Excellence Or Mediocrity?

We will relentlessly chase perfection, knowing we’ll never reach it,
because in the process we’ll catch excellence
.’
- Vince Lombardi

Training programs for young athletes have certainly caught on nationwide, fueling not just programs like ours but also team-wide and even school-wide development programs.

This can add another advantage for athletes who have the opportunity and desire to use it for improvement.

But with the onslaught of coaches at all our local schools trumpeting the ‘you better get in the weight room!’ approach, it might be a good time to step back for a second and ask what is being accomplished by it all.

More specifically, is your program leading to excellence?

It’s easy to say yes to that question with teams or schools touting the number of wins they had last season, or the weights their kids can lift, or how many kids are ‘voluntarily’ taking part in off-season training.

But developing excellence is about far more than winning records, or a 300 lb bench, or anything like that.

Excellence is a habit, a way of approaching everything you do in order to maximize the opportunities at hand. And because it’s a habit, it spreads to other aspects of life, like academics and job performance.

Training programs, for all their physical benefits, are even more effective at instilling the habits of excellence.

  • They can teach you to find a way to get a little better today than you were yesterday, and give you a blueprint to know how exactly you can do it.
  • It can help you develop an almost obsession-like approach to perfecting every last detail of a skill..
  • They can teach you to become fully immersed in the task at hand.
  • It can show you immediate benefits to being receptive to coaching advice from those whose experience can speed up your path to the top.
  • They can help you find the courage to work on the things that are hard for you, taking risks by stepping out of your comfort zone and expanding your abilities.

 

Having been a strength coach for over 16 years, my biggest concern with teams and schools implementing workout programs right now is not that kids will get injured, because weight training is a relatively safe activity compared to most sports.

My concern is that these programs are instilling the habits of mediocrity in our local athletes, when so many have the potential to reach far, far higher.

Based on feedback from hundreds of kids over the years (and having coached in high school weight rooms for many years myself), typically they are more about:

  • Training with friends while ½ focusing on training and ½ focusing on social issues.
  • Following workouts targeting just a small handful of skills (guaranteed to revolve around bench pressing and squatting while avoiding the other 95% of athletic needs)
  • Athletes not taking small steps forward every day. Or worse, taking too big of a step forward too quickly in the pursuit of instant gratification.
  • A complete lack of attention to detail in the execution of lifts.

Every coach, athlete and parent wants to experience success, to be on top. But very few actually achieve it.

With the ups and downs of a sports season it can often be hard to tell if a team is on the road to greatness, or not.

History shows us who has mastered the habits of excellence with their teams, and where it took them.

Football coach Vince Lombardi, quoted earlier, certainly did. So did legendary basketball coach John Wooden.

Wooden won 10 NCAA National Championships in just a 12 year period. Yet his focus was always on attention to detail, running highly structured practices that were all about habit-building.

As Coach Wooden said himself,

It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen. 

Every practice, training session, game, or other performance-related event we ask our young athletes to take part in should always be judged on one simple question:

Did that lead me and our team closer to excellence, or mediocrity?

When you can honestly answer ‘excellence’ to that question on a regular basis, good things will happen over time.

When Sports Drinks Help & When They Don’t

Sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, etc) have become so popular, especially among kids, that to some they are part of their daily diet.   This is an incredible transformation for a beverage that was originally created for performance under the most extreme circumstances.

Certainly there are times that its use is critical for both performance and energy levels.  Hopefully the recommendations below will help you see when it is the right time to turn to a sports drink, and when it isn’t.

When Sports Drinks Help  

Sports drinks are essentially a supplement, something you add to your diet when you are running low on a specific nutrient.

For example, if you lack Vitamin B12 in your diet, a B12 supplement will give you more energy.  If you don’t eat enough protein, a protein shake or bar will speed up recovery and growth.  But without the deficiency, the supplement will do absolutely nothing for you.

Sports drinks are a supplement that quickly re-stocks your glycogen (i.e. sugar) and electrolyte (mostly sodium) supplies when you are exhausted.  Used at the right time, it can re-energize an exhausted athlete or exerciser.

Those times usually happen when:

- You exercise or play a sport for more than 60 minutes straight.

- You exercise or play a sport multiple times in the same day (sports tournaments are a perfect example)

- You are outside on a hot, sunny day for an extended period of time.

When Sports Drinks Do Not Help  

They are not a substitute for fresh fruit or even juice (fresh fruit is better), as it has no other nutritional value.

You will not become super-hydrated by drinking them in excess.  Your best bet to stay fully hydrated is to eat right and drink the real ‘sports drink’ (see below) all day long.

More simply, sports drinks do not help AT ALL unless you have already been active for a long period of time, and/or are in extremely hot weather.

Which means consuming a sports drink usually does nothing for you other than add more sugar and sodium to a diet that is likely too full of both already.

Why?  Your body is already excellent at converting food to glycogen, and as Americans our diets are already filled with sodium.

The only remaining ingredient in a sports drink is the liquid part, which is the part you should be consuming instead of that sports drink…

Water  (If you’ve trained with us before, I’m sure you saw that coming…).

4 Critical Tips For Pre-Season Conditioning

The time of year where fall sports teams get back on the fields and begin preparations for what hopefully will be a successful season has begun.  Step one for almost every sport is to work on conditioning.

At the younger levels taking a lap and running basic drills constitutes conditioning, but as athletes advance up the ladder the specifics of conditioning take on greater importance.

And coaches who understand how to effectivly create conditioning plans for their teams that revolve around the following 4 principles will not only make their own lives easier, they will see dramatically better results than those who do not.

1. Know Your Athletes Heart Rates

   An athlete doing conditioning may get up to about 95% of their maximum heart rate (roughly 220 beats per minute minus their age), and should recover to about 65-70% before doing their next repetition.  In a perfect world athletes would all wear heart rate monitors and complete conditioning drills when they achieve full recovery.  That is unlikely to happen due to financial reasons, but learning to check your pulse and get an estimated heart rate would be better than not knowing at all.

Coaches can use this information to assess which kids might be at risk for overheating very early in the process, and can avoid potential disasters while also putting those kids on a regimen that will get the ready at a pace that makes more sense for them that day.

2. Recovery Times Are The #1 Factor In Desigining Conditioning Programs
Conditioning drills leading into the season should mostly be done at game speed, with gradually decreasing recovery times in between repetitions.  This means that you are looking to see your athletes get back to their 65-70% range in shorter amounts of time as the days of pre-season go on.  It is important to note that getting your heart rate to drop quicker after a bout of intense exercise is the one and only goal of conditioning.

The exact work and rest times are highly dependent on the way your sport is played.  Baseball, soccer, and football players, for example, should have very different work-to-rest ratios.

3. Gradual Increases Of Intensity Are Crucial To This Process

The human body is an adaptive mechanism, but it takes time for changes to occur.  Fortunately for most young athletes, changes in conditioning take place relatively quickly.  But they do not happen overnight, so coaches need to increase workloads over many days and reduce rest times between bouts progressively.

Crushing kids on Day One to ‘get in shape’ is physiologically impossible, and potentially very dangerous for the kids taking part.  At minimum, you will end up with really sore and sluggish athletes for the next few practices who will learn to hate conditioning and in the long-term will have many more problems maintaining the workloads they’ll need to achieve elite success.

4. Variety avoids overuse problems and increases enthusiasm.

    If you want your players to really dread conditioning, make it repetitive and tedious.  Remember, it’s already a painful and miserable process!

Mix up your drills, move in multiple directions, and make it competitive and fun at times.  Your players may never love conditioning,  but if there is something enjoyable or different about it they will likely put a little more energy into it.

For coaches who design their conditioning around gradually decreasing recovery times that match the demands of their sport, they will end up with more fit teams that train safer in warm weather, and are likely to practice with more energy over time.

Think Big

We’ve reached the time of year where many of our athletes begin leaving for college. Some have been with us for years, and going to play a college sport is the fulfillment of a dream they began working towards many years ago. They are field hockey, ice hockey, track, football, and baseball players but are united with the knowledge that they worked as hard and as wisely as they possibly could to prepare for this moment.

But did they all reach such a high level, while other fell to the wayside, by luck?  Was it simply their work ethic?  According to author Gary Keller, who wrote ‘The One Thing‘, probably not

One thing this group has in common is they think big, a trait Keller believes is necessary for high achievement.

He states, ‘Don’t fear big.  Fear mediocrity.  Fear waste.  When we fear big we either consciously or unconsciously work against it.  We either run towards lesser outcomes and opportunities or we simply run away from the big ones.

If courage isn’t the absence of fear, but moving past it, then thinking big isn’t the absence of doubts, but moving past them.’

Over and over we see that the kids who start with big dreams and are willing to do the work necessary get to the highest levels.

Consider the 12 year old who started with us nearly a decade ago.  Back then he was just another good athlete training with his friends, but he was extremely dedicated and always believed he could go as far as his work ethic and energy could take him.

Last week he left us to start his 2nd season as a professional hockey player in Finland, playing on a top line for one of the better teams in Europe.

Many times we put limits on our own expectations and never reach the heights we could reach by ‘Winning the Day’ and believing anything is possible If we win enough of them.

Why do so many young athletes do this?

Keller reasons that a fear of failure plays a huge part in why so many of us, kids especially, do not think big.

Keller offers this advice:

‘Don’t fear failure.  It’s as much a part of your journey to extraordinary results as success.  

In fact, it would be accurate to say we fail our way to success.  When we fail, we stop, ask what we need to do to succeed, learn from our mistakes, and grow. 

Don’t be afraid to fail, because you’ll go nowhere without it.’

Another of our athletes spent the last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, which for a baseball pitcher like him could mean you never pitch again.  After a decorated high school career and experiencing the joy of being drafted by a major league team, his future at that point was likely to end in failure.

So did he give up in the face of this monumental setback?

No chance.  He went through his rehab, spent 6 months getting in the best shape of his life, and is off to play college baseball for a new team this upcoming year.

He kept thinking big even when it seemed unlikely, and because of that he put himself back on track to success.

Last week we discussed Winning The Day and how to work every day to get a little better.  But to do so you’ll have to have a reason, and that means thinking big.

We are extremely fortunate to have not only those two athletes here, but literally hundreds more whose stories are just as impressive.  If those younger kids continue to do what our older role models have done, who knows how far they will go?

The Secret To Building Better Habits

Some young athletes seem to be destined for greatness at early ages but never reach the heights that many thought they would achieve.

Others start slow but continue to make progress year after year, until one day they have gone much farther than the so-called ‘can’t miss’ kid from their earlier days.

How does this happen?

Habits, both good and bad.

In his excellent and highly-acclaimed book ‘The Power Of Habit’, author Charles Duhigg gives a very well researched and informative look into how habits form, and how they can be altered.

First, we need to understand that there are 3 parts to what he calls the ‘habit loop’.

Habit loop:   CUE–>HABIT–>REWARD

The cue is what triggers the habit to occur, and is most often an unconscious undertaking.   It’s what triggers the habit, and can be many things.  Emotions, time of day, and unmet needs are just some examples of how a habit can be triggered.

The habit is the thing you do.  It could be something positive like doing your homework, eating breakfast, or getting in a great workout.  Habits can also be less productive, like playing video games, eating junk food, or losing focus at work or school.

The reward represents why you do what you do, and is tied deeply to the cue, or trigger.  Rewards can be tangible things, like getting paid to show up for work, or they can be more subtle, like the satisfaction you get from completing a job that truly matters to you.

BUILDING GOOD HABITS

The younger you are, the fewer ingrained habits you have built into your life.  So it stands to reason that getting good routines in place early on will make it far easier to regularly do the things we all know promote health and success.

Eating a healthy breakfast

Being active

Getting homework done

Listening to and taking internalizing feedback from coaches and teachers

Being a good teammate

So how do you get kids to start doing these things routinely?  The key lies in the habit loop above, namely creating the cue and the reward to go along with what you want to see them do.

Cues need consistency to develop, they must be done regularly for them to take hold.  And the reward must be truly meaningful to the individual.

Let’s take listening to your coaches as an example. Coaches who set expectations for listening (eyes on me, no one talks when coach is talking, etc) are actually creating cues that build better listening habits.  Whether they internalize what you teach them may or may not happen right away, but at least you are setting up a routine that is more likely to lead to success.

On the back side, the reward may be the improvement the see and feel from what they were taught.  Far more likely though, the reward will be the recognition and positive feedback from that coach or a parent for making progress, especially if that athlete is younger.  Remember, rewards are often positive feelings that come from an activity.

UNDERSTANDING KEYSTONE HABITS

Studies done in the last decade have shown conclusively that those who begin exercising also start eating healthier, and become more productive at work or school.

It also showed that families who eat dinner together raise kids who do better in school, show greater emotional control, and have more self-confidence.

And here’s the amazing one:  Kids who make their bed every morning grow up to become more productive at work, possess a greater sense of well-being, and are far better at sticking to a budget.

How does this happen?  Because exercise, eating a family dinner and making your bed are what are referred to as ‘Keystone Habits’.  Keystone habits are those that create a shift in mindset that spreads to many other aspects of our lives.

It is these keystone habits that are what makes an athletic development program so powerful for kids when it is done correctly.  Some of the keystone habits we look to develop through training are:

Learning to overcome adversity

Pushing past your comfort zone

Working positively with others, especially those that are different from you

Taking on bigger challenges with no other reward than the satisfaction of succeeding

Sticking to your commitments

All five of those are critical to success in training, athletics, school, work, and relationships with others.  They go way beyond sports.

BREAKING BAD HABITS

So what about those who already have bad habits in place that need to change?

Author Charles Duhigg states that once habits are deeply ingrained they cannot be eliminated, only replaced by something else.  Yeah that sounds like bad news at first, but if you understand the habit loop you have the secret to changing them!

Do you want to limit the time your kids play video games?

Do you want your kids to eat healthier?

Do you want them to behave in a different way?

Be observant and search for the cues that trigger the habits you’d like to see improved.  Remember that cues can be triggered by a time of day, a particular emotion that kicks in (failure, distraction, stress, need for connection with others, etc), or something else.

Rewards are often not as obvious as they may first seem, so don’t jump to a quick conclusion.   Kids may play video games to get away from the social stress of their school day.  They may eat unhealthy food because they skip breakfast and lunch and became ravenously hungry later on.   Bad behaviors may be attention-seeking, independence-seeking, or something else entirely.  One thing will be true every time, the ‘reward’ for the habit will be deeply meaningful to the person doing it.

Experiment with changing the activity, but never eliminate the reward itself.  With patience, an observant approach, and a bit of trial and error you’ll find suitable replacement eventually.

In the end, it is far easier to build positive habits early in life.  Once they take hold they create a kind of upward momentum that leads to higher levels of success.

If you or someone you know has bad habits that need to change, remember that all is not lost.  Seek to make changes in the routine with the understanding that looking to eliminate the entire habit loop will be nearly impossible, but adaptations can be made that will have a life-long positive impact.

Nothing shapes a child’s future – whether positive or negative – more than the habits they build in their earliest years.   The more we can guide them to building better habits, the more likely they are to succeed.

 

20 Tips & Thoughts On Training

1. Knowing your resting heart rate and measuring it daily to see when it is well above normal is a simple and effective way to know when you, as a fitness enthusiast or an athlete, need to focus more on recovery strategies.

2. Having a ‘fast metabolism’ is something anyone can work towards, but to get there you need to understand how metabolisms work. They are raised by being active of course, but also through the amount of muscle tissue you accumulate (more is better) and the type of food you eat (foods with protein raise it most).

3. Focusing on stability is the single greatest improvement to sports performance training I’ve seen in the last 15 years.  A stable athlete’s strength level always plays up, but an unstable athlete’s strength always plays down.

4. Getting in shape for a sport is uncomfortable because you need to work hard enough to create an after burn effect that forces your body to adapt.   But it needs to be done, because conditioned athletes in every sport are less prone to injury and play better almost all the time.

5. Training is about so much more than athletic performance.  If we can get a kid to understand what it means to commit themselves to a goal that matters to them, and then get them to focus their energies on how to properly go about working towards that goal, we’ve achieved something far more important than success on the field.

6. A 5 to 10 minute static stretch before bed not only relaxes muscles, but also your mind.

7.  Eating is supposed to be enjoyable, even when you’re eating healthy.  No one ever said you had to torture yourself in order to have a quality diet.

8. Focusing first on ‘how well’ instead of ‘how much’ in a workout is something every elite athlete I’ve ever worked with has had in common.

9. 2011 IYCA Coach of the Year and franchise partner Dave Gleason on why we train kids from age 6 to 13,

“You are building a foundation that will give their high school and college coaches more to work with when the time comes.”

10. Every athlete and coach wants their kids to be faster, but few are willing to put in the time to develop it.  Speed improvement takes time, repetition, and dedication to the finer points of athletic movement to be achieved.  If you are the athlete or team that’s willing to follow this path, you’ll end up way ahead of all the kids who give up when they don’t get better in a week or two.

11. If you want a simple way to get an edge on your competition, prioritize training the back side of your body. Most kids fixate on the muscles they can see on the front side, but it is the more powerful ones on the back side that do the most to improve speed, power, and limit injuries.

12. Athletes who get injured almost always struggle with self-confidence and self-image during their recovery.  As parents and coaches we must be very aware of this when digesting the erratic behaviors they will typically show during this challenging time.

13. Every athlete I know who follows a great diet eats breakfast. Every single one.

14. When middle school and high school kids spend more weeks during the year playing their sport than Olympians and professionals, we have reached the point where something is very wrong about how we approach youth sports in our society.

15. The last 30 years has seen an explosion in girls sports participation, and with it a meteoric rise in their injury rates (especially at the high school level).  Getting stronger and more stable are the female athlete’s secret weapons in reversing this trend.

16. Sport-specific training for those age 18 and under is not even close to being as important as identifying individual athletic needs (lack of balance, flexibility, core strength, etc) and hammering away at them until they are no longer a weakness.

17.  Proper warm ups before a workout or practice has been proven over and over to lower the risk of injury during the session that follows.  If you are a coach or fitness enthusiast make sure your warm up includes a good combination of light heart rate elevation and dynamic stretching.  For those who want to improve their flexibility over the long run, move your static stretching to the end of the workout and make it a cool down period that finishes off your practice or workout.

18. Training and youth sports participation has to be fun, no matter how high the skill level.   Would we as adults spend a huge chunk of our time and energy on anything that wasn’t engaging on some level?

19. Sometimes a setback is the best thing that can ever happen to a young athlete, if they are surrounded by supportive people.

20. For those under age 30 you can typically stay in good shape by being active, even if you have a poor diet.  Once you pass age 30, no amount of exercise is going to overcome bad eating habits if you want to stay fit.

 

 

 

Practicing Safely In Hot Weather

Heat illness is a very real concern for fall sports athletes, and it seems like this time of year there is always a story or two about health problems brought on by a youth sports practice in the heat.

Coaches are, by and large, a very caring group who only want to see their players succeed.  And to do that they know their kids need to be challenged from a conditioning standpoint in order to best prepare for the challenges of the upcoming season.

Preexisting health conditions aside, there are many ways that coaches, parents and athletes can still achieve their performance goals while also lowering the risk of heat stroke brought on by conditioning in extreme weather.    Follow these simple steps and you can go a long way to increasing your ability to benefit from practicing in the summer time.

GET ACCLIMATED
Your body is an incredible adaptive machine, and with repeated exposure to hot weather you will undergo physiological changes that help you to function better in hot conditions.  By getting outside and exercising for progressively longer times during the summer, you will be much more ready for that tough August practice than those who have been inside most of the time.

And what if that is you, the kid who has been indoors?  It’s never too late to get at least a little adaptation going, so use your last few days to begin some light conditioning outdoors while also following the other tips below.

STAY HYRDATED
Staying hydrated allows your body to remove heat from inside the body, which is part of why we sweat during intense exercise.   A lower amount of water in the body limits your ability to remove heat through the sweating process, and takes away your natural ability to drop your core temperature.

Coaches and athletes know that frequent water breaks are necessary for sustained exercise in heat (or any weather, for that matter).    What tends to get overlooked is that staying hydrated is a 24-hour process.  It’s not enough to drink during and right after practice.  It starts from the minute you get up to the minute you go to sleep.   Sipping water all day and consuming at least one ounce for every pound of bodyweight (more if you are doing a lot of conditioning) is key.

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, especially water-based types like oranges, apples, peppers, and others can also do wonders for maintaining proper hydration levels.

EAT FOR ELECTROLYTE  BALANCE
Sodium and potassium are two electrolytes that need to stay in balance in order for your cells to function properly and keep you humming along during exercise.  However, any time you sweat heavily for at least an hour your electrolyte balance can be seriously thrown out of whack.

This is mostly due to a loss of sodium, which leaves your body through sweating.  Replacing this sodium loss with a salted, low-fat snack like pretzels will replenish your electrolyte stores and keep you performing at your best.

LIMIT SUNLIGHT EXPOSURE WHEN POSSIBLE
Practicing in direct sunlight causes your body to absorb radiant heat, and further raises your core temperature on top of everything else.  For teams that play outdoors in the fall, it is pretty much unavoidable to practice in the sun.

But on the hottest days it would be helpful to get athletes out of the sun about once per hour for at least 10 minutes or so.  Even this is not ideal, but it would make some difference in keeping your body temperature down.    Practicing earlier or later in the day, when the sun’s rays are not as intense, is a common strategy many coaches already use and should continue to do.

PROGRESS CONDITIONING DAILY
As mentioned above, the human body is an incredible adaptive machine.  From day to day, it is constantly trying to keep up with the demands imposed upon it, whether it be from exercise, weather conditions, or both.

To get the best results from your players and to maximize their health, conditioning should progress over time to give their bodies time to adapt.  Starting out with a punishing 2 or 3 day conditioning start to the season is not only more dangerous for them, but also much less effective.

If you do plan to emphasize conditioning during your first week of practice, make each day progressively more challenging so the toughest workouts come towards the end of the week.  And keep in mind that conditioning is an ongoing development, so continuing to build endurance over the course of many weeks is really the best way to develop your players for the long grind of the upcoming season.

 

Despite a coach or parent’s best effort to keep their kids safe when practicing in hot conditions, sometimes athletes do get overheated.  Feelings of lethargy and nausea are immediate signs an athlete needs to be cooled down.  It is in everyone’s best interest to have a bucket of ice water (separate from drinking water) readily available with towels that can be soaked in the ice water.  Placing a wet ice towel on the back of the neck and forehead can almost immediately drive down their body temperature.  Drinking a cold beverage also helps to get your internal temperature down quicker.

Practicing in hot summer weather is not an ideal situation, but it is one many coaches face this time of year.  To get the results your team needs and to maintain the safest training atmosphere possible, stress these tips to your kids and enjoy the start of what hopefully will be a very positive season for you.

Should Your Child Be Training Like A Pro Athlete?

These days there is an endless supply of online video, not to mention TV footage and magazine articles, showing what professional athletes do in their workouts.  Many times these are highlight reels of the coolest looking or most diffucult exercises they do.

And as a parent of a young athlete, if you’ve ever seen something like this surely you wondered whether this is the type of training your child needs to achieve excellence in their sport.  To understand what types of exercises are best for your young athlete, you must have a firm understanding of what their greatest training needs are at their particular age level.

Up to about age 14 or so, general coordination enhancement is the greatest proiority.  This includes balance, hand-eye, foot-eye and rhythm skill building.   As the years go by, these skills should include increasingly complex coordination challenges that further progress their devlopment.

Athletes at the pro level will still work on coordination but at this level it will be highly specialized to their sport and position.  As an example, an NFL field goal kicker is best served working specifically on kicking a football through goal posts with just their dominant leg from distances that match their in-game needs.   An aspiring 10-year old NFL kicker would be much better served improving their kicking skills with a wide range of objects, with both legs, and with a variety of targets to hit.

Having a 10-year old go out and just kick hundreds of field goals instead of prioritizing general skill development creates two huge long-term problems.  The first is it creates an imbalance of muscle strength and coordination, which we now know is one of the greatest predictors of a future injury.  The second is this approach leads to much higher rates of burnout and a total loss of interest in their sport.

This same scenario could be adapted to any other sport or position with similar implications.

The other primary goal of athletic development up to age 18 is to maximize total-body strength.  Stability around often-injured joints like the shoulders and knees should take a very high priority in these years, along with mastering the most efficient way to execute basic weightlifting drills while slowly progressing the resistance.    When watching training footage of a pro athlete, keep in mind that he or she has spent many years building the great foundation they needed to train this way before ever doing what you see them do.   For younger kids, skill mastery and stabilization matter much more than executing a highly intense drill that looks great but does little to achieve the results they need at this time.

Plyometrics are a great example of this.  Watching an elite athlete do some sort of unbelievable jump training exercise can help a player at that stage gain that extra 1% of power development they need to separate themselves from the competition.  To a 13 year old who may not have the strength or movement skill foundation needed to do the same drill safely, it can lead to either an immediate or long-term overuse injury with no improvement gains whatsoever.  And even if they did have the ability to complete the drill, the level of stress they put on their undeveloped frame still does not justify its use in the big picture.

So what is the lesson we can all learn from seeing what the pros do in their training?  I’d say that for any young athlete who aspires to be like them to remember that it is the countless hours of foundational-development these players did in their younger years that allow them to do what you see them do today.    If that player was standing next to you I’m sure they’d tell you that you can’t get to where they are overnight, but if you keep pushing a little more every day then you can achieve greatness over time.

But be patient, because taking the rarely travelled slow road always gets you much farther in the end.

 

 

Athletic/Fitness Revolution Leominster Launches 3 Month Drive for Youk’s Kids

From April 16 to June 30, Athletic/Fitness Revolution Leominster will be hosting a fundraiser drive to benefit Youk’s Kids, as part of national fundraising campaign Revolution for a Cause.

The local youth fitness and adult personal training business will be joining dozens of other Athletic/Fitness Revolution locations nationwide for the 3 month charity drive.

Having helped numerous clients reach their health and fitness goals, AR/FR Leominster owner Jim Herrick has set his own goal to raise $1,000 in the next 75 days.

Jim stated, “While it’s an ambitious target, I’m confident that we can all pull together to help those in need, especially since it’s a cause that does so much good.”

Youk’s Kids was founded by Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox.  They are dedicated to helping children in need through their Athletes for Heroes program, plus their support of two other causes -  Josh Cares and the Italian Home for Children.

Athletes for Heroes brings together professional athletes from each of New England’s sports teams to support children of fallen or severely injured firefighters, police officers, military men and women as well as courageous citizens who risk their life to save another’s.  The Italian Home for Children helps better the lives of students who have encountered difficult life circumstances.  And Josh Cares, based in Kevin’s hometown of Cincinnati, provides companionship and comfort to children who are hospitalized at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

In addition to selling small items within the training facility, Jim has some bigger plans.

Throughout the month of April, adult boot camp 28-day memberships will be sold for $15. In May, Jim will be running a 1-day youth sports tournament for kids ages 10 to 18.  And in June, there will be a raffle held to win items donated from the foundation.   100% of all the proceeds will go to Youk’s Kids.

Jim explained that all events are open to the public.

“We’re going all-out to reach our goal, and we want both our members and our community to be able to have some fun in the process.”

Athletic/Fitness Revolution International has set a goal of raising $50,000 total in their nationwide Revolution for a Cause drive.

AR/FR President Nick Berry described the reasoning behind the fundraiser.

“We’ve grown so much over the last year that we wanted to leverage our contacts and do something truly great.

“We’re poised to make a difference. By setting such a lofty goal, I wanted to make sure we did.”

To find out more about how to help support any of these fundraising events, go to  http://athleticrevolutionleominster.com/revolution-for-a-cause/

Spit On It And Suck It Up?

Growing up I had a football coach who was not that big on players mentioning or showing they were in pain.  It seemed like at least once per practice we’d hear him tell someone to ‘Spit on it and suck it up!‘   Maybe some of you have had a simliar experience in your younger days.

Acting tough when you are hurt is not always a good idea.  Knowing when to push through vs. seeking immediate treatment is a key step in the growth and maturation process for anyone who plays sports.  Discomfort sometimes means you are injured, and sometimes it does not.

As kids grow through their middle school and high school years, they will experience injury.   It is an unfortunate but very common part of youth sports participation.    I have seen many young athletes push through pain when they could have solved the problem much faster with proper treatment.  Conversely, I have worked with many athletes who needed a better understanding of how to differentiate pain vs. injury, and realize that not all short-term pain is equivalent to injury.

For all of us who work with young athletes and need to determine on the spot if a child is injured, but do not have trained medical personnel alongside them (a typical scenario at many  youth sports games and practices), there are some key signs you should look for right away:

Swelling at or around a joint, and/or loss of range of motion.  This signals there is something going on that the body has determined needs to be fixed immediately.  Icing and elevating any swollen joint is a good initial response to take.  The more swelling and discoloration you see, the greater the trauma.

Disoriented after getting hit in the head.  The more information that comes out regarding concussions and their long-term effects, the more important we’ve all realized proper diagnosis and treatment of them are.  Seek immediate mediacal attention for anyone who fits this description after getting hit in the head by a ball, a puck, an opponent, or slams their head into a solid object.   Concussions are now diagnosed much better but still can fly under the radar because there is no bleeding, swelling, or other obvious visual sign of a problem.

Unstable joints that have more range of motion than they did before.   Particularly for the knees and elbows, this is a sign one or more ligaments have been stretched or torn.  Players who continue playing on a partially torn ligament risk tearing it completely, which requires a much longer recovery time.   Chronically sore knees and elbows should always be taken seriously by parents and coaches as they sometimes (but not always) are due to partial ligament tears.

Any other time a young athlete is noticeably shaken from pain.  This is a much harder symptom to diagnose, as it could be something serious or it could be that they were temporarily frightened and it is not as bad as it may have seemed at first.   Either way, ignoring what to them is a serious event risks a potential break down in trust, which could keep them from revealing more serious pain later on.   Talking down an athlete who is kind of in shock from pain will help you get a better sense of the situation, and avoid making a rush to judgement that may have unintended consequences down the road.

If you feel they may be overreacting, coaches should next try to get a sense of why that may be the case.   Some common reasons why a young athlete would overstate an injury could be:

-  Attention seeking from coaches, parents or other kids on their team

-  An avoidance strategy to get out of something they don’t want to do, which is a sign of a bigger problem (burnout, etc)

-  Fear that stems from a previous injury, being worried they are going through it again

-  Fear stemming from seeing a teammate or opponent experience a severe injury

-  They may not have experienced anything like it before.  The younger an athlete is, the more likely there is a real fear factor coming from the pain whether it is a serious long-term injury or not.

 

When it comes to educating young athletes on how to handle pain in sports, ultimately it is best to achieve both of the following goals:

1.  Kids must know when NOT to fight through pain.   Being tough is obviously important as an athlete and in dealing with the challenges of life, but there is a right time and a wrong time to build toughness.  Clear signs of injury, as mentioned above, are not the time to prove how tough you are.

2. They must learn when it is OK to fight through short-term pain in order to achieve long-term goals.  There are situations where pushing through discomfort may be necessary to help their team succeed, to continue moving forward in their athletic development, or because they do actually need to build more mental toughness.   A common example would be dealing with bruises to muscles or surrounding tissues, where in most cases there is no risk of long-term injury by partipating in a game, practice, or training session but it may be a bit uncomfortable to do so.   Fighting fatigue is also an example of this, because there are times in life where we will be called upon to perform on days we do not feel our best.

 

Athletes at all levels struggle to strike this balance on a regular basis, regardless of sport.   It is an ongoing challenge that they must deal with along their path up the ladder of excellence.

Coaches and parents play a huge role in guiding this process.  Always look for warning signs of real injury without jumping to conclusions either way.   For athletes who tend to obsess on injury all the time – assuming they are not actually injured – a sports psychologist may be an excellent resource to help them through their fears and concerns.

Ultimately we want our kids to be healthy, happy, and prepared to deal with the adversity they will eventually face in the future.     Sports is a great teaching tool for kids in so many ways, and learning how to handle pain is one of the most important lessons they can take from their athletic experiences.