Last week, we talked about just a few of the issues that come up when an athlete specializes too early.
Today, I want to talk about what a horribly disjointed approach most kids have to physical preparation and development.
Let’s start by talking about your “typical” young athlete nowadays.
The Big Problem
Even if they only play one sport, it’s not uncommon for this child to have half-a-dozen or more influences on their training program.
How is this possible?
- They have the sport coach at their high school.
- They have the sport coach for their club or AAU team.
- They often have a skills coach or trainer to help them improve on individual, sport-specific needs (ball handling, shooting, defense, etc.).
- If they’re high level they probably have a strength and conditioning coach (and that term is very important here).
- If they’re on the slow(er) side, they might have a speed and agility coach.
- And with a growing understanding of recovery or regeneration, they could have a massage therapist, a chiro, a physical therapist and/or athletic trainer, etc.
Can you see an issue here?
The term “too many cooks in the kitchen” comes to mind.
Quite simply if you have all of these people adding “stuff” to a kids program, how are they supposed to get better?
More importantly, when are they supposed to recover?
I’ve been in a similar situation before. A young gentleman who trained at IFAST was taking “weights class” at school, had a speed and agility coach, and on and on.
It wasn’t uncommon for this kid to come in and be totally smashed by the time his training session rolled around.
So what was I to do?
Crush him in the gym to make him feel like he got his money’s worth?
In fact, there were a handful of times where I literally had him go through his foam rolling, warm-up and correctives, then sent him home to get dinner, rest and relax.
Here’s the analogy I like to use when it comes to stress:
The amount of stress you can tolerate is like a big bucket. And when that big bucket starts to overflow, you’re going to have issues.
Excessive anxiety or stress.
Nagging injuries, aches and pains.
And here’s the kicker – you can’t just look at physical stress. Because all stress goes into the same bucket!
While we’re often quick to berate kids today as being “soft” or “weak,” I’d argue that kids of today are under more pressure and stress than ever before.
They are pushed to excel, both academically and athletically, very early on.
Just think about all the potential stressors kids have on a daily basis:
- School (getting good grades, studying, pleasing parents),
- Athletics (practice, games, travel),
- Family (living up to expectations, making parents proud),
- Friends (being “cool,” going through the ever-awkward adolescent years, etc).
Is it any wonder more kids are getting injured?
When you take all those stressors, and combine them with a disjointed program for physical development, it’s no wonder kids get injured.
Now if I left it here, I’d really leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.
But I really, truly believe there is a solution.
It’s not necessarily easy, and it’s not necessarily fast, but it can be done.
If our goal is to develop kids that are happy and healthy for a lifetime, here are a few goals to shoot for.
Play Multiple Sports
We talked about this a bit last time, but rotate sports throughout the year, especially when they are young.
In the fall, play soccer.
In the winter, play basketball.
In the spring, play baseball or softball.
And no, you don’t have to pick those specific sports – they’re just examples.
When we rotate sports, it not only builds our child’s movement “vocabulary,” but it breaks the monotony and grind of training for one specific sport year round.
But you already know that, so let’s talk about the real focus of this article.
Find a Physical Preparation Coach
The terminology is critical here. You don’t want a strength coach.
You don’t want a strength and conditioning coach.
You don’t want a “weights” coach.
And you don’t want a speed and agility coach.
You want one coach who can develop all of the physical qualities necessary for athletic success.
Someone who understands that movement is the base to all athletic development.
The goal isn’t to build one specific capacity – it’s to build a well-rounded, complete and healthy athlete.
Remember how if you have four, six, eight or 10 coaches? If you have all those coaches, each and every one feels the need to push that athlete. To make them feel as though they got worked.
But getting worked over, or feeling tired, isn’t the goal.
Getting better is the goal.
A physical preparation coach can take a birds-eye view of what a particular athlete needs, and then develop a program to fill in the gaps in their athletic development.
Furthermore, with only one “cook,” they can crank up the intensity when sport demands are low, and ease off a bit when sport demands are high.
With multiple coaches in the mix, there’s no way you can control the training process to this degree. Inevitably, someone is going to push the kid too hard, or for too long, and then it’s only a matter of time before they end up overtrained, burned out, or injured.
So that’s the real solution here:
Start whittling away all the extra “coaches” or influences in your child’s training, and find one or two people whom you really trust to build a long-term athletic development plan.
If you live in Indianapolis and you’d like to learn more about this, you can sign-up for next week’s athletic development seminar by clicking the link in the top right-hand corner of the page.
Here are the details, one more time:
Athletic Development Workshop
Tuesday, November 12th
Fee of $10 (all proceeds go to Hamilton County Community Tennis).
Next week, I’ll wrap this series by talking about the third issue with training young athletes, which is arguably the thing we should be focusing on the most.
Thanks for reading!
All the best
(Lead photo courtesy of Edward Johnson)
Was wondering roughly what age/grade level you feel this pretains to. My son is a soph in highschool and now basketball only sport and the only one he wants to play. Guess when can you start to “specialize” Thanks for great article!
JR – Around 15 or 16 is an ideal time to start specializing.
Hope that helps!