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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Predicting A Torn ACL?

I spent this past weekend at a volleyball tournament.  Most of the players were 12 – 14 years old.  With so much volleyball to watch, I tried to use it as a chance to gain a better perspective of the sport.  I was trying to look at it from both an ATC viewpoint and a strength and conditioning one.  I made several observations, some of which I’ll post later this week.

Today I thought that I would discuss the one that stood out the most.  One team had a player that I feel is a recipe for a future ACL injury.  First off, I hope that I’m 100% wrong.  Now for the facts.  The girl was already wearing a knee sleeve on one knee, and probably not by coincidence, she had a bad habit of landing only on that same leg after a jump.  She was also somewhat overweight.  Now, please don’t read too much into the fact that I said that she’s overweight.  I don’t believe that fact itself guarantees a torn ACL.  I do however believe that it could contribute if other factors are present.  My major concerns revolved around her landing mechanics.  While I don’t know the girl or her medical history, I would guess that poor mechanics have led to previous knee problems.  My question is this:  has anyone else realized this?  Have her coaches noticed during the endless hours of practice and games?  What about her doctor, assuming she saw one about her knee?  The next question is when will they work on her landing mechanics?  We all know that poor landing mechanics lead to bad things, especially for female athletes.  Unfortunately, the first time this gets addressed may be in rehab after an ACL repair.  The sad thing is that a good jumping / landing program might be able to lessen the chance of a serious knee injury ever occurring to this girl.

Mark

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More Isn’t Always Better – Monitoring For Overtraining

If you deal with high level athletes, overtraining is always a concern.  Of course, even with younger athletes it can become an issue especially if the parents are pushing the kid.  While there is a certain level of work that has to be put in for an athlete to maximize their potential, more isn’t always better when it comes to training.  Overtraining can cause decreases in performance and leave athletes with an increased chance of injury.  Obviously this is the opposite of what we are trying to do.  Overtraining occurs over of a period of time when the athlete is not able to adequately recover from training.  It doesn’t happen just because you have one hard workout.

So how can you monitor your athletes for overtraining?  Here are a few ways:

  • Pay attention during the warm-up – If your athlete just doesn’t have that “bounce in their step” that they normally do, it could be a sign of overtraining.  Watch the drills that the athlete performs and see if it’s just a day that the athlete is taking a little longer to get up to speed or it is a sign of a real issue.  Of course, this tip goes right along with the next one.
  • Talk to your athlete – Want to know how your athlete feels?  Ask them.  Of course, sometimes it helps to know your athlete well.  We’ve all worked with athletes that always feel great and with ones that always have something wrong.  Make sure to talk to your athlete especially before the workout and during the warm up.  This a great time to find out valuable info about eating and sleeping habits and many other factors that can affect their training and recovery.  Ask some questions and if your get some strange responses then make sure to ask more questions.
  • Check their vertical jump – Some coaches advocate using the vertical jump test to evaluate overtraining.  The idea is simple:  an athlete that is overtrained won’t jump as high as they normally do.  This is quick and easy way to check an athlete.
  • Use a questionnaire – Some coaches use a simple questionnaire to get info from the athlete.  The questions are similar to ones that you would ask verbally (ex – “how did you sleep last night?”) but are given in paper form.  While slightly more formal, this can be an effective way to get answers.  It can also enable you to ask some different questions that you might not normally ask during the warm-up (about moods, depression, menstrual changes, etc).  Because of this, it might be a good idea to find or create a questionnaire that can be used occasionally just to get a more complete view of your athletes recovery.

While there are other more expensive ways to monitor for overtraining, such as blood testing, for most of us these are not feasible or necessary.  If you use the above methods you will be able to do an effective job of monitoring your athletes.  This should enable them to continue to improve without any issues.

Mark

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3 Keys During The Football Off-season

Football Pic

For the football fans in the U.S., our glut of football excitement is about to run out. The NCAA football season ended when Alabama beat LSU.  The NFL playoffs are in full swing and soon the Super Bowl will be played and over.  So as to not forget our neighbors to the north, the CFL offseason is well underway.  Of course, just because the season is over doesn’t mean that things are any less hectic for the coaches, players, and support personnel.  No matter what level you are at, this is the period to get better.  Coaches are looking for better players through scouting and recruiting.  Even high school coaches scour the hallways looking to encourage a “diamond in the rough” to play next year.  As for players, they are all (or should be) working to get better.  This is the time of year to improve strength, power, and athletic skills so that they can be a better player.  This can be just in preparation for next season, or it can be to get ready for various combines and tryouts.  It is a very busy time of year for all involved.

If you are a player, right now you should be on a solid program to develop you strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, balance, and coordination.  If you aren’t, you are going to miss out.  You will miss out on the chance to excel on the field and possibly miss out on a scholarship or pro contract.  Years ago most players didn’t train during the off-season.  Nowadays, if you don’t train during the off-season, you probably won’t see the field during the season.  If you ask the guys from Alabama, LSU, or any other major college football program, this is when they start to get ready for next year.  It doesn’t start in August, it starts now.  They lift weights, run agility drills, and do anything else that is necessary to get better.  So what should you (or your players) be doing during January?

3 Keys During The Off-season

  1. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate – Every player should be evaluated at this time of year.  It is true that it helps to re-test them in their 40, vertical jump, clean, etc.  In addition, it is a good time to eval individual players for lingering injury issues, strength and flexibility imbalances, etc.  Whether you use a formal system like the Functional Movement Screen or do something different, you need to try to pinpoint any problems that each individual may need to work on.  If you don’t do it while you have time to, you won’t do it at all.  If these problems don’t get fixed, they will limit the development of the player.
  2. A solid program – Every player should be placed on a solid strength and conditioning program.  It should be well thought out and should include phases that will develop hypertrophy, strength, and power in the weightroom.  It should also include plenty of flexibility, speed, and agility work.  Just lining up to run sprints isn’t really speed work.  I mean form and technique work.  It takes a lot of reps to make a change permanent.  Get started now.
  3. Team bonding / competition work – This is also the time to begin to include some team bonding activities.  They don’t have to be every day, but there is a long time from now until August.  Start to include them now to help your team develop the chemistry that the need to succeed.  As for competition, that can be worked into drills and other off-season activities.  Some kids don’t have the competitive fire that they should.  This can be developed but again, it should start now.
Keep these keys in mind while you plan your program.
Mark
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3 Tips for Barefoot Training

I’ve written previously about training barefoot and the possible benefits.  It seems like the concept is becoming more popular lately.  There are more books being published and the concept is getting more coverage in the mainstream media.  Recently an article on barefoot training appeared in the Huffington Post.  With all of the recent interest, I thought it might be a good idea to mention a few tips before throwing away all of your training shoes.

What shoes to wear for training today? How about going barefoot!

Tips for Barefoot Training

  • Ease into it – Most of us haven’t spent lots of time barefoot since we were kids.  Keep this in mind when you start training barefoot.  Our feet have become used to the support and protection of shoes.  Since your feet will probably have to go through an adaptation process, don’t try to do everything barefoot right off the bat.  It might be a good idea to start going barefoot more around the house,if you don’t already.  Then start by doing your warm-up without shoes.  If you are doing a proper dynamic warm-up, it should take you 10-15 minutes to complete.  This should give your feet a chance to begin to get used to going without shoes.  After this, gradually add in more barefoot time.
  • Choose soft surfaces – Ok, maybe this one is common sense but I still thought that it was worth mentioning.  Soft surfaces give you cushioning when your feet land on the ground.  They also help to limit the amount of surface damage (small cuts, scrapes, etc) to your feet.  While this is a good idea in general, it is especially important when first starting out your barefoot adventures.
  • Be selective in your activities  Continuing along with the general idea of safety, you should probably choose activities that are fairly safe for your feet, especially at first.  This probably isn’t the time to work in some depth jumps, for example.  Stick with easier activities and remember that there are still some things that it might be a good idea to wear shoes while doing (e.g., weightlifting).

I’ve been wondering what the new training “fad” will be for 2012.  Maybe barefoot training will be it.  Ok, maybe not if Nike has anything to say about it haha.  Regardless, give barefoot training a try.  It will help your feet to gain strength and movement that they haven’t had since you were a kid.

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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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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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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