Becoming More Flexible

When people think of flexibility they often think of a gymnast doing the splits or a figure skater or dancer who can lift their foot over their head and touch their knee to their nose. That’s range of motion – the distance a joint can move between the flexed position and the extended position. But, its not the same thing as flexibility.
 In their book Fascial Stretch Therapy, Ann and Chris Frederick encourage the use of the online definition from Merriam-Webster for flexibility:  “characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements.”  Flexibility is about adaptability.
In a webinar with Human Kinetics a few weeks ago Ann and Chris pointed out how flexibility or adaptability draws on all the qualities we associate with athleticism; strength, power, speed, agility, quickness and mobility.
John Kiely, a leader in the strength and conditioning field and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lancashire refers to what he calls “robustness” or a wide variety of options in how an athlete adapts and responds to the demands of training or competition. When those athletic qualities are diminished through injury, fatigue, lack of skill or improper training we loose that robustness, have fewer options to choose from in our response the the challenges of training and competition and become more vulnerable to injury and underperforming.
Mobility is an important factor on that list. As Chris pointed in the webinar we’re talking about functional mobility, our ability move in order to accomplish a task.
Developing flexibility is about integrating all  those factors in an effective way. For example I worked with a collegiate volleyball player this summer who was strong in the weight room and had a better than average countermovement jump demonstrating power. By addressing hip and ankle mobility through a self stretching routine and Fascial Stretch Therapy sessions  and then incorporating specific plyometric training designed to improve elasticity and reduce ground contact time she was able to increase her block jump by over 8 inches. Working on her conditioning and agility she is better able to take that jump where it’s needed on the court and repeat it effectively throughout the match and adapt to the challenges of the game.
Good training produces athletes who are healthy, robust and  as Steve Myhrland has said, “ adaptable not adapted”. A flexible athlete may not be able to touch their palms to the floor but they move optimally in response the the changing demands of training and competition. How flexible are you?
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Getting Better Together This Winter

Tired AthleteEvery athlete knows that in order to develop and make progress we need to be challenged. Whether it’s speed, strength, conditioning or agility we have to take ourselves outside the comfort of what we’re used to. In meeting the challenge our bodies respond and we get faster or stronger or more fit. It is important meet the right challenge in a healthy way so the response is positive and sustainable.

Three things that are helpful  in taking on a new challenge.

Coaching ~  Every athlete is one of a kind. We need the right challenge in the right dose at the right time to improve in a healthy way.  Experience and expertise helps coaches  recognizes the individual differences in each athlete and helps them focus on the right challenges in the right way to accomplish their goals. Training is work with a purpose, not just a matter of doing more or trying harder.

Positive Environment ~ Research has shown that young aIMG_0650thletes accomplish more, participate longer and feel better in an environment that is player centered and goal focused with positive relationships. Sounds simple but it takes conscious effort to create and sustain that environment.

 

 

imageConnections ~ There’s an old saying, “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far stick together.” Training consistently with good partners can take you to some surprising places. A recent article in Outside Magazine reported that a team mate or friend to train with is more important than any app, device or program. Working together, over time some of  our athletes have accomplished some pretty cool things for themselves.

Our training groups aren’t classes. They are groups of young athletes working together in a positive environment with good coaching to grow, and develop in healthy ways to accomplish their goals and contribute to their teams. We have groups starting a new round of training in January. You can check it out HERE. It you’re looking for an opportunity to be challenged in a healthy way it might be a good place to start.

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.

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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.

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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.