Home Posts tagged "Early Sports Specialization"

Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/3/19

I hope you're having a great holiday week. I'm long overdue with a list of recommended reading, so I've luckily got some good stuff stockpiled.

Keeping the Fun in Children's Sports - This was a great piece in the New York Times that summarizes some new findings from an American Academy of Pediatrics report on organized sports.

Why We Sleep - Brandon Marcello recommended this book when he came on the podcast (listen to his interview here), and it hasn't disappointed. I'd highly recommend it.

The Language of Coaching - Nick Winkelman put up his slides from this year's Perform Better presentations, and he's got some great information on optimizing coaching cues.

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*Exhale fully to get more out of your anti-extension core exercises and shoulder flexion mobility drills.* 👇 One of the central points of the @posturalrestoration philosophy is that folks who live in a gross extension pattern (forward head posture, excessive lordosis, anterior pelvic tilt, plantarflexed ankles, etc.) live in a constant state of inhalation. In other words, they have absolutely no idea how to get air out. When you exhale, your ribs should come down, so the best time to challenge this function is when the arms are flexed overhead, as folks with an anterior-weight-bearing tendency often "flare" the ribs up during this overhead reach. It's challenging enough for folks with these heavily ingrained habits to get their arms overhead in a neutral spine position, but ask them to exhale in this position and you'll make folks feel inadequate really fast. Here's a good progression you can use, from mobility drills to stability ones. Exhale fully at the position in each drill when the arms are overhead (lats are on the biggest stretch): Bench T-Spine Mobs -> Dead Bugs -> Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion -> Tall Kneeling TRX Fallouts . . . #cspfamily #mobility

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5 Reasons You Can’t Train High School Athletes Like Pros

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Tony Bonvechio.

Like many strength and conditioning coaches, I entered the fitness industry thinking I wanted to train professional athletes. I’m lucky that I get to do exactly that on a daily basis, but I quickly discovered that some of the most rewarding coaching experiences have come from training high school athletes.

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Sure, watching your clients play on TV is awesome, but your potential to help a younger, less established athlete can reach far beyond the field of play. Bumping a big leaguer’s fastball from 92mph to 95mph might help him land a bigger contract, but helping a 9th grader make the junior varsity team can build confidence and self esteem that is literally life changing.

That said, high schoolers and professionals have drastically different training needs. This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many coaches promise the world to high school athletes by helping them “train like the pros,” only to see minimal results. Here are five reasons you can’t train little Johnny or Jane like their favorite pro athletes, even if it seems like good marketing:

1. They’re Not Strong Enough for Fancy Stuff Yet

Athletes ages 13-18 comes in all shapes, sizes and strength levels. Some look like babies while others look like they’re ready for the NFL combine, but most fall into the former category. These athletes usually struggle to perform elementary movements like squats, push-ups and lunges. They’ve got no business working on fancy change of direction drills or contrast training protocols until they’ve mastered the basics.

“Just get strong” is a common strength coach copout, but in this case it has merit. As my fellow CSP coach Greg Robins often says, think of athletic potential as a pool of water. The stronger the athlete, the more water they have in the pool. The more powerful the athlete, the faster they can draw water out of that pool. While power is of utmost importance for team sports, if your pool of water is shallow, it doesn’t matter how fast you draw it out. Strength is still the foundation of most athletic qualities, making it the most trainable quality for young athletes.

It’s certainly possible for a pro athlete to be “strong enough” to the point where they won’t improve much athletically by adding 50 pounds to their deadlift, but for a younger athlete, that might be exactly what he or she needs before they can cash in on more advanced training methods.

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2. They Need Less Loading for the Same Strength Gains

Novice trainees can get stronger with as little as 40-50% of their 1-rep max. On the other hand, more experienced lifters need a ton of submaximal volume and frequent exposures to heavy training loads (above 90 percent of 1RM) to keep gaining strength. And while not every pro athlete is an experienced lifter, they’ll likely have more training experience than a high school athlete.

What’s the point?

[bctt tweet="Teenagers get strong without much work. Don’t test 1RMs when you can gain with lighter weights."]

3. They (Hopefully) Play Multiple Sports

Young athletes have the opportunity to play multiple sports during the year, while virtually no pro athletes do that anymore. The days of Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are long gone, so while the pros get to focus on the specific physical demands of their sport year round, high schoolers are likely playing several sports with drastically different requirements in terms of strength, power and endurance.

What happens if we have a high school athlete who plays football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring? There’s no defined off-season, making periodization much trickier. A pro baseball pitcher may not pick up a baseball from October to January, but for someone who constantly has games and practices, you can’t block training into specific physical qualities. A concurrent training approach (i.e. training endurance, strength and power all at once) or “concurrent with emphasis” (where you prioritize endurance, strength or power but touch upon the others to preserve them) becomes a necessity.

What about exercise selection? We know the bench press is great for football, but not ideal for baseball. We know distance running doesn’t do much for baseball, but may have merit for basketball. And what if he or she plays two sports at once (i.e. AAU basketball overlapping the other two high school seasons)? We can no longer speak in absolutes or make generalized exercise contraindications when it comes to developing a well-rounded athlete.

Yes, more young athletes are specializing at a younger age. We can do our part by influencing them to play multiple sports as long as possible, but we can also design well-rounded programs that expose them to dormant movement patterns and untapped strength qualities rather than always being laser focused on training for their primary sport.

4. There are Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

When too many cooks contribute to one dish, it won’t taste good. With high school athletes, you’ve got a lot of cooks (i.e. influences) in their kitchen (i.e. athletic career), making it difficult to create a cohesive dish worth tasting. It’s our job as the strength and conditioning coach to be the objective taste tester and adjust overall training stress to optimize performance.

Parents, teachers, coaches and friends influence every move an athlete makes on and off the field. It’s tough to get everyone on the same page. It’s common to hear an athlete say their coach wants them to get faster, their parents wants them to get more flexible and their teachers want them to study more and work out less. Who’s a teenager supposed to listen to?

In this case, it comes down to asking the right questions. I’ve learned that just by asking how an athlete is doing outside the gym can unveil the bigger picture. I’ve had a baseball player confess to performing upwards of four extra workouts a week because they’re participating in off-season training with the football team, all while getting less than five hours of sleep while studying for exams. This athlete is far from ready to hit in hard in the gym and it’s my job to adjust his training.

[bctt tweet="Ignorance is NOT bliss as the strength coach; keep tabs on ALL stressors in an athlete’s life."] Ask questions and get to know how an athlete’s lifestyle can affect their performance.

5. They Have Lackluster Recovery

Piggybacking on the last point, most high school athletes don’t recover from training as if their sport was their job. And that’s because it’s not. While most pro athletes are unrecovered too (they’re essentially third-shift workers with insane travel schedules), high school athletes don’t have a paycheck riding on their performance. So they stay up too late, eat Doritos and Skittles for lunch and don’t think twice about it.

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Great athletes live and die by their routines. Pro athletes especially settle into a daily routine that makes them feel ready to compete, from showing up to the field or court at the same time every day, to eating specific meals, to wearing the same sweaty socks for every game. A high school athlete may fly by the seat of his or her pants unless told otherwise, so we can guide them toward a routine that includes quality training, nutrition and sleep.

Take the time to educate your young athletes on the importance of simple recovery methods like foam rolling, eating enough protein and getting to bed before 10 p.m. They may not appreciate it immediately, but once they feel the difference in physical and mental performance, they’ll be more likely to recover like it's their job.

Conclusion

It’s tempting to use aggressive loading and exotic exercise selection with young athletes, but they rarely need either of them. The basics work for a reason and you’ll see success with surprisingly simple protocols if coached and performed diligently.

For more insight on how we train high school athletes at CSP, join me and Greg Robins on April 1-2 at The Annex Sports Performance Center in Chatham, NJ, for our 2-day seminar, “Complete Preparation for High School Athletes”. This seminar will equip coaches and trainers with the physical and mental tools needed to provide a comprehensive training experience for high school athletes of all sports and abilities. To register, CLICK HERE.

About the Author

Tony Bonvechio (@BonvecStrength) is a strength and conditioning coach at the Hudson, MA location of Cressey Sports Performance. More of his writing can be found on www.BonvecStrength.com.

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Preventing Baseball Injuries: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

We're at a point in time where just about everyone knows that throwing a baseball year-round is a bad idea. Moreover, we know that it's best for kids to avoid early sports specialization. 

Dr. James Andrews has been outspoken against early specialization and year-round throwing for roughly a decade.

John Smoltz devoted a big chunk of his Hall-of-Fame acceptance speech in Cooperstown to discouraging kids and parents from early specialization and year-round baseball.

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Seahawks coach Pete Carroll recently referred to the trend of kids playing only one sport as "an absolute crime."

USA Baseball launched their Pitch Smart campaign - featuring an advisory board of many MLB team doctors and athletic trainers - to prevent overuse in youth baseball.

All the way back in 2006, a landmark study by Olsen et al. clearly demonstrated strong associations between injuries requiring surgery and pitching "more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game" as well as showcase appearances during adolescence. Overuse is the one factor that predicts injury over and over again in the research.

A 2011 study demonstrated that players in warm weather climates had less shoulder strength and more problematic range-of-motion adaptations than those in cold weather climates. And, speaking from personal experience from having Cressey Sports Performance facilities in both states, it's been far more challenging to develop players in Florida than it is in Massachusetts. There is simply too much baseball competing with general athletic development.

These are just a few examples, too. Hundreds of professional athletes have spoken out against early sports specialization. College coaches have in some cases refused to recruit one-sport athletes. And, there are more anti-specialization posts and websites freely available on the Internet than one could possibly imagine. Yet, the problem isn't even close to going away, and injuries still at all-time highs.

Now, I can understand how some players, parents, coaches, and scouts don't stay on top of the American Journal of Sports Medicine and might have missed this important information. What I can't understand is how they'd miss it when the world's most recognized orthopedic surgeon is speaking out against it. Or how they can miss it when one of the most accomplished pitchers of the last century devotes the biggest media spotlight of his life to bashing early sports specialization. Or how they'd overlook one of the premier coaches in the NFL so vehemently putting down the practice. Or how a governing body like MLB would devote time, money, and resources to a problem that they think will have a significant negative impact on the future of the game beyond just the billions of dollars that are already being wasted on players on the disabled list.

The problem is not a lack of knowledge; the problem is a lack of action and consequences.

When you were a little kid and stole a cookie from the cookie jar - even after your mother told you it was off limits - you got punished for doing so. If you didn't have consequences, you'd keep stealing cookies. Unfortunately, this isn't an option with youth baseball. Really, the only consequence is injury, and it's surprisingly not that great a teacher.

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A lot of kids and parents continue to make the same mistakes even after an arm surgery and extended layoff. They've been brainwashed to think that the only way kids can succeed in baseball is to play year-round to keep up with other kids and get exposure to college coaches and pro scouts. There are too many coaches, showcase companies, and scouting services lining their pockets by lobbying hard to make these false assumptions stick. 

If knowledge ("eating too many cookies is bad for you") isn't working, and it's hard to deliver consequences, what's the next step? You've got to make it really hard to get to those cookies - and they better taste like crap if you do manage to do so. 

Stepping away from this analogy, the big governing bodies that matter need to step up their game. Here are six quick changes that I personally feel could have a profound impact on reducing injury rates across all levels:

1. Major League Baseball needs to implement a high school scouting "dead period" from October 1 through January 1. It is entirely hypocritical for MLB to push PitchSmart, but turn a blind eye when literally hundreds of scouts are showing up for October-December showcases and tournaments that directly compete with the PitchSmart initiative. Most of the highest-profile players aren't even attending these events anymore (advisors know it's an unnecessary injury risk), and there is absolutely nothing a scout would see in November that they can't see in the spring during the regular season.

2. MLB should also mandate that no pitcher can throw in more than three consecutive games - including "getting hot" (throwing in the bullpen, but not entering the game). Some might criticize me for this, but after extensive interaction with relievers at this level, I firmly believe that bullpen mismanagement is one of the biggest problems in MLB pitching injuries. Fans and the media only see the actual number of appearances, but when you factor in the number of times a pitcher "gets hot" without entering the game, you have relievers who are literally throwing over 120 times in a season.

3. The NCAA needs to implement innings limits on freshman and sophomore pitchers. Keep freshman pitchers to 120 innings and sophomore pitchers to 140 (combining the college season and summer ball). Additionally, any pitcher who throws more than 120 innings during the spring/summer should have a mandatory 60-day period of no throwing prior to starting fall ball.

4. The NCAA should also implement a conservative pitch count limit for college starters. I think 130 is a good place to start, and while I still think it's unnecessarily high, it reins in those coaches who'll leave a guy in for 150+ pitches. Sadly, this happens far too often in college baseball these days, and there are zero repercussions (although I do commend ESPN's Keith Law for always calling these coaches out on Twitter).

5. State athletic associations in warm weather climates need to structure high school seasons to allow for athletes to compete in multiple sports. As an example, in Massachusetts, the high school baseball season begins on the third Monday in March, while the first basketball practice is November 30. If a high school basketball player wants to play baseball, he might only have a 1-2 week overlap during that month - and it only happens if his team goes deep into the playoffs.

Conversely, the high school baseball season here in Florida begins on January 18, while the last regular season basketball game doesn't occur until January 30. The state championship games take place February 23-27 - which is roughly halfway through the baseball season! There is absolutely no reason for a high school baseball season (in which teams play about 30 games) needs to start prior to March 1.

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That extra six weeks would make a huge difference in getting more baseball players to also participate in winter sports and help to get a baseball out of young hands a bit longer. And, you'd see a lot more players well prepared on day 1 of baseball tryouts because they'd have more off-season preparation under their belts. It would simply force teams to play three games per week instead of two; this is exactly what's done in Northern states (and they'll sometimes play four, if weather interferes).

6. Similar to point #4, state athletic associations should also have regulations on permissible pitch counts for high school arms. I think 115 pitches is a good number.

Closing Thoughts

I should note that I actually think Little League Baseball does a solid job of disseminating information and including specific regulations within the game and between games. The changes - at least in my eyes - should rest with high school athletic associations, the NCAA, and Major League Baseball. Impact will come from the top down.

As you can see, with only two exceptions, I'm much more about managing the competitive year than I am about micromanaging pitch counts. And, the two pitch count recommendations I put out are remarkably conservative and just reaffirm common sense (which, unfortunately, isn't so common anymore). Pitch counts alone haven't proven to be tremendously effective, but do have a place when implemented alongside guidelines for managing the overall baseball calendar.

There is absolutely no reason for skeletally immature middle and high school baseball players to have longer competitive seasons than professional players.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/20/15

 I hope everyone had a great weekend. For some reason, there was a ton of great content around the 'Net in the past week, so I actually had my work cut out for me in paring this down to my top three choices. Check them out:

When You Know it's Time to Get Out - This was an absolutely fantastic post from Dave Tate that appealed to me on multiple levels: small business success rates, retirement from strength sports, and the need for experienced coaches to "give back" to the strength and conditioning community. 

5 Things I've Been Wrong About and How I Updated My Thoughts on Them - I really enjoyed this post from Dean Somerset. The best in the industry are humble enough to recognize that they might not have all the answers, but are constantly trying to ask the right questions. I actually discussed this a few months ago in my article, The Most Important Three Words in Strength and Conditioning.

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U.S. Women Were Multi-Sport Athletes Before Focusing on Soccer - The headline really says it all, but this USA Today article is a good bit of "ammunition" for those fighting the war against early sports specialization. 

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School Size, Geography, and Early Sports Specialization

I write a lot about my distaste for early sports specialization here on the blog, and I like to think I've examined it from a number of different angles. That said, I usually focus on the decision of an athlete and his/her parents in this context, but I rarely discuss the situational factors that may govern these decisions. Two perspectives to which I haven't paid much attention are the significant impacts that school size and geography have on young athletes' likelihood of specialization.  This is something I've been pondering more and more as we open the new Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, FL.

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Mike Robertson pointed out the school size aspect in his Elite Athletic Development Seminar DVD set, and it really got me to thinking. If you go to a small school and are a good athlete, chances are that you are going to "automatically" be a starter on three different sports teams during the academic year, as they might need you to actually be able to even field a team. Thinking back, my high school graduating class had about 180 kids. One sport athletes really couldn't exist if we wanted to be competitive over all three high school seasons. Not surprisingly, I never had a classmate go through Tommy John surgery, and I can count the number of ACL injuries I saw in my high school years on one hand.

Conversely, if a kid goes to a school with 800 kids in his graduating class, specialization is much tougher to do. If you've got 150 players trying out for the baseball team (and budget cuts are eliminating freshmen and JV teams left and right), you better be spending more time preparing for baseball, if that's your long-term aspiration. The "reward" is higher (more exclusive), but the risk has to be higher as well. In a situation like this, we almost have to ask whether it's better to have a kid that tries out for - and proceeds to get cut from - three teams, or if we'd rather have guys specialized along one course so that they can at least stay involved in organized athletics by actually making a team. I don't think there is an easy or even correct answer, but I do think we have to be cognizant of the challenges facing kids at larger schools.

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Geography certainly plays into this as well. As an example, it's much easier for baseball players in northern states to play basketball, too, because basketball season simply takes place while the snow is on the baseball fields. In Massachusetts, the high school baseball season starts on the third Monday in March, which is several weeks after basketball wraps up, in most cases. Conversely, high school baseball actually gets underway in Florida during the month of January; playing basketball is virtually impossible logistically. And, if fall sports go all the way until Thanksgiving, we're really dealing with a situation where kids might only get an eight-week off-season to work on their fitness and more sport-specific preparations.

We might not be able to change these factors, but we find ways to work around them. It might mean getting an athlete to play recreational basketball instead of "official" school hoops, if schedule won't allow the "real thing" to happen. And, it might mean that we need to work harder in our strength and conditioning programs to create an even richer proprioceptive environment where athletes are exposed to a wider variety of movements if these scenarios "force" them toward increased specialization.

As hackneyed a phrase as it might be, "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." I'd say that geography and school size certainly fit in the 10% category when it comes to early sports specialization; we all need to continue to improve on the 90%, though.

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A Quick Lesson on Long-Term Athletic Development

On Wednesday night, the Vanderbilt Baseball team won the first men's national championship in any sport in school history.  I'm absolutely ecstatic, as we've trained several current Vanderbilt players as well as some of their former players who are now in professional baseball, and I have a great relationship with the coaching staff.

To make the moment even more special, a long time Cressey Performance athlete, Adam Ravenelle, came on to get a six-out save in the deciding game three:

While Vanderbilt baseball's 2014 season is a amazing story in itself, there's a sub-plot that warrants mention as well, and Adam serves as a perfect example. "Rav" was a 5-10, 125-pound 8th grader when he first timidly walked in to Cressey Performance back in the summer of 2007.  At the time, he was a baseball player - but also a golfer, tennis player, and basketball player.

As a freshman and sophomore in high school, he played golf, basketball, and baseball. As a junior, he pared it down to basketball and baseball. Only when he was a high school senior did he trim things down to one sport - and even then, it was after he was already committed to play at Vanderbilt, and a serious MLB Draft prospect (he was drafted in the 44th round out of high school in 2011, and then again in the 4th round this year).

His teammate, Tyler Beede, is another one of our athletes. Ty played football, basketball, and baseball as a freshman. He went to football and baseball as a sophomore, then down to baseball only as a junior. He regretted leaving football, and went back to playing his senior year - and was still a 1st round draft pick in 2011 (and again this year).

I vividly remember a conversation I had with Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin in the winter of 2009-2010 when he talked about how he's always reluctant to recruit baseball-only guys. There are so many incredible benefits to playing multiple sports, from avoiding overuse, to developing general athleticism, to making friends in different social circles. If you look at the roster that just won a College World Series for Vanderbilt, you'll see that recruiting perspective is readily apparent. Look at their roster, and only 9 of the 34 guys come from states that could be perceived as "year-round baseball" states: Georgia, Florida, Texas, California, etc. There are a heck of a lot more guys from Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Kentucky and (of course) Tennessee - all states where it gets cold and snows in the winter, making year-round baseball a lot tougher. Most of the guys on the Vanderbilt roster were great athletes in other sports as well. In fact, of the 9 to which I alluded above, two - Carson Fullmer (FL) and Dansby Swanson (GA) - were praised by the ESPN announcers for their success in other sports (karate and basketball, respectively).

Early specialization might work out for a small percentage of young athletes, but it fails miserably for the majority. And, you can never go wrong with finding and developing general athleticism. Look at Vanderbilt's track record of success over the past decade (and their significantly lower injury rates), and it's impossible to argue. Let kids play, and not just baseball...they might just "surprise" you by winning a national championship.

Congratulations to the Commodores!

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20 Ways to Prepare Young Athletes for Success in Sports and in Life

It’s a challenging time to be a parent. My twin daughters just turned two, and I can already appreciate this fact.

You see, at the end of my own personal youth athletics career, I went directly to a career in coaching young athletes – and I’ve been there for well over a decade now. To give you a little idea of how times have changed since I was a high school athlete:

a. I’d never heard of AAU soccer (or elite travel teams) when I was playing as a teenager (or 8-year-old, for that matter). I think about three kids in my state were selected to the Olympic Development Program when I was a senior because they were pretty good, but the rest of us didn’t get a trophy for trying – and I don’t recall anyone complaining about this lack of hardware on the mantle.

b. I didn’t send an email or use Instant Messenger until I was a freshman in college (1999). Somehow, I miraculously still managed to have normal social interactions with other human beings. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was 23 and in graduate school. And, I’m pretty sure that the gerbil that ran around inside it to keep the power going wasn’t up for working overtime so that I could Snapchat (and the thing couldn’t take pictures, anyway).

c. The guy (Kevin Colleran) who lived next door to me my freshman year in college turned out to be one of Facebook’s first ten employees. So, you could say I had a Facebook friend before Facebook even existed.

By reading this long, meandering introduction, I hope you’ll realize (not that you didn’t already) that kids “these days” are different. They respond to a different style of coaching, and that surely means that parenting styles must be different, too.

One thing I’ve found quite interesting over the past decade or so is that the number of overzealous, pushy, high-pressure parents has increased exponentially. As we all know (and not surprisingly), burnout rates in teen athletes has gone sky-high in this same time period. However, on a more anecdotal level, I know I can speak for myself and many other qualified coaches when I say that the "typical" kid who walks through my door on Day 1 just isn’t as athletic as he used to be. Asymmetries are more profound, injury histories are more extensive, basic movement skill acquisition has been skipped over, and – perhaps more significantly – the athletes are a bit “desensitized” to the overall training process.

They view everything as just another game/practice, so the value of each training exposure is a bit less. This was something that just didn’t happen when I was younger and free play was so heavily emphasized; we got tremendously excited for each opportunity to get better, whether it was a summer soccer camp or a new drill or training approach that our coaches introduced.

Now, make no mistake about it: we aren’t going to end the Technology Era, and I don’t expect travel teams and showcases to go away, either. However, we can change our attitudes toward them and behavior surrounding them – and, most importantly, how we interact with our kids with respect to their athletic careers. To that end, I thought I’d throw out some examples of suggestions on strategies I’ve seen employed by parents who have young athletes who are well-mannered and successful while enjoying sports – from little league to the Big Leagues.

Note: while the overwhelming majority of these lessons apply to both males and females, I’ll be using the “he” pronoun for the sake of brevity. No gender bias here!

1. Never overreact - or underreact.

Sports are games, and games are supposed to be fun. If a kid works his butt off, but the outcome isn’t what he’d hoped for, you should talk about the value in the process rather than dwelling on the target destination he didn’t reach. Crack jokes to lighten the mood, and then try to find a learning experience in losing, as opposed to just reaming a kid out and then sitting in silence for the rest of the ride home. In my experience, parents and coaches who overreact and take the fun out of the game are the single most common reason kids give up a sport.

Underreacting can be equally problematic. The process is definitely more important than the destination, but if a kid doesn’t take the process seriously, he should hear about it – just like if he ignores his homework or refuses to take out the trash. If he is rude to a coach or umpire, doesn’t hustle, shows up late to practice, or poorly handles something that is 100% within his control, he should be disciplined for it. Blindly siding with your kid when he misbehaves or is lazy sets a very dangerous precedent, but it also puts a coach in a very uncomfortable situation of having to discipline your kid because you haven’t.

2. Watch competition, but not practice.

When kids play while parents are watching, they are much less outgoing. However, take the parents away, and they’ll let their guards down, make new friends, and try things they otherwise wouldn’t attempt. This is a big part of both physical and social development. When parents stick around to watch practice/training – even if it’s with wildly supportive intentions – kids won’t come out of their shell. Sports are a great way to teach kids to “roll” with different social circles, and it’s important for them to get this experience without helicopter parents interfering.

By all means, go to game and cheer kids on, but don’t stick around to watch practice. As an added bonus, you avoid the possibility of a coach looking over his shoulder the whole time as he wonders whether you’re second-guessing him.  Every coach dreads the parent who wants to live vicariously through his kid, so the more space you give your child, the less likely you are to be perceived like that.

3. Have your kid play multiple sports.

We’ve been telling folks for years now that early sports specialization doesn’t work as well as people think. Kids are more likely to get injured, and they miss out on a well-rounded sports experience that fosters better athleticism and social interactions over the long haul. However, to supplement this assertion, I’d encourage you to check out this fantastic post from Elsbeth Vaino: Does Early Specialization Help? Elsbeth found that 82% of the top athletes from the four major sports in the U.S. actually played multiple sports. Yes, you read that right – and it is verified by my experience with hundreds of professional athletes each year. Here's a great interview with Blake Griffin that Elsbeth posted:

4. Encourage play, not always practice/competition.

Even when the sport in question remains constant, play is different than practice, as it is far less regimented, and there is far more quality movement because there are fewer stoppages for teaching. It also presents a far richer proprioceptive environment and greater opportunity for social development. Kids need to play more – and in a variety of disciplines. Adolescent athletes need practice. Kids don’t need more competition, though; our modern athletic society already plenty of that.

5. Don’t allow kids to get desensitized to losing.

With more and more tournaments being round robin and double elimination formats, I think we have a generation of kids who has been desensitized to losing. It’s even worse when you have kids who play on multiple teams, as losing for Team A doesn’t matter because Team B has a game less than 24 hours later.

Losing is part of life, but that doesn’t mean that we should be satisfied with it. It should motivate us to work harder so that it doesn’t happen again. This doesn’t just apply to sports, either; it applies to life. As a business owner, I don’t ever plan to hire someone who is comfortable with sucking.

As a little example, my sophomore year of high school, I lost a tennis match in the state singles qualifier to a kid I should have beaten 100% of the time. It was an all-day event with several rounds on a hot day in May, and I cramped up badly in the third set of the match because I hadn’t hydrated well. That loss stung for months – but you can bet that I never forget to bring enough fluids to matches ever again. I beat the guy easily in straight sets the following year, too. Losing sucks, but it teaches you lessons.

6. Make kids do manual labor.

One of my best childhood friends grew up on a farm. He bailed hay, fed the pigs, shaved the sheep, dug holes, you name it. He was also a physical specimen who won a state championship in wrestling and would run through a wall in practices if you had asked him to do so.

Beyond the obvious physical benefits of manual labor, I think that it teaches you that a job isn’t over until the project is completed. You don’t just go out and shovel snow for 15 minutes; you shovel snow until you’ve shoveled all the snow that needs to be shoveled. This is true of almost all manual labor one would do around the house; it doesn’t have to be an official job.

I love seeing kids who are task oriented and not time oriented.

7. Get kids involved in charity work.

If you’re reading this, your kid is spoiled. What do I mean?

You can actually afford to have the internet. A lot of parents and kids don’t have that luxury – or any of a number of other ones that we take for granted.

This past fall, one of our pro guys was telling me about a mission trip he took to the Dominican Republic. While there, he was volunteering to do baseball clinics for local kids – and he said that they came out in droves for the opportunity to be coached by anybody, and certainly a recognizable professional player.

His exact words: “It completely changed my life. I had no idea what my Latin teammates in pro ball had gone through.” And, this came from a guy who was already one of the most humble players I’ve ever coached.

Whether your kid winds up successful in baseball or not, I feel strongly that it’s important to embrace the concept of giving back – both in one’s own community and beyond. Perspective like this is also important because it makes you realize that making an error in the ninth inning isn’t the end of the world – when you have a roof over your head and food on the table.

8. Make kids get up 10-15 minutes earlier to make and eat breakfast.

It drives me bonkers when I hear a kid say that he can’t find time for breakfast. Don’t find time; make time!

My most productive time of day is 5:30AM-9AM. I didn’t realize this until I was in my mid-20s. I only wish that I’d learned much sooner that good things happen when you get up a little earlier:

a. When you get up earlier, you learn to go to bed earlier. Look at research on shift workers’ long term health, and you’ll quickly realize that sleeping more hours before midnight is great for your health.

b. The morning world is a more enlightened world. As an example, look at TV shows at night versus in the morning. In the evening, you get sitcoms, comedy, violence, and infomercials. In the morning, you get the news.

c. Intermittent fasting discussions aside, the research pretty much supports that people – and particularly kids – who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight. Whether it’s because it leads to eating less later in the day, or because people are more likely to eat quality food at home remains to be determined.

d. The world is a lot quieter in the morning, and silence almost always equates to increased focus and productivity.

9. Set an example.

Overweight parents are more likely to have overweight kids. This is just one way in which kids model parents’ behaviors. Work ethic, attention to detail, punctuality, and a host of other factors follow suit. I love it when parents come in to train at the same time as their kids at our facility - and the kids do, too (contrary to what parents usually assume).

10. Don’t contest grades in school.

Teachers don’t give grades; kids earn grades. If you start contesting grades, where do you stop? Do you call college admissions counselors when kids aren’t accepted to the school of their choice? Do you call potential employers because they won’t hire little Johnny – who is now 23 years old and still has Mommy doing his laundry and cooking him mac ‘n cheese?

If you don’t respect a teacher or coach’s authority and appreciate their good intentions, then your kid won’t, either.

11. Don’t brag about your kid.

A while back, my buddy Bill Hartman said something along the following lines: “No matter how strong you think you are, there is still a 120-pound woman warming up with your max somewhere.” He was spot on.

If you are proud of your kid, tell him so. And, feel free to tell your family members. However, it should stop there. There is absolutely, positively nothing that is a bigger turn-off to a coach or scout – or even another parent – than a parent that brags about his kid. Why?

They have always seen someone better. And, to take it a step further, I’d say that most folks “in the know” actually realize that there is an inverse relationship between how much a parent brags and how talented a kid really is. Anecdotally, the best players with whom I’ve worked all have tremendously humble parents who have worked hard to keep them grounded even if others always told them how good they were.

Bragging is entirely different than giving valuable feedback, though. If a parent has thoughts or suggestions that can benefit me in training a young athlete, I am absolutely all ears. Don’t by shy; just use discretion.

12. Never send college recruiting emails on behalf of your kid.

I have a ton of friends who are college coaches who deal with recruits every single day of the week. I have zero friends who are college coaches who prefer to deal with parents over kids during this recruiting process.

Candidly, when you send an email on behalf of your kid, you’re saying, “I want you to give my son a scholarship to play XYZ sport even though I don’t think he’s qualified to put together a 4-5 sentence email for himself. Also, I wipe his butt for him, and he still wets the bed.”

Coaches love kids that show initiative and aren’t shy about asking questions. And, I can guarantee kids who are more heavily involved in their own college selection process are far less likely to transfer in the years that follow. They get the information they need, not what you need.

At the end of the day, this is about educating kids on how to be proactive and decisive. These two traits go a long way in sports and beyond.

13. Don’t tell coaches to “kick his ass.”

If your kid isn’t tough by his teenage years, it’s not because a coach hasn’t pushed him; it’s likely because parents have let him get away with murder early on and not held him accountable. Me simply kicking a kid's ass increases his risk of injury and the likelihood that he’ll hate exercise and develop a sedentary lifestyle when his athletic career ends. I will, however, challenge him, educate him, and hold him accountable for his actions in my presence.

14. Don’t allow limp handshakes or conversations without eye contact.

This point shouldn’t warrant any explanation, but I would just add that coaches and scouts really do pay attention to things like this. Sprinting out to your position on the field, picking up equipment after a game, and cheering on teammates are all little things you can do to show that you really care. If you approach one part of your life apathetically, who is to say that it won’t carry over to everything else that you do?

15. Surround kids with unconditionally positive people.

Check out this awesome article about the positive response Colorado Rockies players had to the hiring of Dante Bichette as hitting coach a few years ago. I’ve gotten to know Dante pretty well, and he’s one of the most down-to-Earth and optimistic guys you’ll ever meet. In this article, they quoted Carlos Gonzalez – one of the top players in Major League Baseball – as saying, "Just being honest, I don't want a guy who's always being negative. He's been really good for me already." Guys in the big leagues are conditioned more than anyone else to learn to deal with failure; after all, the best hitters on the planet still fail 60-70% of the time! Yet, they STILL generally respond more favorably to people who are positive. Don’t you think that kids who are less prepared would need that unconditionally positive influence even more?

The secret is to find unconditionally positive people who know their stuff and then put your trust in them. You wouldn’t tell your accountant how to do your taxes, and you wouldn’t tell your lawyer how to write up your contracts. So, don’t tell coaches how to do their jobs after you’ve already recognized that they are experts and mentors in their area.

16. Make kids write thank you notes.

A note of appreciation goes a long way, particularly if it is written or typed with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

17. Educate kids on how to read a situation as casual or formal.

Remember back in high school when you had to dress up on game days? Usually, 90% of the team did it the right way – and there were 1-2 schmucks who stubbornly resisted. They didn’t tie their ties tight enough, wore sneakers with dress pants, or continued to let their khakis hang way too far down on their butts. They’re also the people who have to be forced to write the aforementioned thank you notes, and it usually begins with “thx 4 ur gift.” We’ve even had kids submit internship application essays that consisted of one long paragraph with no capitalization at the beginning of sentences. I’m not making this up.

They live in the texting and tweeting world and have no idea when it’s appropriate to be casual versus formal. I’d wager that most of those guys are still living in their parents’ basement, too. Even more now than in previous decades, it’s important to hammer home that kids need to be more formal in writing, conversation, and dress.

18. Educate kids on the dangers of technology.

This was not something that most of us encountered during our younger years, as Twitter and Facebook weren't around until just recently.  Kids have said stupid things since the beginning of time, but not until now was it easy for something dumb on the internet to "go viral" so quickly.  Every week, we hear stories of professional and collegiate athletes getting into trouble for what they post as status updates on social networks.  Athletes have been fined, released, and not signed in the first place because of stupid things they've said online.  While college and professional teams are doing their best to include social networking training in their education of players, it should start well in advance with some common sense talks with parents.  Otherwise, it's possible to undo a lot of good with one bad post.

19. Don’t give participation trophies.

My good friend Alwyn Cosgrove has written in the past about how there are always "overcorrections" in the fitness industry, as the pendulum goes too far in one direction after a long period at the other end of the spectrum.  He cites the public's perception on aerobic exercise, carbohydrate intake, and static stretching as good examples.  We want them all to be bad or good; there is no middle ground.

Participation trophies are the "yin" to the "yang" of the overbearing parent or crazy little league coach.  Rather than bring the pendulum back to center by educating kids that the true reward is the satisfaction that comes from knowing they did the best they could do, we've given every kid a trophy to make him feel special - even though all the kids get the same trophy.  Yes, the kid who shows up late to practice and swears at the coach gets the same trophy as everyone else.

A trophy is something a kid should look back on years later as a reminder of fond memories of hard work, teamwork, and a job well done.  It shouldn't be something that gets thrown in a box with a few dozen other participation trophies that have absolutely no sentimental or educational value.

My biggest concern with participation trophies, however, is that they a) diminish the value of exceptional performance/service and b) condition kids to think that things will always work out okay in the end. Sorry, but the sooner we make kids realize they don't deserve a party every time they accomplish anything, the better off we'll be.

20. Give kids opportunities to demonstrate responsibility – and monitor performance.

I can only imagine how tough it is as a parent to walk the fine line between doing something for your child and just telling him to figure it out for himself.  From my vantage point, though, there needs to be a lot more of the latter.  Maybe I just see it through this lens because I am often going out of my way to encourage parents to force kids to be proactive during the college recruiting process.  And, I like it when kids schedule their sessions with us, rather than the parents sending the email or making the phone call for them.

That said, I love it when I hear about parents giving kids challenges for them to demonstrate responsibility. Whether there are chores with checklists, or they have to take care of pets, I think it's awesome for kids to be faced with new challenges with monitored performance.  Are all the boxes checked?  Is there dog poop on the floor or a dead guppy in the fish bowl?  Candidly, I can't remember the last time that I hear of a kid earning an allowance; does that even happen anymore?  Fostering accountability at a young age is a powerful thing.

Closing Thoughts

It's taken me over 3,800 words to spit out all my random thoughts on this front, but I wanted to finish with one last thought that isn't so random: I think there is a lot that is right about youth sports these days.  More girls are playing sports than ever before. There are loads of wildly passionate coaches out there who are trying to do the right thing. Information on training and coaching is more readily available than ever before. Sports medicine has improved dramatically to help kids with injuries more quickly and effectively. I could go on and on.

We have to remember that at the end of the day, less than 1% of the kids who participate in youth sports will become professional athletes. However, sports are still an outstanding medium through which to instill a variety of favorable qualities beyond just athleticism. To that end, I hope that some of the suggestions here will help to make kids not only better athletes, but better people, too.

For more information, you may be interested in the International Youth Conditioning Association High School Strength and Conditioning Certification; I was a co-author of this resource.

 

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