Home Posts tagged "Youth Sports"

Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 39

It's time for this month's installment of my random thoughts on sports performance training. In light of this week's $50 off sale (ending Sunday night) on Mike Boyle's outstanding resource, Complete Youth Training, I thought I'd focus this edition on the training of young athletes.

1. Warm-ups are important in youth sports, too.

If you've read this blog over the years, you've surely appreciate that I'm a big advocate for high quality warm-ups as a means of optimizing subsequent performance and reducing the risk of injury. However, I have to admit that most of my writing in this regard has been focused on more advanced - and older - populations, whether it's in baseball, strength training, or any other athletic discipline. Meanwhile, some of the youth sports warm-ups you'll see are far from comprehensive - and that's if they're actually present at all.

Fortunately, I now have a chance to correct this oversight by highlighting a recent meta-analysis, "Effectiveness of Warm-Up Intervention Programs to Prevent Sports Injuries among Children and Adolescents." You can check out the full text HERE. The brief synopsis of a ton of hard work by Ding et al. is that across 15 meticulously-selected studies of 21,576 total athletes (ages 7-18), a 15-20 minute warm-up reduced injury by 36%.

Beyond the obvious benefits of staying healthy, what's interesting about this outcome to me is that a variety of different warm-up initiatives worked to deliver this injury reduction. In older, more trained populations, more of the benefits are likely coming from increases in body temperature and, in turn, tissue extensibility. Conversely, in a younger, more untrained population we see in this meta-analysis, you're probably getting more chronic protection from injury because the warm-ups are delivering actual training effects: improved balance, added strength, optimized landing mechanics, and a host of other factors.

This makes me think that we can always benefit from "microdosing" important training initiatives with our athletes, and warm-ups are one avenue through which coaches can do so. It's interesting to consider whether the benefits would have been as pronounced if the drills were done at different times, but adaptation is adaptation, and the warm-ups are probably the best way to guarantee accountability in the group environment.

2. Ground-to-Standing Transitions may be the lowest hanging fruit for young athletes.

One of my closest childhood friends grew up on a farm. I'll never forget the first time I went to help him with baling hay; we basically walked/rode around a giant field for six hours, picking up and stacking these on the back of a truck.

I didn't bother to look up the weight of each until now, but apparently it ranges from 40 to 75 pounds. And, it would explain why my entire body was sore for about a week. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that same friend was a good three-sport athlete and state champion in wrestling. Obviously, the farm taught him how to consistently work hard. However, I can't help but think that the fact that most of those physical tasks - from baling hay, to feeding animals, to digging - all involve low to high force transfer - which isn't much different than a lot of athletic endeavors. If you don't live on a farmer, what are some good ways to challenge this dynamic in training beyond just the Turkish Get-up?

As you can see, these patterns can be trained at low and high speeds, with and without external load.

3. Global strength can be a means to accessing other patterns and reducing injury risk.

In another recent study, Relationships between Hip Strength and Pitching Biomechanics in Adolescent Baseball Pitchers, Albiero et al. delivered some interesting findings that aren't altogether surprising. Now, please keep in mind that I don't think that some non-weight-bearing dynamometer strength tests provide the most accurate reflection of functional carryover to performance, but in this particular study, they help to verify things that we probably already know:

a. Improved hip extension strength in throwers (shockingly) improves hip extension in the pitching delivery.

b. More hip extension strength is correlated with increased hip-shoulder separation.

c. Good hip-shoulder separation helps athletes translate pelvis rotational torque to the upper extremity.

d. Not surprisingly, previous research has demonstrated that increased hip-shoulder separation has previously been associated with higher pitching velocity and decreased humeral rotation torque and valgus elbow load.

The take-home message? Young pitchers need to get strong into hip extension to throw hard and stay healthy - and this benefit is likely delivered through hip extension's impact on "setting up" hip-shoulder separation. There's definitely a point of diminishing returns on hip extension ROM/strength and these benefits won't be further conferred on advanced pitchers, though.

Closing Thoughts

I could go on and on about lessons learned in training young athletes (and I might, at a later date), but in the meantime, I'd strongly encourage you to check out Mike Boyle's resource, Complete Youth Training. I loved this product as both a strength and conditioning coach and a parent. Mike did a tremendous job of outlining the problems in the current youth sports landscape while also including practical solutions to these concerns. You can learn more - and get $50 off through Sunday at midnight - HERE.

 

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Why We Shouldn’t Compare Kids in Sports

One of the more concerning trends I’m seeing on the youth sports scene is the how often the youngest kids are compared to their peers. This is an issue among programs monetizing sports participation, coaches responsible for identifying/developing proficiency, and parents concerned that their kids are falling behind.

I’m somewhat uniquely positioned to speak on this because I’ve been involved on the development of 12-year-olds who’ve eventually become professional athletes. And, more importantly, I’m a parent of three daughters. The older two, Lydia and Addison, are 7-year-old twins.

The most important lesson you learn as a twin parent is that people will always think saying “double trouble” is hilarious even though it’s incredibly hackneyed. Once you move past that, though, lesson #2 is more actionable: you should never try to compare your twins to one another.

This was obvious even when they were in the womb. When we’d go to ultrasounds, Lydia was front and center; we joked that she had her face pressed against the glass. Meanwhile, it would always take the technician and bunch of time to find Addison, who was always “hiding.” At one ultrasound, all we could see was the bottom of her foot.

When they were born, out came a brunette with olive skin (Lydia looks like her mom) and a strawberry blonde with a lighter complexion (Addison is a sunburn waiting to happen, just like dad).

Lydia came out screaming and ready to take on the world. Addison struggled a bit and needed four days in the NICU with oxygen and a feeding tube. Lydia was a feisty baby and always wanted her mother, and Addison was super mellow and could usually be found in dad’s arms while mom was holding her sister.

At 18 months, they flip-flopped. Lydia became the rule follower, and Addison started giving us attitude. Lydia ate just about everything we put in front of her, yet Addison’s taste buds refused to recognize the existence of all but about five foods.

Lydia walked five months before Addison (who was a little taller/heavier) did. Addison picked up swimming faster than Lydia. Lydia swings a bat right handed, while Addison does so lefty. Lydia was reading chapter books while Addison was still working on sight words. Addison, on the other hand, thrived with math relative to her sister.

Lydia is faster; Addison is stronger. Lydia listens intently and has picked up more “coaching intensive” sports like tennis, softball, and gymnastics quickly. Addison, on the other hand, is a bit of a space cadet in the field at softball games; she’s kicking grass and watching adjacent fields. Conversely, she’s in her element with creative initiatives like music, art, and dance.

I develop athletes for a living, and I can tell you without wavering that I have zero clue what sports my kids will enjoy doing next week, let alone years from now. Our twins have spent 99% of their lives together since conception and are completely different now, and we’ve seen unpredictable iterations of them to get to this point.
We don’t predict athletic success well at all. We don’t even predict what sports kids will enjoy well. You’d be amazed at how many professional athletes weren’t child prodigies or even standout middle school athletes. Let’s face it: puberty makes a lot of coaches look much smarter than they are!

In other words, the ONLY thing we can control is enriching their experiences in these sports while they’re participating – and comparisons don’t do that. What does work?

First, praise effort over outcomes. The reps – and the fun that comes with executing them with teammates/friends – are what matter. I can’t tell you a single score from one of my little league games, but I could write a book about an a**hole coach I had who took things way too seriously. In hindsight, he really didn’t know much about baseball, either.

Second, celebrate novelty. It gets kids excited, and participating in a variety of sports at a young age provides a rich proprioceptive environment that cultivates an invaluable athletic foundation upon which specific skills can later be built. This broad athletic foundation includes variability in planes of motion, speed of movement and the forces involved. Collectively, these exposures teach athletes to distribute stress over multiple joints and avoid overuse injuries at specific segments.

Third, appreciate that random practice outperforms blocked practice over the long-term when it comes to skill acquisition. Mix in a variety of drills and fluctuate the order and duration of them, then integrate fun competitions with them.

Fourth, recognize the importance of in-season and off-season periods. This fluctuation of the seasons helps keep kids from getting bored with certain sports, but also facilitates graduated exposures to stressors. A 10-year-old throwing a baseball 12 months out of the year is a terrible idea; playing some soccer and hoops is a great way to stay active while developing in different ways.

Fifth, as soon as a kid is mature enough for it, get them involved in a foundational strength training program. It’ll have a “trickle-down” effect to a variety of athletic qualities while reducing their risk of injury. Again, it has to be fun, just like everything else!

Summarily, don’t compare kids; instead, appreciate that they’re all unique and develop at different rates and in different ways. Youth sports is all about instilling a passion for the game, enjoying a sense of community, and fostering a positive lifelong relationship with exercise.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/18/19

Let's kick off the week with some recommended reading and listening from around the 'Net:

Eric Cressey Talks Shoulders and Modern Baseball - I joined Jason Glass on his podcast to discuss baseball training and much more.

He told a kid to slide. Then he got sued. - This is a great write-up on a legal battle with implications for every coach. It's scary to think that our society is this litigious, particularly when it comes to a well-intentioned, under compensated high school baseball coach.

Todd Hamer: Getting Fired, Re-creating Yourself, and Shaping Your Role - Todd Hamer is one of my favorite people in the strength and conditioning field, and he shares some excellent career insights on this podcast with Brett Bartholomew.

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One of the most important “competencies” for being a durable pitcher is having as much active control of your passive external rotation range-of-motion at the shoulder. 👇 It’s a big red flag for me when I see a pitcher with loads of passive external rotation (measured in supine) who is weak as a kitten in a prone external rotation against gravity past 90 degrees of external rotation. Here, @ckluber28 shows off really good active control over a big ROM on a prone external rotation end-range lift-off. Notice that he avoids the most common substitution patterns: wrist extension, elbow flexion, elbow extension, and scapular depression. 👏, Corey. 👍 I would call this exercise a motor control drill. We use it in warm-ups and as fillers between medicine ball drills. It complements cuff strength and timing drills nicely in a comprehensive arm care program. 👊 Apologies for the shaky camera work. I get excited when I see good arm care work in action.😂 #cspfamily #clevelandindians

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The Most Important Coaching Responsibility

When our third daughter was breastfeeding, my wife and I noticed an interesting phenomenon with her twin four-year-old big sisters. We'd often find them pretending to breastfeed their toy babies because - obviously - they wanted to be like Mommy.

Around that same time, I took those same four-year-olds out to breakfast while Mommy slept in after a sleep-deprived night with the newborn. As we were leaving the restaurant, one of my daughters jumped up and grabbed my arm as I was carrying hot coffee. I spilled a little bit of it, and muttered, "Dammit." In the car on the ride home, her sister began singing, "Dammit, Dammit, Dammit" in her car seat. I'm sure a lot of the parents out there can relate to the shock value of the first time your kids swear because they heard it from you. Eye-opening, to say the least.

This isn’t specific to parenting or my kids, either. I can remember wanting to do whatever my older brother did, and as a result, falling for a lot of jokes growing up. When I was in eighth grade, and he was a senior in high school, I would’ve done anything he told me to do (and often did).

Athletic companies pay high-profile athletes to wear their shoes and clothing because younger athletes are impressionable and will, in turn, want to wear them, too. The Kardashians can sell just about anything to their followers. Advertising wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for impressionable consumers, and young kids and teenagers are far and away the most impressionable. In fact, current models suggest that the brain isn't fully mature until age 25. I can even look back on things I purchased when I was 30, and wonder what the heck I was thinking.

Advertising can be both intentional and unintentional, favorable and unfavorable. The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reported that "the overall suicide rate among 10- to 17-year-olds increased significantly in the month immediately following the release of 13 Reasons Why" (a Netflix series about suicide). There's even research demonstrating that "including a patient's photo with imaging exam results may enable a more meticulous reading from the radiologist interpreting the images, as well as a more personal and empathetic approach." Even brilliant minds can be unknowingly swayed by outside messages, and that's on top of their intrinsic confirmation biases, too.

Where am I going with all this? We have a lot of coaches reading this article. And, whether they appreciate it or not, these coaches are some of the most profound influences on young athletes’ development. Whether coaches like it or not, they are constant walking advertisements for what young athletes should say, do, and look like. And, I’d argue that they’re among the most impactful advertisements because of a) the number of exposures they have to athletes and b) their positions of authority.

I know of training facilities that market heavily to young athletes in spite of the fact that their coaches’ social media presences - and even their facility walls - glorify alcohol consumption. At the very time when many of these teenagers' parents are fretting over whether these impressionable kids will go off to college and make irresponsible decisions surrounding alcohol, these kids are being bombarded with pro-alcohol messages by some of the most respected people in their lives - in what should be an unconditionally positive environment. Mix in some unedited music with explicit lyrics and racially offensive language, and you're not exactly making a case for being a strong influence on kids socially as you make them stronger physically.

Taking it a step further, I'll take some heat for this, but...

[bctt tweet="It is fundamentally indefensible to coach a team of impressionable kids while you have a wad of tobacco in your mouth."]

We can all debate how impactful these messages are, but at the end of the day, it's hard to deny the facts that a) kids are very impressionable and b) these messages certainly aren't yielding any positive outcomes.

All too often, coaches think that the most important decisions are about periodization, conditioning, pregame warm-ups, or some other X and O. The truth is that good coaching starts with making good decisions yourself and modeling those decisions to the athletes in front of you. Much like people need to be healthy humans before they become high-performing athletes, coaches needs to model behavior to that promotes healthy decision making off the field before they can work to optimize performance on the field.

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Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Kids and Curveballs

We're going to deviate from the normal single-guest model for this episode, and instead rock a collaborative effort between me and Cressey Sports Performance - MA pitching coordinator, Christian Wonders. We're going to discuss the debate on when kids should start throwing curveballs and sliders.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Show Outline

  • What research says about youth pitchers throwing breaking balls
  • When the right time is to begin integrating a breaking ball into a young pitcher’s development
  • How Christian introduces a young pitcher to spinning a curveball for the first time
  • What steps Christian takes to progress a young pitchers from simply learning to spin a baseball to consistently throwing breakers in a game
  • Why youth pitchers should prioritize commanding fastball and changeup before jumping to learn a big breaking ball
  • How the delicacy involved in throwing curveballs takes young pitchers away from working late arm speed and powering through the baseball
  • What common mechanical compensations arise as young pitchers try to throw a quality curveball
  • How Christian plans to develop a curveball with his 10 year old brother
  • Why it is so crucial for pitchers to find a consistent and comfortable curveball grip that works for them
  • Why Christian never has any of his pitchers, youth, high school, or college, throw more than two off speed pitches in a row in bullpens
  • Why it’s important to replicate fastball arm speed on breaking pitches

You can follow Christian on Twitter at @csp_pitching, and on Instagram at @csp_pitching. Also, for more information about our upcoming CSP Elite Baseball Mentorship, be sure to check out www.EliteBaseballMentorships.com.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today - 20 FREE travel packs (valued at $79) - with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I'd encourage you to give it a shot, too - especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

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What Research Can Tell Us About “Super Champion” Athletes

Today's guest post comes from Matt Kuzdub.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had the magic formula when it came to building the ultimate sporting champion? Or how bout a step-by-step recipe? Just add 10 years of skill training, a half-decade of physical development and a sprinkle of mental skills...and voila, a world-class competitor is served!

Jokes aside, this topic of ‘what it takes to get to the top’, is eternally interesting. Whether you’re a coach, parent or athlete, achieving high levels of success in your chosen sport, is often a lifelong dream. But very few actually get to realize these dreams.

Why is that? Why do some achieve greatness while others are left wondering where it all went wrong? Coaches and athletes aren’t the only ones asking themselves these questions. Researchers also want to gain more insight into this puzzle - now more than ever.

This article will explore some of the newest research on this topic - particularly by a group of applied researchers, Dave Collins and Aine MacNamara. Their work will help us attempt to solve the perpetual question - what separates the greats from the almost greats?

In particular, we’ll look to their research to aid us in distinguishing between, what they classify as ‘Super Champions’ (SC), ‘Champions’ (C) and ‘Almost Champions’ (AC). A secondary aim of this post is to explore their claim - that adversity (whether related to sport or life), plays a pivotal role in the success (or failure) of an athlete. In revealing their findings, we’ll look at how each class of athlete responds to setbacks, how a support team ‘should’ act and the characteristics necessary for athletic excellence.

Super Champions Have a ‘Learn From It’ Attitude Towards Setbacks

Note, before we continue, it’s important to know that SC were defined as athletes who not only competed at the highest level, they won multiple international championships at that level. Conversely, C competed at the highest level, but did not have the same pedigree of success (1 or none when it came to championship victories). AC consisted of athletes who achieved well at the youth level but only competed at the second tier professionally.

According to Collins et al (2017), the biggest factor that separates SC from C and AC is a ‘learn from it’ attitude. There’s no argument that all athletes, at some point in their careers, experience adversity, challenges and what Collins calls “the rocky road” - these setbacks aren’t reserved for the chosen few. Ultimately, it’s the response to this that enables some to flourish while others to wither away.

Take for example, what one Almost Champ recalled of a serious injury:

“I sort of lost enthusiasm for it because I did not feel like it was – I almost felt let down, especially before the second operation. . . why was my injury different from anyone else’s, how come mine had to be 14 months for the same surgery that someone else had done for 3 months.”

Even Champs - those who competed at the highest level of their sport - echoed similar sentiments, blaming injury for their lack of progress:

“Well the sort of 10 to sort of 17, 18 years should be a natural yearly progression. But because I broke my arm, I wouldn’t say I didn’t improve but I just stood still. Well I’d say I didn’t improve, I just sort of stood still for 18 months. And it was an issue because when my arm got fixed I hadn’t grown, and everyone else seemed to have grown.”

Super Champs had a completely different outlook when it came to a traumatic setback, like an injury. By no means was it an easy situation - they also felt the disappointment, the frustration, but rather then blaming and projecting to external factors, they framed the incident as an opportunity for growth:

“That injury was pretty crucial I think. . .I was going well before it but the disappointment. . .the pain. . .it just kicked me where it hurt and I was determined to get back.”

And another SC had this to say about the prospects of throwing in the towel after an injury:

“No never, never ever thought about giving up. There was days when I was like ‘Why is this happening to me? I’m so frustrated, what am I going to do? How long is it going to take me to get back?’ But then the other days were like, ‘right what do I need to do? I’m going to do this, do this and get back’. But I never ever thought I wanted to quit. I think I still would have worked hard and still trained and done everything I could have done. But I think it gave me a different mental capacity. Because I’d never had to deal with anything like that before, so I definitely did think it changed me and made me achieve what I then went on to achieve.”

Given these reactions, you get the sense that Super Champs use setbacks as motivation, a driving force that catapults them to not only get back to where they were pre-injury, but to learn from the experience and to be better than ever. It’s difficult to explain exactly why that is - researchers (Collins et al 2016) suggest that high achievers may have better inherent coping habits. But further to that, they argue that these SC either don’t acknowledge the setback the same way as low achievers OR they don’t perceive the ‘trauma as traumatic as others do.’

On the flip side, this self-defeating attitude, most commonly typified by the behaviors of Champs and Almost Champs, inhibits growth. For instance, instead of putting things into perspective and finding solutions after a setback, low achievers would do the opposite:

“rather than staying at training and thinking ‘right I’m going to work hard, I’m going to really focus on my crossing, or really focus on that,’ I did no extra work. I didn’t go in the gym, I didn’t eat the best foods.”.

High achievers, on the other hand, saw the same challenge in a completely different light:

“Not making that selection, especially after all that work. Several others just said f*#! it, but I was never ever going to let them beat me. I just did double everything!”.

And beyond the setbacks, even when things were going well, Super Champs were striving for more:

“I was never kind of satisfied, I was never like ‘Oh I’ve done it now’ I was always like ‘This is the first step of my journey’”.

Many factors contribute to the above responses to setbacks and challenges. One area where researchers seem to point the blame are Talent Development (TD) pathways. The argument being that these centers for excellence are actually ‘smoothing’ the road for young up-and-coming athletes. The adversity necessary for growth, from their point of view, isn’t seen until later in a TD athletes’ career, when it’s perhaps too late. To resolve this, they propose that ‘structured traumas’ be strategically implemented into the programs of emerging sports stars.

These ‘manufactured traumas,’ according to Collins, could include training with a new group, being de-selected from a camp or a temporary increase in training load. Is this the answer? Whether it is or not is still up for debate - but one thing’s for sure, the path to the top is anything but linear.

Sure, many young athletes excel and progress rapidly early on. As they get older, however, and begin competing with others of similar class, that progress comes to a sudden halt - at times, it can even mean a step or two back (not something youth super-athletes are accustomed to).

How many Michael Jordans, Roger Federers and Tiger Woods’ are there? Not many. Some of the greatest athletes of all-time had to overcome adversity, naysayers and their own internal demons just for a shot at competing at the highest levels of their sport. Tom Brady is just one example - drafted at no. 199 in 2000.

It’s not that the AC can’t make it, it’s that they lack certain mental traits and skills to stay the course, especially in the face of adversity. The best of the best, on the other hand, according to Savage et al (2017) perceive their personal potential as significantly higher, following a setback. Those ‘rocky road’ moments leave a lasting impression on Super Champs - propelling them to learn and grow.

While this attitude by no means guarantees their spot in the history books….it at least gives them a fighting chance.

Quiet Leaders - The Role of Coaches and Parents

But perhaps it’s not the athlete’s fault. Research seems to indicate that there’s both a nature and nurture element to coping with adversity. Some athletes are born with personality traits that favor key mental aspects like optimism, hardiness and resilience. That doesn’t mean that these attributes can’t be developed. So instead of throwing in the towel, support staff should frame these ‘tough’ moments as opportunities for skill building and character growth.

But according to Collins, a big difference exists between the involvement of coaches and parents of SC versus those of C and AC. Interestingly, SC recalled their parents being supportive but not very closely involved in the process. In other words, they would encourage their children to pursue their goals, drive them to and from practices, attend games and cheer from a distance but they would leave the nitty gritty details to coaches. Here’s one account from a SC:

“[my parents were] not really pushy, it was kind of just gentle encouragement. They were never really involved, they’d just come and watch me, support me. But they never wanted to know what I was doing training wise and they never really got involved in that way, and that helped.”

ACs, on the other hand, were constantly being pushed by parents and coaches. To the point where one athlete actually felt as if the joys of sport were taken from them:

“My parents, dad especially was always there. . .shouting instructions from the touchline, pushing me to practice at home. Really, I just wanted to be out with my mates, even though we would still be kicking a ball around. I felt like [sport] stole my childhood.”

A few years ago, coaching Britain’s next female tennis hope, I encountered a similar experience - a father who attended every session, not as a casual observer, but as a vocal distraction. He would shout when he thought his daughter’s effort was lacking, grimace when she missed a forehand by mere inches and not once did he have a kind word to say. The result of this constant bombardment...at 15 years old, this rising star left the game and never returned.

This isn’t just a one off example, this happens all too often in youth sport today - parents obsessing over their children’s every sporting move.

What About Coaches?

When it comes to coaches, there was a clear dichotomy between the experiences of Super Champs, and Champs/Almost Champs. These mid to low achievers seemed to work with coaches who were either always in their face or looking for a way to ‘ride the athlete to the top.’ One athlete stating - coach was ‘always wanting to dissect my performance...He was very intense and, as I got older, it really started to antagonize me.” An Almost Champ had a similar recollection:

“X was the driving force. When I was younger, he would collect me from home, drive me to the club, train me then drive me back. . .talking about [sport] all the way. Let me tell you it was f∗∗∗∗∗ intense.”

Contrast these experiences to that of Super Champs:

“I think [coach's name] was great in the fact that he never wanted to rush anything whereas I always did. I wanted to be better, and I wanted to start winning things straight away. He always had in his mind that it was a long journey. And that’s the sort of thing that worked so well, he developed me as an athlete really slowly so I would always achieve the things I wanted to achieve later on in my career.”

Many successful coaches across a variety of sports realize the commitment involved at the top. They understand that athletes are devoting their lives to sport and this constant analysis and over-analysis of practices & games can be too much. It’s another form of stress. One pro hockey coach says that most of the time, he’s talking about anything but hockey with his players. That’s not to say there isn’t a time and place to ‘dissect’ a performance, but when it’s constant, that’s when it can be detrimental.

Perhaps a better option, one that ALL elite coaches use, is to simply engage in regular debriefs. After a practice, a game or a season, it’s absolutely vital that athletes sit down with a member of their support team for a review. These debriefs, according to elite coaches and researchers, can be more important than practices - the key is to know your athlete and when the right time to talk is (it can happen directly after a practice/game or several days afterwards...each athlete is different).

But it is a time where full transparency and honesty are at the forefront. Didn’t have the right mindset at practice, the athlete has to know. Focus and concentration on relevant tasks were absent, that’s a talking point. The truth has to come out. The important thing to remember here is:

[bctt tweet="Critique the behavior, NOT the individual."]

Overall, it’s a facilitative approach, rather than a directive one, that seems to contribute to that ‘learn from it’ attitude seen in high-achievers while low-achievers, having too much info thrown their way, have a poor time coping with adversity. Thus, coaches and parents can adapt their involvement to fit the needs of each individual athlete. While researchers agree that an expert (like a mental skills coach) is likely needed to help shift the mentality of many athletes, they still advocate that coaches be a big part of the process - echoing the words of experts because of their day to day involvement with the athlete.

The ‘Unique’ Traits of Super-Champs

These findings are taken from only a handful of studies - and less than 100 athlete responses. So there’s still a lot we can learn - but some of the early signs are promising. For one, we now know that high-achievers internalize setbacks, go through a reflective process, which ultimately drives their behaviors in a positive manner. Low-achievers, on the other hand, seem entirely ‘reactive’. As we noted above, this is likely a combination of Super Champs ‘learn from it’ approach to challenge and their encouraging (but not overbearing) support structures.

Furthermore, at this level, all athletes have at one point (whether at the youth or senior level) been internationally successful. We can’t tell for sure whether a gap in skill or physical stature existed - if it did, it was likely small. The main differences between the best and the rest, according to Collins, were the psycho-behavioral characteristics of Super Champs - including commitment, coping with pressure, self-awareness, goal setting, effective imagery and more (for the full list, here is a link to the study itself).

Researchers once thought these characteristics were solely developed after a traumatic event - the literature terming this ‘post-traumatic growth theory’. The premise being that athletes need regular opportunities to deal with traumatic events and that these events in themselves, build the necessary mental skills & behaviors, over time. In other words, ‘talent is caused by trauma.’

Recently, however, autobiographies from several Olympic swimming champions (Howells and Fletcher 2015) found that they didn’t have to learn anything new when coping with a trauma, rather, they used skills that were already established. Other Olympian medalists (Sarkar et al 2015) supported this and concluded that “performers should be given regular opportunities to handle appropriate and progressively demanding stressors, be encouraged to engage with these challenges and use debriefs to aid reflection and learning.”

The take-home, athletes need to possess some of these skills and traits before being encountered with a trauma or setback. As Savage et al 2017 exclaim, talent isn’t caused by trauma per se, ‘talent needs trauma.’

Inevitably, what this tells us is that even when things are going well, coaches should be constantly seeking to improve all facets of an athlete’s game - including aspects that aren’t necessarily as noticeable as a player’s batting skills or squat strength. But how often do we take part of a training session to improve imagery skills? Or to improve one’s self-awareness? Overall, mental toughness isn’t a result of suicide drills and grinding training sessions. As coaches, we must plan the development of these skills just as meticulously as we would a block of strength & power training.

Lastly, from a research perspective, we’re only scraping the surface of what we know about ‘super champion’ performers. A lot of the same can be true in practical settings - even elite coaches aren’t always sure why a certain athlete had great success, while another didn’t. This, however, is a starting point - if we have an idea as to which behaviors are championing vs those which are defeating, we can devise a proactive plan to facilitate the growth of the latter. For the moment, it’s up to coaches to facilitate rather than direct, the athlete’s growth - mental, physical or otherwise - and treat the training process as a playground for learning.

References

Collins, D. and Macnamara, A. (2017). Making Champs and Super-Champs—Current Views, Contradictions, and Future Directions. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.

Collins, D., Macnamara, A. and McCarthy, N. (2016). Putting the Bumps in the Rocky Road: Optimizing the Pathway to Excellence. Frontiers in Psychology, 7.

Collins, D., MacNamara, Á. and McCarthy, N. (2016). Super Champions, Champions, and Almosts: Important Differences and Commonalities on the Rocky Road. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.

Howells, K., and Fletcher, D. (2015). Sink or Swim: Adversity and Growth-related Experiences in Olympic Swimming Champions. Psychol. Sport Exerc. 16, 37–48.

Sarkar, M., and Fletcher, D. (2014). Ordinary Magic, Extraordinary Performance: Psychological Resilience and Thriving in High Achievers. Sport Exerc. Perform. Psychol. 3, 46–60.

Savage, J., Collins, D. and Cruickshank, A. (2016). Exploring Traumas in the Development of Talent: What Are They, What Do They Do, and What Do They Require?. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 29(1), pp.101-117.

About the Author

Matt Kuzdub, MSc, (@CoachKuzdub) is the content creator at Mattspoint, an online tennis and strength and conditioning resource for coaches, players, and tennis enthusiasts. Matt has helped tennis players at all levels—from juniors to the professional ranks—achieve high levels of performance on both the national and international stages. Mattspoint is steadily establishing itself as a go-to source for cutting-edge tennis and fitness research, articles, and training videos.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/15/17

I skipped a week of this recommended reading installment, but I'm happy to report that it allowed me to stockpile a little extra content for you. So, here are six recommendations instead of my normal three:

Why a Pro Approach Will Fail When Coaching the Youth Athlete - Former Cressey Sports Performance intern John Dusel wrote this great post for Nancy Newell's site.

4 Steps to Deeper Learning - My good friend Mike Robertson wrote this up with up-and-coming strength and conditioning coaches in mind, but the lessons really apply to any industry.

Does Diet Soda Cause Strokes and Dementia? - As always, the crew at Examine.com cut through the noise and give you the low down on recently published research.

The Truth About Kids and Resistance Training - I received a question the other day about whether resistance training was appropriate for kids, and I quickly "referred out"...to myself! I wrote this article up eight years ago and it's still right on target.

The San Antonio Spurs, Made with 100 Percent Juice - This is a nice shoutout to Brian St. Pierre for his nutrition work with the Spurs.

Want a White Collar To-Do List? Start With Some Blue Collar Work - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, shares some insights on the entrepreneurial side of fitness.

Top Tweet of the Week

Top Instagram Post of the Week

 

I guess this struck a chord with some people.

A post shared by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

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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.

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How to Cultivate Intrinsic Motivation in Young Athletes

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, John O'Neil, who has a huge interest in long-term athletic development. Enjoy!

In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink outlines what defines true intrinsic motivation. As a coach, we clamor for multiple things: control, results, and motivated clients. In dealing with young clients, how do we develop a young athlete from someone who can’t define the word motivation into someone who comes to exemplify the definition of the word? Using strategies I learned practically and have organized through Pink’s motivation structure, here’s an outline of how I incorporate subtle motivation tactics while also gauging a youth athlete’s motivational progress.

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According to Pink, true motivation is a blend of three factors; autonomy, mastery, and purpose. You can’t have mastery or purpose before you have autonomy. Autonomy in the training process is a client’s ownership of their program, understanding that while they are provided structure and coaching, they are the one executing the movements and looking to improve upon their given goals.

Mastery is the ability to perform the process of the given program to the point where variables – movement type, loading scheme, structure – need to be altered periodically to maintain both psychological interest and physiological adaptations.

Purpose is a client’s awareness that movements they are given have reasons in progression towards their goals and the client feeling the need to continue the process to optimize performance.

While this progression is long-term, when these pillars are in place, we have created true motivation within the client. What kind of strategies can we practically implement to lay the foundations for autonomy, mastery, and purpose?

Autonomy: We provide the client with structure, but at what point is structure overbearing to the point where it diminishes an athlete's motivation? There needs to be an element of client responsibility within the process. Challenge your athletes to make decisions in the weight room as they will have to on the field. Incorporate options, not demands. Practically:

  1. Have your youth athletes carry their own programs and write in their own weights. While this sounds simple, how can something seem like it's truly yours if you never carry it, and you can't make your mark on it?
  2. Instruct clients on where to be, but make them responsible for being there. For example, once the kid knows where the warm-up area is, it shouldn't be up to us to lead them there and take them through foam rolling each time. Make sure they're doing what they should be without coaching everything again. Knowledge is power. Allow them to use knowledge you've given them.
  3. Let the client participate in the process of picking weights. Once they know an exercise and have an idea where to start, give them the option of choosing, say, 5 pounds heavier or 10 pounds heavier on the next set. I have one rule with my clients in regards to this: if you pick your own weight from options I give you, you better be confident in your decision. If not, I choose. Confidence in your selection will breed confidence in the movement and in the process in general.
  4. Have them rack and load their own weights. While a coach can and should help sometimes, a coach should never do all of the work for a youth athlete. Make them responsible for their own process and be respectful of where they are.
  5. Consider incorporating varying rep and/or rest schemes. There is nothing wrong with throwing in an exercise here and there that is listed as “6-8” or “8-10” reps. Assuming the client is proficient in the movement and not blowing past technical failure, this forces the client to make a decision while amidst the action. Is there anything more similar to sport than that? Another, and often times easier applicable option, is to allow rest to be up to the client. Give them a window - i.e., 3-4 minutes for a heavy strength set, or 30-60 seconds in conditioning - that makes them take responsibility for when they start the next set.
  6. Include the youth athlete in the scheduling process. In my experience, there seems to be a clear middle school/high school divide in terms of kids knowing their own schedules. Most middle school kids leave it up to mom to be chauffeured from activity to activity, not necessarily knowing what comes next until it's almost time, whereas most high school kids have knowledge of their schedules. While you can't practically leave it 100% up to many kids, you can at least broach the conversation and force them to think about when the best time for them to come back in would be.

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Mastery: Training models should stress the process, not the outcomes. We can monitor and control the process, but we can’t control the outcomes. We can, however, have a heavy influence on the outcomes and give our youth athletes as much opportunity for success as possible. A kid doesn’t necessarily have to be able to execute every movement to a “T” without coaching (most won’t), but they should gain knowledge of what they are trying to do and the difference between wrong and right. They should be held accountable to follow coaching when given and communicate with the coach about what they felt and how it went. Practically:

  1. Over time, the client should gain knowledge of the names and positions of given exercises, and they should be held accountable in doing so. If something says “half-kneeling cable chop” and the client routinely goes to the squat rack for it, we’re in trouble. The process can’t be mastered until it is understood.
  2. Allow this process to shift from a conscious one to an unconscious one. A foam rolling series, for example, isn’t “mastered” until someone can just go from one spot to another without being told and can hold a conversation in doing so.
  3. To steal a quote from Eric, our most important job as coaches is to prepare our athletes for the day they are on their own. While coaching and monitoring will always be paramount, our clients will hopefully go on to play at the next level and won’t always be able to train with us. By the time they do so, they should have an understanding of types of things they should and shouldn’t be doing/feeling.
  4. New variations are understood to be progressions of previous ones. If you spend a month goblet squatting a kid and then progress them to a double kettlebell front squat, you shouldn’t have to re-teach anything except the intricacies of the grip. If you have to, the kid really hasn’t put that mental effort into it that would allow us to believe they have taken ownership of the process.

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Purpose: At this level, the client craves training. They know that the training process is a contributor towards the success they have experienced with their goals, and that without it, they would not have achieved their level of success. You no longer have to stay on top of the athlete about keeping up with things like in-season training or any take-home mobility drills you’ve given them. Rather, you know that it has become as important to them as it is to you. Our practical motivational strategies are moot point with this type of client; they are already ingrained within them. We program and monitor with the goal of optimizing progress, but coaching becomes more guidance than dictation. Success experienced by an athlete with purpose and true intrinsic motivation breeds the desire to continue the process that got them there and builds a craving to experience success at a higher level. It should be every coach’s goal to have a stable of clients that exhibit this.

About the Author

John O’Neil is a strength and conditioning coach at The Annex Sports Performance Center in Chatham, NJ and Drive495 in New York, NY. He previously interned at Cressey Sports Performance and Ranfone Training Systems. You can contact him at joh.oneil@gmail.com and on Twitter.

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Long-Term Athletic Development: Optimizing A Young Athlete’s First Day at the Gym

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - MA Director of Performance, John O'Neil. I'd like to devote more attention to long-term athletic development here at EricCressey.com, and John will be helping me do so.

This article is geared towards working with a youth athlete who is in a gym for the first time. I have identified steps that I believe to be important with getting the ball rolling toward the athlete’s long-term athletic development, both from a physical and a mental standpoint.

The Physical

1. Establish Point A.

While athletic goals can be diverse, they all fall under the simple structure of getting from point A to point B in an efficient and appropriate manner. We need to be able to address the biggest differences between what an athlete’s current Point A is and what their potential Point B is, and provide them the skills to achieve them. It doesn’t matter what assessment system you use--just that you have the ability to identify where an athlete is the first time they are standing in front of you. For youth athletes, who may not know where their Point B is yet, it’s important that we give them a variety of motor skills that allows them succeed in a number of potential athletic goals years down the road.

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It’s our job to determine what lies within the arrow, and understand that if an athlete’s goals change, we have still put him closer to his new Point B than he was at the original Point A.

2. Give the athlete success.

Success is not something you can learn about on paper and enact. It is something you have to experience. While I understand it is not always practical depending on the schedule of your facility, in my opinion, it is important to give the athlete some type of training effect on Day 1. As a beginner athlete in the gym, success is given via the instant gratification of knowing that you got better today--in essence, you are one (small) step past Point A where you started. The sooner we can give an athlete confidence in their ability to execute the necessary motor skills in a gym to build strength, move more efficiently, and perform on the field, the sooner they will take ownership of their program and be able to convert what you are teaching them from their short to long-term memory.

3. Know which motor skills you want a youth athlete new to the gym to have in place.

Dan John’s basic human movement skills are a great place to start. Every advanced athlete, regardless of their sport, should be able to hip hinge, squat, push, pull, carry, and perform single-leg movements. While not all of these are always realistic to truly pattern in on Day 1, give the athlete the knowledge of and the physical basics of what you are trying to get them to do. In a baseball population, some of the most important movements will also include teaching the athlete true external rotation, scapular control, and the ability to safely get overhead. As an example, here’s a basic drill (usually included in the warm-ups) to educate athletes about where they should and should not be feeling exercises in their shoulder as their arm goes into external rotation.

4. Know which practical weight-room skills you want the athlete to have in place.

Identify the basic implements, grips, and stances used in your programming, and select exercises to teach these while also teaching the basic movement skills. A perfect example is an Anterior-Loaded Barbell Reverse Lunge, which teaches the athlete to get strong on one leg with an efficient lunge pattern, and also teaches them a front-squat grip with a barbell. We have to ask: How much of the overlap in the Venn Diagram can we get athletes proficient in, or at least give them a comfort level with, on Day 1?

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Another great example is a kettlebell goblet squat, as the athlete learns both the goblet grip and the squat pattern. As Eric has written in the past, barring any contraindication, a majority of Day 1 Cressey Sports Performers learn the trap bar deadlift, but many athletes new to lifting may need more direct work to effectively pattern the hip hinge component of a deadlift. One of my favorite exercises is a tall-kneeling banded hip hinge with a dowel. This teaching tool puts the athlete in a position where they cannot fail without knowing it, thanks to having a physical external cue in both places that are important to the hip hinge--hinging at the hips (the band) and maintaining a neutral spine (the dowel).

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The Mental

1. Put the athlete in an environment where they are comfortable and want to be.

For someone who has never been in a gym, it is important to schedule their assessment and first training session at a time when the gym is not busy. In order to really promote athletes taking ownership of their programming and truly wanting to pursue long-term athletic development, the gym needs to feel like a safe haven rather than an overwhelming place of chaos. The athlete could be coming from a difficult situation at home or in their personal life and it is our job to make the gym a place of comfort and enjoyment. If the gym is very slow/quiet, you might even have the athlete choose which music they want to listen to. The places we learn the best are the places we are the most comfortable and the happiest being in.

2. Assess the athlete in a way that tells them that you’ve seen, dealt with, and given success to many, many people just like them.

A majority of your athletes won’t have a clue what you’re looking at, but they’ll know if you come across as confident and sure of what you are seeing. In the baseball population at CSP, this is easy to portray to an athlete because they know the success that professional baseball players have had while training there. During the assessment, you might even be able to figure out whether the athlete is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, which will be invaluable when you are cueing the bigger movements.

3. Create context with the athlete that allows you and your staff to optimize your relationship with them, both as a person and an athlete.

Athletes are comfortable with coaches they know truly care about them, and, they respond best to cues that are already within their existing schemas. As coaches, we are always working to expand the amount of schemas we can tap into because we need to know what clicks best with the athlete. If talking about video games makes the athlete want to be there and listen to you, relate to them that way. If talking to a 14 year-old about why they don’t use Facebook anymore and how they only use Snapchat and Instagram is the best way to make them think you’re someone who’s cool to be around and worth listening to, then that’s the route you should take. The best time to create said context is when you are showing the athlete how to foam roll. The correctives/warm-ups and the lifts will be more task-oriented, and hopefully by that point you know what to talk about and how to talk to the athlete.

Conclusion

The challenge as a coach is choosing how much information you can give the athlete that they can actually retain. One of my favorite ideas to think about as a coach is Miller’s Law--the idea that a person can only hold approximately seven items in their working memory. At the end of the day, you can’t expect an athlete of any level to retain everything from their first training session, but you can give the athlete a concept of a few basic motor patterns and a few different grips, implements, and stances in the weight room. Most importantly, you can send that athlete home with the knowledge that they are one step closer to their goals.

If you're looking for more insights on training youth athletes, be sure to check out the International Youth Conditioning Association High School Strength and Conditioning Certification.

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About the Author

John O’Neil (@OneilStrength) is Director of Performance at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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