Yesterday we started a list of Sports Upgrade’s top 10 most popular posts of 2012. In case you missed it, you can see # 6 – # 10 here. Today we give you # 1 – # 5. Be sure to read any that you may have missed during the year.
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?
Chores at home/job
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
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever been several weeks into a team’s off-season training program a new kid suddenly shows up? Sometimes its a kid that has moved into the area, but a lot of times it’s a kid who is coming from another sports season. He or she has been playing sport B while his teammates in sport A have been putting in time and effort in their strength and conditioning program. We all like working with multi-sport athletes, but it does create some interesting challenges for us as coaches.
Things To Consider
There are several things to keep in mind while trying to get these “newbies” up to speed with the rest of the group.
Recovery – If these athletes are coming in from another sports season, they are probably already tired, worn down, and “dinged up”. Oftentimes these kids are rushed into the off-season program for another sport. As a coach, I’d rather give a kid a few days off before they get started on their training program with me. An athlete who is worn down can’t give 100% and is more likely to get hurt. Giving them even just a week off between seasons can be beneficial.
Differences in training levels – Even if these athletes are “in shape” for the sport that they just finished, they won’t be in shape for the sport that they are going to. Each sport has different physical and physiological demands. These athletes usually can’t be expected to start off at the same level as the athletes who are currently in the off-season program.
Adjust the plan – When we create an off-season plan, we put all of our knowledge and know-how into it. And now we have to change it because of one kid? Yes. To build on the previous point, an athlete that is coming into your program will need to be eased in ,unless he is coming from a sport that has a solid in-season program. He won’t be able to complete the same sets, reps, and intensities as the other athletes. Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. He or she will catch up to the other athletes soon enough.
Focus – While it is sometimes difficult to do, try to find a way to focus on these kids. If they haven’t been lifting regularly or doing the same program, there should be an emphasis placed on technique. That way once they catch up to the other athletes, their technique will be good. This is especially important in lifts such as the squat, clean, and snatch. You should also get plenty of feedback from these kids on how they feel.
What To Do?
When you have a large group of athletes, it becomes difficult to integrate a new kid into the mix. However, for the good of the athlete, you must pay attention to these “newbies”. All too often they show up and just get tossed into the mix with the other athletes. While it may take some creativity to integrate them properly and at the right pace, it will benefit them in the long run.
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.
Hopefully you read part 1 of the series on active rest. Today, in part 2, I thought that we would discuss some of the science behind the idea of active rest.
The concept of active rest originally came from the system called periodization that was developed by Russian sports scientists. The system was primarily used with weightlifters. It was used with great success during the Soviet Bloc years and led to many Olympic medals. The basic idea was that a training plan was laid out for an athlete that adjusted the volume and intensity of their workouts over time. By going through these different training phases it was believed that the athletes would get better results and be on track to peak in time for competitions. The phase after a competition was called the “transition” phase. In the American terminology this began to be called the “active rest” phase.
Now to the real details about the science behind it. I know, if you really hate lots of scientific stats and info you just want to get to the conclusion. Guess what? As much as people including myself believe in the concept of active rest, there isn’t a lot of scientific proof that shows how effective or ineffective that it is. There have been some studies done testing the results of active rest right after a workout. While these have shown a improvement in the amount of lactate in the blood after exercise, the studies were only looking at the immediate effects. Two studies have been done that look at possible longer term effects – one on rugby players and one on soccer players. The results of both studies found that active rest didn’t really help the athletes to recover any better than complete rest. The rugby study noted that the players who participated in active rest did feel better psychologically than their teammates who rested completely.
Since there isn’t a lot of evidence to prove the benefits of active rest, should you still include it in your program? I think that you should for three reasons:
Active rest will help to circulate blood through the body. This helps to clear waste and deliver more oxygen to the cells, which is always good.
Active rest will help you to feel better psycholgically
Active rest will allow your body to heal up many of the little sprains, strains, aches, and pains that we all pick up while training hard
So, there are some definite benefits to active rest. I encourage you to give it a try. Just pick a 1-2 week period and try some lighter workouts. Your goal should be to do about 50-70% of your normal workout. That percentage should apply not only to the amount (volume) that you do, but also to the intensity. When planning your training, try to do exercises and activities that you don’t normally do. It’s a good opportunity to change things up. It’s also a good chance to spend a little time rehabbing an injury or focusing on a “weakness” (e.g., flexibility, core strength, etc). Let me know how it works for you.