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.
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).
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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”.
As a follow up to my previous post on sand training, I thought that I would address a question that I was asked about running in the sand. The question was about running barefoot in the sand and impact forces. Here was my reply:
“It can actually be a great opportunity to run barefoot. Running without shoes tends to make people land on the balls of their feet more. This further decreases the impact forces. It also helps to work the muscles of the foot better and strengthen them. The only warning is to ease into barefoot running gradually.”
There has been a lot of interest in barefoot running recently. I’ve seen several articles in magazines and on websites recently so I guess it is a new “fad”. As Vern Gambetta wrote in his blog recently, it’s not a new concept. It’s been around for a long time. The main thing to realize is that there is benefit to running barefoot (or in socks or something less than a “normal” shoe). To work this into a program before, I’ve had athletes do their warmup in socks to get the benefits. This gives them a chance to ease into it so that we could incorporate more of it during other training sessions. Anytime that I have athletes in the sand I try to have them do it barefoot. I figure that they’e going to get sand in their shoes anyway so what not get even more out of the session.
In a nutshell, whether it’s in the sand or elsewhere make sure that you plan some barefoot time into your program too.