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.

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.


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.


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?


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


3 Lessons Coaches & Parents Can Learn From The NFL Combine

This upcoming weekend, most of the nation’s top pro football prospects will gather in Indianapolis for the 2013 NFL Combine.   It is what the league refers to as a ’4 day job interview’, where participants are subjected to a battery of physcial tests, position drills, interviews, and aptitude tests to determine how likely they are to succeed in the league.

Millions of dollars can be earned by top performers, and jobs are on the line for the team’s talent evaluators.  Everyone has a huge stake in making sure this event truly measures what it takes to be successful.

And these days, you’ll find combine events for college and pro prospects in just about every other sport, as well.

There are some critical lessons we, as youth coaches and parents, can all take away from these high-stakes events.   As you watch the incredible athletic feats demonstrated this weekend, remember that what you see is a product of the thousands of hours these college kids put in since they were very young.  And remember too that there is a correct path to reaching the heights of athletic development. When followed correctly, it can add up to serious success in the long run

LESSON 1 – Do Everything You Can To Build Speed & Agility
3 of the 6 main physical tests (40 yd dash, 5-10-5 shuttle and 3 cone drill) measure pure speed and cutting ability.  Why?  Athletes who can get from Point A to Point B in the least amount of time – whether in a straight line or with some stops along the way – make more plays.  This is not exclusive to football, it is true for almost all sports.

How should young athletes begin working on speed?

As early in possible as life, encourage your kids to move and move often.  It doesn’t have to be a formal event or practice, in fact that may be detrimental in earlier years, so have some fun with them.  Their nervous system will figure things out far better than our coaching cues anyways.

Put them in a coordination and balance rich environment often.  Create engaging but challenging activities that enhance their ability to move better while building an early base of stability, which will help even further.

Develop healthy eating habits early on, as well.  A large part of being fast involves maximizing your strength while minimizing your body mass.  Poor eating habits will not only drain your energy but will also hamper your ability to stay both lean and strong simultaneously.

Get strong, and keep getting stronger at an age appropriate level.  In your earlier years jumping, running and other basic bodyweight activities will do plenty.  As time goes on resistance will need to increase.  Band and free weight exercises, along with advanced bodyweight strength will achieve great results when implemented properly.

Refine speed and agility technique once your kids are mature enough where they can internalize specific coaching.  In my experience I’ve seen kids as young as 9 years old learn and improve from specific technique tips, but this is rare.  Usually it’s not until 12 years old or later, but the earlier the better as poor habits will be easier to break.  Coaches will need to be a commanding force when technique drills are covered, since so much of speed development is about repeating and perfecting movements.  Balance the seriousness of technique work with some game-based drills where kids can be kids and have some fun, but be sure to make clear your expectations for focus and effort when you transition back to skill work.


LESSON 2 – If Speed is the #1 Most Coveted Physical Ability, Explosive Power Is Clearly #1A
The NFL also has 2 separate explosive power tests, the vertical jump and broad jump.  With the understanding that speed is a byproduct of power output, then 5 of the 6 performance tests this weekend will measure power in one form or another.

Power is highly sport-specific.  The NFL uses the vertical jump and broad jump because the evaluate a prospect’s ability to tackle and block well.  A soccer combine may be more concerned with kicking power, hockey combines may measure slap shot power, and all other sports may have their own variations of power tests too.

For youth performance coaches and parents looking to build sport-speicifc power, you should be focusing on two skills that form the foundation of almost all power movements – hip hinging and hip rotation. 

By learning to hinge at the hip joint correctly, you can maximize power output while jumping, skating and sprinting.   Young athletes sometimes incorporate too much knee or even lower back flexion and avoid using the more powerful hip muscles.   Re-teaching this pattern will unlock their true power potential, and allow them to further improve their explosiveness by properly executing advanced exercises like Olympic lifting and plyometrics as they get older.

Hip rotation is critical to power output in sports like baseball, softball, ice hockey, field hockey, tennis, golf, and lacrosse.   Done properly, you will be able to explode through the entire trail side of your movement, from the foot all the way through the shoulders.  Being able to maximize total-body rotational power will once again unlock your current potential and make better use of development exercises using tools like medicine balls and functional training machines.


LESSON 3 – Elite Athletes Come In All Shapes And Sizes

This weekend you will see both  5′ 8″, 170 lb and 6’8″, 350 lb prospects, along with many others at just about every size in between.  Extended beyond pro football, there is a much wider range of male and female athletic frames, skill sets and abilities.

The lesson?  Kids should never focus on what they cannot become, and instead seek inspiration in all the things they can become some day with dedication, effort, and perseverance.   No matter what your current size or skill level may be, there are doors of opportunity somewhere for you if you truly want to achieve excellence.

To increase a young athlete’s chances of success, the  younger years should be dedicated to taking part in a wide range of activities, and developing basic physcial skills.  Pigeonholing them into one sport or activity too early will make it much harder to create the large ‘toolbox’ of athleticism needed to excel later on.

The undersized and lightning quick 8 year old may grow to be the tallest person in his or her 9th grade class.   Younger kids whose parents may see as being too stocky could find an active sport they love and completely transform themselves in their teenage years. Not knowing where a child will actually end up, by focusing on variety and foundational skills over a sport-specific track you  will maximize their chance of long-term success.


If you do watch any of the testing this weekend keep in mind that it took a lot of hard work for each of them to get where they are right now.  And also remember that although every kid will not become a professional athlete some day, there are certain traits that all elite athletes need to reach the top that are trainable and can be greatly enhanced over time.


Why We Do In-Season Training For High School Athletes

High school athletes who are in-season must budget their time extremely well.  For most competitive athletes these days the time and energy commitment needed to succeed in their chosen sport is as intense as it has ever been.  Add to that (hopefully) an equally strong focus on academics, and you have a generation of kids that couldn’t get much busier when their season rolls around.

Often times, our athletes quickly assume they will not have the time to train even for a single hour each week once they start practices.  They probably do this because they remember what it feels like to be worn down and exhausted during the peak times of their last season, and can’t even fathom taking on a workout on top of their team commitments.

But just like anything else, we can always find an hour in our lives to devote to something that we know is important to us.  And if you are a coach or a serious athlete who wants to succeed, you should know that in-season training has a pretty strong list of reasons why it can give you or your team a big competitive advantage.

It will lower your risk of injury.  Let’s first understand that no workout routine, no matter how cutting edge and well thought out, will make you bulletproof from sports injuries.  But by doing regular soft tissue work (foam rolling, etc) for mobility and doing low volume, high-intensity stability training it is likelier that the contact injuries you do sustain will be less severe, or in the case of muscle strains may be avoided entirely.

You will have MORE, not less energy.  Foam rolling also increases blood flow to overworked muscles, allowing for quicker recovery from exhausting practices and games.   Workouts that emphasize lighter but explosive power movements will keep your nervous system more alert and energized than they would be otherwise.  The combined result is that you will feel fresher during the toughest parts of your schedule.

It will have a slight but noticeable impact on your conditioning.    Gravity is always trying to pull you down. When standing or running in poor postural positions you are allowing gravity to exert more downward pressure on your upper body, creating extra work through your midsection to have to keep from falling face down on the ground.  Since you would want to conserve as much energy as possible during intense competition, training for stability in your core and shoulder regions will enhance posture and reduce the amount of wasted energy that invisibly wears athletes down.  Thus, an athlete training in-season will have a greater capacity to play hard deeper into games.

You will maintain a greater percentage of the gains you made in the off-season.   This is the most obvious benefit, because by continuing on a work out routine during the season all those hard-earned gains you made previously will not fade away as quickly.

It is important to understand that your training will be much less intense during the season, so you will not be able to push hard enough to improve or even keep 100% of what you built.  However, if you can maintain 75% of your physical gains through playoff time, as opposed to 20%, you will play much better during the games that matter most.

It strengthens your resolve.  The more proactive an athlete is in their own success, the more likely it is they will sacrifice to achieve a goal.  Taken on an individual level, the simple act of prioritizing a workout in-season sends a powerful subconscious message that you are willing to go above and beyond to achieve excellence.  And imagine the impact of an entire team that willingly works on their development during the season while their competition gets more worn down with each passing week.

For the organized high school athlete who is balancing sports and academics during their season, finding a way to devote one hour each week to improving their explosiveness, strength, conditioning, resolve, and energy levels is a clear win for them.   At a time when everyone is looking for competitive advantages to separate themselves from the competition, a well thought out in-season workout routine can have one of the biggest impacts on your individual or team success as anything else you could do.