Every 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 athletes 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.
Connections ~ 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.
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.
What 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.
Ecology 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.”
We’re hearing a lot these days about how busy players, parents and coaches are … and how tired. They are feeling more stretched than focused and more stressed than productive. If that happens to you here’s something you can try.
One of the first things we do with our athletes is ask them to pay attention. For example, I f we’re learning to stop we ask them to notice where they land and finish on the foot – heel, mid-foot, whole foot? Before we ask them to fix, or change or adjust anything we simply ask them to notice. A lot of self correction happens just by paying attention to the right things. Focus helps … a lot.
Here’s a simple tool for you. Its a framework we use with our players and in our own planning and preparation. We call it the Four Circles. It helps provide focus and balance when we’re working with athletes or coaches making choices about where to invest time and energy.
You’ll see there are four overlapping circles. Each one expands and / or limits the others. In the physical circle are things like movement skills, balance, speed, strength, stamina, and general health. The technical circle is about sport skills, the technical skills you need to play or perform; shooting or dribbling for a basketball player or carving a turn for a skier. The tactical circle is how we apply and integrate those skills to play or compete. We go from passing and catching to running a give and go for example. It’s also about learning to see the game or race unfold and respond to it. The mental circle includes skills like relaxation, concentration, emotional regulation. We could go into more detail, for example rest and recovery, sleep, nutrition and relaxation are part of the physical circle but , for now it’s enough to know that each of these elements influences the others.
Think of it this way, the problem with a player’s jump shot may not be the shot. If I can’t control my posture, squat, jump and land it doesn’t matter how good me release is. The physical skills and qualities are needed to support the technical. They are all a part of an athlete’s development.
So now, here’s the task. Draw four columns on a piece of paper, one for each circle. Then just make a list of what you’re currently doing in each area. Don’t worry about what you should be doing or what other people are doing or what someone else says you need to be doing. What are you or your players doing now? When you’re done listing it out, take a look. What are you noticing? Where is most of your effort going? What’s guiding those choices? Does the balance feel right?
This quick exercise might give you some insight and clarity. The purpose here is simply to get a picture of what’s happening. You don’t need to evaluate or judge it. Remember, a lot of self correction happens just by noticing.
This framework can be applied in a number of ways to help be intentional and focused with an athlete’s development. We use it with college athletes as well as middle schoolers. A healthy and effective approach to athletic development is focused, balanced and intentional. If you’d like to know more check out our training programs or contact us.
“As a yogi and an acrobat we practice the paradox of holding strength and softness at the same time. When we have structure we also have the capacity to expand and flow.”
That’s one of the challenges for youth sports and for those of us who work with developing young athletes; creating structures that develop their capacity to expand and flow – to unfold and discover their potential in healthy ways. Often youth sports feel chaotic; highly organized yet lacking a coherent structure that really serves the kids. Those of us who work with strength and conditioning can be just as much a part of the problem, encouraging kids and parents to add one more thing to the mix. Camps, tournaments, league play and clinics, activity stacked on activity hoping something good will emerge. And, sometimes it does. It’s less about intention and focus though and more about the roll of the dice. A lot of potential is lost along the way.
This summer we’re working with our U14-17 girls soccer athletes in a slightly different way creating a more personalized approach to their over all development and summer training. It’s based on our 4 Circle framework that helps us look at the overall development of the player. It’s also built on a structure that provides consistency and flexibility from session to session and week to week. Sessions will be designed weekly by the coaches and players, working together to look at schedules, goals and needs. If you stop by the gym or the field you could see six or eight players whose workouts or activity all look very different. There will also be days when we’re all on the same page or maybe we’re just playing a game of ultimate frisbee because recovery is the order of the day.
It’s a natural evolution and much of it comes from the way we’ve approached our work with our college players for the last few years. We’re fortunate to have a number of players who have been through our middle school or foundational programs and are ready for this next step. We’re excited to get going on it; to provide what, for us,will be a new structure we believe will serve our players better.
If you want to know more please contact us and we will fill you in. Click on the video below if you want to see how Dr. Liu is working to create structures that help address childhood obesity and diabetes. There’s also a short clip of what acro yoga looks like as well if you want to see what holding strength and softness looks like in action. Oh, one last thing … acro yoga will not be part of our training … not yet.<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/50392495″>Walk the Talk: People and Institutions Can Do It</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user710078″>Mapping Voices</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
I’ve been working on a lot of professional development over the past year; attending more conferences and clinics, doing more reading and taking part in a lot of webinars. It’s been great to hear the really big names and leaders in the field speak and in a few cases even sit down for an hour or two over coffee and pick their brain. The old adage holds true: The more I learn the more I realize how little I know. A few things have emerged as consistent themes.
One – Keep it simple. As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough.” Working with the younger athletes constantly challenges me to get to the essence of the movement. Having to explain it simply to a 9 year old makes me a better coach with a high school or college player.
Two – It’s about how you move. It’s not about the exercise or drill or program. Can you start and stop, change speeds and directions? Can you push and pull, squat and lunge? Can you jump and land? How long can you do those things efficiently and effectively in the environment you compete in.
Three – There is a hierachy to skills. Physical skills precede sports skills – always. Just like a pianist is limited if they can’t play their scales so is an athlete who can’t move well. The problem with your daughters jump shot may be that she can’t jump not that she can’t shoot. That doesn’t mean the young athlete shouldn’t shoot the ball anymore than the young musician shouldn’t play songs until they’ve mastered every scale. But, we can only build sports skills as far as physical skills allow.
Four – Work with the whole person. I’m not coaching speed, or strength or agility or fitness. I am coaching a person who is trying to develop those characteristics and qualities to play or peform or stay healthy doing something they love to do. That person comes as a whole, not in pieces or parts. Mental, physical, spiritual, social, and I need to be aware of and pay attention to the whole. As one of the experts said, “If you just broke up with your girlfriend it may not be the best day to throw at Nationals.”
Five – Everyone is a unique individual with their own optimal way of moving. Vern Gambetta calls it a movement fingerprint. Shawn Myszka calls it movement signature. Dan John says the same thing in another way when he says ” We were not all born to squat deep.” When you realize we’re working with unique individuals who are each at a unique point in their development and unique moment in life – you see that one size can’t fit all.
Six – Make it athlete centered. The athlete is in charge of their own development even that 9 year old hockey player. They make the choices, do the work and get the results. As a coach I am a servant not a manager. I need to manage my choices actions and plans – and create an environment that’s both challenging and safe. An empowered athlete at any level makes intrinsic adjustments that expand their capacity to do more.
Seven – Have a framework. While they didn’t say it, I observed it. They all had a framework that they had developed over time that allowed them to focus their work with an athlete. They were not moving from trend to trend or fad to fad. And, both their humility and their curiosity keep those frameworks flexible and open. They are alive and evolving not fixed and set.
Eight – Be generous, humble and curious. “I wonder what I’m not seeing that I don’t even know I’m not seeing”, one of them said to me. This coach has a Ph. D. over forty years of experience, consults internationally and is a former national coach of the year. His latest project was trying to shadow a physical therapist or a few months to see what he could learn about movement from that perspective.It’s comforting and inspiring to know that we’re all still learning and we’re all in it together.
I’m grateful for all the learning this past year and eager to discover more. I’m also eager to build on it in our coaching as we go forward. Ain’t it great to be a work in progress.
What is a player’s potential? It’s tempting to look at an athlete, especially a young one and think we know. The truth is we don’t. I can offer a relative opinion about how I think one athlete compares to another and where they might end up or what they might accomplish but, it’s based more on assumption than fact and even then only on the limited information I have in the moment. And because it’s limited it’s often also limiting. How much potential goes undeveloped because of premature judgements on the part of coaches, parents and players? Our thoughts about young players’ potential are often about their potential to fit into a scheme that we have – a position, a system, a style of play, a stereotype that we’re comfortable working with.
We’d like to think that human potential can be sized up like the potential energy in the water behind a dam. Problem is there’s no way I can know or predict all the variables when it comes to a human being; especially one that’s still developing. It’s like trying to tell you how much energy is stored behind the dam without knowing how deep the water is.
The fun part of working with young athletes and watching them develop over time is DISCOVERING that potential, watching it unfold and being surprised and even delighted at the forms it takes.
The role of the coach, parent, administrator, is to create and sustain the environment where that discovery and development can take place. Part of creating and sustaining that environment is building a framework that helps us see the big picture and that also helps us focus our time,energy and attention. I keep coming back to four areas or dimensions of development: Physical, Technical, Tactical and Mental. I think of them as four overlapping circles. Each one expands and / or limits the others. Physical elements such as speed, balance, strength, coordination enhance my technical skills. Those enhanced technical skills open up more tactical possibilities. The mental skills support or limit my performance in the other three areas but, as my other skills grow and I can play a bigger, faster game it helps me grow those mental skills as well.
The key is the overlap. That’s where potential is discovered and developed. That diamond in the middle is what I bring to the field. Development with young players is about growing those circles and as the circles grow so does the overlap; that space in the center where potential emerges.
One of the obvious implications is that those of us who work with developing players need to be connected and collaborating. Without that collaboration we can lose sight of the big picture, limiting our own contribution and the contributions of others and in the end limiting the potential of the players we serve. A poor example of teamwork. When we work together we maximize each other’s contribution and the opportunity for the discovery and development of players’ potential. And, like any team, we get to celebrate those moments when it all comes together, moments of surprise and delight when the whole truly is greater than the sum of it’s parts.