Perception is reality, youth athletes often lack the passion for training. And often females struggle more with the training aspect of playing a sport than males.
Two of the biggest challenges we see in athletes during training:
- The Question: “Why are we doing this, we would never do this in a game?”
- Lack of effort in a training exercise due to lack of understanding of its role in a game.
Both of these are obviously of the same nature yet sometimes as coaches we lose sight of the importance of understanding why we do things and how athlete’s psychologically choose to apply their efforts accordingly. In other words, if an athlete doesn’t see how a particular training element applies to their sport they are more likely to not try hard.
Remember when you were in school, or in a professional development class, and you thought to yourself that whatever you were learning was a waste of time and stupid because it would never be used in your life or job? Well, athletes are no different when it comes to training. They feel they just need to practice and play more to be better at their sport.
Athletes should be taught with vertical, horizontal and synergistic alignment for both clarity and motivation. Just as we hope the middle school and JV coaches are aligned with specific varsity skills coaching (for a smooth transition, reduced learning curve time and increased IQ) the same thing applies in Athletic Development.
It is our job as coaches to teach our athletes the importance of training so they become passionate about it as part of their athletic career. Most athletes love to play their sport(s), great athletes love to train because they understand the benefit and they have made it an important part of their program.
Some aspects of training are obvious yet others are seemingly just unnecessary work… and sometimes they are if the program curriculum has not been appropriately planned according to need. We call all aspects of training and practicing “stress” bouts. If each of these bouts of stress are not calculated and playing a role in reaching a goal, they are a waste of stress and should be re-thought.
In 2016 we are now seeing a tremendous shift in the paradigm of training and how important the role of year-round athletic development is for youth athletes. It is crucial we properly educate athletes to understand the benefits of training to remain healthy, reduce the risk of injury and adequately progress athletically to simply keep up.
Here are a few simple techniques we have found extremely beneficial when teaching the correlation of training to sport application:
- Language: Use language that correlates certain movements directly to a movement in their sport, even using the same coaching cues you would use in practice.
- Time: Use time periods of rest-work ratios that are directly proportionate to those in a game.
- Dexterity: Associate dexterity in training to that of an offense/defense position to better understand the deficiency of being dominant on one side or losing the directional first step.
- Repetition: Explain that practice makes permanent, training multiple reps instills the neurological movement pattern to ensure the 1, 2, 3, or more times they may have to execute a movement in play they will be perfect at it.
- Speed: Again, practice makes permanent and the only way to go fast is to train fast so if your kids are jogging or only giving 50% effort during training drills, that is how they are training to execute.
Remember, the more creative you become in teaching your athletes why and how training is important, the better, healthier athletes you will have.
Proper Training Programs for the Rotational Athlete (ex. baseball, softball, tennis, golf, swimming)
Athletic Development and Sports Performance has to be approached from a developmental standpoint based on level, age, gender and purpose. It must be age-safe and age-appropriate. Basic Athletic Development fundamentals remain constant yet there are specific factors to be considered directly related to individual sport demands. These factors should be calculated and strategically implemented in order to safely meet the demands for the current and upcoming activity.
Training athletes for rotational sports requires a greater emphasis on balance in the development of the limbs, joints and core. Power is generated from the hips yet delivered to and by the limbs through the core and joints, which has to be accounted for when implementing a strength and speed training program.
We must keep in mind that different sports have different requirements to meet the specific rigors of that sport. Athleticism and speed can be taught, learned and practiced just as any motor skill yet the process of development should be carefully implemented based on anticipated competition, tests or performance.
The directional rotation adds another specific element of challenge for the rotational athlete as he or she becomes imbalanced due to the nature of their “one sided rotation” (right or left focus). This MUST be calculated and addressed through training protocols that begin with the proper warm up transitioning into training variations that build the necessary rotational capacity. Balancing rotational bouts and load has to be directly compensated for by performing equal and proportionate work on both sides of the body.
What all this means is if a baseball player throws and/or hits 200 times on their right side we absolutely must balance the body on the left side with adequate preparation, load and repetition. Injury frequently occurs for two primary reasons, overuse or lack of balanced training (undertraining) creating weakness and deficiency on one side of the body or a particular area. Over compensation due to weaknesses can be directly linked to overuse and/or opposing failure.
All of these factors must be considered when designing and implementing a training program for rotational athletes. Programs for the rotational athlete (baseball, softball, tennis, swimming, etc.) should include:
- Proper Warm Up – addressing the entire body
- Consistently developing fundamental strength and flexibility
- Dynamic Stretching – maintaining correct posture and rotation
- Start with the core, joints and fundamentals
- Rotator and scapula emphasis prior and post-training – rotations with bands
- Alternating position angles and stressors during training – front/back, left/right, push/pull
- Balancing single/double limb exercises – avoiding overloading
- Unloading the hips and shoulders post-training
- Weak-side compensation – addressing weak-side rotation with additional bouts as needed
- Wave loading periodization while maintaining year-round strength and conditioning
- Diversified training – keeping it interesting while training all aspects of the body thoroughly
- Maintaining athleticism during training at all times
At the end of the day, take time to teach, train smart and develop athletes with proper timing, form and progression understanding their exact needs. “It’s not about how much you know, it’s about how much you don’t know that is the issue.”
Why is Hydration Important for Athletes?
Summer is here and the heat is unavoidable. Hydration is something most coaches are very good about promoting. However, some athletes, even those who play indoor sports or winter sports, fall victim to dehydration.
Water is a macronutrient that supports metabolism, plays a big role in digestion and helps in thermoregulation (how your body regulates its temperature). It also helps lubricate joints and maintain proper cell and organ function.
Water has a big role in how our brains function. An athlete’s uncharacteristic loss of coordination could be a sign of dehydration. Have you experienced a time when dehydration was as impactful on the mental side of your athletes as it was on the physical?
Plain and simple, it can kill you. You could die. Fact. What starts with thirst, dry mouth, headache, and fatigue can lead to muscle cramps, dizziness, elevated heart rate, and unconsciousness. Dehydration is not something you want to play with.
Our thirst mechanism is simply our body’s way of telling us to drink water. Athletes should be in the habit of drinking more than their thirst demands. We don’t want their bellies sloshing, but if they hydrate properly this won’t be an issue. Once you’re thirsty you’re playing catch up. Proper hydration starts the day before the activity, not an hour before.
So how much water do we need? The exact amount depends on several factors including age, gender, and activity level, but 2-3 liters a day is a good estimation. Drinking too much is rare, you’re more likely to dehydrate than over-hydrate. Athletes need to prioritize taking in enough water and they probably need your reminder to make that happen.
A small portion of your water intake comes from food and other non-water drinks. That doesn’t mean eat a bunch of watermelon. Simply consider that a proper nutritional regimen, including fruits and vegetables, contributes to your daily water intake. Complex carbohydrates help us retain the water we drink, so having some carbs in the diet is also important for proper hydration.
The bottom line is, be diligent and disciplined about keeping hydration a priority. We have to put back in what our body sweats out and uses up. Make sure your athletes understand how water affects how they feel and how they perform.
There are two general categories of speed: linear speed and lateral speed. Lateral speed is oftentimes simplified as agility and quickness. A popular term for this is “change of direction” (COD). The ability to start, stop and start again at high speed is a critical factor in an athlete’s ability to put her in the best position possible to be successful. Here are 5 key points to remember for efficient change of direction:
1. Load and explode!
You load by getting low in the hips. If you don’t get low, the change of direction will be slow because you won’t have any leverage on your body weight. You can’t be high changing direction. Being too high will lead to balance issues and wasted time. After loading, coming out of it should be viewed as an explosion, much like being shot out of a cannon. Unload with power!
2. Transition your weight properly.
When shifting your weight, be sure to keep the hips between the knees and not let your weight, your center of gravity specifically; get away from the stability of your foundation. Don’t get top heavy and don’t let your hips get outside of your knees. Always squat when you stop and take your upper body and lower body down together.
3. Get the head around.
Wherever the head goes, the body will follow. Don’t forget: everything is connected. The eyes are an important part of this. Vision is important coming out of the turns, because it sets your balance. As you drive with your legs, use your eyes to find your target. If you keep your eyes down too close in front of you, you may stumble.
4. Get the hips around.
In a training scenario, ideally, you turn as you stop so that your hips are facing the direction you want to be going next. In a competition scenario, you simply need to get them around as soon as possible. Sometimes this must come after saving a ball. This is where strength training to get the hips more stable helps with speed.
Don’t lose the arms in all of this. Remember to keep them in a good position, to pump them and to keep them in. Be in control of your limbs. Don’t swing your arms recklessly when turning. If you aren’t controlling them and using them correctly, they are slowing you down.
Work on these basics and your lateral speed will improve.
Speed and Strength Training
The speed and strength with which skill is delivered is what determines the level of play. There is a major connection between speed and the weight room, and strength training should not be neglected.
Aside from the injury management element by developing the skeletal muscle to reinforce the joints and endure the stresses of physical competition, resistance training is essential to improving an athlete’s speed.
If speed is stride length times stride frequency, and stride length depends greatly on leg length, then stride frequency development becomes a major focus. Turnover and rapid, controlled acceleration and deceleration require muscular strength.
Muscles like the iliopsoas, the most powerful hip flexor in the body, need attention. The quad itself is comprised of four muscles and the hamstring is comprised of three muscles. All of the quad, hamstring and hip flexor muscles are responsible for getting things up, down and around. A lack of strength in these muscles directly translates to a lack of speed.
Strength programs should be designed to create a strength balance throughout the entire body. Dexterity is crucial for athletes, as the non-dominant side must be as thoroughly developed as the dominant side, especially for rotational athletes like volleyball, golf, baseball and softball players. Oftentimes the anterior side gets too much focus, so in general the posterior is left needing to be addressed.
Pay particularly close attention to strengthening the muscles involved in two critical athletic movements:
- Deceleration – specifically the braking mechanics of the athlete
- Landing – as from a jump
The quads and hamstrings need to be able to withstand a high volume of eccentric load. They must be strong enough to absorb the impact and keep the joints from being over extended.
There is no such thing as injury prevention, there is only injury reduction. We may not be able to address certain factors such as Q angle, hormonal influences, field or court conditions or opponent behavior, however proper strength training can help mitigate injuries and better prepare athletes for competition. If we address these issues in the weight room or on the practice field/court then our athletes will be safer and will perform better. Two things we all want!
Understanding the importance of strength training for the benefit of speed is a step toward comprehensive athletic development.
One question that sparks discussion amongst coaches and parents is how do they make their athletes faster? The conversation usually turns to whether they can be made faster or is someone just born fast or slow. Yes, a genetic predisposition toward speed is present in some athletes and is something to be nurtured, but at the end of the day it’s about maximizing genetic potential regardless of the natural ability.
With that said, every athlete can improve his/her speed through a blend of internal and external factors. Teaching kids proper technique and reinforcing those techniques through practice prepares them to be quicker to the ball and higher on the jump.
Improving speed is about applying power and technique. Power is the product of strength and speed. As science sophisticates our techniques for speed training, more athletes are benefiting from that increase of information. Internally, it is the natural growth and maturation process of a young person. From there, training stimuli imprinted through repetition help nurture the genetics. Genetics determine nerve impulse rates, muscle fiber types and combinations of muscular firing patterns – essentially: overall athleticism. Therefore, speed training should influence all of those factors as much as possible.
Remember, everything is connected.
Externally, speed training techniques are important because of the multitude of stressors the body experiences. Simply running as fast as you can as much as you can is counterproductive. Technical or developmental deficiencies repeated at high rates may cause imbalances in the body and lead to injury or other setbacks. Avoiding regression is key to any progression, especially with athletic development.
Part of making a person faster is building on a progression of training. If you are developing a youth athlete, technique is the first and only thing you should be concerned with. Their bodies are focused more on growing than competing, so don’t worry about setting land-speed records prior to puberty. Even after puberty, the fundamentals remain crucial. Your focus should be for the athletes to be as fundamentally sound as possible when they have reached proper maturity. Then they will be ready for even further physical development.
To a degree, this same concept can be applied to athletes that are getting a late start or have never been exposed to proper training techniques. When you take a sprinter with natural ability but has terrible technique, there is a great opportunity to improve speed immediately. Putting the body in correct posture, you are able to recruit the necessary muscle fibers to develop the aforementioned external factors.
Speed can be taught and you can never have too much speed!
Off-Season training is the time to really focus on strength and development.
Always keep in mind fundamental form and neurological development is more important than allowing poor form in an attempt to make greater gains. Early cognitive understanding with applied physical application will prove to be extremely valuable in the advancement of your off-season program. All too often coaches get overly concerned with expediting weight training with a sense of urgency, due to a lack of time, and neglect the basic necessity of teaching and good-old fashion fundamentals. If an athlete cannot do a proper push up or a body weight squat with proper form there is no reason to put them in a weight bearing situation. Never underestimate the value of simple body weight exercises and teaching proper form in your program; it can save you time, headaches and set-backs due to injury down the road.
Incorporating body weight exercises with traditional lifting in conjunction with Olympic progressions and full Olympic lifts provide a great foundation for an all-around strength program. In addition to traditional style lifting we have found the implementation of unorthodox training proves to be both psychologically and athletically beneficial. Adding med balls, bands, suspension training, kettlebells, tire flips, boxing, etc. to an off-season program provides differentiation and creativity. Additionally, we have found that with the allocation of one day a week to high intensity metabolic anaerobic intervals (20-30 second bouts with short rest) will condition, discipline and neurologically benefit yours athletes. These intervals just as your traditional lift intervals should be timed in accordance to work rest ratios that mimic that of your sport.
There are some key factors to consider when starting any program especially off-season:
- Total bouts on the body- all in school and outside school activities in a week
- Stress- total cumulative stress considering all facets of training, practice, skill, strength and conditioning, in addition to non-activity stress (school, social, home, etc.)
- Time frame- number of weeks or months until season begins
- Strategy- what are your goals based on previous results, current development and skill levels
- Progression- Incorporate load and unload workouts leading to maximum gains
- Emphasis- Focus on strength and development early and more on conditioning closer to season
- Balance- Alternate double limb and single limb compound movements
- Differentiation- Alternate barbell, dumbbell and machine lifts with traditional training and include unorthodox training
Off-season also provides the opportunity to emphasize the importance of proper nutrition, good sleep habits, avoiding overtraining and overall preparation. Do miss out on the best opportunity you have to get better. Off-season is an athlete’s best friend, get to know it!