Nutritional Supplements & Young Athletes

Supplement Use By Youth For Sports Performance Improvement

I found a news article a few days ago about the usage of nutritional supplements by kids.  The article discusses a study that was originally published earlier this year.  It focused on the use of supplements by children and adolescents for the purpose of improving sports performance.  So what do I think about all of this?

Shocking Findings

So what are my thoughts on the study?  I decided to put my them on video.  Here they are:

 

Help your young athletes to make good nutritional choices.

Mark

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Smart Work

I spent the past week working at a sports camp for young kids.  The camp used a large local park that was open to the public. During several of these days, I saw a local Strength & Conditioning coach working privately with a young athlete (about 13 years old).  During my breaks I tried to sneak a peak at what drills they used.  While I didn’t see anything new, what I saw did make me think about working smart vs just working hard.  What I saw each day wasn’t smart work, it was just hard. I saw lots of repetition of drills, but very little teaching and correction.   While working hard can be the focus of certain days or certain drills, it seemed to be the focus of every day for this athlete.   While I wasn’t close enough to hear what the coach was saying to the athlete, I didn’t see the coach trying to demonstrate or correct any technique. What I saw was a series of drills run over and over until the kid was exhausted. Most of the young teens that I have trained need a lot of fundamental drills and a lot of technique work so that they can develop their basic athletic skills. That is working smart. That is also smart coaching. S & C coaches get paid to develop athletes. Yes, sometimes that involves working them hard. However, when dealing with young athletes, there should be a lot of smart work. That should be what differentiates a S & C coach from the average person – the ability to teach an athlete, not just run them through some drills. A great coach is a great teacher.

Mark

Here are 2 other related posts that you might enjoy:

Coaching = Teaching

Why does junction boys syndrome still exist?

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Good Nutrition is 24/7

Fruit stand pic

What do your athletes eat???

As a coach, you have control over what your athlete does for a few hours a week.  You can control what drills they do, how they do them, etc when you are coaching them.  As for what happens the other 22 hours of their day, that is up to them (and their parents if they are young).  Unfortunately, what they eat during that time away from you can drastically affect their recovery and their future performance.  As we all know, the eating habits of the average person in the US are currently lousy.  This includes both adults and kids.  That means that we have an uphill battle to fight.

(As a side note, sometimes parents allow kids to make horrible choices.  A prime example was an 11 year old that I used to train.  He regularly showed up to training sessions with a huge energy drink.  What???  How does an 11 year old do that???  Oh, that’s right.  His mommy let him do it.  When dealing with kids and teens, it is often vital to change the parents ideas on nutrition.  If they don’t change, the kids won’t ever change either.)

So, what can we do?  Here are 3 things:

  1. Get the athlete professional help – First off, we have to leave the diet planning to the Registered Dietitians (RD).  We wouldn’t want them writing our training programs and we shouldn’t try to do their job.  We can however have one speak to athletes and parents.  This could be done as an occasional seminar for all athletes/parents.  It could also involve one-on-one help if needed.  Regardless, it can be beneficial to develop a good working relationship with a local RD who has a background advising athletes.
  2. Have plenty of handouts ready – Having handouts ready on nutrition is a good way to get info to parents and athletes.  Parents are often willing to look through these while their kids train.  There are all kinds of wacky diet plans and concepts that have been publicized.  While someone may believe some of these, it never hurts to present them with good info from trusted sources.  Who knows, it might change their thinking.  Where can you find this info?  Try your local RD or various nutritional sites on the web.  The Gatorade Sports Science Institute also has a lot of valuable handouts on their website.
  3. Become a thorn in the side – Make sure to constantly remind your athletes (and parents) about good nutrition.  Ask them how they ate since their last workout.  Remind them when they are leaving to eat well.  Just mentioning it to them once probably won’t do the trick.  Let them know that even though you aren’t there with them 24/7, what they do during that time still matters.  For older athletes, if you know that they are going to a big cookout or some other event, you might send a text to remind them to keep things in check and not eat everything in sight.

How an athlete chooses to eat when they are away from you is ultimately up to them (or their parents).  While I’m not one that thinks that a kid should never have a piece of cake or pie, I do believe that it is part of a coaches job to impress upon them the importance of good nutrition.  As we’ve seen in the news, most of the teens and adults in the US are missing out on that message somewhere.  Maybe we can help a few of them.  Plus, if they are serious about their training, good nutrition is vital to recovery and performance.

Mark

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Help For The ACL: Correction Of Poor Landings In Volleyball

Beach Volleyball Pic

More on the ACL

While writing my last blog post on landing mechanics and ACL injuries, I came across a study by Parsons & Alexander that was recently published.  The study attempts to discover if the use of one video coaching session can help to make positive changes in the landing mechanics of volleyball players.  I encourage you to read more about this study on modifying landing mechanics.

Here is a quick summary of the volleyball study:

The researchers took video clips of volleyball players completing a spike jump/landing.  They used Dartfish software to give the girls immediate feedback and also to analyze the results in further detail.  They measured numerous angles related to landing position at ankle, knee, hip, and torso.  The researchers found numerous improvements resulted short term from their video & verbal feedback.  While there were some decreases in the results during the 4 weeks prior to retesting, several of the variables maintained a significantly positive improvement.  Basically, the one feedback session did help the volleyball players to make and maintain positive improvements.

So, what are the take home points?

  1. Video can play a huge role in helping your athletes to make improvements.  Remember that some people are visual learners.  Using video can help them to truly understand what you are saying to them in your verbal coaching.
  2. The athletes were able to maintain some of their improvements over 4 weeks.  What if there was to be more of an emphasis on the changes in landing mechanics?  What if they took 15 minutes a week to focus on them?  What if they received visual feedback multiple times with constant verbal coaching everyday?  I’m sure that the results would be more significant.  As they say, “practice makes perfect”.  What would this do the the number of torn ACL’s in volleyball?  I’m sure it would decrease it dramatically.

Here are two other things worth reading:

More of my thoughts on ACL tears in volleyball

Predicting A Torn ACL?

More info on the importance of video analysis:

Wired UK Article on Dartfish 

Mark

Contact us for info on how we can provide a landing assessment for your athletes.

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Post Season Recovery For Athletes – How?

Basketball Hoop Pic

In my previous post on post-season recovery, I discussed why it is important for athletes to recover after their season concludes.  Now lets discuss some guidelines for how to accomplish sufficient recovery.

First off, remember that these guidelines are based on an ideal situation.  As we all know, those rarely happen in the sports world.  Since the NBA Finals are going on right now, we’ll use them as an example.  In case you’re not paying attention to the finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder are playing the Miami Heat. If that series goes the full 7 games, their season won’t finish until June 26th.  Obviously making the finals is a great achievement and no team would trade that for anything.  At the same time, teams that didn’t make the playoffs finished playing their last games on April 26th.  That’s two months before the Heat and Thunder will be done.  To fully put things in perspective, last year NBA training camps were originally scheduled to open October 3rd.  That was before the lockout ended up shortening the season.  If the dates stay similar in 2012, that means that the teams that didn’t make the playoffs will have as much as two extra months to strength train for next season.  It also means that they will have more time to recover from the rigors of the 2011-12 season.  The odd twist is that the teams that had the best seasons and played the most games will have the least amount of time to recover.  As a strength coach you have to be prepared to work around multiple issues, especially if the length of your off-season can be drastically shortened by your teams success.

So what guidelines should you follow during your recovery?

  • Heal Up – during a season, almost every player ends up with some bumps and bruises.  No matter how my we work to prevent them, it’s going to happen.  Many of these can be healed up with some rest.  For more significant injuries, make sure to continue rehabbing them.  With no time devoted to practice and games, you should be able to make some serious headway towards getting well.
  • Check For Imbalances – Checking for imbalances ties in closely with rehab.  Over the course of a season, players can develop numerous strength and flexibility imbalances.  As an example, baseball pitchers tend to develop greater external rotation in their pitching shoulder during the season.  Some people believe that this can lead to other problems if it is not addressed in the off-season.  Step one to solving these problems is to identify them right after the season.  Then the player can begin to work on them during the recovery phase.
  • Stay Active – This phase is a recovery phase, not a sit on the sofa and be lazy phase.  In many of the publications on periodization, this phase if called “active rest”.  Athletes need to stay active to some extent, even during recovery.  Staying active doesn’t mean going to the gym for a two hour lift-a-thon.  It does however mean doing something physical.  This is a great time for athletes to participate in other fitness or sports activities that they enjoy.  I read once that Arnold Schwarzenegger used to enjoy riding bikes and playing volleyball after he competed in the Mr. Olympia each year.  I believe that it can be beneficial for athletes to follow the same sort of plan.  Find one activity (or several) that you enjoy doing that will help you to exercise.  Then participate in this activity several times a week.  The idea is to keep yourself active, break a sweat, use your muscles, and get your heart and lungs going.  If you do choose to lift weights, keep things light – 3 sets of 10-12 at bout 70% of your one rep max is a good guideline.
  • Rest – Yes, you should rest your body during this recovery time.  Get plenty of sleep and relax some.  This is not the time to stay out until all hours of the night partying it up.  Enjoy time with your family and friends but just remember, the crazier you get with your lifestyle, the harder it will be to get back into peak shape later.
The big question now is, how long should the recovery phase last?  Periodization models tend to recommend 1-2 weeks.  I have always like Arnold’s recommendation.  He said that he would stay out of the gym until he really got the itch to go back.  He figured that was his body’s way of telling him that he was ready to start training again.  I believe that two weeks is a good starting point.  If you communicate with your athletes, you may find out that some of them need more time and some need less.  You can always tweak the length of time if you need to.  If you are dealing with younger athletes, it may be necessary to provide some structure for them during this time.  If you tell them to “go rest but stay active” you will have athletes doing all sorts of things based on their own interpretation.  A structured plan may be better for them.  That way you can have some control over what they are doing for recovery.
Regardless of what the circumstances are, a post season recovery period can be very beneficial to your athletes.  Make sure to include one in your planning.
Mark

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Post Season Recovery For Athletes – Why?

Rugby Tackle Pic

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.

See you then.

Mark

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Don’t Skip The In-Season Training Program

Sometimes sports coaches amaze me.  Over and over again, I see them emphasize the off-season training program.  They push the kids to lift, run, and lift some more.  While most of these programs are “voluntary”, participation is always highly encouraged.  So what about once the season starts?  That’s a different story.  Guess what the first thing to get cut out is?  Yep, the strength program.  During the season, the priority is to spend time practicing and prepping for games.  However, why does the strength program always seem to get cut out?  Take a look at the average sports practice.  How much time is wasted due to poor planning & coaching?  A lot.  Yet instead of making practices more efficient so that a coach can fit in the in-season strength program, they just eliminate it.  So what does this do for the kids?  Nothing positive.  The two major things skipping the in-season program does are both huge negatives:

  1. Decrease in strength – During the season, an athlete is going to get worn down, banged up, and possibly lose some strength.  If they don’t lift during the season, they will definitely lose strength.  So what do you do?  Keep them lifting.  While the kid may lose some strength during the season, the stronger they stay late into the season, the better that they can play late in the season.
  2. The injury factor – It’s widely accepted that lifting weights helps to decrease the chance of injury.  Guess what?  It may also help to decrease the time missed if a player does get an injury.  Research on high school football players compared time missed by players who received similar injuries.  It was found that those who were participating in an in-season strength program missed 1/3 of the time of other players with similar injuries.  Not all injuries can be prevented, but most coaches, players, and parents should be willing to take steps to limit the time lost from injury.

I think that these two factors are good enough reasons to make the in-season program a priority.  Why don’t sport coaches feel the same?  I guess that S & C coaches just have to keep looking for opportunities to educate sports coaches.  Maybe one day things will change.

Check back next week for more on how to design a good in-season program.

 

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 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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