Now that the weather is finally starting to turn we can really say summer is officially over. High school athletes are back in school and our fall schedules are taking shape. We’re preparing to say goodbye to our seniors as they kick off their final year of high school, while welcoming a new younger wave of athletes into the gym. This transition is bittersweet; although we will miss our outgoing seniors, we enjoy celebrating their accomplishments and college commitments.
Before our pro ball players return for a busy off-season I often use these weeks to take an audit of our training practices at the Annex over the summer months. Needless to say, this year was a solid year for college commitments and athlete accolades. Here are three things I believe we, as a facility, did well this summer.
Educating our athletes is one of the single most important things we can do on a daily basis. Depending on the time of year, we may see our athletes anywhere between two to five hours a week. This leaves a lot of time in between training sessions where outside influences can either make or break an athlete’s success. Getting them involved in the training process pays dividends in the long run as most of these kids are looking to play their sport beyond high school, and if they are lucky enough, beyond college. For these individuals, the habits you set with them early on as middle schoolers or high schoolers can help them navigate through their athletic careers.
Simple examples of such habits are getting an athlete to understand the importance of adequate sleep every night or the value of proper nutrition for better performance in the gym and on the field. Without these two things, our jobs as strength coaches become much more difficult as we are running an uphill battle when it comes to managing stress on the athlete. That said, if an athlete can manage to develop sound sleeping and nutrition routines at a young age, those habits will see a huge ROI on performance both as an athlete and as an adult later in life.
From day one we start getting them involved in the training process; this starts with our assessment. Rather than telling them all the things they do wrong or poorly, we discuss WHY we test certain things and WHY certain results create issues. This gets them involved in the process in hopes of creating some early type of “buy-in.”
In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek, an expert on marketing and leadership, speaks about the power of WHY when creating buy-in. The question “WHY” is tied to our limbic brain, the part of the brain that is tied to all of our feelings, like trust and loyalty. Along with feelings, this region is also responsible for human behavior and decision-making. As Sinek explains, if we can relay the “WHY” in our process we can make a profound impact on long-term decision-making and create loyalty with an individual. From there we can more easily create context as to HOW we move forward and ultimately WHAT the athlete will be doing.
What does this mean in relation to training youth athletes? The more invested the athlete is in the process the easier our job becomes. Our ultimate goal as strength coaches is to prepare our athletes for the day we are no longer there to tell them exactly what to do. Whether it’s a student-athlete in college managing their off-field activities, or a high school athlete warming up properly before a game, they need to understand the WHY in the process in order to truly make a lasting impact.
An easy way to do this is to gradually interject an athlete’s input into the training process. Early on in an athlete’s training career they have little context built up and do not have much understanding of what’s going so the main goal is really to just build their movement capacity and their level of comfort in the gym. However, once they start to understand HOW to do things and build their confidence, get them involved in the process. Start getting them involved in WHAT you are doing by getting their input on things like weight selection during lifts or eventually even exercise selection. Building their involvement throughout the process only helps to strengthen their buy-in in the long run.
2. Perfect the Basics
The saying “do the ordinary things extraordinarily well” certainly holds true in the training setting. I find my athletes continue to get better and better the more I emphasize the basics.
When designing programs for beginner athletes my main focuses are: jump, throw, carry, squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull and core stability. Of course, some movements are subject to requisite joint range of motion and proper movement patterns, however a movement screen will help decide where an athlete falls on progressions and/or regressions of each movement pattern. By building a greater movement inventory we can further help to build variability and capacity later in an athlete’s training life.
3. Rest>Everything Else
This last point becomes more and more apparent every day. There is a ton of research out there to back up the importance of rest and recovery and its effects on training quality. There are countless apps like Whoop to help track sleep and others like Omegawave that rate an athlete’s readiness to train on a given day. No doubt these are amazing pieces of tech that have a lot of merit, but some would argue these are best suited for the professional athlete.
For the youth and high school athlete, the main focus should be about getting quality sleep (at least 8 hours) every night and quality food intake. So much of what we do in the gym will carry little weight if we are not prioritizing rest and recovery outside of the gym. Of course, this point goes hand-in-hand with my first point of educating our athletes. Setting the groundwork for these habits pays long-term dividends in an athlete’s competitive career. But most importantly these lessons prepare them for life after sports. These skills will hopefully take them through the rest of their lives and serve them well as healthy adults.
Of course, there are a number of other things that make up an effective training program both inside and outside of the gym, however the more time I spend coaching athletes I begin to realize it’s more about interaction and relationship building than it is about exercise selection and sets and reps. Everything has its place, but realize even the best thought out programming has little effect in an environment that doesn’t promote personal growth and education. Culture is everything! At the Annex, we pride ourselves in our coaching staff and I believe they've done an excellent job executing these points and many others with our athletes this past season.