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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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.

 

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. 

Altitude or Trajectory When It Comes To Young Athletes?

ThinkingImagine there are two airplanes. It’s 2:00 in the afternoon.  One is flying at 10,000 feet, the other at 5,000. Which one do you want to ride on? ……. Too soon to know? You might want to know where they’re going. Are they climbing or descending? How fast are they going? That one measurement, the altitude in a single moment, doesn’t tell you much. You need to know where they’re headed over time. You want to know … the trajectory.

When we work with developing athletes in middle school and even high school though, we often forget that they, like those airplanes, are bodies in motion. Each one has a unique trajectory; starting in different places and maturing at different rates. Trying to determine where they’re going to land or end up at any single point along the way is crazy, like trying to pick the flight you want based only on where the planes where at 2:00 in the afternoon.
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That’s why we need to take a more personalized and long term approach to developing young athletes if we want them to enjoy the lifelong benefits of sport and develop their true potential. A recent two year study published in the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research looked at a group of 13-15 year old youth rugby players over two years. The researchers  found that not only do physical and performance trajectories vary between players, but those individual trajectories change over time. In other words the kids at the top of the curve now may be closer to their peak and improving at a slower rate than a player who was smaller, slower or less skilled when they both started. It’s not unusual at all for so called “late bloomers” to come on strong later and pass their faster maturing team mates.

MSGirlsSoccerThe study recommended a few things. First, take  a long term approach to developing young athletes. You simply can’t know where a kid will land at 17 when they’re 12. Second,they recommend a de-emphasis on performance in adolescence. Unless your end goal is to dominate other 13 year olds, winning is not a good indicator of who will be successful later on and emphasizing it takes the focus off of development for everyone including the current top performers. Plenty of kids show up at the next level short on skills or athletic fundamentals because the emphasis was on racking up age group tournament wins.  Finally, avoid de-selection early on. The pyramid approach that eliminates kids along the way is not productive or useful whether your main goal is long term participation or sustained excellence at higher levels. Think of it this way – if you want a high school dynasty, then having to choose which ten athletes to play from 30 excellent ones in your program is a  much better challenge to deal with than trying to hold together the 10 kids you picked out as eighth graders.

We have so many stories of late bloomers who surprised us that the term has become more the rule than the exception. Every kid blooms in their own time. Our goal is to support them in that process beginning with our middle school boys and girls all the way through. Because once you take off you never know where you might land.

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A Formula For Success

IMG_2998Matt Cucarro offered some very helpful insights and advice this week in his post on Professional Sports Psychology Symposium. It’s a great read for parents, players and coaches of young athletes.  Cucarro points out how easy it is to let results become a distraction for developing athletes and actually undermine success by taking our focus away from the task at hand.

It’s a simple formula: Skills + Time = Results. As he points out,  “As skills are passionately pursued throughout a significant time frame, expert performance appears.”  Focusing more on wins and losses or other short term results undermines a development mindset and long term success.

Cucarro uses several helpful examples from his work with junior golfers:

Players don’t practice making birdies, they practice making smooth swings.

Golfers don’t practice shooting 4 under par, they practice staying target focused.

Golfers don’t practice getting recruited by a college or turning pro, they practice patience.

A recent study of 13 – 16 year old soccer players in Sweden found that young players not only understand this approach but value it. When asked to rate their training environments, the players identified High Quality, Low Quality and Moderate Quality environments. It was only in those environments that players identified as High Quality that they worked with their coaches to set performance goals that were monitored over time with a focus on the long term. Not only does it get better results. The study found that having a long term vision in their mind was essential for player well-being. And that well-being has a direct correlation in studies with other important stuff like longer participation and higher levels of performance.

Girl TennisCompetition has a place in a young athlete’s development. It is, as Cucarro points out, ” an opportunity to exhibit skills and test personal limits.” But, as an old mentor of mine used to say, ” just because something needs to be there doesn’t mean it is the biggest thing. It just means it needs to be there.” Along with Skills + Time = Results  maybe another simple formula can help as we put our programs together : Skill Development > Competition.

Taking the long view is challenging. It’s also where the good stuff is. Cuccaro sums it up with a helpful reminder, ” When skills continue to remain a top priority throughout training AND competition consistent results unfold.”  Take a minute to read the post. It’s good stuff for parents, coaches and everyone concerned  with young people thrive and flourish through sports.

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What The Players Teach

10703589_809219992434582_2475629147460294872_nWhen you work with high school players you end up saying good bye to most of them when they graduate. Some will continue in college and we get a chance to work together in the summer for a year or two. But most are wrapping up their formal competition. Last Fall a couple of our guys had the wonderful experience of winning a section championship and being major contributors on a team that went to the semi-finals of the State High School Tournament. Those aren’t the kinds of results  you can promise to anyone. Too many things have to happen that are beyond a player’s or coach’s control. But, they’re fun and rewarding when they do.

I’ve thought about them a lot over the last few months. For the past three years at this point we would have been shifting into the club season training mode and getting a glimpse at the results of some of the off season work. Neither one will be continuing in college so we aren’t training together this season. And, in their absence I have been reflecting on what I learned through my work with them. Of the many things a few stand out. Some are new,  but most are a renewed and deeper understanding of things that we as coaches know and sometimes forget. 10710964_809220049101243_1939075816997532939_n

1. They grow up … Someone once said the best way to help a thirteen year old jump higher is to let him turn 14. Young athletes are a work in progress, constantly maturing and developing. A big part of coaching them is to recognize and cooperate with that process and not get in the way.

2. Things happen in their own time… We get in our own way with “shoulds”, thinking someone should be able to do something or should be at a certain level. We worked on speed with small, steady improvements for a long time and then in what seemed like a day – the time dropped like a rock. The strength, power, mechanics all came together and I think they even surprised themselves.

3. The whole person is growing … These guys have not only matured physically, but mentally, emotionally and socially as well. Our training sessions more and more became conversations as their awareness of their body and their health grew and their capacity to communicate and reflect on those things did as well. This is the goal – to increase the capacity of the whole person not just their speed or strength.

4. Things take time … My mom told me that once and it’s one of the best pieces of advise I ever got. We laugh about where they were when they started and where they’ve come. They started as slow, skinny freshman who weren’t very strong. They didn’t go from 5.6 forties to 4.8 in six weeks. They showed up, worked hard and stayed with it.

5. There are no straight lines… some seasons everything seemed to unfold according to plan and the results were great. Other times, not so much. Injuries slowed them both down late last summer as they were finishing the club season and getting ready for high school. We adjusted, focused on getting healthy and trusted the big base they had already built would be there to draw on when the season started. It was.

6. They enrolled in the process not a program. This is huge because so often we look for a workout or a program to add or fix something. Development is the steady unfolding and discovery of potential. It is person centered and goal focused. It works the way growing anything works; organically, over time, with in a supportive climate. These guys were in it for the long haul, committed to making the journey and were lucky enough to arrive at a destination that none of us would have predicted when it began.

10447637_721141924639455_2724086173418762624_nThere’s a new batch, several actually, that are enrolled in the process. New stories and new process 10698593_721141371306177_4037564755071568874_nalready unfolding. Thanks to those seniors who allowed me to share and contribute to the journey. I will miss them. Good luck and come back often.