Why Junction Boys Syndrome Still Exists

The May issue of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research has an excellent article called “The Junction Boys Syndrome”.  The syndrome title is based on the book and movie called “The Junction Boys”.  These both tell the story of the year that “Bear” Bryant took over as head coach at Texas A&M.  He took his players off-campus for a brutal pre-season camp.  Numerous players were injured and/or quit the team during the camp.

The article by Scott Anderson discusses the fact that modern football “training regimens are too often built on tradition versus based on science and place players at-risk”.  He then gives us information and facts about the 21 nontraumatic deaths in NCAA FBS football since 2000.  Sixteen of these deaths occurred during strength and conditioning activities.

Is Anderson right?  Yes,  Are many of these deaths caused by the “tradition” of intense work making tougher and better football players?  Unfortunately, yes.  Why is this?  There are numerous resources available to help people design safe and effective training programs.  There are also qualified Strength & Conditioning coaches to design and implement the programs.  We even have Certified Athletic Trainers who can help monitor athletes for signs of medical problems during workouts and then care for them if necessary.  So why do we still have deaths?  I think that there are three main reasons:

  1. Influence of the Football Coaches – The S & C world is full of stories of sport coaches dictating how they want the strength and conditioning program run.  While some of this has to do with trust and respect, if the S & C Coach is qualified and competent, let them do their job.  If they aren’t qualified and competent, then hire someone who is.
  2. The “I’ll Make You Puke Mentality” – While I understand the get tough mentality, I think that if a S & C Coach uses puking as the goal for the workouts that he designs, it’s sad.  With all of the research and knowledge at our disposal, there should be a better goal that they can come up with.  Vern Gambetta has discussed his thoughts on work and makes a good point “…puking at the end of a workout is not the measure of a good training.”
  3. Tradition – It is true that in some instances, football training is still in the dark ages.  Top this with the fact that there are still numerous veteran coaches who believe in doing things traditionally, and it leads to problems.  New research is published all of the time to help show what works and what doesn’t.  S & C Coaches should constantly be trying to learn and use this knowledge to make their programs better.  As for the football coaches, see #1 above.

Should we still have nontraumatic deaths during football training?  No.  The last thing that any of us want is for one of our athletes to die due to the training program that we have designed and overseen.  Scott Anderson ends his article by saying that it is time for these deaths to stop.  I don’t see how anyone could disagree.

Mark

P.S. If you want to know how we believe that training should be, click here to find out Sports Upgrade

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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 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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Slacktastic

Slacktastic.  Huh?  That isn’t a word.  It should be.  Want a definition?   Here it is: an athlete with fantastic potential who tends to be a slacker during strength & conditioning sessions.  Now that you know what it means, I’m sure that you can think of an example.  We’ve all dealt with this athlete before.  You know the kid, the one with great potential, the one who halfway does his warmup, who you always have to wait on to start a drill because he or she is taking their sweet time, the one who always complains and has an excuse.  Yeah, that kid.  Usually these kids have been gifted with decent athletic skills.  That’s why they tend to be slackers, because they’ve always been able to get by on their natural ability.  When these athletes are training individually or in a small group, it becomes harder for them to be a slacker.  Even though they may still try to get out of things, hopefully this can be cured through good coaching.  What about in a large group setting?  That is when the slacktastic athlete really comes out.  When the weightroom has more bodies in it, these athletes tend to find ways to take their time, skip exercises, etc.  In an ideal situation, there will be multiple coaches in the room to help with supervision.  Unfortunately, especially in high schools nowadays, there is rarely enough supervision to coach effectively and to eliminate problems.  That’s when it becomes very important for coaches to “have eyes in the back of their heads”.  That’s also when a coach has to make sure that what they see from a kid is really what they are getting from the kid.  I’ve heard stories of kids putting on a great show when they know that the coach is watching.  If they aren’t being watched, their slacktastic qualities shine through.  Part of being a great coach is truly getting to know your athletes.  This is part of that.  Discovering that a kid isn’t putting out 100% also gives a coach (or parent) a chance to teach some life lessons.  This is a valuable part of athletics that should never be overlooked.  Of course, possibly the greatest reason to hold these athletes accountable is because it can affect your team.  Other kids are great at picking up on these sorts of problems.  Many times the hard working kids will know who doesn’t go all out.  This then leads to negative feelings, especially if the kids that don’t work hard all of the time still get lots of playing time.  These issues tend to stay small as long as things are going well.  However, as soon as the team faces adversity these problems tend to snowball.  The best way to prevent these sorts of issues?  Hold all of your athletes accountable every day.  Make sure that the “superstars” realize that you know if they aren’t giving 100%.  You can also try to create competitive situations where the “slacktastic” athetes will be held accountable by their teammates.  While it can be a challange to deal with those who don’t go all out every day, dealing with and solving this issue is part of good coaching.

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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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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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 & 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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5 Reasons Program Theft Won’t Work

I love to watch other strength and conditioning coaches in action.  I’m always looking to learn and better myself.  I’ve picked up new drills, better coaching cues, and many other ideas from these sessions.  It always puts your mind to work and makes you evaluate what you do and how you do it, which is never bad.  I feel that things like this make you a better coach in the long run.  Fortunately, most coaches are pretty good about sharing info with other coaches (although I did meet one recently who was VERY unwilling to discuss anything.  I guess they discovered the “holy grail” of coaching and don’t want us to know it). 

Did you steal your program?

Where did you get your program?

Of course, this can be taken to an extreme.  I’ve had sport coaches try to use a workout that they found somewhere else for their teams.  It may have come from a college coach, from a magazine, online, or anywhere else.  I don’t care how much ESPN you watch, how many issues of Mens Health or Muscle and Fitness that you read, or who you got it from don’t try to steal a program from somewhere.  This never works!!! 

 Here are 5 reasons why it doesn’t:

  1. It wasn’t designed for your kid(s) –  The program was probably designed for higher level athletes.  Most times these athletes are better prepared to participate in a physically demanding program.  They also have years of practice to develop the techniques required to execute the program correctly. 
  2. It’s not based on your kids needs – How can it be?  The person who designed the program has probably never met your kid.  How do they know what his/her needs are?  When you design a program you must account for the strengths and weaknesses of individual athetes.  Then you design the program around this information.  While this is difficult to accomplish in a group/team setting, it can still be done.  However, it can’t be done by a coach that doesn’t know your kid(s).
  3. It doesn’t have your personal touch –  Much like when it comes to X’s and O’s in sports, I can’t run your system and you can’t run mine.  We all have our own way of doing things.  Can I pick up a program designed by someone else and run kids through it?  Yes.  Am I going to be as effective of a coach?  No.  I have my way of doing things and I have a system that all of these things fit into.  The same can be said for other coaches.  We can all follow a plan but without fully understanding everything, it won’t work as well. 
  4. You don’t know the “Big Pic” – Maybe the stength coach at “We lost too many games last year U” was told to “bulk up the players”.  Maybe that played a role in his program design.  Maybe he realized that his players are plenty strong but need to be more flexible.  Once again, the program wasn’t designed for your kids. 
  5. It’s better to start from scratch than try to adapt a program – Sometimes when you try to adapt something you try to make as few changes as possible.  Unfortunately, this hesitation to make changes means that you aren’t willing to make the program fit your kids.  You are trying to make your kids fit into the program.  Again, not a good thing.

We all borrow ideas and incorporate them into our programs.  There’s no problem with that.  The problem is when it turns to using someone elses program entirely.  Remember, if you are a coach, this is what you are trained to do.  Don’t worry about having a perfect program.  There is no “perfect” program.  We’re all learning as we go and trying to make our program as close to perfect as we can for our athletes and our situation. The bottom line is this:  it’s much better to use a program that was designed specifically for the athletes who are using it rather than one that you “got from someone”.

Mark

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