Coaching Tips

Spurs Seven Virtues

Today we have a fantastic guest post brought to you by mental coach, Brian Levenson. Brian is a phenomenal coach who has helped/is currently helping countless different people from all walks of life to improve their mental game. He primarily works with athletes ranging from the youth to the professional level, but he also mentors business owners and even Jedi Masters, too. I think you'll really enjoy his post for today.

Spurs Seven Virtues

It’s been a week since the San Antonio Spurs were crowned champions of the NBA.  Since then, they have been celebrated as one of the best, most selfless teams in history.  Personally, I have never cheered for a team whom I had no allegiance/ties to, like I did for the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs.  It wasn’t that I fell in love with the way one guy played, or marveled at the sheer talent of the players on the floor, instead I found myself grossly enamored with seven virtues that the team possessed.  As I dissect each virtue, think about your organization and how you may benefit from the Spurs way.

Virtue #1:  Can>Can’t

Of all the people in the Spurs organization, RC Buford may be the most underrated.  Buford is the architect behind a roster chalk full of what ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy called “heart guys”.  They are guys who are willing to dive on the floor for loose balls, take a charge, and be gritty enough to keep playing hard even when they are struggling.  When selecting those “heart” players the Spurs choose to look at what guys can do rather than what they can’t do.  As Buford reflects in this article about their draft process: “We get everybody in a room, and ask each other, ‘What can we do to help this player?’”  This not only crystallizes their decision making process, as they better understand a player’s potential, but it also helps them create an action plan to give that player the best opportunity for success.

Take a player like Kawhi Leonard, the recent MVP of the NBA finals, who was passed up by all the teams in the lottery, selected by Indiana at 15, and then had his rights traded to the Spurs.  The biggest knock on Leonard was that he couldn’t shoot.

From the well-respected NBA draft website, Draftexpress:

“Leonard is not only an average ball-handler, but he also struggles to make shots consistently from beyond the arc. His 0.743 points per shots on jumpers ranks 16th of 17 in the class, where he shot an abysmal 31% from the field. His struggles extend both to his catch and shoot jumpers (32%) and pull-ups (28%).”

But teams were forgetting one of the most important characteristics to acquire a new skill, Leonard was coachable; and the Spurs had just the coach to help him acquire the skill of shooting.  Chip Engelland is considered one of the best shooting coaches in the NBA, and he happens to be an assistant coach with the Spurs.  The Spurs paired Leonard with Engelland and the rest is history.

Spurs take can’t and turn it into can.

Virtue #2:  Honesty

Each player on the Spurs knows their strengths and weaknesses.  They are honest with who they are and are open to feedback from their lead general, Coach Pop.  Pop’s brutal honesty led to him writing, “DNP-Old” last year to describe why Tim Duncan wasn’t playing, admitting that during timeouts sometimes “I’ll say I’ve got nothing” as his players look to him for answers, and is part of the reason that he has the most brief in-game interviews with side-line reporters.

The honesty that Pop displays leads to accountability, which enables each Spur to get the most out of their potential.

Virtue #3:  Empowerment

The Spurs empower each of their players to step up and produce.  This was most evident in last year’s NBA Finals when Tony Parker walked up to Pop during a timeout to interject his opinion.  Pop gave Parker the keys to the timeout huddle and Parker started explaining to his teammates what he saw.  That empowerment to step up and make a difference is a hallmark of every player on the Spurs.

Pop explained the interaction in a press conference, "That’s not a rarity. While the coaches are out talking on the court, we do that so that the players can communicate and talk to each other because most of the time they know more what's going on than we do.  There will be times when Timmy will sit in that chair or Manu will sit there or Tony will sit there and they'll talk to the team if they have something they want to get across. That's just how we do things.”

Spurs don’t put people in their place; instead they empower each other.

Virtue #4:  Share

San Antonio had 1771 passes in the NBA finals compared to Miami’s 1299.  That’s 472 more passes, or about 95 more passes per game.  Pretty remarkable.  Pop constantly tells his guys that the ball can’t “stick”; meaning ball movement is paramount.

The players bought in to the sharing concept as well.  As Manu Ginobili pointed out in this article, “I think it can potentially be a game-changer, for other teams that don’t have as much talent to give (an individual) the ball and let them create like Kobe or Durant or LeBron. It kind of showed the way in the sense … if you don’t have as much talent, you still can do it. You can move the ball and put a lot of pressure on the defense."

Then, there are the salaries that each player makes.  The Spurs "big 3" all took less money to stay in San Antonio.  Parker made 12.5 million, Duncan made 10.4 million, and Ginobili made 7 million.  Those salaries combined are less than what Kobe Bryant’s salary was this year (30.5 million).

Sharing is a non-negotiable for Spurs.

Virtue #5:  Process Focus

“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”  --Jacob Riis

That quote has been at the heart of the Spurs culture for years.  “Pound the Rock” has become the rallying cry for one of the best organizations in sports.  It’s become so popular that there is even a popular blog named after it (www.poundingtherock.com).  It didn’t matter if they had lost game 2, or were down 22-6 in game 5, the Spurs were always focused on executing and playing the right way for 48 minutes.

Regardless of the score, Spurs continue to chisel away at their opponents until eventually they break.

Virtue #6:  Something to Prove

The Spurs are filled with guys who have had something to prove throughout their career.  They are an eclectic, diverse group, highlighted by 8 international players, which led the league in that category.  Each player on the Spurs has had a different journey to the NBA, but only one of them (Duncan) was selected in the NBA Draft lottery.  The rest of the team is filled with late 1st and 2nd round picks, guys who were passed over because of weaknesses.  They are a resilient, gritty group of guys who constantly have to prove they belong.

Nothing has been given to the Spurs and that’s why so much has been earned.

Virtue #7:  Best Friends

Teams often talk about how there needs to be a mutual respect amongst each other, but that they don’t have to be “best friends” with their teammates.  Yet, as Patty Mills grabbed the microphone during the Spurs celebration ceremony, he introduced his teammates as his “best friends”.    He went on to talk about each and every player and how they brought something unique to the team.  He was genuine, funny, and comfortable talking about the guys he sweated with all year.  He mentioned their quirks, how they were better people than players, and how much he loved each of them.

It’s not good enough to just be a teammate, Spurs must love each other like best friends.

The word “virtue” has many different definitions, but the one that sticks out is “a good or useful quality or thing.”  When it comes to the 2014 NBA Champions there are plenty of good qualities to go around, and those champion qualities should be celebrated, admired, and duplicated by us all.

Off-Season Training: Overhead Athletes

kiss
kiss

Last week, we laid out some general guidelines for athletes heading into their off-seasons. You should read it, if you haven't already. Today, we'll delve into some specifics for overhead athletes (i.e. baseball, softball, javelin, shot put, swimmers (though it seems as if they never have an off-season), etc.). Shoulders are rather complicated and annoyingly fickle joints that can develop irritation easily which is why proper attention MUST be paid to shoulder mechanics and care during the off-season. There is nothing "natural" about throwing a heavy object (or a light one really, really fast) and shoulders can get all kinds of whacky over a long, repetitive season. I'm going to keep it sweet and simple.

1. Restore lost mobility and improve stability

- Hips: they get locked up, especially on athletes that travel a lot during the season (helloooo long bus rides). Restoring mobility will go a long way in preventing hip impingements, angry knees, and allow for freer movements in general. Locked up hips will prevent safe, powerful throws and batting, thus, now is the time, Padawans, to regain what was lost!

- Lats: Usually tighten up on the throwing side and create a lovely posture that flares the rib cage and makes breathing not-so-efficient. Loosen up these bad boys!

- Breathing patterns: Those need to be re-trained (or trained for the first time), too. Breathing affects EVERYTHING. Learning proper breathing mechanics will do a lot to restore mobility (T-spine, shoulder, and hips), increase stability (lower back and abdominal cavity), and create a more efficient athlete (more oxygen with less energy expended to get it). I've written about it before HERE.

- Pecs and biceps: These guys are gunky and fibrotic and nasty. Self-myofacial release is good, finding a good manual therapist would be even better, to help knead that junk out! One caveat: make sure that as you release these two bad boys, you also add stability back into the shoulder. This means activating lower and mid-traps and the rotator cuff muscles to retrain them to work well again. Why? Most likely, the pecs and biceps are doing a LOT of stabilization of the shoulder (which they shouldn't be doing so much) so if you take that away through releasing them, one of two things will happen: 1) injury will occur since there's nothing holding stuff in place, 2) no injury, but the pec and/or bicep will tighten right back up again as your body's way of producing stability. So, mobilize then stabilize!

2. Improve scapula movement and stability

Along the lines of restoring mobility everywhere, the scapula need particular attention in overhead athletes as they are responsible for pain-free, overhead movements. Below is a handy-dandy chart for understanding scapula movements:

shoulder-scapular-motions
shoulder-scapular-motions

Now, over the course of the season, an overhead athlete will often get stuck in downward rotation therefore at in the early off-season (and throughout really) we want to focus on upward rotation of the scapula. Exercises like forearm wallslides are fantastic for this.

Eric Cressey notes that the scapula stabilizers often fatigue more quickly than the rotator cuff muscles. This means the scapula doesn't glide how it should on the rib cage, which leads to a mechanical disadvantage for the rotator cuff muscles, which leads to impingements/pain/unstable shoulders.

We need a freely gliding scapula to get overhead pain-free.
We need a freely gliding scapula to get overhead pain-free.

As we increase the upward rotation exercises, we want to limit exercises that will pull the athlete back into downward rotation, i.e. holding heavy dumbbells at their sides, farmer walks with the weight at sides, even deadlifts.(whoa now, I'm not saying don't deadlift, but limit the volume on the heavy pulls for a few weeks, and like I said in the last post, training speed work will limit the amount of load yanking down on those blades.) Instead, athletes can lunge or farmer carry in the goblet position (aka, one bell at their chest). 

There is more to be said, but let us move on, shall we?

3. Limit med ball work

At SAPT, we back off on aggressive med ball throwing variations for the first couple weeks post season as the athletes have been aggressively rotating all season. Instead, we'll sub in some drills that challenge the vestibular such as single-leg overhead medicine ball taps to the wall. (I don't have a video, sorry.)

Or, stability drills such as this:

If we do give them some low-intensity throws, we'll have them perform one less set on their throwing side than on the non-throwing side.

4. Limit reactive work

We don't usually program a lot of sprint work or jumps the first few weeks. If we do program jumps, we'll mitigate the deceleration component by adding band resistance:

5. Keep intensity on the lower end

As mentioned in the last post, instead of piling on weight, we enjoy utilizing isometric holds, slow negatives, and varying tempos to reap the most benefit from the least amount of weight. We also maintain lower volumes over all with total program.

There you have it! Tips to maximize the off-season and lay a strong, stable foundation for the following season!

Early Sport Specialization: Why This Needs to Stop (with a capital "S")

Here in northern Virginia, and in other hub-bub places too, it's not uncommon for an athlete to play a sport during the high school season, and then transition straight into the club season (which lasts f-o-r-e-v-e-r), leaving the athlete with maybe 2-3 weeks rest before try-outs for the next year's high school season start. Does this sound familiar? Does this sound healthy? Today we're going to address a growing (alarmingly so) problem with youth athletics: early sport specialization. As a strength coach, I see some messed up kids when it comes to movements, joint integrity, and muscle tissue quality (all = poop) who play year-round sports at young ages (that is, under 16-17 years old). I see year-round volleyball players who can't do a simple medicine ball side throw. Why? Because they spend ALL YEAR moving in the saggital (forward/backward) plane with a little bit of the frontal plane (side to side shuffling, but even that is dominated by their inability to actually move sideways; they tend to fall forward and/or move as if they're running forward, just facing a little bit to the side.) They have limited movement landscape (remember this?) and therefore are limited athletes.

I see young baseball players with chronic elbow or shoulder pain. Why? Because they throw a ball the same way ALL YEAR ROUND. And they're not strong enough to produce the force needed to throw it properly, (because, heaven forbid, they take some time off to actually weight train and get stronger) so they rely on their passive restraints (ligaments, tendons, and joint capsules) to throw.

This topic gets me fired up because I see SO MANY injuries and painful joints in kids who shouldn't have injuries or painful joints. I see kids who can't move like a normal human being because they're locked up and, worse, don't even have the mind-body connection to create movements other than those directly related to their chosen sport.

There's this pervasive myth that if a kid doesn't play year round or get 10,000 hours of practice, then he/she will never be a good athlete. Parents get caught up in chasing scholarships and by golly, if Jonny doesn't play travel ball he'll fall behind, then he won't make varsity, then he won't get into a good college... and on and on. My friends, we need to take a step back and think about what's best for the athlete. Do the aforementioned afflictions sound good to you?

But enough of my opinion, let's look at some hard science to support the Stop-Early-Specialization-Theory.

Playing multiple sports and playing just for the sake of running around like a kid builds a rich, diverse motor landscape, especially during the years before late adolescence. Diversifying the motor landscape, or movement map, or the bag-o-skillz, or whatever you want to call it, is essential to human development and especially valuable to athletes. I'm going to sound like a broken record, but kids need a broad and varied map to:

1. Understand how to move their bodies through space

2. Create and learn new movements

3. Learn how to adapt to their environment

4. Develop better decision making and pattern recognition based on their circumstances (i.e. being able to find the "open" players in a basketball game helps in finding one on the soccer field. )

Matter fact, this really smart fellow, Dr. John DeFirio MD, who is the President of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, Chief of the Division of Sports Medicine and Non-Operative Orthopaedics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Team Physician for the UCLA Department of Intercollegiate Athletics (that's quite the title, eh?) says this:

"With the exception of select sports such as gymnastics in which the elite competitors are very young, the best data we have would suggest that the odds of achieving elite levels with this method [early sport specialization] are exceedingly poor. In fact, some studies indicate that early specialization is less likely to result in success than participating in several sports as a youth, and then specializing at older ages"

And, Dr. DiFiori encourages youth attempt to a variety of sports and activities. He says this allows children to discover sports that they enjoy participating in, and offers them the opportunity to develop a broader array of motor skills. In addition, this may have the added benefit of limiting overuse injury and burnout.

You can read his full article here. The article also notes two studies in which NCAA Division 1 athletes and Olympic athletes were surveyed regarding what they did as children. Guess what? 88% of the NCAA athletes played 2-3 sports as kids, and 70% of them didn't specialize until after age 12. The Olympians also all averaged 2 sports as kids  Are you picking up what he's putting down? Specialization doesn't make great athletes, diversification does!

Side bar: Check out Abby McCollum, who played 4 sports for a Division 1 school. The article says that she was recruited last minute... probably because she was such a great all-around athlete that she could play any sport.

Next up: injuries rates.

Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, a sports medicine physician, in conjunction with Loyola University published a few studies using a sample set of 1,026 athletes between ages 8-18 who came into the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago for either sports physicals or treatment for sports-related injuries. The study ran from 2010 to 2013.  Dr. Jayanthi and her collegues recorded 859 injuries, of which 564 of them were overuse injuries (that's well over HALF). Of those 564 injuries, 139 of them were serious injuries concerning stress fractures in the back or limbs, elbow ligaments or injuries to the cartilage. All of these injuries are debilitating and can side line and athlete for 6 months or more. The broad study is reviewed here and a more specific cohort (back injuries, which carry into later in life) is here. I highly recommend reading both as the data are eye opening.

To sum up Dr. Jayahthi and co.'s recommendations on preventing overuse injuries (I took it directly from one of the articles in case you don't have time to read them both):

• If there's pain in a high-risk area such as the lower back, elbow or shoulder, the athlete should take one day off. If pain persists, take one week off. (though I think it should be more)

• If symptoms last longer than two weeks, the athlete should be evaluated by a sports medicine physician. (and go get some strength training! There's a reason that pain is occurring; something is overworking for something else that's NOT working.)

• In racket sports, athletes should evaluate their form and strokes to limit extending their backs regularly by more than a small amount (20 degrees). (this should also apply to any overhead sport like volleyball, baseball, softball, etc.)

Enroll in a structured injury-prevention program taught by qualified professionals. (hey, like SAPT? Lack of strength is a common denominator among injured athletes.)

• Do not spend more hours per week than your age playing sports. (Younger children are developmentally immature and may be less able to tolerate physical stress.) (10 year-olds don't need 12 hours or soccer! Also check out Dr. Jayahthi's injury prediction formula.)

• Do not spend more than twice as much time playing organized sports as you spend in gym and unorganized play. (Kids, go play tag, get on the playground, play capture the flag, anything; JUST PLAY!)

• Do not specialize in one sport before late adolescence.

Do not play sports competitively year round. Take a break from competition for one-to-three months each year (not necessarily consecutively).

Take at least one day off per week from training in sports.

The highlights and comments are mine. Do you see the RISK involved in specializing in a sport early in life? Not only does the risk of injury skyrocket, and the ability to move fluidly and easily plummet, but there's a lot of external pressure on the athlete to perform. Stressed athletes don't perform well. I don't know how many times I've asked my year-round players what they're doing on the weekends, it's always "tournament" or "practice." They have NO LIFE outside of sports. To me, that seems unhealthy and frankly, a recipe for burn-out.

Parents, athletes, and coaches, in light of all this research, I urge you to strongly reconsider year-round playing time for kids under 16 or 17. I urge you to allow athletes time off, to play other sports besides they're favorite, and to just be a kid. I urge you to keep the long-term development of our athletes in mind; do you want to risk a permanent injury, hatred of sport (because of burn out), or development of weird compensations and movement patterns?

Let's build strong, robust athletes that can do well in the short- and long-term instead of pigeon-holing them into a particular sport and limiting their athletic potential.

Strength Training for Youths: Post-Puberty

Last post delved into training strategies for kids pre-puberty. Today we'll discuss weight training suggestions for kids after they've hit puberty. As I stated before, the American Pediatric Association states that puberty starts around 8-13 (girls) and 10-14 (boys). While a 10 year-old girl might be at the same sexual maturity as a 16 year-old girl, physically, mentally, and emotionally, they're vastly different. Therefore, I'm not going to train a 10 year-old the same as I do a 16 year-old.

So what's different?

To be perfectly honest: not much.The same principles of training youths apply across the age span.

1. Address and improve movement quality

2. Improve body awareness, muscular control, and coordination

3. Progressively overload (add weight or increase the difficulty of exercises) movements to produce positive adaptations appropriate to the athlete's physiological status. (Lotta big words for saying challenge the athlete to grow stronger in ways that will not hurt them.)

Coaches and trainers should always address movement above all. If the athlete moves like poop, adding weight is only going to ingrain the dysfunction that could, ultimately, lead to injury.

That being said, there are a few differences between the two age groups. Older athletes will, typically*, learn movements faster. They've been around longer, played more sports (hopefully), and have a fairly rich movement map. Thus, as they learn proper mechanics quickly, they can handle heavier loads sooner. Does this mean max effort? NO! (stop it, stop that nonsense right now!) It means they can SLOWLY add weights over the course of several months/years to their movements. Strength gains are a marathon, not a sprint.

Older athletes are ususally better at maintaining focus during their workouts (though not always...). This allows room for exercises that require more concentration. For example, an older teenager might front squat with a barbell-

-whereas a younger athlete will squat with a light kettlebell. The barbell squat requires (strength, duh) a greater amount of focus as the athlete has to remain tight to stabilize the bar as well as move in a correct squat pattern. Does this mean a 16 year-old moves straight to the barbell? Nope! They have to prove that a) they have the ability to move in a safe squat pattern (hips back, chest up, knees out) and b) they have the strength (core, upper back, legs). At SAPT we will NOT progress an athlete beyond what we think they're capable of just for the sake of using a barbell.

Older athletes can generally handle more complex movements. For example, a heiden to a med ball throw:

Versus our younger athletes who will work on those two movements independently (jumping and landing, and throwing a ball correctly).

Again, and I can't say this enough, progression should be tailored to the athlete's skill and ability. Throwing a barbell on the back of a teenager just because he's 17 doesn't mean he's able or ready to squat with that barbell. Being 17 does mean that, if he's demonstrated good movement and strength, we can probably progress him to the barbell (we wouldn't do that for a younger kid. They would just continue with kettlebell variations until they've grown a bit more).

The basic principles of training youths across the age-range are the same:

1. Address and improve movement quality

2. Improve body awareness, muscular control, and coordination

3. Progressively overload (add weight or increase the difficulty of exercises) movements to produce positive adaptations appropriate to the athlete's physiological status.

Older athletes will generally be able to:

1. Learn and load movements more quickly than younger athletes

2. Perform exercises that require more concentration

3. Perform more complex exercises

Overall, training youths is like vanilla ice cream: same flavor, different sprinkles.

*I say "typically" because we've seen older kids who have such poor motor control that we have to start them out as we would a 9 year-old and progress them accordingly. What a child does during their infant and toddler years matters! (oooo, teaser for next week!)

Strength Training for Youths: Pre-Puberty

Last week's post listed persuasive (I think so anyway) reasons why kids should enroll in a strength training program. In that post is also a definition of a smart, sound training program. If you can't remember, here's the refresher; it involves none of the max effort, grunting/screaming/shouting version that, unfortunately, is the stereotype of our industry. Parents: NOT ALL TRAINING PROGRAMS ARE CREATED EQUAL!!!

Matter of fact, if you find your 9 year-old doing the same workout as your 16 year-old, something is dreadfully amiss. This post and the next will shed light on the differences that you should see between age groups, broadly, pre-puberty and post-puberty. Now, one thing to keep in mind as you read, these are general guidelines that apply to most of the population. There will be some puberty-stricken kids that are not prepared to train like their peers (meaning, they will be regressed considerably) and there will be some young kiddos who's physical development far exceeds their peers (though it does NOT mean they're ready for large loads; instead they'll have more advanced bodyweight and tempo variations.).

Right, let's hop in.

According to the American Pediatric Association, puberty starts between 8-13 for girls, and 10-14 for boys. For today's discussion, let's assume 15 years is the game changer in physical development. In my experience, kids under 15 still are pretty goofy and often don't have the muscular development that a 15 or 16 year old will (boy or girl). Between 8-15 a LOT of growth happens (and beyond for most boys, but we'll ignore that for now). That segues nicely into my first point:

Strength to weight ratio is a key factor to keep in mind while programming for younger kids. As I mentioned in the prior post, kids grow rapidly and without strength training, their muscle power will be left in the dust. Inadequate muscular strength will force kids to rely on their passive restraints during athletic movement. For example: a baseball pitch (or throw) will require strength in the lower body to produce rotation power, strength in the upper back and rotator cuff to maintain scapular and humeral (shoulder blade and upper arm bone) stability, and a strong core to transfer the power from lower to upper body.

This means, Jonny's shoulder and elbow ligaments are going to take a beating if he's throwing with weak muscles.

Another example: changing direction on a soccer field. The athlete must be strong enough to decelerate herself and then accelerate in a new direction. What happens if her hamstrings, glutes, quads, and core aren't strong enough to stop the motion, stabilize her joints, and reapply force in a new direction? (and this just her body weight, mind you, no external load) Strained (at best) knee ligaments, which typically manifests as the nefarious "knee pain," or, at worst, torn ligaments (good-bye ACL...).

A strength training program for a young athlete that uses heavy weights will only continue to teach the athlete to rely on passive restraints. Why? The athlete is already at a disadvantage by way of rapid growth (the strength:weight ratio is already out-of-whack). Therefore, exercises that utilize body weight or very low weights will avoid overloading the muscles and teach the athlete how to actually use their muscle mass.

The next point is tandem- teaching motor control and body awareness to younger athletes will improve their performance quickly. Kids need to understand MOVEMENTS before they can be expected to load those movements. Focusing on technique is crucial during this growing stage as their adjusting to their new bodies. Teaching kids how to use their hips (instead of their knees or lower back) in a squatting, deadlifting, and rotational pattern will benefit them immensely. Drills that include cross body movements (such as rolls and crawls, meaning left and right side have to coordinate) build "movement" bridges across the two hemispheres of the brain. A coordinated brain means a coordinated body.

Balance drills, such as standing on one foot while performing a medicine ball toss, are excellent in training the vestibular systems (inner ear) as well as teaching the brain to understand the feedback being sent by the foot.

The third point, is key. It must be FUN! Older kids often have the maturity to focus. Younger kids... it's debatable. Some kids are rock stars and can focus better than most adults, however, those athletes are few and far between. Most kids between 8-13 have shorter attention spans and lower stamina than their teenage counterparts. Therefore, we try to make the drills as fun as possible, while still teaching them technique and increasing strength. It's like hiding cauliflower in mac-n-cheese. Hide the good stuff with the delicious stuff. Un-fun sessions lead to unmotivated and easily-distracted athletes... which we all know will not advance their potential at all.

To sum it all up:

1. Focus on increasing strength:weight ratio utilizing body weight/light weight variations to teach young athletes to use their muscles.

2. Incorporate coordination and body awareness drills to TEACH MOVEMENT!

3. Keep the program fun!

Why Train In-Season?: Strength and Power Gains

Hopefully by now, you've read about the signs and reversal of overtraining. Now let's look at why and how to train intelligently in-season. A well-designed in-season program should a) prevent overtraining and b) improve strength and power (for younger/inexperienced athletes) or maintain strength and power (older/more experienced lifters).

First off, why even bother training during the season?

1. Athletes will be stronger at the end of the season (arguably the most important part) than they were at the beginning (and stronger than their non-training competition).

2. Off-season training gains will be much easier to acquire. The first 4 weeks or so of off-season training won't be "playing catch-up" from all the strength lost during a long season bereft of iron.

I know that most high school (at least in the uber-competitive Northern VA region) teams require in-season training for their athletes. Excellent! However, many coaches miss the mark with the goal of the in-season training program. (Remember that whole "over training" thing?) Coaches need to keep in mind the stress of practice, games, and conditioning sessions when designing their team's training in the weight room. 2x/week with 40-60 minute lifts should be about right for most sports. Coaches have to hit the "sweet spot" of just enough intensity to illicit strength gains, but not TOO much that it inhibits recovery and negatively affects performance.

Goldilocks-Principle-640x480
Goldilocks-Principle-640x480

The weight training portion of the in-season program should not take away from the technical practices and sport specific. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about the program, it should:

1. Lower volume, higher intensity-- this looks like working up to 1-2 top sets of the big lifts (squat or deadlift or Olympic lift), while maintaining 3-4 sets of accessory work.  The rep range for the big lifts should be between 3-5 reps, varied throughout the season. The total reps for accessory work will vary depending on the exercise, but staying within 18-25 total reps (for harder work) is a stellar range. Burn outs aren't necessary.

2. Focused on compound lifts and total body workouts-- Compound lifts offer more bang-for-your buck with limited time in the weight room. Total body workouts ensure that the big muscles are hit frequently enough to create an adaptive response, but spread out the stress enough to allow for recovery. Note: the volume for the compound lifts must be low seeing as they are the most neurally intensive. If an athlete can't recover neurally, that can lead to decreased performance at best, injuries at worst.

3. Minimize soreness/injury-- Negatives are cool, but they also cause a lot of soreness. If the players are expected to improve on the technical side of their sport (aka, in practice) being too sore to perform well defeats the purpose doesn't it? Another aspect is changing exercises or progressing too quickly throughout the program. The athletes should have time to learn and improve on exercises before changing them just for the sake of changing them. Usually new exercises leave behind the present of soreness too, so allowing for adaptation minimizes that.

4. Realizing the different demands and stresses based on position -- For example, quarterbacks and linemen have very different stresses/demands. Catchers and pitches, midfields and goalies, sprinters and throwers; each sport has specific metabolic and strength demands and within each sport, the various positions have their unique needs too. A coach must take into account both sides for each of their positional players.

5. Must be adaptable --- This is more for the experienced and older athletes who's strength "tank" is more full than the younger kids. The program must be adaptable for the days when the athlete(s) is just beat down and needs to recover. Taking down the weight or omitting an exercise or two is a good way to allow for recovery without missing a training session.

A lot to think about huh? As a coach, I encourage you to ask yourself if you're keeping these in mind as you take your players through their training. Athletes: I encourage you to examine what your coach is doing; does it seem safe, logical, and beneficial based on the criteria listed above? If not, talk to your coach about your concerns or (shameless plug here, sorry), come see us.