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

Sports Upgrade

 

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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 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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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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Hot Stuff

Here’s a video post about heat illness.  Since several high school athletes have died already this year due to the heat, I thought that it would be a good time to address it.  The video discusses prevention, signs & symptoms, and treatment.

Let me know what you think.

Mark

 

 

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Year Round Sports – Agggghhhhhh!!!!

 

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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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Why we need experts

I’ve got to confess that I was planning this post last night.  At that time, I wasn’t aware of a recent Webmd article about sports training for female teens.  Fortunately, I saw a link for it on Twitter this AM.  The article is a great lead in to my post.  If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so.

I think that the article does a great job of touching on several points.  First and foremost, it addresses several things that females need to be doing to prepare and it explains why.  Anyone who works with athletes should be aware of the fact that female ACL injuries occur more often than they do to males.  They should also know how to train an athlete to try to prevent their occurance.  The article also emphasizes having a well designed plan to follow when training.  The article closes by discussing the imporantance of proper nutrition.  This is a subject that cannot be overemphasized when dealing with athletes at any level. 

By now you’re probably wondering what my original post was going to be about and how this article played into it. My original idea was to write about the training of athletes needing to be led by someone who is qualified to do it.  Too many times I’ve seen a sport coach decide to design a strength/speed/agility program for their athletes.  There are some sport coaches who can accomplish this and design a safe and effective program.  Unfortunately, there are a large percentage who cannot do this.  Just because someone coaches a sport does not mean that they have a full understanding of :

  • program design
  • safety
  • preventative (“prehab”) exercises
  • exercise technique
  • speed/agility mechanics
  • corrective exercises/drills

I have worked with some great coaches in my career (and a few not so great, but we won’t go into that….).  There is no doubt that some of those coaches understood their sport inside and out.  My favorite sport to watch is football.  I’ve watched it, played it, and worked around it.  While I might know some about it, I have worked with coaches who knew 100+ times more than I do.  They were the “experts” in their sports.  I could have never coached their sport as well as they did.  On the other side of that, I tried to make it so that they couldn’t do my job as well as I did. 

When you consider the training and development of your son/daughter or your athletes, please keep all of this in mind.  There are qualified people who can run a strength/speed/agility program.  Of course, there are also some who claim that they can.  Believe it or not, designing and running a fitness program is much different than training athletes to maximize their potential.  Find someone who has experience dealing with athletes, someone who has a degree in exercise science or a related field, and someone who has credentials from a credible organization.  Not only will these people understand how to train an athlete to get better, they will understand the biomechanical and physiological aspects of the sport so that they can design and implement a top notch program. 

P.S.  If you want to see what one training program for females looks like, check out the video of the Auburn Softball Team below.

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Using Common Sense

In the June issue of Pediatric Clinics of North America, there is an article on “Resistance Training for Adolescents“.  The authors make two points that I feel are imporant:   

  1. Supervision and teaching should be emphasized
  2. Consideration must be given to the fitness level, experience, and any medical problems that the teen may have

  Continue reading

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