches did everything they could to prepare him for the physical demands of playing football in the SEC.  The unfortunate thing is that no matter how good of a job we all do to prepare the athlete, not every injury is avoidable in sports.  One of the major purposes of a quality strength and conditioning program is to help prevent injuries.  Unfortunately, we can’t prevent all of them.  Lattimore is a prime example of this.  He has suffered two knee injuries in the last two seasons. Both were contact injuries and I’m not sure that either could have been termed as “preventable”.

I had a discussion with one strength coach recently about this very topic.  He was frustrated because several of his athletes had recently had season ending injuries.  He knew that the kids worked hard in the off-season and he hated to see them have significant injuries.  I pointed out to him that no matter how good the program, sometimes injuries just happen.  Unfortunately, they are a part of sports.  I know that this didn’t really cheer him up, but I felt that it was accurate.

Of course, his feelings on the issue are a great example of how Coaches, Athletic Trainers, etc feel about their athletes.  We all want the very best for every athlete that we work with.  We want them to excel on the field, in the classroom, and in life.  We also want them to stay healthy.  When they don’t, we all take a look at the situation and wonder if there was more that we could have done or if there is more that we can do to get them well quicker.  That’s the nature of a good coach and a good person.  It’s also what fuels the fire for some strength coaches to never stop searching for a better way.  Because yes, injuries do happen in sports.  However, that doesn’t mean that we should just accept that fact and stop trying to eliminate all of the injuries that we can.

Mark

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All Of The Above

Links of Chain Pic

Which athletic skill is most important?  Speed, agility, balance, coordination, strength, power, flexibility?  It seems like a simple question, but there really isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all answer.  Why, you ask?  Because it all depends on the sport.  Actually, even within the same sport it can depend on the particular position of the player.  If I’m looking at football lineman, I probably place more value on strength and power.  What about football skill position players?  Maybe speed, agility, and some power.  A gymnast needs flexibility, balance, and coordination.  But even if we try to pick just a few key areas to focus on, doesn’t that often leave us missing a few.  Would it help a football lineman to have some flexibility (think about hip mobility and the ability to get low)?  While a lineman is never going to run a 4.4 sec forty yard dash, doesn’t it still help him to be faster than other similar players?  What about the gymnast.  If we limit our development to flexibility, coordination, and balance, aren’t we missing the strength necessary to perform certain movements?  Is it possible that all of these skills are linked together and contribute to athletic success in many different sports?

You see, each sport has different demands and necessities for it’s athletes.  Even within a sport, there can be different demands based on the position a player plays.  Even with the different demands, there is often a lot of crossover.  Just like in the examples above, many athletes do need some development in many or all of the athletic skill areas.  While a basketball player won’t ever have to run 40 yards, speed is still beneficial to have on the court.  While a volleyball player doesn’t have the same agility needs as a soccer player, it still makes them better if they develop the skill.

So, what is the most important skill?   ALL OF THEM!!!  You have to design training based on the individual athlete and the demands of the sport, but in almost all cases you should never eliminate any element of overall skill development.  You should base your drills and emphasis on the athlete’s sport and the it’s requirements.  However, remember that we are trying to develop better athletes.  Therefore, we should work to develop the total athlete and all of their skills.

 

Mark

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Football Might Have It Right

Football Has It Right Pic

Is football doing it better than any other sport?

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.

Mark

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Female Strength Training

Barbie Pic

The cover says it all.

One of my favorite magazine/journal covers ever comes from an old issue of Training & Conditioning.  I love the title “Barbie Doesn’t Play Sports”.  To me, it promotes a hard working, tough image.  To me, that sums up my feelings about successful female athletes.  They aren’t afraid to work hard.  They aren’t afraid to work hard on the court or the field.  They aren’t afraid to work hard year round.  However, as important as it is, sometimes it is hard to get these same females into the weightroom.  Why is this?  I think that this is largely because of it being an area that they are unfamiliar with.  Strength training is scary for a lot of females.  Many of them have been bombarded by images from female bodybuilders.  These pictures always depict some lady who is loaded up on every supplement (legal & illegal) that she can pump into her body.  Unfortunately, this is the image of strength training that gets burned into many females minds.  They quickly decide that if lifting weights makes you look like that, they don’t want any of it.  Unfortunately, females need to be in the weightroom.  Why?

  • Injury prevention – Just like male athletes, females need to develop strength to help prevent injuries and limit the severity of those that they do get.
  • Improved performance – A stronger athlete can run faster, jump higher, accelerate quicker, and decelerate more effectively.  These all lead to better sport performance.
  • Correction of weaknesses – Females who haven’t ever taken part in a solid strength training program tend to have various muscular weaknesses.  These then add to injury problems and limit their performance potential.  Strength training can quickly start the athlete down the road to correction.
  • College preparation – Any high school athlete that wants to go on to play in college needs to strength train.  Not only will it help their performance (and therefore their recruiting), it will make them stand out once they get to college.  If the first time that an athlete has ever lifted is when they show up to college, they are already behind.  In my mind, if a female shows up on day 1 and is already comfortable and proficient in the weightroom, she has set herself apart from many of the other incoming freshman athletes.

So, how do you get females into the weightroom?  Educate and market.  You may have to teach them about the benefits and get them to realize that they won’t end up looking like the female Hulk.  You are also going to have to really make a motivated effort to get them started.  Once they start to see some benefits, the marketing should take care of itself.

Mark

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Nutritional Supplements & Young Athletes

Supplement Use By Youth For Sports Performance Improvement

I found a news article a few days ago about the usage of nutritional supplements by kids.  The article discusses a study that was originally published earlier this year.  It focused on the use of supplements by children and adolescents for the purpose of improving sports performance.  So what do I think about all of this?

Shocking Findings

So what are my thoughts on the study?  I decided to put my them on video.  Here they are:

 

Help your young athletes to make good nutritional choices.

Mark

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It Keeps Getting Better

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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.

Mark

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Thoughts On The Olympics

Ryan Lochte Training

Just like many of you, I’ve spent part of the last week watching the Olympics.  There has been a big deal made about Ryan Lochte’s training and some of the unusual things that he does to prepare.  These include tire flips, keg tosses, and using ropes.  Some other S & C coaches have given their thoughts on his workouts.  Some of these were positive and some not so much.    Some of us might not feel comfortable putting an athlete through strongman type activities.  Ryan’s S & C coach, Matt Delancey, does.  I’ve heard Matt speak on a few occasions at clinics, including one lecture on the use of strongman exercises with athletes.  I also had an opportunity to watch him at work.  Matt is a former strongman competitor so yes, sometimes strongman exercises make it into the routines he uses with his athletes.  One thing that you may not know is how much Matt emphasizes correct form.  He is much less worried with how much weight someone can lift than he is with developing and maintaining proper form.  His number one rule for strongman exercises is that as soon as the athletes form breaks down, you stop the exercise.  I believe that having a full understanding of an exercise how to perform it correctly is crucial to being a good S & C Coach.  While many of us might not feel comfortable including strongman exercises, often that is due to our background and a lack of knowledge about the exercises.  While some might not agree with using these exercises with a swimmer, his coach is very comfortable with it.  He is also very competent to teach the exercises and keep them safe.  Whether we agree with the program that Ryan does or have some issues with it, we need to keep one thing in mind:  every coach is different.  Every coach has different backgrounds and experiences, different styles, and different levels of comfort with certain exercises or methods.  That’s one of the neat things about strength and conditioning.  While there is a lot of science that we rely on, there is also room for each of us to be unique and create our own program.  Just because a program is different than one we might design, that doesn’t mean that it’s bad.

Here’s a sample of Ryan’s Training.

Strongman Exercises For Everyone?

One post I read a few days ago stated that Lochte’s training would have a negative effect on many clients.  The author felt that many of their clients would come in begging to include tire flips, etc in their training.  He’s probably right.  I’m sure that due to the publicity, many athletes and coaches will suddenly want to include these in their training.  Guess what?  In general, that’s probably not a good idea.  Remember, training programs should be individualized based on many factors including what the athlete is capable of.  There also needs to be consideration given to what the coach can safely teach the athlete.  This is where my greatest fear is.  I hope that coaches stick with what is right and with what they can safely teach.  Unfortunately, some won’t and they will end up needlessly injuring some athletes.

Mark

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Smart Work

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.

Mark

Here are 2 other related posts that you might enjoy:

Coaching = Teaching

Why does junction boys syndrome still exist?

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Good Nutrition is 24/7

Fruit stand pic

What do your athletes eat???

As a coach, you have control over what your athlete does for a few hours a week.  You can control what drills they do, how they do them, etc when you are coaching them.  As for what happens the other 22 hours of their day, that is up to them (and their parents if they are young).  Unfortunately, what they eat during that time away from you can drastically affect their recovery and their future performance.  As we all know, the eating habits of the average person in the US are currently lousy.  This includes both adults and kids.  That means that we have an uphill battle to fight.

(As a side note, sometimes parents allow kids to make horrible choices.  A prime example was an 11 year old that I used to train.  He regularly showed up to training sessions with a huge energy drink.  What???  How does an 11 year old do that???  Oh, that’s right.  His mommy let him do it.  When dealing with kids and teens, it is often vital to change the parents ideas on nutrition.  If they don’t change, the kids won’t ever change either.)

So, what can we do?  Here are 3 things:

  1. Get the athlete professional help – First off, we have to leave the diet planning to the Registered Dietitians (RD).  We wouldn’t want them writing our training programs and we shouldn’t try to do their job.  We can however have one speak to athletes and parents.  This could be done as an occasional seminar for all athletes/parents.  It could also involve one-on-one help if needed.  Regardless, it can be beneficial to develop a good working relationship with a local RD who has a background advising athletes.
  2. Have plenty of handouts ready – Having handouts ready on nutrition is a good way to get info to parents and athletes.  Parents are often willing to look through these while their kids train.  There are all kinds of wacky diet plans and concepts that have been publicized.  While someone may believe some of these, it never hurts to present them with good info from trusted sources.  Who knows, it might change their thinking.  Where can you find this info?  Try your local RD or various nutritional sites on the web.  The Gatorade Sports Science Institute also has a lot of valuable handouts on their website.
  3. Become a thorn in the side – Make sure to constantly remind your athletes (and parents) about good nutrition.  Ask them how they ate since their last workout.  Remind them when they are leaving to eat well.  Just mentioning it to them once probably won’t do the trick.  Let them know that even though you aren’t there with them 24/7, what they do during that time still matters.  For older athletes, if you know that they are going to a big cookout or some other event, you might send a text to remind them to keep things in check and not eat everything in sight.

How an athlete chooses to eat when they are away from you is ultimately up to them (or their parents).  While I’m not one that thinks that a kid should never have a piece of cake or pie, I do believe that it is part of a coaches job to impress upon them the importance of good nutrition.  As we’ve seen in the news, most of the teens and adults in the US are missing out on that message somewhere.  Maybe we can help a few of them.  Plus, if they are serious about their training, good nutrition is vital to recovery and performance.

Mark

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