Teaching Athleticism: Turning the RAW Into SKILL

I have been around youth sports for many years now and I still get the opportunity to work with youth athletes in one on one and team environments. I am also able to talk to many of their coaches for whom they play for. The one thing that they tell me almost every time I talk to them is how many of their players have a lot of natural talent, but are very RAW with the talent they have. To me, this simply means that this talent is simply not being recognized in their athletic endeavor.

I just had the opportunity a week ago to work with an AAU basketball team made up of high school freshmen and sophomores. This particular group up to this point in their athletic career has had modest success. I also get a chance to work with a high school varsity team made up of all juniors and seniors who have had tremendous success and have won 3 league championships in a row. The funny thing about this is I truly believe after working with each group that the younger AAU team is a more athletic group than the much more successful varsity team. How can this be? I am sure the coaching of the game may have something to do with it. The one thing that I definitely can pinpoint from my point of view is that the athleticism “skills” of the older group are far better than the more athletic younger group. They run with better technique. They shuffle, backpedal, and change direction much more fluidly and smoothly. Their body control and coordination of movement patterns is much more advanced. The only difference with these groups is that the older varsity group had 2 years of regular, concentrated, high quality athleticism development under their belt, whereas the younger AAU group was basically just starting to go through this type of training modality.

This example of how a group of youth athletes who have every bit as much, if not more, raw ability than a more successful group, but aren’t nearly as successful, is a common one. I believe the solution to not have this occur is for the coach of any team to take initiative and teach the players a good foundation of fundamental athleticism skill development that focuses not on “conditioning” the athletes by only having them run aimlessly back and forth and doing agility drills just for the sake of doing them, but emphasizes the technique, grace, skill, and preciseness of athletic movements such as speed, multi-directional agility, and explosive jumping. This type of training done on a regular basis does wonders for the ability of the athletes and the success of the team.

Simply put, turning the RAW athlete into a highly SKILLED one is well worth the effort and just might be the biggest difference maker for the success of the athlete and team that there is!

A Plan To Keep Athletes Healthy

For four years, I had the opportunity to work with a collegiate baseball team during their off season program. I got to be on the inside and see the inner workings of what the coaching staff had in mind when it comes to developing their program. I know I played an important role in getting the athletes faster, quicker, and stronger, and ready for the rigors ahead that they will go through.

As important as the physical development is to these players, the head coach made it very clear to me what my number 1 role is: to do everything possible to maintain the health of the players and keep them injury-free! This goal doesn’t just consist of making sure they are healthy when they are training with me. This goal goes much deeper than that. It is to build up their bodies to stay healthy throughout the course of their season. This isn’t an easy task. It takes careful planning and a complete regimen to get the job done. I want to outline the important points that every athlete needs to take into consideration to make staying healthy and injury-free a priority:

1) Thorough Warmup: Before any practice or exercise regimen takes place, all athletes should complete a dynamic warmup. This is roughly 10 to 15 minutes in duration and goes through the phases of increasing blood flow, putting the musculature through movement stretches, and slowly progressing the intensity of these movements to eventually transition into the workout itself. This, by far, is a neglected area by many coaches and athletes and probably the number 1 cause for injuries to occur.

2) Progressive Athletic Training: There are many different types of speed and agility regimens that are plenty effective enough to get the job done, but progressing the athlete from simple to complex in both the short term (practice session) and the long term (entire season) is extremely important. Doing too much too soon or being too intense too soon will most likely lead to injury. The coach needs to give detailed thought on not only what drills to do, but the proper order and intensity with which to do them.

3) Consistent Recovery Modalities: This area encompasses many things such as getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night, eating regular meals and taking in good calories, living a successful and stress free life. These are very difficult barriers to achieve with many athletes, but making them aware of their importance is something every coach should do with the hope that the athletes will internalize their importance and bring them to life.

Playing sports at an intense, competitive level is a challenging endeavor to partake in and many times will lead to injury and poor health. If warmup, progressive training, and proper recovery are emphasized and executed, it will do wonders for keeping athletes healthy, injury-free, and keep these athletes where they belong: on the sports fields playing ball!

Training Athletic Focus and Expression

When it comes to training athletes, it is very easy to get caught up in what drills to use, how many sets and reps to have, etc… when it comes to designing programs. While I believe that these are very worthwhile questions to ask yourself, there are two points that seem to get overlooked in training sessions that could very well be the most important questions:

1. Are my athletes FOCUSED on what I am asking them to do?
2. When my athletes perform the drills, do I have a strong sensation that they are EXPRESSING their abilities to execute them at a high level?

Of all the sessions that I have trained athletes, my best training sessions by far are when the answers to these questions were an obvious “yes”.

Unfocused athletes in a great training program make that program look far from great. They have breakdowns in technique and show a lack of understanding of what they are asked to do. We as coaches need to demand that they put a priority on listening to instruction. When this type of focus takes place, considerable progress can be made.

On the topic of expression, one common trait that I see play out over and over is the athlete who might have enough natural talent to execute athletic skills, but because of qualities they possess like being shy or what I like to refer to as “athletically introverted”, they never get to a point where the skill is executed with any intensity or competitive desire to succeed on a playing field. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being shy or introverted, but I believe a coach who works with this type of athlete needs to encourage him/her to be more expressive with intensity, effort, hustle, desire, and competitive instinct. This encouragement by the coach by no means should be confrontational. It should take place in a “matter of fact” non-confrontational type of way so the athlete understands where the coach is coming from and feels encouraged and empowered to express these traits.

I have seen many coaches work with athletes over my lifetime and one thing that I have observed on many occasions is the great coach has a tremendous ability to get athletes to focus and show athletic expression at high levels. We are in the business of getting athletes to perform up to potential and bringing these 2 qualities to life are huge in making that happen on a consistent basis.

Youth Athlete Sport Specialization: Good or Bad?

The idea of a young athlete specializing in a sport for an entire year or at least a good portion of it seems to be more common than ever. I know of parents who are sold on the idea of making sure their young son or daughter has a chance to develop their skill set in soccer, hockey, baseball, etc. with the hopes of taking their athletic career as far as possible. To do this, these young athletes are playing a sport at the club level basically all year around.

Is this right?

I don’t think it would be fair of me to answer yes or no to that question without knowing more facts. What I do feel the need to discuss are the 4 key concerns I have when a youngster is going about his/her sports activities this way:

1. HAVING FUN- Many think that having fun is the direct opposite of tough competition. Truth is that they can both be present at the same time. When an athlete is on an advance club team that has high goals and ambitions, there still needs to be an environment present that is fun and enjoyable to be in. I believe in the importance of keeping both of these present simultaneously and kids should be questioned regularly if they are having fun and feeling good about being in this competitive environment.

2. DEVELOPING ATHLETICALLY- I have always been of the belief that sports skills aren’t as complex as many people think they are. The female soccer player wanting to develop her goalie skills, the baseball player wanting to perfect his hitting swing, or the football quarterback wanting to improve his throwing accuracy are all important parts of development that these athletes should spend time on, but in many cases at the youth level, I witness these skills attempting to be developed only with incredibly high amounts of practice hours without any other type of training. Time does need to be spent on sport skill development, but just as much time should be spent on developing athleticism (speed, quickness, agility, strength, power, body control, flexibility). This to me is the big area of need at the youth sport level that isn’t being addressed by the masses properly. It is of my strong opinion that developing this athleticism should be of much higher priority than developing specific sports skills with youth athletes, especially if there are aspirations of longer, more successful athletic careers.

3. PLAYING MULTIPLE SPORTS- No matter how much an athlete loves a certain sport, we are all susceptible to burnout if we do one thing in excess. Playing more than one sport is a great way to satisfy the competitive juices we have and be exposed to other forms of competition and challenges. This is one theme that is shared by almost every successful coach that I know. As proud as they are of their sport they coach, without hesitation they acknowledge the fact that playing multiple sports is a better option than just specializing in one.

4. TAKING TIME OFF- As human beings, we all need to recharge our batteries from any one specific stimulus done over a period of time. As a long time football coach, I love the idea of being immersed in football and thinking about trying to improve my program any way possible, but even with this motivation, I need a good couple of months after a season ends to take time away from it and smell the roses. From an athletes perspective, they should feel refreshed and energized going into an athletic season. and taking time off to do so should be encouraged.

I know of many very good, high qualified coaches who coach youth club sports that do a wonderful job of coaching kids in a very positive way. This is definitely not an article that attacks these coaches in any way, but in my observations of these sport situations and the way the masses of parents perceive their use to their children, I have seen certain patterns of thought that come about that are concerning to me. I would hope that these concerns of mine stimulate thought in any parents that have children in these sport situations for the sake of improving their sport activities in a variety of ways.

Diversity and Functionality In Your Strength Training

It is pretty well agreed upon by the athletic community that strength training is a necessity to maximize performance. Weight rooms and fitness gyms are populated by many athletes with the goal of getting stronger and more powerful. The amount of information in books, videos, or on the internet regarding the best methods to use for this goal is astronomical. It is rather easy to come across effective and useful information on the topic.

When putting together strength training regimens for clients, a word that permeates my mind is DIVERSITY. Having athletes experience and master strength exercises that progress from simple to complex and utilize different types of equipment is a preferred way by many professionals to attack this training modality. Body weight exercises (push-ups, body weight squats, lunges) are usually a great way to start the process. Getting dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells, and medicine balls into the regimen by using an intelligent progression after a base of body weight strength is a very good way to continually improve the strength component of an athlete.

Another common theme that needs to be evident in this training is FUNCTIONALITY. Do the exercises in the regimen allow the athlete to express their strength in meaningful athletic ways? Most sports are played while standing and also require the body to perform movements that are multi-joint in nature. A good majority of strength exercises performed should mimic this. As an example, performing repetitions of a medicine ball squat to an explosive chest pass throw is performed standing and is a multi-joint dynamic activity and fits the functionality description. On the flip side, doing a seated barbell curl obviously is not a standing activity and is only a single joint movement which makes it rather unfunctional.

When developing a strength component into your regimen, there are many options to choose from. The key concepts to consider are perform movements that progress from simple to more complex, start with simple bodyweight exercises and over time utilize more complex movements and equipment, and check that the movements you perform are considered as being athletically functional. These concepts are important to maximize the athlete’s strength and apply that strength functionally in whatever sport the athlete is playing.

Training For Speed: The Key Ingredient

What is the key ingredient missing from this speed training session? REST! When any athlete is being trained to develop pure speed, the most common element needs to be rest. All the great speed coaches out there emphasize letting their athletes get thoroughly recovered after a sprint before another sprint is executed. A common rule of thumb used by the top of the line speed coaches is one minute of rest for every 10 yards sprinted. As an example, an athlete doing a series of 40 yard sprints who truly wants to improve speed should have 4 minutes of rest between sprints. To many people, that may seem excessive, but the body needs to be extremely close to 100% recovered to make any meaningful gains in pure speed development. In most sessions I witness, rest periods are much shorter than this and endurance is brought into the equation too much to make speed development possible. There is nothing wrong with a coach having athletes run sprints with short rest periods as a form of higher intensity endurance training, but if pure speed acquisition is the desired goal: think REST!

Athletic Movement Quality

Athletes at the youth level all the way through the professional ranks are always looking for ways to get faster, quicker, and more agile. There are numerous ways to go about achieving these needed qualities to improve athletic performance. Sprint, cone, and reaction drills are being done in a variety of ways to get the bodies of these athletes to get a step faster, or react a bit quicker. While I like most of the drills I see coaches have their athletes do in this regard, the one thing that I believe lacks in these training sessions is coaching the detailed skills and coordination that comes with these movements.

Any athleticism movement that athletes perform should be broken down as a coordinated skill that needs to be broken down by the coach in detail and taught as such. One thing I see constantly are sport skills being taught with great detail, but when it comes to general athletic movements like sprinting, shuffling, backpedaling, changing direction, etc… the detailed approach to teaching them goes out the window. In reality, these movements are skills just as any sport skill like throwing a ball,  swinging a bat, or shooting a basket are.

As an example of this, let’s take a speed session where we will have our athletes perform a series of sprints to get faster. Let’s say that we decide to have the athletes run six 30-yard sprints. What I see a lot in this scenario are coaches who line their athletes up, encourage them to run hard, blow a whistle to get them started, and try to hurry through them to get them done as fast as possible. There are many errors with this approach and while it does some good for the fitness of the athletes, it does very little to improve speed and teach these athletes proper speed technique.

Sprinting cues before each sprint is ran should be emphasized to focus the athletes mind on certain techniques that they should be concentrating on. It could be a lower body cue such as “punch the knee” or “push down and back through the ground”. It could also be an upper body cue such as “elbows down and back” or “chest tall when in top end phase”. Now the athletes have a focus on the actual skills of developing speed and can run these sprints with a detailed plan of working on them to get faster. Also, there is a rule in speed training which states that if speed acquisition is the desired goal for the day, then for every 10 yards sprinted, one minute of rest is needed. Hurrying athletes to finish these sprints to teach toughness or live by the “no pain, no gain” theory is counter productive to get athletes faster.

Taking a coordinated skills approach to teaching athleticism is a solid way of improving athletes. When the variables of total volume of workout and rest in between repetitions are also thought out correctly, athletes are now in a situation where they can improve greatly and enjoy the process of becoming the best athlete they can be.

The Purpose of GET ATHLETIC

I have been around youth athletics for many years now. There are so many positive qualities in this environment with the best one being seeing kids have a pure love for playing sports. That needs to be the case because without that existing, nothing else is really important.

A big part of this “fun” for many youth athletes is the competition that comes with it. Being on a team and trying to be victorious over another team is exciting. Catching a touchdown, hitting a home run, or making a game winning basket or soccer goal are all part of this competitive fun that makes sports so great to think about and play.

With a good number of these youth athletes and their family units, there comes a time where this competitive fun and the enjoyment that comes with it gets a bit more serious. The idea of playing a sport at a higher level and possibly being the star player on a high school team or getting an athletic college scholarship becomes a very real goal and even a life priority. To reach this desired goal, many families go the extra mile for their children to get them specialized training in their desired areas. The baseball player goes to a personal hitting or pitching instructor. The basketball player sees a shooting coach. The football player goes to a specialized position camp. This instruction and camps are for the purpose of exposing these youth athletes to more individualized quality coaching. The majority of these activities do a very nice job of doing just that and provide a good answer for the youth athlete to improve their skills.

When you analyze these sport activities beyond their specific skills and look at the general characteristics they possess, “dynamic movement” is such an important area that an athlete truly needs to have to be as successful as possible. Running fast with great technique and coordination, being quick and agile in a variety of directions using all types of different movement patterns, and expressing a high level of strength, power, and explosion during the execution of sport skills are extremely valuable qualities to have. While there are training solutions to help youth athletes possess these important qualities, they are much fewer in number to the skill development solutions that are present across the youth athlete population.

This was the fuel that excited me to open GET ATHLETIC. Training youth athletes to be faster, quicker, more agile, stronger, more powerful and explosive, and possess better body control and coordination for the purposes of taking their athletic career as far as they wish to take it to make their goals and dreams a reality is a passion of mine and has been for quite some time.

In talking to numerous high level high school and collegiate coaches over the years, the constant that I hear more than I wish to is the most common athlete they come across is the skilled athlete who isn’t as athletic as he/she needs to be. Examples are the baseball player who has a beautiful swing but not enough power to make a difference at the higher levels of competition; the football running back who is a Pop Warner star but not fast or strong enough to make it beyond high school even though he dreams of being a pro one day; the female softball pitcher who has sound mechanics and a knack for how to pitch, but doesn’t throw hard enough to realistically have her career could go beyond high school even though she dreams of getting a scholarship. These situations are very real and play out across the country on a yearly basis. Lack of enough athleticism is usually the problem in most of these cases. It is too easy for someone to think that these particular athletes “just don’t have what it takes” to play beyond a certain level. That description just doesn’t sit well with me. They need a real solution and our company GET ATHLETIC provides a very real solution for these problems to keep these athletes loving their sports and pursuing their goals and dreams with realistic chances of achieving them.

This blog will be dedicated to provide youth coaches, youth athletes, and their families quality information on athleticism training. Examples of topics I want to cover are:

– the best training methods used to get faster, quicker, and stronger.

– training regimens for the off season, pre season, in season that are thorough, but also are time effective and don’t put a burden on a coach’s practice plan.

– detailed drills and coaching points to get athletes highly athletic and explosive in a safe efficient manner.

– warm-up, recovery, and nutrition concepts that are key to keeping athletes healthy and at their best on a daily basis

– having an open forum with you, the readers, discussing questions and concerns you may have in these areas. I believe a blog is  only as good as the relationship between the writer and the readers and I want to encourage this relationship to be evident with good honest open discussions. Please feel free to respond to posts as often as you wish to.

This blog will also make the readers aware of all events and activities that we provide at GET ATHLETIC to fulfill our objective of making youth athletes as highly athletic as possible. Thank you for being a blog subscriber and I look forward to our journey ahead!

Let’s GET ATHLETIC!

Ron

1 2 3