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Saturday, August 25, 2012

part 2 of 2 on How to build an Athlete

In PART 1 of How to Build an Athlete  I left off with the crucial ingredients to building an athlete:
  • Mobility
  • Agility 
  • Speed
  • Power
  • Well being [replaces strength]

MOBILITY. This may come as a shocker but, just because I mentioned this first doesn't mean it is the most important. However, it is essential as an athlete develops to maintain the prerequisite mobility for their respective sport. Ages 5-11 years of age is the crucial time to begin working on mobility since this is the critical stage for enhancing flexibility. Gender does make a difference. Boys between the ages of 9-12 begin to lose forward trunk flexibility. Girls accelerate flexibility gains at the age of 11. Maintainence of flexibility should be preservered through adolescence.

AGILITY is the most under researced in adolescent sports performance and paradoxically it is the most important for developing athletic prowess. Agility development should be targeted at prepubescence  and adolescence. Limb strength and running speed are key components of agility, thus it is important coordination and movement patterns are taught in the early years. That is why I strongly recommend the park for introducing agility. This playful environment allows for the commencement of neural enhancement i.e. coordination. Prepubescent has already been established as a key stage for strength and speed development.

SPEED may be developed through maturation which means speed is trainable throughout childhood and adolescence . Prepubescents neural activation for speed includes high levels of plyometerics and sprint training. Adolescents responded more to neural and structural development ie. strength and plyometerics. I would encourage prepubescents to work on technical competency, speed work and plyometerics to provide an infrastructure for existing physical qualities. Adolescents, on the other hand, should focus on strength training, plyometerics and sprint training for overall speed gains.

POWER development commences at adolescence and continues throughout adulthood. That is not to say this stage cannot begin in the prepubertal phase. However, the rate and magnitude of development  may differ before and after the onset of puberty. I disagree with the implement of 'popular' training programs to introduce power. Since strutural maturity is not completed during this stage the chance for injury is high.

WELL BEING is the most underrated in developing the young athlete no matter how talented. I am reminded by the recent comments made by Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer who dominated this year. He said "After my last Olympics, I was burned out and didn't want to swim anymore...." Now, for the lay person, this was a shocker but, what he expressed is very common among high performance athletes in our field. We call this a Low Positive Cell. (save for another blog). Yet, it is important for parents to preserve a healthy well being when your child is maturing and the demands of athletic training and competition increase. It is important that the child's intrinsic drive is greater than extrinsic forces (parents living vicariously through their kids). I have seen this more times than I can count.

As long as development is augmented and re-calibrated to meet the maturation of neural and structural components, and the child feels positive about their progress in mastering tasks for being a good athlete, well being will be maintained. Task mastery is associated with increased enjoyment, perceived competence and beliefs that effort causes success. This alone will result in transferable life skills. As long as their is variability, progressing and challenging training environments.

Kids are NOT little adults! The training of young athletes should not be taken lightly. This blog has content based on years of established research and experience. The components described in this blog are to be taught by degreed and certified/qualified persons with an understanding of adolsecent development.  This doesn't mean programs like Crossfit, Insanity or bootcamp type classes and the many other programs out there not designed for this young group. A safe age for increasing training complexity is 13 and older

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Parents Guide on:
easier than you think and NOT what you think!
Part 1 of 2
Training athletes of all ages and skill levels, I am often intrigued by what parents and athletes think what they know about getting 'better' at their respective sports. And lets just say I won't  being going out of business anytime soon! Business is good. I often here though the lament of uninformed parents: 'He/She got two left feet", 'he/she needs to get 'mean'", and my favorite "I been training 'em but need someone that he will listen too". A priceless classic. These are the most popular phrases I hear regarding how parents want their kids to be a 'better' athlete. The irony is they have not the slightest idea what that means!

During pre-adolescent, both male and female bodies, go through a natural maturation process. Muscle, skeletal structure and neural conduction (coordination) are developing at remarkable rates especially if the proper environment is provided. Before there is an attempt to push your child into a sport YOU think they should try,  the best environment, in my opinion as a father and sports performance specialist is teaching your kids to play. Yes. I said teach. Some years ago I read this New York Times piece on parents who actually hired people to teach their kids to ride a bike! HIuh?! The coolest thing to watch your kid do is conquer their first challenge.  So teaching your kid how to ride a bike, go down a slide, do the 'monkey' bars etc is essential in stimulating coordination and strength. I believe playing is the best way.

When my son was born, I vowed to practice what I preached, and took him to the parks often. This encouraged play and confidence building (get into later) as he conquered climbing up the slide ladder and eventually down the slide! I see many parents make the mistake, usually dads, who will pick football or basketball as a sport they want their child to pursue without regard to other sports. Ignorance is the key denominator in this decision making. They are choosing sports they KNOW! I purchased basketball, lacrosse sticks, football, baseball, soccer, hockey sticks, golf, and boxing gloves. My son tried them all and his mom took him swimming! I'd put this equipment all in a bag and when we arrived at  the park he would pick which one he wanted to play. Oh. Did I mention we played dodge ball?  He would simply try to hit me with a nerf ball, but I was moving. Now that is tough for a 4 year old! Talk about agility training! We did this random game play till he was 7.

When introducing your child to sport and training it is important to keep the first 6 years of their 'sports' life unstructured. That means not sending them to every sports camp in the state or signing them up for Gymboree classes. Take them to the park! The park has other kids that are developing functional motor skills, and they don't even realize they are off to a great start to becoming a good athlete. More importantly you can see how kids problem solve obstacles, how they fall and get up ( an under rated   motor skill), how they interact with other kids i.e. can they play together? The beauty of this is that you have introduced them to the basic tenets of sport specific skills:

  • Mobility
  • Agility 
  • Speed
  • Power
  • Strength

PART 2: Takes more than 'GOT MILK?' coming in future blog!