Month: June 2017

“More is Better”…You’re Doing More Harm than Good.

The world of youth sports is as competitive as ever.

The notion that “more is better” is being forced down the throats of young athletes in an effort to be at the top of their game.

The problem? It’s not producing the results that were intended.

Coaches, parents, and trainers are pushing over-scheduled children into more specialized programs. Improvement is marginal and children are burning out and suffering from over-use injuries.

The result is an increase in non-trauma related injuries due in part to a lack of fundamental skill and athletic development.

According to the NCAA an average of only 0.16% of all High School Athletes move on to play in the professional ranks. With these kinds of odds, one would think the primary focus of activity for our young athletes would be overall development and fun. In most cases, it’s not.

Seriously, think about an average day or week of your young athlete…6 to 7 hours of school followed by 1 and sometimes 2 separate sporting practices, homework and then off to bed. All to be repeated the next day. Add in lack of sleep, poor nutritional habits and no social outlet and this paints a very scary picture.

Yes, times and society has changed. Yes, there is a lack of free play and more emphasis on academics. Yes, there is a shift from recreational sports to high pressure club and travel teams.  But, all in all, there is one constant…Kids are still developing and constantly changing human beings. They need be dealt with accordingly.

So parents…what’s the solution?

1.)  Slow and safe before fast and fancy. Beware of any program, team or skills clinic that is not based in a well-rounded variety of fundamental skill development.  The younger the athlete, the more basic the activities and should have the most emphasis on encouragement and fun.

2.)  Age appropriate. Look for programs that treat your young athletes right.

  • 6-9 year olds should be exposed to outcome based coaching. Outcome based coaching utilizes very little cueing or technique modifications if any.
  • 10-13 year olds should be introduced to outcome based coaching as well with about 25% more actual coaching of skill sets with simple instructions. 
  • 14 year olds and up should be coached with more emphasis on skill development with injury prevention and long-term success and the primary goals.

3.)  Back off. 3-4 games in one day is needless. Practices 6 days per week for 2-3 separate sports teams is a very real scenario and needs to be avoided. A young athlete in this situation engages in more structured practices than professional athletes and they are no doubt headed for injury. Reduce an over-loaded schedule and allow for rest, recovery and…wait for it…time to be a kid.

4.)  Think long term. Over scheduling and over specializing will place a premature cap on achievement and will cause over use injuries. Developing even the most talented young athletes takes time and no short cuts can be taken. Allow and encourage your athletes to play multiple sports to minimize repetitive motion injuries and over compensation.

To hammer this home. Let’s use our education system as an analogy. A child who seems to be skilled in mathematics would not be encouraged to drop other subjects and only concentrate on math. In addition, having great success in math in 1st grade would not result in skipping grades 2-6 to engage in 7th grade algebra.

Skipping steps will only result in a lack of ability and increase the risk of injury.

When in doubt, think of moderation and variety and create as much time for un-coached play time as possible. No matter the age…play and fun is a great way to stay active. As stated above, the odds of “going pro” are limited so make sure you are setting your children up to live an active life, loving exercise.

5 Keys to Training Today’s Female Athlete

Generally speaking, there aren’t and shouldn’t be many differences in training male and female athletes.

Every athlete needs to be strong, powerful, fast, and athletic. They need to be mobile, stable, and certainly conditioned. Most importantly, they need to be healthy so they can produce results on the field or court when it matters most!

But after 8 years and coaching thousands of female athletes, I’ve picked up a few tips that can help you create a culture that allows female athletes to thrive.

1. Build A “Buy In” Culture 

In order to get the most out of your female athletes, you must connect with them and engage them in the process in order to achieve great results.

The coach needs to create buy in from both coaches and athletes from day one. There is a saying “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” This applies when training female athletes.

Yelling and hollering doesn’t usually work well with groups female of athletes. But once they understand you’re there to help them succeed, you will get their full attention and commitment.

Getting athletes to engage from the time they walk in the weight room or on the field and court is important to the overall success of the program. This starts from the moment they walk in the door by asking them about their day, their upcoming practice, their exams, etc.

It’s easy to have these conversations while the athletes are gathering, warming up, and doing activities such as foam rolling, stretching, and mobility/movement prep as a team. This often leads to questions, which is the perfect time to educate the team in the areas of fitness, nutrition, and training.

2. Reduce Injuries with Purposeful Drills and Exercises 

The number one goal of any strength and performance program at the high school level should be to reduce the frequency and severity of injuries. Young female athletes have a high incidence of ACL injuries, with 85% being noncontact.

Some simple but effective exercises to be done daily include:

  • Mini hurdle hopping and landing skills (linear, lateral, rotational) both single and double leg
  • Mini band walks (forward, backward, lateral)
  • Squat patterns (single and double leg)
  • Ham/glute/hinge patterns (single and double leg)
  • Deceleration drills such as lunges and change of direction

Athletes involved in overhead sports such as volleyball, softball, tennis, and swimming should include additional exercises for the shoulder and core to reduce the repetitive stress that can lead to overuse injuries. These can include:

  • External and internal rotation exercises for the shoulder
  • Scapular retraction and stabilization exercises
  • Vertical standing core exercises (lifts, chops, anti-rotational presses)
  • Med ball throws (over, diagonal, and side tosses)

3. Create Team Training Times

Training as a team at scheduled times is especially beneficial for female athletes. This can often be an awkward and challenging age for young athletes, so being alongside teammates can make the experience more comfortable.

I have found that having girls train alongside each other creates a positive group dynamic and ideal training culture.

They will work harder and encourage each other more than if they were on their own.

4. Create well-rounded athletes 

We are living in an era of athlete specialization, which is not going away.

The coach can play a big role in helping develop athleticism by including a wide variety of training and movement skills into the program, and not focusing on only sport-specific skills.

Including a wide array of drills and exercises will enhance overall athleticism. Programs should include:

  • Strength
  • Power
  • Change of direction
  • Aerobic conditioning
  • Speed
  • Acceleration/deceleration

5. Develop Both Physical and Mental Strength 

Training is a perfect environment for building confident young women with positive self-esteem. These positive habits will carry over both on and off the athletic field.

Through goal setting and consistent hard work, athletes will see progress both on and off the field.

Helping your female athletes become successful on and off the field is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a high school coach.

When your female athletes are lifting and training as good as or better than the boys, you have created the optimal training facility.

Don’t be Responsible for Another Statistic

More than ever, female athletes are playing sports, striving to win, and earning college scholarships.

They’re sacrificing quality training time with sports performance coaches like us to play another season of AAU basketball, club soccer and showcase softball.

So, we’ve got to do OUR part and educate and empower coaches and parents alike to not only help athletes reach their potential, but also prevent them from LIMITING their potential due to injury. While we cannot prevent all injuries, experience and education have shown us we can certainly have a major hand in preventing many of them due to inadequate strength and body control.

If you’re looking for a complete system for training today’s female athlete, we hope you consider the work we’ve done, the programs we’ve developed and the athletes we have helped–3500 a year and counting. We’re hoping to set-up a time to talk about how we can help you and your female athletes on-site at your school this season!

5 Rules for In-Season Strength Training

Strength training is still a greatly underutilized aspect of preparation in many programs and even more neglected during the actual playing season (especially among spring sports baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer).

Strength is an attribute that can diminish very quickly. In as little as three weeks your players may have a noticeable decrease in strength. That means every week that goes by, your team is getting weaker. Come playoff time your team will be physically at their weakest when you need them at their strongest. 

The goals of any in-season program are the same of any off-season program: Improve strength and power. In addition, making the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the body stronger will lessen the occurrence and/or severity of an injury (such as a pulled hamstring or rolled ankle), and keep your players on the field and court. You will also improve their performance on the field and court. The stronger your player is, the more force they can produce. The more force they can produce, the higher they can jump, the faster they can run, the quicker they can cut. 

1. Train Frequently

Realistically, you should train two days per week with higher intensities but lower volumes. 

You should use a limited number exercises (4-6 exercises) and sets during each workout (1-2 sets per exercise), while minimizing rest between sets.

Never skip an in-season workout. A 15-minute, one-set workout is better in the long run than a missed day of training. 

2. Train with Intensity

Intensity is the key to any training program, not volume, and this applies even more during the season.

Intensity is the most important factor in determining the results for your players. Below a certain level of intensity, strength training will have very minimal benefit. 

It is recommended that each set is taken to the point of muscular failure (at which no additional reps can be completed). An appropriate repetition range (8-15 reps for most high school players).

3. Total-Body Workouts

Your in-season program should address the major muscle groups (legs, hips, core, and upper torso) as well as paying special attention to the most injury-prone areas (ankles, knees, groin, lower back, and shoulders). 

See number one and two above. High intensity, low volume. Limited exercises, 1-2 sets per exercise.

4. Minimize Risk

You should only use the safest exercises available, and do your best to make sure that all workouts are properly supervised.

Players should always perfect exercise technique and form prior to utilizing additional resistance or weight.

Players should perform every movement in a slow, controlled tempo with special emphasis focused on the lower portion of each exercise.

5. No Excuses

Athletes hate in-season lifting. Painful, but necessary.

Don’t give your players “choices” of lifts. 

Don’t let your players sudden injuries fool you. If athletes are too injured to lift, they are too injured to play. You’ll be amazed how fast kids get healthy.

Sample In-Season Strength Training 

  • A Pushups (chest, triceps)
  • A Pullups (back, biceps, forearms)
  • B Dumbbell Shoulder Press (shoulders)
  • B Dumbbell Bent-Over Row (back)
  • C One Legged Dumbbell Squat (hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and calves)
  • C Lateral Lunge (glutes, quadriceps, adductors, abductors)
  • D Plank Position T-Rotations (core)
  • D Medball Woodchopper (core)

4 Key Thoughts on Speed, Agility, and Quickness Training

The majority of sporting outcomes are largely dependent on speed, agility, and quickness. 9 times out of 10, the faster athletes win. On the field. On the court. Those athletes come out on top.

The fact remains, these athletic traits are absolute “game changers”!

Today’s post will highlight 4 key thoughts specific speed, agility, and quickness.

1. Footwear absolutely matters.

First and foremost, we need to begin with footwear. What’s on your feet affects your performance, as it directly impacts how well you will be able to transfer the force you put into the ground into forward momentum or change of direction.

If you’re in heavier shoes, good luck trying to “feel” fast.

If you’re in shoes with large heel-to-toe drops, they tend encourage severe heel striking and might contribute to knee injuries.

Most importantly, if you’re in shoes without the right amount of width and lateral support, have fun trying to change directions. This has been the biggest issue with some of the “minimalist” shoes on the market; athletes will actually roll out of the shoes during changes of direction besides the fact that they are performing the exercise perfectly. 

Before you concern yourself about cutting-edge training programs and coaching cues, make sure begin with wearing proper footwear.

2. It’s easier to make a fast guy strong than it is to make a strong guy fast.

I heard the quote above during a recent presentation on speed and strength training.

Plenty of athletes are blessed with natural athletic ability – even in the absence of what one might say “good strength.” These types of athletes thrive even more when you get them stronger.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ll find athletes who are very strong but do not exhibit that force quickly. They need to spend much more time training speed than they do continuing to build strength.

The “fast guy getting stronger” happens much quicker than the “strong guy getting faster”. There are a lot of different reasons this is the case, but at the end of the day, I think the biggest one is that it’s difficult to teach an athlete to relax.

Guys who are naturally fast seem to “accidentally” know how to relax and turn off unwanted muscular tension. Guys who are naturally strong usually resort to sheer force to try to solve every problem. 

3. Quality of movement falls off with a growth spurt – but proper training can help minimize that drop-off.

It’s not uncommon to see some horribly uncoordinated athletes on the field or court, especially during puberty and their growth spurt. 

The dramatic shift in bone growth versus that of muscles and tendons in athletes ages 12-15 explains why kids who dominated the youth league often don’t make it as high-level high school or collegiate athletes. Being a Youth League all-star doesn’t predict being a National Football League all-pro very well.

Here’s the good news…we can help minimize that drop-off in athleticism by incorporating proper training principals. As always, playing multiple sports that provide a wide range of movements is crucial. Integrating mobility drills and coaching athletes on proper movement quality is essential as well. Finally, strength training must not be overlooked. Strength training will go a long way in improving movement skills. Some of the best times to get into a entry-level strength training program is at ages 11-12, even if its just 1-2 times per week.

4. Good movement training programs need a mix of coaching and competitiveness.

To get faster, I think it’s important to have both coaching and competition components in your training. Obviously, you have to coach athletes into higher quality movements or you’re just reinforcing bad movement patterns. 

But, I also think there is something to be said about shutting up and just letting athletes run fast, be athletic, and compete with each other. Most elite athletes train as part of groups, not individually. Athletes push each other to get better. Timing, mirror drills, chase drills are great ways to incorporate competitiveness into the training program.

Ideally, you need to get a little bit of both coaching and competition in every movement training session. As I look at most of our typical sessions, we are very coaching intensive when introducing a new skill or drill. As athletes improve, we make our final progression of each skill or drill competitive.

Overview

Speed, agility, and quickness training are very broad topics, so I’m really just scratching the surface with these 4 key thoughts. If you’re looking for more resources or ready to get started with a training program today, I recommend that you reach out or visit www.trueap.com. True Athlete Performance is one of the area’s leading programs in the field of speed, strength and conditioning.

Losing Blows

Losing Blows.

Strike a nerve? I’m happy to have your attention.

But honestly, losing truly blows.

 I hated losing when I was a kid and it hasn’t changed now that I am an adult. But losing is a part of life and it is certainly a part of athletics. No matter what, every time two teams take the field or the court, one of them will lose.

How you handle defeat and how you carry yourself after a loss speaks about who you are as a person. It reveals your true character… even more than winning does. Your true character comes to light during adversity.

Don’t get me wrong, losing should hurt and you should feel disappointed. If it doesn’t hurt then it doesn’t matter, and if it doesn’t matter… why even play?

Feeling hurt and disappointed is OK. Don’t hide from your emotions. Embrace them for a short period of time. Then, find a way to allow it to motivate you. You need to get back to work. Losing, isn’t permanent.

Losing is never an excuse to be a bad teammate, to give up coaching your team, to make excuses or to show poor sportsmanship.

Don’t let losing define you – as a player, as a coach, or as a person.

We live in a competitive world. Competitiveness itself is not a negative trait, but learning to lose graciously is a very, very difficult skill (one, I’m still working on it)… but it is necessary as a player, a coach, and a person.

Challenge! Will you commit to being resilient…to teaching your athletes to be resilient? Resiliency sets athletes up for success because they learn that failure isn’t the end of the world. It’s just a chance to get back to work and to try again.

6 Keys to Developing Mental Toughness

Here is a list of my six keys to mental toughness:

  1. Creating Interest and Keeping It – I use a simple metaphor to build interest. I tell athletes to see sports participation like putting pennies in a piggy bank. Every time they show up to practice, that investment pays off with wins in the future. After students see their time as valuable, it is harder for them for them to quit or to give less than 100%. Your team will feel like they have invested so much, they will go the extra mile when the time comes to dig deep.
  1. Model/Encourage Consistency – Show your team what it means to have a confident attitude by continuing to do what you say you are going to do. Your athletes will see you as a consistent force in their life. They will want to honor that commitment by upholding their end of the bargain. Your team will have the tools to avoid the pitfalls of modern life, as they model your ‘show up’ consistency. Your team will see you as a beacon to follow, a consistent hero.   
  1. Proper Goal Setting – Develop the Why – Setting goals with your team allows you to define where you want them to go as a unit and as individuals. Without a clear destination, nobody gets where they want to go. Setting goals allows teams to judge progress and arrive at a specific destination.  Learning goal setting is one of the strongest benefits of any sports program. Athletes get tools that carry them far beyond sports. What it would be like to congratulate your team for reaching their goal of a championship season?     
  1. Expect and Prepare for and Dealing with Adversity – Learning to handle adversity is one of the key skills a human needs to learn. To become a high-achiever, athletes must learn to use tools for handling adversity. To be honest, achievement equates to adversity. True mental toughness comes from the ability to stay positive and on task at the worst of times. Teaching this to your teams will be a part of your legacy as a coach.
  1. Process oriented not ends oriented – Accomplishing goals is about achieving tiny things over time. Athletes learn that it’s not all about winning. It’s more important to show up and over time you will win through the application of the process. Focusing on the process rather than focusing on results fosters maturity. Establish a system to deliver small victories on a regular basis. These steps lead to guaranteed achievement.
  1. Hold Yourself Accountable and Steer From Excuses – Excuses allow athletes to veer from the process of achievement. Teaching accountability empowers students to lean into accomplishing their goals. This installs a tiny version of their coach in the student’s head. The ‘Tiny Coach’ challenges them to fight through adversity and steer clear of excuses. If you can teach a student to choose a positive road when an authority figure gives them a reason to quit, you will have turned a child into an adult.   
  1. Having and keeping the right attitude – The athlete with the best approach to his attitude will win every game, even if he gets outscored. Attitude is the foundation of every aspect of sports from training to game-day. Teaching attitude comes before you teach a kid how to score. If your kid has a bad attitude, you don’t have a player, you have a problem. We do not win by accident. Attitude gives birth to victory. It is in those moments where we have to dig into some untapped well of strength that we cross the line between student and champion.

Give the gift of grit, of learning to never give up. These things can be learned, just like we can learn to catch a ball or run a pass route.

Realize that mental toughness can be coached, learned, and applied!