They Can’t Run

One of the problems that I see when watching youth sports is that many of the athletes have poor fundamentals.  The major thing that many of them lack is the ability to run effectively and efficiently.  Obviously Strength and Conditioning Coaches notice things like this.  What gets me is, why doesn’t anyone else notice it?  Don’t the sport coaches see it?  What about the parents that sit at every practice and game?  It may take an expert to fix the problems, but it doesn’t take one to recognize that there is a problem.  When I watch young athletes run, I see arms flying in all directions, bodies out of control, etc.  Nobody notices this?  Even if the coach can’t fix it, he should realize that there is a problem and refer the kid to someone who can.  Or he can ignore it and let the kid continue to use poor movement patterns.  This leads to inferior performance and injury issues. So why doesn’t someone do something?  I guess it would make too much sense.

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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Plan Management

Planning Pic

Sometimes you've got to go to plan "b"

A Kink In The Plan

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.

Mark

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The Whole Truth

Dumbbell Pic
The weights never lie!!!

 

“The Iron never lies to you…The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver…two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”  – Henry Rollins

I found this quote recently and it really made me think. How many times have we been around someone who says that they can lift this much, run this fast, etc.  They’re always fast and strong, at least according to what they say.  Once you get them in the weightroom (or on a stopwatch), the reality just isn’t quite what you’ve been told.  I think that a lot of the athletes that I have trained were “mistaken” about their strength and speed on that first day.  It’s almost become a running joke for me during the initial evaluation – how far off from the athletes perception is the reality?  I don’t think that I’ve done an eval yet where they ended up stronger than the thought they were.  I guess that’s part of the neat thing about our business – you can tell all of the stories to others (or yourself) that you want to, but in the end, the weights and the stopwatch will tell the truth.

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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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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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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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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