The Ecology of Youth Sports

FLOURISH: ( of a person, animal or other living organism ) grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.

iStock_000004353528Medium-1What if we thought about developing young people through athletics in terms of the ecology of it?

What if, rather than focusing on “producing” young athletes, we focused on how they grow?

We might pay more attention to the environment in which they grow. Is it one in which they can flourish? 

Research with high school age soccer players found that a young person’s well being in athletics was correlated with a high quality environment, one in which the young athlete felt that coaches were concerned about them as people first and athletes second. One in which the key adults were connected in a healthy network of support: school, club, coaches and parents. And, one that was focused on their long term development not short term or even intermediate term outcomes and results.
IMG_2998Ecology looks at, what Robin Wall Kimmerer calls ” the architecture of relationships.” Over the last few months I’ve been working in some new and interesting ways with coaches, parents and health care professionals and over the next month or two will be collaborating on some very cool projects. They didn’t start as “good ideas” but emerged out of conversations and the slower process of growing a relationship. Some of the projects will blossom and bear fruit, others will drop by the wayside. My hope is that the relationships out of which they are developing will continue to grow and flourish.

It’s really not that big of a stretch when you think about it. After all, success in every sport, even the individual ones, is a team effort. Or, as Dr. Wall Kimmerer reminds us, ” in nature all flourishing is mutual.”  DSCF1719

Prevention And Performance Are Only Placeholders

IMG_3016It’s easy to segment and divide, put things into categories. Injury prevention over here, improving performance over there. But, when it comes to preparing and developing young athletes the two really belong together.  Good physical preparation takes into account the demands of the game; the the type and nature of injuries involved, and the developmental level of the players.

Our high school girl basketball players are finishing up their pre-season training. We know their game requires them to change directions quickly, often and at a variety of angles and speeds. They need to be able to start, stop, jump, land and resist the force of another player. And, they need to be able to do those things often while performing another skill like dribbling, passing, catching  or shooting.  Players need to give repeated short bursts of intense effort and recover quickly. So they need a strong CP system to give those short bursts and a strong aerobic system to do that repeatedly and recover.

images-4When it comes to injuries, the most common ones are to the head ( concussions ) ankle and knee and we know that most of those injuries occur late in the half or the game when players are more likely tired and the intensity picks up.

Now, given that,  when assessing players or designing their training we can keep the big picture in mind, see the relationships between the demands of the game and injury patterns and work to address both. So, jumping and landing is not just about improving rebounding or shooting but about reducing the likelihood of ankle and knee injuries. It may even help prevent some concussions where a bad landing might have led to the head hitting the floor. Good technique and improved strength work together to improve performance and keep players healthy.

When we plan a conditioning program we have sessions where we  train short burst of 4 – 6 seconds and sessions where we increase aerobic capacity. With in each of those we blend the movements players actually make in a game like shuffling and cutting with running straight ahead.  Conditioning isn’t something we do for its own sake. The purpose of conditioning is , as Steve Magness said, to extend the quality of the performance. If we can help players move well and execute their skills at a high level through the whole game they are less likely to get injured and more likely to accomplish their goals and enjoy the process.

We can’t really prevent injuries any more than we can guarantee the outcome of a game. There are too many uncontrollable variables from the conditions of the court or field to the opponents tactics to just plain bad luck. But, we can reduce the risk by taking a holistic approach to developing young athletes; teaching them good movement skills, developing the strength to support those movements and the stamina to perform them repeatedly and well.

Categories like injury prevention and sport performance can be helpful as placeholders to analyze and learn. They are a way of looking at the same thing from different perspectives. In the end though we do better by the kids we serve when we see how they fit together and design integrated approaches that help our young athletes, stay healthy, play well and have fun.



Transition Time

iStock_000004316057MediumTransitions are a part of every sport. We go from offense to defense, sometimes by design and sometimes as the result of a turnover. The mountain biker or runner switches from uphill to down. Athletes who are good at transition, who handle it well stay in the game , have more fun and are often healthier.

The fall season has ended for a lot of the high school athletes we work with. Whether you are transitioning to a winter sport or looking ahead to the next club season here are a few things that might be helpful in the transition.

Ease into it. You’ve been training and competing six days a week for at least two months. Now is the time  to reduce the volume, and cut back the intensity. Stay active though. Continue to move in ways you enjoy. Hike, bike, switch to ultimate frisbee for a while, try yoga. Do your stretching. Approach the next few weeks like a long cool down rather a full stop.

Get healthy. This is about more than injuries. It’s about restoring the balance that gets lost over time when we are competing and training. Take an inventory. How’s your sleep, nutrition, social connections? Is there one that needs some attention? Pausing now to reset those things will help you heading into the next season. Flourishing is about resilience not endurance.

Reconnect. Relationships take time and energy. There’s only so much to go around during a season when you are part of a team. It’s natural for them to ebb and flow. Are there important relationships where the connection has worn a little thin lately? Now is a good time to reach out and renew those. One of the things those relationships do is remind us of who we are outside of our role as an athlete.

Reflect. Experience is a great teacher and sports offers some wonderful lessons but, only if we stop to reflect from time to time. What went well and why do you think it went well? Is there something you want to do better and how would  you do that?  Gratitude is a big one here too. Name three things you’re thankful for from this past season. Researchers have found that a sense of gratitude is a positive predictor of team satisfaction, life satisfaction and lower burnout for young athletes.  Write down your reflections. Getting it our of our head and onto the page is helpful. The old saying is “ink it, don’t think it.”  It can be helpful to share it as well. Taking time to reflect also helps us close the chapter on the last season so we can move forward to prepare for and enjoy the next one.

Plan. After a little time to relax, reconnect and reflect we can start to look forward. The best time to get clear about your goals and the steps you want to take to accomplish them is before the next season.

Take advantage of the moment. Just like a good transition in a game helps us move from offense to defense and back again, a good transition between seasons helps us move from one to the next ready to give our best and continue to grow and develop.


3 Reasons Why Physical Preparation and Development Matter

This post is by Davis Bates CPT, USAW, BS Exercise Science & Coaching. Davis works with a number of our groups and athletes including our high school girls soccer groups and some of our collegiate players. 

Development CirclesIn the world of athletic development today there seems to be a heavy emphasis on sport specific “technical” skills.  Your technical skills are an extremely important part of whatever sport you play, dribbling, passing, shooting, catching, etc. Without these skills an athlete will struggle to contribute to their team on the field, court, or ice.

But, even if you have a proficient level of technical skills for the level of competition you are playing, there is something even bigger that can hold you back from your ability to contribute to your team and realizing your potential. That is your Physical skills and here is why:

images-4Physical skills allow us to demonstrate our Technical skills.  If an athlete is fast, strong, powerful, agile, well-conditioned and injury resistant (i.e. Physical skills) they will be able to demonstrate all of their technical skills they have worked so hard to master. By being a better athlete, the player will be able to create more space from their defender, win more 50/50 balls/pucks, be stronger with the ball/puck, and demand more help from the opponents’ defense opening up scoring chances for other players.  Simply put the stronger and faster you are the more chance you will get to affect the game in your favor and contribute to your team.

Physically prepared athletes suffer from fewer injuries allowing them to stay on the field IMG_1173and play more aggressive.  It’s been said before that a good injury prevention program is simply a good physical training program. Meaning if an athlete, before and during the season, is working on jumping, running, changing direction with good mechanics, strength training through a full range of motion, and working on mobility, stability, and recovery they will be more prepared for the physical demands put on them throughout a long season.  This will allow them to stay healthy and to play pain free. Not only will this keep an athlete on the playing field longer but their time on the field will be much more enjoyable. They will be able to play the game the way they want to play it, without the hesitation caused by a nagging injury or aches and pains. They can have a full throttle, aggressive, first to the ball mentality.

SCOREBOARDPhysical skills allow you to play at your best when it matters most. Most athletes have the ability to be fast and agile early on in the competition but few are well-conditioned and proficient enough to demonstrate the same speed and agility in the final minutes of a game.  Athletes who have prepared for their season will find themselves able to play harder, longer into the game, more so than those who have not. Also, the better an athlete’s techniques while, running, jumping, and changing direction the less demand it will require from the body. In other words, and athlete becomes more “fuel efficient” as they become technically efficient, allowing them to have more gas in the tank for when it matters most.

As a coach, imagine your team having all the advantages that come with being a more physically prepared team.  Your team will be able to play faster and stronger throughout the duration of the game as well as being able to play more aggressively due to the new found confidence in your athletic ability.

As a player, imagine your best self on the field. What does that look like? Are you a player that is fast and strong on and off the ball? Are able to change direction one step quicker than your opponents?

Are you able to create space for yourself so you can showcase your technical skills? Now imagine your best self becoming a reality.  When you bring the physical, technical, tactical and mental skills together, you create the space where your “best self” can begin to emerge.


Keep It Simple – Working On The Basics

“It’s better to do something simple which is real. It’s something you can build on because you know what you’re doing. Whereas, if you try to approximate something very advanced and you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t build on it.” Bill Evans ~ Jazz Pianist  

It’s a simple rule that bears repeating. We build on the basics. If I want to shoot a jump shot or spike a volleyball or make an explosive diving save in the goal I need to be able to flex and extend my hips, knees and ankles. I need to be able to squat, jump and land in a position to do it again. I need the physical movement skills to be able to maximize my technical skills.

It’s a lot of fun to watch a skilled athlete like Tobin Heath work magic with the ball.

And then it’s important to notice that a key element in the Women’s National Team camp is physical training. 

It’s true of any sport at any level. We build on the basics, the simple, real things that provide a platform on which we create the advanced amazing stuff.  Extending your physical capacity in any area – strength, speed, agility, fitness – opens ups more possibilities in your technical and tactical game in every sport.  We love helping young athletes create possibilities for themselves and their teams.


New Middle School Boys Session Starts This Week

Boy Basketball Large AOur Middle School Boys Athletic Development group starts up again this week. This is one of our favorite groups. We enjoy it for three reasons.

We see so much change and growth. With the right kind of training, emphasizing form and technique we see measurable progress in strength, speed, skill and fitness all the time. The emphasis is on learning and development, not performance. Of course the secret here is that good technique and form will improve performance too.

They are fun to work with and eager to learn. They have great energy and we like to take advantage of that. We can turn speed drills into races and we can use a game of ultimate frisbee to substitute for our regular conditioning. People who are having fun tend to work harder and stay with things longer so that energy provides us with a great opportunity.

We love sending them on to the next level. We’re having conversations with high school and club coaches this spring and we hear repeatedly how many kids come unprepared mentally and physically for their high school experience. High school basketball coaches would prefer not to have to spend time teaching kids how to run well instead of working on the game. It helps the football program when kids come in knowing how to lift safely with proper technique. Kids who train with us come in with a leg up on the process and confidence to boot.

We start our next session next week. If you want to know more you can check it out here  or contact us here.  It’s gonna be good.

Prepared For The Next Level

This post comes from Davis Bates who has been working with our soccer girls, middle school boys and  leading the Breakaway AAA Hockey dry land sessions. 


113_113We all have had an experience of not being prepared for the next level. Whether in school, work, or athletics, not feeling like you’re prepared can be detrimental to your confidence and performance.

For me two examples stand out. The first, I was a 23 year old, newly promoted team leader at my old job. My boss was out for the day and at the last minute asked me to run the meeting. Now I am normally someone who does well speaking in front of others. But now, I had to instruct and deliver some tough news (as the new boss as of a few days) to people who had been working there longing than I had been alive. Talk about nerve racking.

Second, was during my freshmen year of football at Bethel University. The first day of Fall camp was eye-opening. I was totally unprepared for the speed of the game and the tempo of the practice. After that year, I knew I was going to have to prepare differently if I wanted to be able to play at that high of a level.

Now, what if I came to that meeting prepared to present, a written presentation that I had practiced, as a new boss should? What if I found other college football players that summer before fall camp and trained with them? What if I had prepared so that I would have had the confidence to succeed at the next-level? It’s possible. We see it in sports all the time. Weather it’s a first time Varsity athlete who is leading her team, a freshmen running back being named All Big Ten, or a 19 year-old rookie being the Timberwolves’ best player. Examples like this don’t happen by accident, they happen on purpose.

DSCF1217Obviously, physical training plays a big role in someone’s ability to succeed at the next-level. And that’s what we do at Kick-It Training by helping athletes prepare to make as big a contribution at the next level as possible. In order for them to do that we help improve their strength, speed, agility, coordination, and stamina so they can meet the physical demands that they will encounter at a higher level of play. And, we do it in a healthy, common sense way that lays the groundwork for continued growth and improvement.

IMG_3029But I would argue that their confidence and the maturity that develops through long-term training in preparation for the next level is just as important as any physical gains they will see. I walked into both examples I gave above unsure of my ability to perform and feeling that my preparation for the situation wasn’t enough. When an athlete goes into that first game, try-out, or practice knowing they have put in the work, knowing that they belong on the playing field physically and mentally, that’s when they will succeed not by accident, but on purpose.

We work with a lot of great young athletes who are developing their potential and discovering what it’s like to move to a higher level. Whether the youth basketball player moving from the B team to the A; the Bantam hockey player making the jump to high school varsity or the soccer player moving from club to college. Check here and here to find out more or CONTACT us.