Navigating The World of Strength and Conditioning for 2020 and Beyond
As a Strength and Conditioning Coach since 2000, and a parent of 2 young athletes involved in travel sports, I cannot think of a more intriguing topic to address. So many questions and opinions pop up on a daily basis regarding the “Performance Training” of young athletes. Having had the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the most knowledgeable coaches in the industry over the last 20 years, and the pleasure of working with 1000’s of young athletes, I feel like I can provide some great tips to help you navigate through this.
At Peak Performance Training, these are the foundations of our Strength & Conditioning program, and we hold ourselves accountable for on a daily basis.
Grind in silence.
This is our mantra. We believe that the daily work and focus a young athlete puts in is the driving force behind his/her accomplishment. It’s about the personal battle, not convincing everyone else how you’re “getting after it”. When the season comes around, the fruits of their labor will show their face very clearly. That should be all any determined athlete needs. I know it is the only validation that I need as a coach. We will NEVER post pictures and/or videos of our athletes during training. We will not use amateur athletes to promote/market our product. There are IHSA and NCAA rules that prohibit this, yet I continue to see coaches in the field risk potential impact on their athletes to get some publicity for themselves.
Honor the off-season.
Remember when sports had an off-season? As a Strength & Conditioning Coach this is always what we craved. The opportunity to periodize a program without worrying about competition getting in the way of optimal athletic development. Now, more and more sports have no off-season, or the parents get convinced that their son/daughter needs to keep playing there sport year round or they will lose out on opportunities.
Respect the rest.
In connection with honoring the off-season, giving athletes the rest that they need keeps getting thrown out the window. I recently saw FB posts of a trainer with a future D-1 athlete running in a triple parachute 1 day after his season ended. A season where he carried an extremely heavy load on a varsity team as an underclassmen. But, there was a tweet about him “Putting in the work”, so no worries. Please do not underestimate the time needed for active recovery and the assessment and cleaning up of movement patterns. It seems to happen on a regular basis that many of my athletes’ best weeks of training always come after 7-10 days of rest and relaxation upon completion of a challenging 8-12 week cycle of training.
Identify and correct.
Every young athlete should be taken through a full movement screen before beginning any training program. The early identification of dysfunctional or asymmetrical movement patterns is crucial in optimizing training result, as well as reducing the incidence of injury. If patterns aren’t clean, then these young athletes are training right on top of poor patterns, which will create an injury, ticking timebomb. Can an athlete make gains in the midst of these poor patterns? Absolutely, but not without increasing their risk of injury. Training on top of dysfunction is a slippery slope when it comes to keeping athletes healthy. Take the time to identify and correct.
WOW doesn’t always win.
Have you ever heard something like this? “My son does functional training. Just today he was using a sledgehammer to beat on a tire!”; “My daughter ran upside down on a treadmill today that was going 16 mph!”; “My kids train with a guy who ran a 4.3 40yd dash when he was in college!”. My belief is that you need to tread very lightly on what is just WOW, and what actually has substance that your child can have a positive, athletic response to.
Embrace the process/be patient.
I have yet to meet an athlete that didn’t want to run faster and jump higher. If they search this online they will immediately get hit with a plethora of training “systems” and drills that will have them jumping as high as the guy who lands on top of a shed on YouTube. I talk to parents all the time who tell me about their son who had his “plyo workout” yesterday, and he was jumping over boxes, hurdles, small children, etc… No Strength & Conditioning Coach is going to tell you that explosive/plyometric training shouldn’t be a part of a program for a young athlete, but said athlete should be ready to physically handle what is given to them to perform. If a young athlete can’t correctly land on a box in a controlled manner, you are going to have a tough time convincing me that they should be bounding/jumping over multiple hurdles. We as coaches need to stop skipping the foundational steps that will ultimately allow our athletes to optimally respond to higher levels of training.
The box doesn’t always fit.
In the almost 20 years that I have been working with high-level high school athletes, I have yet to come across 2 athletes that were exactly the same. With some of the nationally ranked junior tennis players I worked with we did see a lot of similiarities in imbalances and mobility, but none identical. This being said, we are failing if we take all athletes and place them in a box. Athletes have different limitations, they progress at different rates, and they often respond different to the same stimuli. Whether it is the corrective work performed during their dynamic portion, or a compensation pattern that has to be accounted for during a movement, we need to take the time to provide the best environment for each athlete.
In closing, there is no doubt that it is not a difficult task to take a young athlete through a program that increases their heart rate, results in sore muscles, and challenges them both physically and mentally. We are living in a youth sports culture that has way more “Performance Trainers” than ever before, and yet we have a consistent increase in non-contact sports-related injuries at younger and younger ages. We have an opportunity to take a step back, re-evaluate our process, and place the reduction of injury incidence above the goals of getting bigger, stronger, and faster. If we truly do that, our athletes’ response to training will no doubt increase, and the bond you create with them will hold more and more value with each day.