Youth Performance Training: “A Broken System, Breaking Young Athletes” Part 1: How Do I Differentiate

In 2000, I took the steps to become nationally recognized as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.  The foundation of what was taught started and ended with 2 main objectives:

1 – increase performance, and 2 – reduce incidence of injury.

So why does the rate of adolescent injuries continue to increase so dramatically, even with nearly every square mile in suburban America filled with some sort of club or training facility?  I guess the pull of having your 15 year old power clean 225, your 12 year old baseball player throw 70 mph, or your 7th grade basketball player earn a college scholarship, has overcome the risk of any potential injury associated with the process.  Maybe the larger issue is that the parents of those athletes who are currently “injury-free,” don’t think this pertains to them.  Even though, many of these “healthy” athletes have many of the precursors to serious injury.

So the question as a parent is:  “How do I provide my child with the right opportunity to improve without setting him/her up for injury?”  Let me start by making a short list of what should throw up an immediate red flag when choosing a performance training option.

  • Does the facility train many athletes (10+) together, from multiple sports, of different ages, with the same movements/exercises?
  • Have you ever felt that quality of movement is compromised for quantity, without having a coach immediately make corrections?
  • Has your son/daughter had muscle soreness that has impacted them for days after training?
  • Is there a “puke” bucket in the middle of your facility? (yes, unfortunately I have heard and witnessed this with a company training jr. high athletes)?

I could go on, but let’s instead focus on a checklist that puts a young athlete in a positive training environment.

Here are some must haves:

  • A quality coach/trainer understands that every single athlete is different.  A facility should ALWAYS start each athlete with a full movement based evaluation performed by a qualified strength and conditioning coach, physical therapist, or exercise physiologist.
  • A full report with your child’s results should be provided with a detailed description of what was identified, as well as the corrective approach moving forward.
  • The athlete should then have an individualized program that is tailored to cleaning up faulty movement patterns, while challenging stabilization and improving strength.

What Does This All Really Mean?

In simplest terms, every person should have the ability to perform certain basic patterns of movement with few to no compensations, imbalances, stability and mobility issues.  Unfortunately, most people do have difficulty performing movements such as squatting, crawling, and stepping.  When these basic movement patterns are not “clean”, they immediately start a chain of compensatory actions to perform the movement.  Our body was made to figure out a way to get something done, regardless of ramifications.  If the issue(s) is not identified and corrected, the shearing forces created with each compensation become a ticking time bomb for injury.

With training programs, there is now an increased resistance/load and speed added to compromised movement patterns and subsequently the fuse of injury is shortened.  As physical therapist Gray Cook says, “you shouldn’t load dysfunctional movement patterns.”  Adding weight to a structure that can’t support it isn’t going to make that structure any better.  Exercise can actually hurt those taking part if they first don’t learn how to fix their dysfunctional movement patterns.

I understand we are all trying to provide our kids/young athletes with the opportunities to keep up and continue to progress in an environment that is more competitive than ever.  The problem is that something is definitely not better than nothing when it comes to the work they do away from the field/court.  Every single day “something” is impacting athletes in either a positive or a negative way.

It is time make the change and help lead our children/athletes in the direction of building an optimal foundation that will allow them to compete and grow while limiting their chance of injury.  Please remember that our child getting faster, or stronger, doesn’t always mean it is the best for them in the long run.  It quite often is shortening that injury fuse at an alarming rate.


Coming soon…

“A Broken System, Breaking Young Athletes”

Part 2: What really produces results?

We will dive into the myths that many performance facilities and coaches try to sell as ways to improve, and go into why “cleaning up” movement patterns undoubtedly provides the ideal environment for true performance related results.


Don Schlenbecker has been nationally recognized as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) since 2000.  He has spent most of the last 15 years working with youth athletes from the young age of 7 or 8, up and through high school and college.  He has had the pleasure to play a role in the development of over 100 Collegiate Scholarship Athletes, and the honor to see more than 20 become All-Conference performers, 5 go on to be All-Americans, and 1 become a National Champion.  He currently works as the Basketball Strength and Conditioning Coach for 3 Chicagoland High Schools, as well as in conjunction with the staff at Loyola Sports Medicine and Athletico Physical Therapy in providing programs/guidance to young athletes post physical therapy/injury.