Do Sports Kids Have A Protein Problem?

The average young athlete these days is working very hard to achieve their goals, but they’re doing it on a less than optimal nutrition plan.

And more often than not, at the heart of their problem is a total misunderstanding of how to take in adequate amounts of protein.

I’m sure you already know that protein is incredibly important for active people because it helps repair and rebuild broken down muscle tissue that is damaged from exercise, both during sports participation and in programs like ours.  

Protein acts as the building blocks, the materials your body uses to rebuild a new and better you.

But it can only be digested in relatively small doses, roughly 20-35 grams per meal.

Considering that active people need between 0.7 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight daily, that’s a lot of meals that need a good protein source.  Even a 125 lb person needs 3-4 protein-rich meals per day.

So how can any kid, athletes in particular, reach this number if they do not eat a quality breakfast?

Let’s take what appears to be a very common scenario with at least the kids we work with, but probably active kids everywhere.

We’ll start at the point you fall asleep, and assume you are getting 8 hours of sleep and do not get up to eat a meal during this time.

With your remaining 16 hours to get in your protein-rich meals, you choose to not eat breakfast, or have :

  • a bagel
  • toast
  • muffin
  • pop tart
  • scone
  • pancake
  • French toast
  • juice

all of which have no proetin at all.  

Protein cannot be stored and used for a later time, so when you wake up you are desperately in need of an infusion of fresh building supplies, but you let the fast continue even longer.

That gets you to probably mid-morning, leaving at best 12 hours to reach your rebuilding needs.  You’d have to perfectly thread the needle and have a high-protein meal every 3 hours until you go to bed, a nearly impossible task.

So most kids wander through their day underrecovered, developing at a rate that is behind where they could be if they did a better job of spreading their protein meals out throughout their day.

To me, this is where the facination with shakes and supplements comes in for many high school and college athletes.  They are trying to make up for a massive nutritonal error to start the day by overloading their diet with protein later on.

There is nothing wrong with a protein bar or shake sometimes if its not more than about 30 grams worth.

But in huge amounts your body just can’t process it all at once, so most of what you pay big money for literally gets flushed away.

Breakfast is so important for so many reasons, but for active athletes and kids everywhere it is the chance to replenish their protein stores at the start of the day that makes it most valuable.

It is such an athletic advantage that, if you aren’t eating a protein-rich breakfast right now, starting to do so might be the single greatest way you have to improve the performance you see from your workouts and sports practices this summer.

Here are some better breakfast choices for ending your overnight protein fast:

GOOD CHOICES:

  • Eggs
  • Yogurt (Greek Yogurt has more protein)
  • Ham or another lean meat
  • Lowfat milk

BETTER THAN NOTHING CHOICES:

  • Peanut butter
  • Sausage
  • Bacon
  • Protein bar or shake
  • Cheese

 

 

4 Key Findings From Our Performance Combine

This June we ran our 2nd round of performance testing for all of our athletes.  Now that we have gone through all the resuts, we’ve learned much more about how each athlete has progressed over the last 3 months, and what they need next.

But just as interesting is that with 2 sets of data we can now see some trends in the way our athletes change over time.  

With over 100 kids testing in each season, our findings still represent a small sample but had enough participants to present us with some very useful conclusions.

Here are the most critical ones you should know.

1. You Lose Speed and Power More Than Strength When You Train Less (Or Not At All)

This came as a big surprise, at least to me, that the kids who cut down most drastically  on their workouts since February to play a spring sport did not lose a significant amount of strength during that time.  It appears that the gains made in the off-season pretty much held up for at least 12 weeks with minimal workout time.

What did drop quite a bit, though, was their speed and power.  We measured these with vertical jump, Pro-I Agility, and Hang Clean scores, all of which took about a 10% hit during the spring for this group of athletes.

This is the true value of kids who train in-season.  Even if you’re not the fastest or most powerful kid on the first day of practice, taking the time to get less tiring workouts in during your season that focuses on speed and power will make you about 10% better at the end of it.

And that is the time when good teams play their most important games.

2. Being A Complete Athlete Really Helps   

We compiled a list of every athlete who scored at least at proficient on all 8 tests in our combine.  Tests covered strength, power, speed, flexibility and balance.

About 25-30% of our kids met this basic proficiency level, which we refer to as our Complete Athletes.  

And what do these kids have in common?

They aren’t just very good athletes, they also happen to be a group that’s stayed injury-free over this period of time.   Probably not a coincidence.

3. You Can See Growth Spurts From Test Results 

It is rare that any athlete would significantly lose flexibility over a 3 month period, unless they have experienced a major injury in that time.

But we noticed a group of about 6-8 kids who did not get hurt yet still saw their flexibility scores take a noticeable downward turn.

They were all between the ages of 13 and 15.  This leads us to believe it was due to a current growth spurt, or one that is about to occur.

Getting ahead of growth spurt challenges are important not just for long-term development, but to lessen the physical discomfort and awkward challenges that growing presents to our kids.

4. Our Middle School Athletes and High School Boys Are Progressing Faster Than Our High School Girls 

We post our Top 3 Most Improved athletes from the previous season in our facility for Middle School Boys and GIrls, plus High School Boys and Girls.

Every group had a long list of kids who made significant improvements this past spring.

Well, except for one.

Our high school girls scored far below all the other groups as far as improvement this spring.

Part of the problem is that our high school girls do not train for very long – only a small number of them even stayed for 2 consecutive seasons to train.  Usually they come and go in just a couple months, not building enough of a foundation to see real gains.

Another part is they are also a group that misses a lot of workouts.  Many did not complete all 8 tests in either season, even with a makeup week added, because they aren’t here enough for us to score them.

Simply put, almost all of our high school girls do not train enough to significantly improve their athletic skills the way our other groups are.   The numbers are very clear on this point.

 

Whether positive or negative, having all this information at our disposal is only going to make it easier for us to help our kids here get better in the future. 

Hopefully learning about at least one of these trends will help you, as well.

Are You An ’80′?

Once every season, we take all our athletes through a 2 week performance assessment during their workouts.
It consists of 8 tests with a point system attached, the highest score per test being 10 points.
The goal of this is three-fold:
1.  To identify each individual’s greatest development needs right now, so we can create better programming for every athlete training with us.
2.  To track the progress of each individual over longer periods of time, giving them a simple system to see if they are moving towards that magic overall 80 point score (Its not easy to do! Our highest score last March was 52).
3. To detect categories that many of our athletes score low in, forcing us to confront the reality of whether our development system is truly working for our kids.  As an example, in the winter we noticed low flexibility scores overall and have adapted our workout design to add more stretching for those who needed it.
So what are the 8 categories we test?
MOVEMENT SKILLS
Tests #1 and 2 work off of the Functional Movement Screen designed by Gray Cook, we use the FMS Squat and Lunge test to indentify basic flexibility and balance concerns.
These are best thought of as the injury prevention tests, but great balance and flexibility are also important in projecting speed, agility and power for sport.
(The FMS is a great tool for coaches and is a big part of our initial assessments with new athletes. Those interested in learning more can go to http://www.functionalmovement.com/ )

POWER, SPEED & AGILITY 
Obviously a critical performance category for athletes in any sport.  We use 3 tests that are commonly used in college and pro prospect combines:
Test #3 – Pro I Agility (5-10-5 Shuttle Run) for cutting and speed
Test #4 – Vertical Jump for leg power
Test #5 – Hang Clean for explosive strength and power output
Later this year we will add a sprint speed test to this category.
STRENGTH
This category has some different tests based on ages, but again we stick to basics because in most cases these are the performance tests that scouts and elite team coaches will score them on as well.
Test #6 – Bench Press or Pushups for pressing strength
Test #7 – Monkey Bar Climbs for grip strength
Test #8 – Deadlift or KB Goblet Squat for leg strength
Since we just began doing this last March, this is the first season where we’ll be able to see changes in both our individual athletes and our group overall.  This will bring even more clarity to how we can best serve all the hard-working, dedicated kids in our program who dream of reaching higher levels in their sport.

3 Key Injury Prevention Tips For Throwing Athletes

Spring is the season for throwing athletes, particularly in baseball and softball.  And with throwing season in full bloom, elbow and shoulder pain are guaranteed to come along with it just as predictably as the days starting to get longer.

Rotator cuff tears, torn labrums, Little League elbows and other joint problems are about to be in full bloom across America as a whole new set of unprepared arms break down under the strain of the throwing motion.

Coaches and leagues everywhere have wisely focused on improved mechanics, better warm up techniques, and tighter restrictions on how much throwing can be done as excellent preventative measures for our kids.

But even with all of that, an understabilized and restricted arm is still a major candidate for plysical issues.

Here are 3 simple but powerfully effective ways any throwing athlete can further reduce their risk of shoulder and elbow injury problems through lower-intensity training activities.

Tip #1 – Use A Foam Roller Regularly

Your shoulder is designed to move free and easy throughout a full range of motion.  A high volume of throwing will create tightness in the muscles involved which limits your shoulder’s ability to move as freely as it previously did.

Foam rolling is a simple way to loosen up those tight throwing muscles.  It is essentially a self-massage mechanism and can dramatically relieve tension in any soft tissue if used regularly.  (Our full foam roll article can be found here.)

Working through a routine where the forearms and every muscle around the shoulder are rolled out is recommended, along with any other muscles you have that get tight.

Tip #2 – Stabilize Your Shoulder With Band Resistance Training

If you’ve ever gone to physical therapy you know band reistance is a key piece of the rehabilitation puzzle.  And for all the same reasons, its a great tool to use for preventing injuries, as well.

Bands develop end range of motion strength because that is where a stretched band provides the most resistance.  This is where many people are weakest and susceptible to breakdowns.

Bands, unlike weights which can only use gravity for vertical loading, can provide horizontal and diagonal loading forces that are much more similar to the strains incurred from a typical throwing motion.  Matching the plane of motion in which injuries occur is a typically overlooked aspect of injury prevention training.

And finally, bands can improve flexibility at the same time they add end-range strengthening.  This critical two-for-one aspect makes an even more unique and beneficial resistance tool.

Tip #3 – Use A Modest Amount Of Closed-Chain Strength Drills

With a controlled amount of volume, some strength training can still be beneficial to a thrower while in-season.

For exercise selection, make sure you are focused on closed-chain exercises.  Closed chain exercises for your upper body are the ones where your hands are in a fixed position.

A pushup is a closed chain drill because your hands stay on the ground, but a bench press is not.  There are many more examples of each.

The reason these drills are better for throwers is because they strengthen the critical rotator cuff muscles that connect the shoulder joint to the scapulas.  And of course the reason why you have probably heard of the rotator cuff is because you know or heard of someone who tore theirs….likely when throwing or doing some other overhead movement.

 

A strong and healthy shoulder has the added benefit of reducing strain on the elbow joint, as well.  It is the critical link in the chain for pitchers and all other throwers.  By taking action to keep them functioning at peak capacity, you’ll drastically reduce your injury risk this spring and summer.

Filters To Athletic Success

Back in my college days I remember one of our engineering labs using this giant machine to filter sediment.

Essentially what it did was, after we’d pour a mixture of dirt and rocks into the top of the machine, separate the pieces by size.  It did this by falling through a series of grated trays, each one with progressively smaller holes than the one above it.

The bigger rocks would catch and stay on the top filter, the next biggest pieces would catch on the next one, and so on.  So the only sediment that made it through all the filters were the finest grains of sand.

In many ways, this is similar to how athletic development sorts itself out over time.  Each level of success seems to have its own key filters as kids go from youth leagues to high school, college and beyond.

Not every sport is exactly the same, but there are some clear filters to athletic success that span over a large number of them.   There are certain ‘big rocks’ that need to come first for early success, with a series of more refined skill sets that are necessary as you climb the ladder over time.

Parents and coaches who are drowning in the sea of athletic opportunity for their young athletes these days should keep in mind that what your kids need at different age levels will vary, but those needs are often more predictable than you think.

 

The Biggest Rock – General Coordination and Movement Skills

Go to any youth sports league and watch the kids who rise above the rest.  Almost certainly it will the the ones who have the best coordination.  They can shoot balls or pucks with more accuracy, square up on fastballs better in baseball or softball, and do many other skills that require basic coordination better than their age-level peers.

Coordination in running technique will also allow them to move better too, making the need to develop more fluid and athletic movements the first filter to reaching success in sports.

The early years where this dominates will last somewhere until around 10-12 years old.

 

The 2nd Biggest Rock – Bodyweight Strength & Its Impact On Speed

At the next level you’ll find that most every top player has passed through the coordination filter, so now the ability to cover more ground will take on greater importance.

Passing through this filter is a bit trickier, because it could be a need for strengthening, weight management, or both.

Poor nutrition habits or a lack of activity outside of their sport may lead to problems with excess weight gain.

Alternately, some kids grow taller at a rapid rate but their strength levels do not keep pace.  This creates a scenario where they will appear to play slower in relation to peers who used to be equal or behind them speed-wise.

These concerns typically first maifest themselves during the middle school years, and based on sports dropout and obesity rates for this age level, it is the hardest filter for young athletes to pass through.

 

The 2nd Smallest Rock – Technical Movement, Strategic, and Sport-Specific Skills

With initial speed, strength and coordination needs met at this point, most kids will find that the technical side of athletics begins to take on more and more importance.

Team strategies and playing beyond oneself become more essential as athletes seek to thrive in the systems of established high school or AAU programs.

More refined sport-specific skills (puck handling, dribbling, passing, etc), forged through countless hours of practice are necessary to separate a player from all the other coordinated, fast kids at this stage.

And as the game once again speeds up, more advanced speed & agility technique provides another critical advantage for those who wish to slip through to the next filter.

 

The Smallest Rock – Body Composition & Power Maximization

Regardless of sport or gender, the clear trend in athletics over the last 20 years is for bigger and stronger athletes to reach the pinnacle of success.

What makes this such an elite challenge is that getting bigger and more powerful cannot interfere with the coordination, flexibility, or speed skills previously built.    This is an incredibly fine line to walk.

And when you add in that you’ll have to have your nutrition and recovery streamlined as well, succeeding at this stage requires an almost round-the-clock commitment to success.

 

Keep in mind that none of the previous filters ever go away completely, in fact often times they require advanced strategies too as you reach higher on the ladder of athletic success.

But the biggest takeaway for coaches and parents is that every piece of the athletic puzzle has its time and place, and there are different areas that are most likely to cause challenges for your kids to be addressed at each level.

Those who take a smarter long-term approach are far more likely to see the ultimate success they dream of.

Is It Really Speed That You Need?

In talking to prospective new participants in our youth training programs, I’d say about 90% of the time they immediately mention speed as a skill they want to improve on.

Without a doubt speed is a critical piece of the puzzle in most sports.  Typically it is one of the bigger factors in players moving up the ladder of athletic success as they get to high school and beyond.

But is speed development as it is typically understood (“Go run sprints!”) what you should focus your time and energy on?

In many cases there are other ways for younger athletes to get faster.

Unfortunately being fast is a more complex skill to develop.

If you want to be more flexible, you stretch.

If you want to get stronger, you lift weights or something else that provides resistance.

But for speed, there is a set of ‘puzzle pieces’ that have to be put together.  And without all the pieces in place, you’ll never see the complete picture.

The Speed Puzzle Pieces:

  • Fast Twitch Muscle Fiber Ratio.  There are different types of muscle fibers (Type I and Type II plus some subcategories), Type I designed for endurance and Tyle II for faster, short duration movements.  People have different percentages of each, and much of this is genetically determined.However, there is much evidence now to support the fact that explosive training exercises (Olympic Lifting, plyometrics, quickfoot drills, etc) can expand your Type II fiber capability, improving your ability to accelerate.
  • Strength To Body Mass Ratio.  By either getting stronger without gaining more size, or by getting leaner without losing strength, you can make yourself faster.   In pro sports you typically see the ‘get leaner’ side of this equation when players come back faster, but in younger athletes it is usually the ‘get stronger’ side that has the greatest impact.
  • Foot skill Technique.  There is a definite technical element to sprinting and cutting most effectively.  Often times there are a handful of mistakes a slower athlete is constantly making that limits their ability to cover more ground.  By identifying and eliminating these footwork errors, speed improves.
  • Being Active.   Sometimes it is as simple as getting out and running, either in a team setting or practicing on your own.  History has shown that the most active people, especially when younger, grow up to be faster than those who are less active.
  • Flexibility.  This helps in two main ways.  First, it will allow you to maximize the distance you cover with each stride so you get from Point A to Point B in fewer steps.  Second, it allows you to better position your hip level to create a ‘load & explode’ aspect to your change-of-direction ability.
  • Stability.  Probably the most overlooked part of speed development, and likely why youth sports injury rates continue to climb, as well.  Being stable in your ankle and hip joints, plus being able to control your upper body movements with a stable core, will let you maximize the speed and power you currently possess.
  • Coordination.  An athlete who can skip well is almost certain to have great arm drive in their sprint technique, while those who struggle with skips and other basic coordination skills are most likely going to play unathletically, too.This is compounded by the fact that when kids are growing their limb lengths constantly change, making coordination come and go.  But consistent work on many basic movement skills can accelerate the coordination development learning curve.

Can you see where your current gaps are?

Every athlete who knows they need to improve their speed is deficient in at least one of these areas, possibly even a majority of them.

For some people it will be as simple as going out and running sprints, but in many cases there are other pieces to connect that will provide much greater impact.

Many of these components require a lower amount of energy to develop, like coordination, flexiblity, footskill technique and stability.  They are things you can work on year-round even if you are already active and playing sports most of the time.

Just remember that with the complexity of speed development it is important to understand that patience and persistence are critical to long-term success.  There just isn’t an overnight solution to it.

However, when you find your real needs and begin hammering away at them, you’ll see progress that can’t ever be taken away from you.  And all the kids who only went out to run some sprints (or did nothing at all) will be left scratching their heads at how you can now blow by them on the field!

Important New Feature For All Of Our Athletes

We are always looking to give our athletes the greatest advantage in their workout programs compared to their competition, and recently we’ve added a new feature that we believe will do exactly that.

 

This past week we have concluded our first season of performance combine testing in our group personal training classes.  Using tests commonly run at college and pro prospect combines held around the country, we now have a system in place to accurately track changes in both our middle school and high school athletes.

 

Testing can be time consuming and a bit boring, but the benefits are just too great to pass up.  Consider all that our athletes will gain from this new system:

 

  • It allows us to accurately track your improvement in a range of skills (balance, flexiblity, speed, agility, strength, power) over time, to see where you are getting better and where you have hit a plateau.

 

  • We can use this information to create even more targeted workouts for each participant in our program, speeding up your results on the field, ice, or court.

 

  • With such a large part of our population in the growth spurt stage, we can see how movement skills change and stay ahead of some common issues that cause injury at the high school and college levels.

 

  • Since we took commonly used tests, it gives our kids a window into where they rank vs. elite competition from around the country.  As an example, if one of our athletes runs the Pro I agility test in under 4 seconds they will know they have developed elite level speed and cutting skills compared to anyone, anywhere, in any sport.

 

  •  It will teach our kids that talent is earned, and nothing stays the same over time.  Hard work and smart programming will lead to improvements in specific areas of need, while a step back in intensity or poor planning can show you very quickly that there is no guarantee you’ll become the complete athlete you hoped to be.

 

Between this tracking system and our Champion skills development system, I am very excited to tell you that every single athlete working with us now has a clear and comprehensive road map for their long-term development.

 

How To Become A Complete Athlete

Kids come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities.

Some make huge progress in their sports over time, but others do not.

Many have the drive to succeed but get frustrated over time because they don’t see progress in their performance.

Unfortunately, becoming what we refer to as a ‘Complete Athlete’ has many facets.  It’s not as easy as everyone going out and taking a few more shots or doing a few more pushups to reach the top.

But if there is an overall formula for excelling in athletics over time, it would be this:

STEP 1 – Honestly assess what your strengths and weaknesses are as an athlete/teammate

STEP 2 – Work diligently do shore up all of your weaknesses

STEP 3 – Continue to work on growing your strengths, especially those that will allow you to achieve high levels of success in your specific sport or activity.

Simple, right?

No one can do Steps 2 & 3 for you, but to complete the first step you’ll need to know all the variables that come together to create the Complete Athlete.

So here is your comprehensive checklist, broken down by category, of all the attributes you’ll need to become elite in almost any sport.

PERFORMANCE SKILLS
The more glamorous category of physical skills typically advanced through training.

STRENGTH –Just about every sport these days emphasizes getting stronger more than ever before.  Why? Because strength leads to being faster and more powerful, plus it will help you play a more physical game.

POWER – Explosive bursts are what sports are all about – kicking, throwing, shooting in stick sports, and many other movements require a potent combination of speed and strength.

SPEED – The faster players and teams cover more ground and make more plays.  This is the most coveted skill by scouts and coaches, although it is important to remember it is still just one of many pieces of the puzzle.

AGILITY – Cutting skills, often going hand in hand with speed but has more technical parts to it than simply sprinting.  Not to mention you can add defensive footwork skills like shuffling, crossover runs, and backpedals here too.

BALANCE/COORDINATION – An underlying group of skills that is best described as being ‘athletic’ in your movements.  Balance and coordination are key factors in helping you make jaw-dropping moves while also keeping you injury resistant.

SPORT SPECIFIC CONDITIONING – You need to be in good enough shape to play a complete game consistently throughout the season.  This varies widely by sport, as a soccer player needs more continuous conditioning compared to the stop and start sports like baseball and softball.

 

SKILL DEVELOPMENT
The actual skills you need to express your athleticism.

GENERAL – Running, skipping, jumping, throwing, catching, kicking, spinning and all the other fundamental movement skills.  This wide range of general skills is best developed by age 13.

SPORT SPECIFIC – The skills you’ll need to put your 10,000 hours of practice in to as you get older.  It could be chipping if you’re a golfer, taking slap shots for hockey, or free throws for basketball.  There are too many to list here.

 

INJURY RESISTANCE
Does it really matter how good you are if you’re always hurt?
(Likely the most neglected category in sports right now at all levels.)

MOBILITY – Can your arms, legs, and upper torso move through full ranges of motion?  If not you may be susceptible to deceleration injuries as you become more powerful, as your body has less time to ‘brake’ before coming to a complete stop.

TISSUE QUALITY – Muscles and other connective tissue lose their elasticity due to intense exercise, which can come from workouts or the demands of in-season game/practice schedules.  Any type of soft-tissue massage, typically from a foam roller or massage specialist, allows joints to continue to move through full ranges of motion and receive the vital nutrients they need to regenerate.

STABILITY – Sometimes you need to be able to resist motion in order to avoid moving too far.  Particularly through your midsection, lower legs and shoulders, creating maximum stability without sacrificing mobility will lower your injury risk.

SYMMETRY – Other than having a previous injury, the greatest predictor of your future injury risk is an imbalance of strength and/or flexibility from one side of your body to the other.  Imbalances are trainable when workouts are designed properly.

 

MENTAL PROFILE (definitions from Jeremy Boone’s Athlete Mindset course)
The intangible category that is impossible to improve unless you are willing to confront your weaknesses.

SELF CONFIDENCE – Do you believe in yourself and your ability to achieve your goals?

FOCUS – How well do you maintain concentration on the details of the task at hand?

COMPETITIVE FIRE – Is your desire to succeed greater than your fear of failure?

SELF DISCIPLINE – How well do you adhere to a practice and training routine to control your behavior and desires in order to achieve your goals?

SELF MOTIVATION – What is the quality of your present desire to improve?

COACHABILITY – How well do you take instruction from those who can help you raise your game?

GAME INTELLIGENCE – How well do you understand the tactical aspects of your sport, and position?

MENTAL TOUGHNESS – Do you have the ability to cope with the present in order to accomplish your future objectives?

TEAM PLAYER – Do you put the team’s needs ahead of your own when necessary?

PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY – How well do you face up to and address your personal strengths & weaknesses?

 

PHYSICAL PROFILE
Often times the hardest to change, but can be adapted to better fit your sport and position.

HEIGHT – Other than nutrition factors in your younger years, this is pretty much out of your control.  But it should match the demands of your sport.  If you’re 7’ tall your odds of excelling in basketball are much better than in gymnastics.

WEIGHT – Through proper eating and training you can gain or lose weight to match the needs of your sport and position.  However, some of this is genetically determined…not everyone can become an NFL lineman.

BODY COMPOSITION – Going hand in hand with weight is the ratio of muscle to fat that you carry, and is also adaptable based on nutrition and training.  Most roles in sports, but not all, require you to be lean in order maintain your speed and conditioning.

 

Do you see where your strengths for your sport & position lie?

These are the things that are fueling your current athletic success, but for now they should not be the primary focus  of your training and development time.

 

Can you identify 3 to 6 areas from this list where improvement would raise your game?

Be honest and face up to those needs.

Then go out and start working on them!

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.

Start With WHY

If you or someone you know sets a New Year’s Resolution to change a habit or set an annual goal, this one tip will greatly improve your chances of success.

In the book ‘Start With Why’, author Simon Sinek states that the things we do have 3 layers - WHATHOW, and WHY.

WHAT we do is pretty obvious.  They are our jobs, hobbies, habits and so on.

HOW we do them goes a bit deeper.  This layer gets a bit more specific on the way you go about doing what you do, and can take a variety of forms.

But the key part is the deepest layer, WHY we do the things we do.  It comprises the emotional reasons that cause us to do WHAT we do, whether we realize them or not.

So let’s get back to New Year’s Resolutions, which have a pretty poor reputation for having a lasting effect (in factbig box gyms set their entire business model around failed fitness resolutions).

Most people who set these annual goals state WHAT they wish to do – lose weight, stop smoking, get a promotion, make the varsity team, etc.

The more motivated among us might even lay out a plan for getting there, meaning they will determine HOW they will accomplish that goal.

But unless you reach down to the emotional level and tap in to WHY this goal means so much to you, your chances of success are brutally low.

So if you are determined to make 2014 the year that you:

 

Get faster

Gain those 10 lbs of muscle you need to play at the next level

Get back into shape and feel 10 years younger

Quit a bad habit

Recover fully from a serious injury

Work towards anything that will make you better 12 months from now,

 

then the best first step you can take today is to really make it clear in your mind WHY this is so important to you.

Think about what it will feel like to be there at the finish line, and how your life will be positively affected by the hard work and discipline you display.

Start with WHY, and the odds are much better that your goal actually will become a reality.