Home Posts tagged "Youth Resistance Training" (Page 3)

The 3 Cardinal “Versus” for Training Young Athletes

Today's guest blog comes from Brian Grasso, the director of the International Youth Conditioning Association. When I look around the industry, I find myself becoming more and more discontented with the view.  It seems that there is a never-ending litany of new, innovative and advanced techniques in the field of strength and conditioning that are, in essence, just re-fabricated models and methods that have proved tried and true for literally decades. This is especially true at the youth level where we tend to walk the fine line of wavering between dumbing down adult-based prescription and creating 'novel' schemes of building the same results that can, and are developed through the standard basics. When working with young athletes (aged 6 - 18) I implore you to resist the temptation of thinking too far outside the box and instead concentrate your time and effort on both pondering and answering these three specific questions: 1.       Is this Concept vs. Cool? 2.       Is it Recipe vs. Chef? 3.       What's the difference between Athletes & Non-Athletes? Let's examine those further. Concept vs Cool Do we really need another 90-minute seminar that teaches Fitness Professionals '150 Awesome Exercises on the BOSU Ball?'

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Or a certification that has 80% of its content based on sample programs for the specific demographic in question? Our industry has become a 'cool' extravaganza.  The more daring, off-the-wall, dazzling and 'neato' an exercise or training system is, the more popular it becomes.  Ironically, the less effective it more often than not is, as well. Lost in the sex appeal of watching fitness models slathered in man tan parade as 'fitness gurus' and performing the newest stunts on unstable surfaces (because that evokes a proprioceptive response and burns more calories, you see) is that we seem to have ditched our sense of 'concept' as it relates to exercise and performance gains. I'll be the first to admit that it's mesmerizing to watch an incredible display of athletic skill being performed and that the symptomotology of the training program in question often seems worth the potential (i.e. beads of sweat pouring off one's head as proof of the exercises difficulty and subsequent effectiveness).  But as Fitness Professionals and Youth Fitness Specialists who have stood up, raised their hands and declared themselves worthy of the task of caring for a population in such desperate need of a clarion voice, it's disconcerting to know that we fall prey to this circus show time-and-time again.

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In the 'Concept vs Cool' argument, I want nothing more than for you to use common sense when determining value and worth of a training program or exercise:
  • It looks cool, but what's the concept behind the suggested benefit?
  • Although I've never considered science the linchpin of anything in fitness, are there any research conclusions that can back the claims?
  • One exercise or sample program does NOT a training system make... Where does this fit in?  Can it work with my young athlete's life and honor what they need from a growth, development, long-term and tertiary life considerations?
  • Does the risk-reward equation produce a sum that's favorable?
Recipe vs. Chef I mentioned the reality of some certifications or products being as heavily weighted as 80% sample-based programs.  I want to examine that notion a little farther. I'm the biggest fan in the world of 'Done-For-You.'  I like time-saving.  I enjoy experts who really know there stuff giving me a glimpse into their brains and how they do things from a practical standpoint. But I stop at the water's edge every time... Sample programs are nothing more than a 'glimpse' into how they would do things WITHIN THE SITUATIONS THAT ARE UNIQUE TO THEM.  Without question, there are universal realities that can be applied to all young athletes irrespective of situational factors, but there is also a sensibility in programming that suggests individuality holds the key for optimum success. What are the training ages of the young athletes the sample-program wielding expert has just given you?  How do they differ from the kids you train? What precursor and preparatory elements were put in place from a technical perspective prior to the expert using these specific training programs? What are the psychological differences and weight-room conduct variances between a 16 year old at Beverly Hills High versus a 16 year old at Compton Tech?  How do young athletes who attend historically championship high schools differ from kids whose high schools have never even made the playoffs?

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Do the socio-economic factors relating to a particular high school demographic cause more or less stress to the young athletes in question than a high school who sits on the other end of the demographic spectrum?  Does this factor affect nutrition, sleep patterns or other forms of regeneration? How many young athletes does the expert have to work with at one time?  How large is the space they're working within?  Are the equipment options the same as they are for you? Thus, the need for our industry to understand the concept much more than the practicality of how it's applied. Concept appreciation suggests that you get the 'what' and the 'why,' and are therefore fluent in figuring out the 'how' as it relates to your specific situations. Athletes vs. Non-Athletes This topic deviates away from the fitness industry at large and speaks more to the issues related to youth fitness, but it carries a very similar tone as the 'Concept vs Cool' and 'Recipe vs Chef' arguments. A 10 year old soccer player needs nothing different in terms of training than a 10 year old basketball player.  Moreover, an 8 year old superstar baseball player should have a training system that has a remarkable resemblance to the one an 8 year old, non-athletic, overweight child should be following.

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And thus the linchpin of the entire 'concept' contention - training programs of any merit follow the inherent and natural, organic features of the organism itself.  An 8 year old soccer player and an 8 year old overweight child have one discernible quality in common; their age. Now, chronological age is by no means the only or even best way of determining the training stimulus needs for anyone, but it does provide a general backdrop of necessity; especially from a developmental perspective. All aspects of coordination (balance, kinesthetic differentiation, rhythm, spatial awareness, movement adequacy) are most optimally developed when the human organism is very plastic and pre-peak height velocity.  Although the progressions or regressions of specific exercises may vary, these characteristics must be present in any training program written for young people. Here are some key questions to ask yourself:
  • Is my training program more specific to the sport or the relative needs of the young athlete based on age?
  • Am I being varied and multi-lateral in my approach to movement, or concentrating on reflecting the innate patterns of positional play?
  • Am I programming for the things this young athlete DOESN'T experience or get exposure to in the sport they play?
  • Do I know for sure if this 8 year old overweight child will not grow up to be a star quarterback?  If the answer is 'no' (which it is) then should my training system be more regulatory in terms of human potential and less concerned with the symptoms associated with the young person's current lifestyle?
Cool vs Concept Recipe vs Chef Athletes vs Non-Athletes Three things I want you to consider very closely.... Brian Grasso has trained more than 15,000 young athletes worldwide over the past decade.  He is the Founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association - the only youth-based certification organization in the entire industry.  For more information, visit www.IYCA.org. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter:
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Coordination Training: A Continuum of Development for Young Athletes

Today's guest blog comes from Brian Grasso, the director of the International Youth Conditioning Association. The myths and falsehoods associated with coordination training are plenty.  I'll outline the "Top 3" here: 1.       Coordination is a singular element that is defined by a universal ability or lack of ability 2.       Coordination cannot be trained nor taught 3.       Coordination-based stimulus should be restricted to preadolescent children This article will provide a broad-based look at each of those myths and shed some light on the realities behind coordination training as a continuum for the complete development of young athletes aged 6 - 18.

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1. Coordination & Young Athletes Largely considered a singular facet of athletic ability, it is not uncommon to hear coaches, parents or trainers suggest that a given young athlete possess "good" or "bad" coordination. This generalization does not reflect the true nature of the beast, or specific features that combine to create coordination from a macro-perspective.  Coordination is, in reality, comprised of several different characteristics:
  • Balance - a state of bodily equilibrium in either static or dynamic planes
  • Rhythm - the expression of timing
  • Movement Adequacy - display of efficiency or fluidity during locomotion
  • Synchronization of Movement - harmonization and organization of movement
  • Kinesthetic Differentiation - the degree of force required to produce a desired result
  • Spatial Awareness - ability to know where you are in space and in relation to objects
While many of these traits have great overlap and synergy, they are unmistakably separate and can, in fact, be improved in relatively isolated ways.  That's not to suggest that your training programs should necessarily look to carve up the elements of coordination and work through them in a solitary manner.  Just a notation intended to show that coordination as it relates to young athletes can be improved at the micro level.

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2. Coordination - Can You Teach Young Athletes? The answer, in short, is yes. Coordination ability is not unlike any other biomotor; proficiencies in strength, speed, agility and even cardiovascular capacity (through mechanical intervention) can be taught, and at any age. The interesting caveat with coordination-based work, however, is that its elements are tied directly to CNS development and therefore have a natural sensitive period along a chronological spectrum.  The actuality of sensitive periods tends to be a contentious topic amongst researchers and many coaches.  Some of these individuals are not satisfied with current research and are therefore not eager to believe in their existence and others who accept sensitive periods of development to be perfectly valid.  It's worth pointing out that I am in no way a scientist or researcher, but have read numerous books and research reviews on the subject and feel satisfied that they do exist and can be maximized (optimized for a lifetime) through proper stimulus. This "optimization" issue is the true crux of the matter.  Especially during the very early years of life (0 - 12 years) the CNS contains a great deal of plasticity, or ability to adapt.  This plastic nature carries through the mid-adolescence, but then significantly decreases from there.  Many mistake this point as an implication that the human organism cannot learn new skills in any capacity once their CNS has passed the point of being optimally plastic, but this is not true.  Skill of any athletic merit can be learned at virtually any age throughout life.  What the plasticity argument holds is that these skills could never be optimized if they were not introduced at a young age. Why Michael Couldn't Hit: And Other Tales of The Neurology of Sports is a fascinating book by Dr. Harold Klawans.  Klawans presents a review of his prediction that Michael Jordan, one of the greatest athletes of all time, would not become an extraordinary baseball player during his attempts to do so with the Chicago White Sox.

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Dr. Klawans contented that because Jordan did not learn or practice the specific motor and hand-eye aspects of hitting baseballs when he was young, no matter how great an athlete he was, he would never be able to do so at an advanced level. Inevitably, Dr. Klawans was correct. The case for neural plasticity suggests that during the formative years of growth, it is imperative that young athletes be introduced to all types of stimulus that fuel improvement to the elements of coordination listed earlier.  This is one of the very critical reasons that all young athletes should play a variety of sports seasonally and avoid any sort of "sport specific" training.  Unilateral approaches to enhancing sport proficiency will meet with disastrous results from a performance standpoint if general athletic ability, overall coordination and non-specific load training is not reinforced from a young age. This bring us to the final myth... 3. Teenage Athletes Are 'Too Old' Now, while there is truth to the matter that many of the sensitive periods for coordination development exist during the preadolescent phase of life, it would be shortsighted to suggest that teenage athletes should not be exposed to this type of training. Firstly, much of the training of coordination takes the form of injury prevention.  Any sort of "balance" exercise, for example, requires proprioceptive conditioning and increases in stabilizer recruitment.  With "synchronization of movement," large ROM and mobility work is necessary.  "Kinesthetic differentiation," by definition, involves sub-maximal efforts or "fine-touch" capacity that is a drastically different stimulus than most young athletes are used to in training settings. Beyond that, there is the matter of motor skill linking.  According to Jozef Drabik, as much as 60% of the training done by Olympic athletes should take the form of non-direct load (i.e. non-sport-specific).  To truly stimulate these rather advanced athletes however, one option (which is a standard during the warm-up phase of a training session) is to link advanced motor skills (coordination exercises) together creating a complex movement pattern.

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For example: Run Forward ---> Decelerate ---> 360 Jump ---> Forward Roll ---> Tuck Jump Or Scramble to Balance ---> 1-Leg Squat ---> A Skips ---> Army Crawl ---> Grab Ball/Stand/Throw to Target In each of these patterns, we have represented:
  • Spatial Awareness
  • Synchronization of Movement
  • Balance (dynamic and static)
  • Movement Adequacy
  • Kinesthetic Differentiation
  • Rhythm
I have used warm-up sequences just like these with high school, collegiate and professional athletes from a variety of sports. Brian Grasso has trained more than 15,000 young athletes worldwide over the past decade.  He is the Founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association - the only youth-based certification organization in the entire industry.  For more information, visit www.IYCA.org. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter:
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Two Lessons on Success – Taken from Youth Sports Training

Today's guest blog comes from Brian Grasso.

2 Lessons on Success - Taken from Youth Sports Training

Most professional trainers - whether they are fitness gurus or sports performance experts - may not ever take the time to realize that much of what we hold true and dear in our pursuits of enhancing both the health and ability of young athletes, also translates to the world of business and life as well. Perhaps this lack of "connecting-the-dots" between the two is more than just something that has been overlooked - it's because the values on which we pride our work with young athletes is far too limited in scope to be accurate. Let me explain that. Our industry holds strong to the notion that short-term, "work 'em hard" training situations that involve high intensity on everything and a slow, methodical infusion of skill on nothing, is what best serves young clients in their need to get better (faster, stronger etc) now.

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But how often does this gun-slinging approach to life or business prove successful?  And can we take lessons from that as it relates to developing young athletes? How many times do we become handicapped by vein, unplanned and quick attempts to overhaul our businesses or restructure our lives in short periods of time? Think about it.  How many New Year's Eve goals for the impending year have you set (be them business or life alterations) only to find yourself exactly where you were in November come March? Here's another one for you. Have you ever crammed for a test or exam? You know what I mean... Stayed up virtually all night to study for an 8am exam in a subject that you barely even did any homework for during the course of the semester? Yes, you can put your hands down now - we've all done it!

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I'd be willing to bet that you often got great grades using this "the night before" method of studying.  Perhaps several "A" report cards were based on study habits just like this?  I'll be honest: this is pretty much how I got through college - and I graduated with top honors! My point is that the end doesn't always justify the means. You can get an "A" report card by doing solid and consistent work over the semester, or you can get an "A" by following "the night before" method of studying.  The end result is the same, but the fallout post-exam is much different.  I'll go into details a little later. Having said all that, I wanted to show you how success in life or business can be obtained by following two basic, but critical components of long-term athlete development training protocol. Lesson #1 The Process Outweighs the Outcome In our fortune cookie society, we have become very connected to quick-witted quotes from famous people of yesteryear and soothsaying advice from those we hold collectively as esteemed.

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But very often, if you're prepared to dig a little deeper, you'll find that the one sentence quote or word of wisdom lacks a true definition unless you take the entire thought into perspective. Lincoln, Churchill, Keller and even Yoda are amazing examples of wonderful souls who have graced us with single-serving remarks that we take as profound and words to live by.  But in every case, the context of what they meant and why they said it dramatically changes when we read their entire biographies or journals and not just the most famous lines they penned. I say that because we are all familiar with such wonderful metaphorical phrases, poems and song lyrics as: "Life's a journey, not a destination." "You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb." "The journey is the reward." "Slow and steady wins the race." But, and let me be frank here: how often do you actually take this advice? Are you content with developing a 3-, 4- or 5-year plan and able to remain focused on it as the hours, days and months of the path labor on? Do you even know how to create such a long-term plan? Again, I point to the fact that we all know and can recite, verbatim, what the prognosticators of success tell us, but without context of what they meant or how to do it, does any of it really amount to anything in our lives? Enter the world of Youth Sports Training. "6-weeks to a 6-inch vertical jump increase" "Faster 40 in 4 weeks" "Increase bench and squat in 1 month" We've all broadcast training programs like this. And if we haven't advertised using these sorts of words, we've most certainly implied the like by selling parents and sports coaches on training programs that are short-term in nature. Now, although your "Super-Secret-System" for training is top-notch, world-class and unlike anything anyone has ever seen before (and naturally the reason why so many of your young athletes show test/re-test improvements), let me share with you the reality that we must face, but may be missing: The Human Organism is Designed to Adapt. Bubble-bursting as this may be, the human body has been created to adapt to the stimulus its presented.  In short, you ask a body to jump, it becomes better at jumping.

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Same is true for squatting, running, bench pressing or throwing stuff. Yes, eventually you reach a critical mass and the improvements or gains begin to tail off until a more specific and technically-sound stimulus is presented, but with young athletes (due to their age) everything works. Everything; Olympic Lifting, Power Lifting, Cross-Fit, Circuit-Training, Plyometrics... Name it. It all works in varying degrees.  That's the very nature of being young. Kids get better as a matter of applied demand and therefore there is no such thing as "we test every six weeks to make sure the program is working" because it's going to work.  There is no rocket science to that. Thus, the need for a long-term approach that doesn't just pretend to preach the virtues of, but actually embraces the notion of "The Journey is More Important than the Outcome." It's not so much where your business or life is now; it's where you want it to be. And nothing of merit ever happens in a day or overnight. Same holds true for developing young athletes.  Think long-term and where they need to be in time and what it's going to take to get them there - you may be very surprised how much you take the foot off the gas pedal when keeping this context in mind. Lesson #2 Principles First... Values Second You can get an "A" by studying the night before, or you can get an "A" by diligently tending to your work all semester. The fact that the outcome is the same seems to imply that the path doesn't matter. But what about when the exam is over? Study the night before and I guarantee that every piece of information you crammed into your head will be gone inside of 60 minutes post-exam. Study consistently over the semester, and your retention of the material will remain with your forever. And that is a sizeable difference. In academics, business or life, we can always scrape by.  Do as little as possible in a rushed or last-minute type way and still get to the destination or obtain what we want.  But buyer beware - there is a shelve life on such practices. In school, fail to do the work properly and you will never have gained the knowledge.  There will be no foundation on which to grow or entertain further study in this area or subject matter.

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In life or business, if you fail to take your time, learn the lessons and gain the knowledge, you will be forever condemned to either repeat the same mistakes or retard the grow of your company or soul. Let's full-circle that back to Youth Sports Training, shall we? Academics = Cram for a test - get an "A" Training = Cram as many Plyometrics into a 6-week cycle as you can - improve a vertical jump Academics = But there is no retention of the information and therefore no knowledge gained or ability to progress in that subject. Training = But there has been limited technical instruction or tertiary development, so no foundation on which to build. And before you suggest that in a 6-week training cycle you DO in fact teach technique, let me leave you with this thought: Could you really teach everything that was necessary in order to competently pass Grade 2 in only 6 weeks study? Young athletes are organisms that are governed by the principles of human growth and development.  We didn't write the laws, nor do we have any ability to alter them. But they do exist, and any training program designed for young athletes absolutely must keep the principles of the organisms natural development is strong priority over any values (numbers) we want to obtain.  Infractions on this will lead to injury and/or limited long-term gain. Success in business and life really is easy. Create a plan and diligently follow it.  Don't look for short-cuts or try to outsmart the natural ebb and flow of reality.  Stick to your guns and understand that slow, methodical and daily effort towards your vision is the only path that has ever proven successful. Now, look at the last training program you wrote for a young athlete. Keep the paragraph above in mind, close your eyes, and start again..... Brian Grasso is the Founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association.  For more information, visit www.IYCA.org. Please enter your email below to sign up for our FREE newsletter.
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How to M.O.L.D. Young Athletes for Success

Today's guest blog comes from Brian Grasso, the director of the International Youth Conditioning Association. The Slow Cook Way to Young Athlete Training The long-term approach to youth fitness and sport training is an essential ingredient and critical component of understanding how to work with clients in this very sensitive demographic.  Fitness Professionals must learn to appreciate that with young clients, the goal is not to 'lose weight', 'increase speed' or 'gain strength' - it is to enhance skill.  Increases in all biomotors (strength, speed, flexibility and cardiorespiratory) will be secondary benefits that occur naturally and as a result of quality, skill-based training systems. A few weeks ago, I spoke with legendary strength coach, Joe Kenn, about this very issue. Coach Kenn is as qualified, respected and 'in-the-trenches' smart as they come.  He's served for more than 20 years as a premier strength coach in U.S.-based Colleges and has worked with a litany of past and current stars from a variety of sports.

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During our conversation, he offered this advice to parents, coaches and fitness professionals when working with young athletes: "Cook 'Em Slow" Although a rather funny way of saying it, Coach Kenn's point cannot be ignored.  Training young athletes isn't about focusing on making them better right now - as I've mentioned, the biomotors will increase naturally when proper skill-based teaching is applied - what's critical is to not char them in the process of making them better.  Don't 'fry them' on a high temperature.  Don't "barbeque'"them until they're crispy.  Don't try to "grill" them to a golden brown.  Instead, think of training young athletes as heaping them in a crock pot with a bunch of other savory ingredients and then setting the temperature on low. Let the flavors meld and the ingredients come together in their time.  By the end, you'll have a mouth-watering dish that contains flavors and layers of "yummy" that you can't get through any of the "quick cook" methods. What Do Young Athletes Really Need Sometimes, it's beneficial to be given sample programs of what to do with young athletes in certain situations.  Other times, it's better to understand a philosophy of training.  I have found in my career, that appreciating the concept of what to do with young athletes is tremendously more important than the former. Sample programs allow you to see a system and implement it, but without necessarily understanding why it's been created that way.  It's akin to being given a fish versus being taught how to fish.  One allows you to be satiated for a day or week, while the other allows you to keep yourself satiated indefinitely.

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With young athletes, knowing the "why" behind the "what" is terribly important.  Moreover, understanding the universal laws of development that govern all human growth - and how they are applied to programming for young athletes - will allow you to create specific programs that are compatible with your given situation. When working with young athletes the acronym "M.O.L.D." provides a perfect backdrop for understanding what, specifically, are the musts of training this particular demographic. Movement is Critical for Young Athletes "M" stands for one of the most important tenants governing young athlete training - Movement Must Dominate. Although this seems like an absolute 'no-brain' reality, I am constantly amazed how many times it is breached within the fitness and sport training world with respect to young athletes.  Kids and teenagers don't belong sitting on strength training machines producing force.  And they certainly have no business performing 'cardio' on static pieces of machinery, either. This is true for so many reasons. Just watch a young person in their natural environment.  They move.  Constantly.  This desire to play, run, skip, hop, throw things and climb is not a product of "ants-in-the-pants" or any other form of contemporary "illness" as defined by modern society (ADD for example).  The neurology of human growth and development shows that during the young periods of life, the CNS is in constant "gathering" mode.

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As young people, we are learning.  Our bodies, governed by our CNS, are wired to explore movements, environments and situations.  Kids don't mean to 'get into things' - they are being instructed to by an ever-changing, always-learning CNS that is requiring continual input.  Not only should this reality be honored and respected, it MUST be enhanced within the training systems of young athletes. If your training program for young athletes involves moving and producing force through an unregulated and free manner, then you are most assuredly on the right track.  Run, jump, throw, kick, hop, skip...that kind of stuff. Young Athletes.... The Key is Communication The second letter in our acronym, "O," stands for simply this - Open to Communication Variances. The "Lombardi-style" coaching system doesn't work.  You can't just bark orders and think that every young athlete you train is going to be listening.  With coaching, one-size DOES NOT fit all.  Just like physical ability, size, relative strength and potential, the way a young athlete needs to be communicated with is specific to that child or teen. Now, I'm no fool.  I've spent nearly 15 years in the trenches and know full well that when you have a group of kids (say 20 six-year-olds) getting to know them well enough and being able to provide individual attention to them is challenging to say the least.  But that doesn't mean individualized communication isn't possible.  It just takes a system.

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Over my years working with kids, I have found that every one of the young athletes I've trained fits somewhere into the following category: 1.       High Motivation/High Skill 2.       High Motivation/Low Skill 3.       Low Motivation/High Skill 4.       Low Motivation/Low Skill A brief overview of the template that shows how to communicate with each of these young athletes is as follows: 1.       Delegate - Look to get this young athlete involved in the training and planning process.  Have them lead warm-ups for the group.  Have them create the warm-up within the boundaries of your system.  If they are older, have them help you co-coach your younger groups.  Keeping this young athlete engaged is a critical part of keeping them excited about the training process and provide a perfect communication scenario. 2.       Guide - This young athlete doesn't require more motivation - they need to enhance their skill.  Rather than trying to incite them positively (because they're already incited!) slow them down and guide them through the process of skill increase slowly.  Breakdown complex exercises into specific stages and teach them in a whole-part-whole method.  Communication will be automatically improved.

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3.       Inspire - This young athlete is great at everything, but lacks the necessary motivation to produce consistent effort (likely due to pressure from other coaches or their parents).  Don't "ride" them or even ask them to work harder - they will tune you out quicker than you can say TRX!  Instead, talk with them about what inspires them.  What gets them excited?  We all have a switch on the inside that can turn on when the situation is a quality and inspiring one for us.  Find where there switch is and help them turn it on. 4.       Direct - Don't put this young athlete on the spot - even in a positive manner.  They crave autonomy and the ability to just "blend in."  So give it to them.  Provide instructions for the group at large and then quietly be sure that they know what is expected of them in the up-coming exercise or drill.  Once they realize that your communication with them will be non-threatening, they will deem your training environment a "safe" one and start to open up.  That's where the fun will start! How Do Young Athletes Learn? "L" brings us to learning.  Just like with "O," we must understand that young athletes learn in different ways and at varying speeds. Quick and easy rule of thumb - Explain what the exercise is.  Demonstrate it.  Explain it again.  And then ask them to explain it to you. This equates to a "Tell, Show, Tell, Converse" method of teaching and dramatically accelerates the learning process.  It also provides a divergent way of instruction so that all the young athletes in your group can learn in the manner that best suits them.

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Young Athletes.... Why Training is WRONG Sounds funny doesn't it? Don't train young athletes. But it brings us back full circle to where we started.... "Cook 'Em Slow." The most important thing you have to remember is that your job is not to make young athletes better - it's to enhance their skill.  When quality skill exists, it can be build upon to introduce and produce even more skill over time. And just a quick word to those who may be concerned... If a coach or parent asks you if their young athlete will get faster or stronger with your "slow cook" method of training, your answer is YES!!! Just because we aren't focusing on enhancing the biomotors doesn't mean they won't improve.  As I've mentioned already, kids get faster, stronger and more flexible automatically with skill-based training.  Human growth and development as seen to that for us. So that's it.  An easy philosophy that covers what you need to know about training young athletes. No more excuses.... The training effects and increases will come.  Just be sure to keep the temperature gage locked on "low!" Brian Grasso has trained more than 15,000 young athletes worldwide over the past decade.  He is the Founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association - the #1 certification for Youth Fitness and Youth Sports Performance.  For more information, visit www.IYCA.org. Please enter your email below to sign up for our FREE newsletter.
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Developmental Systems – The X & O Factors for Training Young Athletes

Today's guest blog comes from Brian Grasso. The Youth Fitness and Sports Training explosion has happened. More than $4 billion are pumped into the niches of personalized training and coaching for young people every year in the United States alone (Wall Street Journal, November 2004) and roughly 1 million kids and teens hired a Personal Trainer in 2006 (msnbc.com). Given those stats and the enormity of both the problems (youth obesity and sports-related injuries) as well as the market size (see above) you'd think that we, as a profession, would have a relatively good working knowledge of how young people need to be trained and guided through a physical education process.

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Unfortunately, this is as far from the truth as it gets. I won't bloviate or preach. I won't reveal my thoughts regarding how ineffectual we choose to be when working with this demographic. And I certainly won't use any sardonic overtones about the role of responsibility we should employ when opting to work with such a sensitive and cherished client base. I will simply appeal to your sense of logic and intelligence. For the purposes of this article, let me say this: "Kids" is a term I will use to encompass everyone who inhabits the ages of 6 - 18. Athletes and Non-Athletes alike. Miniature superstars, bench-warmers and the overweight, will all be lumped under the same umbrella. And simply stated, I do this because the development parameters of physical stimulus needed for ALL "kids" is the same - at very least in the beginning phases of training spectrum. Training stimulus with this demographic is guided, primarily, by physiology. You train to the organism, not the apparent needs of the young athlete or any potential concerns - for example, increasing the speed of an 8 year old running back or arm strength of a 10 year old pitcher would amount to "apparent needs" of a young athlete.  Attacking measures of calorie restriction and "fat loss" protocol would be examples of "potential concerns." Instead, your focus must be on the organism itself.

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What a young organism needs to experience in the way of physical stimulus can largely be deduced by chronological age.  Certainly biological age (relative body maturation), emotional age (psychological maturation) and even personality (temperament) can all be factored into the equation, but I have found in my 13-year career that chronological age determents can be successfully applied in 90% of the cases.  The remaining 10% can be accounted for through proper coaching and identification. Having said all that, the following is a brief rundown of the physical needs of 'kids' based on chronological age: 6 - 9 Years Old:
  • Guided Discovery - implying that Coaches and Trainers must create games and exercises that involve a variety of movement and guidelines in terms of execution, but allow the 'kids' to explore on their own.  This phase is terribly critical for establishing "Athletic Intelligence" and sets the seeds for increased complexity of training in the future
  • Outcome-Based Coaching - Coaches and Trainers must restrict their commentary and praise to that of "outcome" oriented verbiage.  For example, when asking a 7 year old to pick up a medicine ball and throw it forward using a chest-pass motion, provide praise on that and that alone with respect to successful execution.  Comments pertaining to form are not required and can impede the natural development of "kids" with respect to establishing "Athletic Intelligence."

10 - 13 Years Old:

  • Learning Exploration - Not dissimilar to Guided Discovery, "kids" must still be encouraged to discover what proper execution feels like on their own.  However, as emotional maturation increases (and while neural plasticity or adaptability is still high) it is also critical to start teaching the essence of primal patterns.  Educating "kids" on how to produce and resist force, create angles or accelerate/decelerate becomes an increasingly important part of the training process.
This is a rough overview.  I admit it. But learning exactly how to work with "kids" in a training environment is a process of education unto itself. Just know this for starters: It's not about Sets & Reps - it's about instructing technique through a developmental process. There's more, MUCH more I need to cover... And fortunately will be able to. Next month I'll be back with another installment. Until then,  re-read the above. The "kids" are worth our best effort. Brian Grasso has trained more than 15,000 young athletes worldwide over the past decade.  He is the Founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association - the only youth-based certification organization in the entire industry.  For more information, visit www.IYCA.org Related Posts The Truth About Kids and Resistance Training Developing Young Pitchers the Safe Way Preventing Injuries in Young Athletes
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The Truth About Strength Training for Kids

A while back, I attended a seminar in Houston, and while the primary topic was how to improve pitching performance, one of my biggest takeaways was with respect to adolescent physiological development.  Long-time Phillies rehabilitation consultant Phil Donley presented some excellent data on when bones actually become skeletally mature.  The next day, another speaker made a what was, in my opinion, an uninformed comment about how kids shouldn't strength train at young ages because it would stunt their growth.

Let's start with Donley's very intriguing numbers (which have actually been available in the literature for over two decades now); we'll stick with the shoulder girdle just to keep things to-the-point.  In a baseball population, the epiphysial plate most commonly injured from throwing at the shoulder is located at the proximal humerus (Little League Shoulder); this physis (growth plate) accounts for about 80% of humeral growth, and matures by age 19 in most folks.

growthplates

We've seen a lot of kids come through our door with this issue because of throwing (internal rotation of the humerus during throwing is the fastest motion in sports) and even some traumatic falls - but I can honestly say that I've NEVER seen one from strength training.  So, anecdotal evidence for me shows that strength training for kids is far from what could be considered "dangerous" for developing bones.

youthpitcher

Now, here's where it gets more interesting: bone maturation isn't uniform across the body.  While the proximal humeral growth plate might mature at 19, the distal (down by the elbow) physis is finished between ages 10 and 16.  The proximal and distal radius plates might mature anywhere between 14 and 23.  Meanwhile, the clavicle matures at ages 22-25, and the scapula generally matures by age 22.  How many of you have ever heard of a college football being held out of weight training for all four years of his participation because all that bench pressing might stunt the growth of his clavicles and scapulae?  It just doesn't happen!  In reality, we know that the strength training benefits of increased muscle size and strength actually protect him from injury on the field.

youthbaseball

In other words, violent (throwing) and traumatic (falling) events far exceed any stress on a young athlete's bones that we could possibly apply in a strength training setting, where the environment is controlled and overload is gradually and systematically increased over time as the athlete becomes more comfortable with it.  I'd make the argument that a young athlete should start resistance training as early as his/her attention span allows for it; the emphasis, of course, would be on body weight exercises, technical improvement, and - most importantly - keeping things fun.

If you really think about it, an athlete is placing a ton of stress (4-6 times body weight in ground reaction forces, depending on who you ask) each time he/she strides during the sprinting motion.  Kids jump out of trees all the time.  They lug around insanely heavy backpacks relative to their body mass.  Performance, general health, and self-esteem benefits aside, it's only right to give them a fighting chance in trying to avoid injury.

Also, another great point Phil made (although it was on an unrelated topic, it pertains to us) was that as an adolescent athlete grows, his center of gravity moves further up from the ground.  This is a big part of the "lapse" in coordination we see in kids during their growth spurts.  A little bit of strength goes a long way with respect to maintaining the center of gravity within the base of support, and makes an athlete more comfortable "playing low" (hip and knee flexion) to bring that center of gravity closer to the base of support.

All that said, appropriate resistance training is not only safe for kids; it's also tremendously beneficial.  In a review just published by Faigenbaum and Myer, the authors concluded:

Current research indicates that resistance training can be a safe, effective and worthwhile activity for children and adolescents provided that qualified professionals supervise all training sessions and provide age-appropriate instruction on proper lifting procedures and safe training guidelines. Regular participation in a multifaceted resistance training program that begins during the preseason and includes instruction on movement biomechanics may reduce the risk of sports-related injuries in young athletes.

Dr. Avery Faigenbaum has actually published a ton of great research (including position stands for numerous organizations) on the topic of strength training for kids in recent years; you can find all of it by searching for his last name at www.pubmed.com.

In the meantime, I hope this blog can help to eliminate the gross misconception in the general population that resistance training can't be beneficial for children.  When performed correctly and made fun, it is safe and provides tremendous benefits to kids in both the pre-adolescent and adolescent stages.

For more insights on the best approaches - and common mistakes - with training youth athletes, I'd encourage you to check out the Mike Boyle's resource, Complete Youth Training. After reviewing it, I told Mike that I enjoyed it not only as a strength and conditioning coach, but also as a parent of three daughters. I think the most compelling statement Mike made in the entire resource is that one of the most impactful things he's done with his daughter (an accomplished D1 hockey player) was to strength train a minimum of two days per week since she was 11 years old. When you've got strength at a young age - and you preserve/build it over the years - the rest of your training becomes that much more productive.

I'd strongly encourage you to check it out, whether you're a strength and conditioning professional, rehabilitation specialist, sport coach, or parent of a young athlete. There's some excellent information in there for everyone. You can learn more HERE.

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Random Friday Thoughts: 7/31/09

1. As you read this blog, I'll be taking in (and presenting at) the Perform Better Summit in Long Beach, CA.  You, on the other hand, will be missing out on the fun.  Sorry, dude. Actually, the next best thing for you would be to check out the Perform Better website, as they have their big end-of-summer sale going on right now.  You can get everything from massage tools, to med balls, to kettlebells at big discounts. You can't buy people to throw around as weights, but let's be honest; that's soooo British. 2. Cressey Performance athlete Danny O'Connor will be boxing tonight on ESPN's Friday Night Fights.  Danny is looking to run his professional record to 8-0.  I know I'll be looking all over on Friday night to find a TV to check out our man in action, and I'd encourage you to do the same, too. 3. Congratulations to CP athlete Mitch Perez, who threw a no-hitter in the opening game of the Central Mass Senior Babe Ruth World Series.  Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, another CP athlete, Eric Reale, threw a one-hitter the same day, and Matt McGavick threw a complete game shutout to win the series.  Nice work, fellas!

celebration

4. Those of you who (like me) deal with young athletes on a daily basis have probably come across loads of parents who wonder whether resistance training is bad for kids who are still developing.  Obviously, we know that isn't the case - but relating it to these parents isn't always as easy as you might think.  Fortunately, the NSCA just updated its position statement on Youth Resistance Training.  You can check it out HERE. 5. In case you missed this week's newsletter (and you should be subscribed!), here it is - complete with a look how to avoid shoulder pain during push-ups. Have a great weekend!
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Lifting at a Young Age

Thanks for your great articles and for the guidance you provide here. I'm planning to buy your Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual and had asked a question over on EricCressey.com and Omri asked me to post it here: I have enjoyed lifting for the past 30 years and now my 11 and 12-year-old nephews are training with me in the weight room. They are making tremendous gains in strength and are very enthusiastic about our workouts. Family members are appreciative of the time I spend helping them and can see the results, but they are also expressing concerns because of their young age. The boys are in early and mid-puberty and are both tall for their age (5'7"). They have a great-uncle who is 6'10", so they will possibly be pretty big. They're growing very fast right now. Their family has a history of knee problems on both sides of the family. Also three generations of hernia weaknesses on one side of the family. The older boy has very flat feet, but they seem to still enjoy running and sports (tennis and volleyball). Are there any lifts that we should be avoiding at this stage? Any dangers of bone damage, hernias, etc? I realize that you would have to send them to a Dr. for a physical in order to give a certain answer, and standard disclaimers apply, but considering that they both seem to be perfectly healthy and doing very well, it doesn't seem like the program is doing anything but good at this point. I have helped them see what proper form looks like and they are both adamant about form (and they tell ME when I'm not using proper form!). Would appreciate any insight, especially things I need to watch out for which could be doing more harm than good. Thanks again. Your goal should be to expose them to a wide variety of movements and set them up for success. Keep it interesting and FUN. Avoid maximal loading, obviously, but do work to incorporate quantifiable progressive overload for the kids; it'll keep them motivated. Start with plenty of body weight drills; get them stable at the lumbar spine, shoulders, and knees, and mobile at the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine. That'll set them up for success long-term. Getting them barefoot more often is great. The weight-training will actually help tremendously in avoiding that "clumsy" stage that occurs when guys grow a lot in a short amount of time. Avery Faigenbaum from The College of New Jersey has some good writing on this subject, and Brian Grasso (IYCA.org) is the king of training young athletes. GREAT reading material. Good luck! Eric Cressey
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