DEVELOPING THE YOUNG ATHLETE-A GUIDE FOR PARENTS and COACHES

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As coaches and trainers we all THINK we want to work with athletes -specifically college and pro. Seems sexy, however it's more than meets the eye - I’ve literally had to teach 18 yr olds how to skip. That being said, let's consider what age groups most of the athletes realistically fall into. The answer is middle school and high school (a very small percentage -think less than 10%- of HS athletes go on to play college sports and only 1% of them play professionally). At those ages, proper development is of the utmost importance. Without a solid foundation-nothing of significance can be built.

In life we tend to build things that mimic how our brains and bodies work. Sometimes it's mind blowing how coincidentally that happens. Not as surprising we tend to blend geometric shapes into our thinking paradigms -the food pyramid, pyramid sets, etc.

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We can use a pyramid to breakdown the training/athletic development building blocks. As a former collegiate strength and conditioning coach, nothing made me happier than an athlete that came to me fully prepared or able to squat, hinge, do a proper push up, chin up, pull-up, sprint, jump, change directions, and generally just be able to move and control their own bodyweight. Being strong and stable through their midsection as well having a sense of spatial and movement awareness were nice bonuses. Conversely, nothing was more frustrating and time consuming than an athlete that had zero ability to handle their own body weight-leading to difficulty in performance of even the most simplistic movement.

The following are 6 “ingredients” of a properly designed developmental sports performance program.

1. Core stability-the ability to control and sequence movement as well as resist movement

2. Strength-Body Weight- the ability to perform all the basic human movements correctly - Squat-Hinge-Push-Pull-Crawl and be in single leg stance

3. Balance-being comfortable in single leg stance as well as exhibiting the ability to slow yourself down

4. Footwork-establishing the neural pathways to move the feet quickly and accurately

5. Agility- ability to react to stimulus and change directions in a coordinated fashion without the need to slow down

6. Speed/Power: aka the ability to run fast and jump high. More scientifically, to produce force rapidly and use that force to display velocity in movement

Putting this all together

Allow me to piece it together (and get ready to see how my brain works)

Plain and simple, A proper developmental training program builds bodyweight strength and core stability from the center out. Incorporating age appropriate, self limiting exercise, with the unique  demands it imposes,  involuntary creates an environment  whereas when the demands have exceeded the athlete’s capabilities the athlete  will have to regress back to the point where exercise meets ability. This allows for safe progression with a diminished risk of injury.

One of my primary directives as a coach is to establish in athletes the ability to resist movement and control their bodies in what I call the demonstration of stability in the presence of movement. More succinctly put-simultaneous stability and mobility. And that’s just a small portion of the overall workout. My philosophy is also predicated around the incorporation of single leg work, hip/ glute work, hip hinging, squatting, single leg balance, rotation, pressing, pulling, anti-rotation, and even crawling. There’ll be movements you’ve never seen-however rest assured that they’re all included with the idea of better human movement leading to greater athletic potential. A three dimensional approach to overall athletic development. Much easier written than done, but simplicity is usually the best policy, especially when dealing with someone of a low training age.

Lastly,  training should be fun!! Without fun, what’s the point? Without fun, especially for the young athlete, you as a coach will be constantly fighting an uphill battle of compliance. If you can figure out how to incorporate “what they want, with what they need” in a fun, competitive atmosphere, you’ll find that most athletes have that extra gear that we all seek when it’s time to train.

Have fun, train with purpose!