My wife and I do not have children yet, but it is most definitely a plan in the making. Though I cannot fully empathize what it is like to have and raise children, I often find myself feeling fatherly through training younger athletes to be more than just better athletes: better humans. Training athletes of all ages, sports and calibers has given me the greatest job perk of all: everlasting personal relationships.
Most recently, I have been overloaded with questions from passionate parents regarding training their young hockey player ( hockey specifically because of our North Dakota demographics).
How do we create long term athletic development?
How does my kid get faster and stronger?
How do you optimize my kid’s overall well being and nutrition?
These are solid, thought-out questions from great people throughout the Grand Forks community and I am going to do my very best to answer these questions within this blog post. I truly hope the answers below are both useful and beneficial!
But first, MY story
Growing up, I was obsessed with sports (and still am). I grew up in Malden, Massachusetts, a city just North of Boston. Growing up, I played a ton of baseball and football. I also loved playing street hockey, as well as throwing my hands around boxing in Everett, MA, at Richie Angelo’s Academy.
My childhood was not only fun, but educative. I say educative because I learned A LOT growing up just north of Boston. You could say that I am ” street smart”.
But most of all, I fell in love with Rocky, and everything that came with it, especially the training. Rocky was not just a movie…it gave people hope. Stallone created a plot based on himself in his early thirties getting the “big shot” of a lifetime. I think most of you know the ending to that script.
When I was 14, all I wanted to do was train like Balboa. The Denver Bronco’s also played a major role in my future (what I wanted to do with my life) because of the ESPN special aired in 1998 on their Strength and Conditioning protocols (#amazing).
Since 1998, I wanted to have positive physical self-perception, so I was a man (or boy) on a mission. I was willing to train hard and work hard for whatever sport could lead me through high school, and potentially play a college sport one day. I did just that!
Now, at 33 years old, I realize that the numerous mistakes I’ve made turned into learning experiences, which have helped me become the man, husband, trainer and human I am today. Truthfully, I believe that the past 20+ years of “living and learning” have allowed me to offer young athletes the optimal training they need to accomplish whatever goal they wish to accomplish.
Sports have several unique benefits.
Boxing teaches hand eye coordination, as well as agility and breathing.
Soccer is great for teaching foot-eye coordination.
Gymnastics teaches the body how to tumble, land, and fall.
Hockey teaches these aspects as well, but the foundation of a hockey player is first and foremost skating, everything else is secondary.
The more sports kids can be exposed to, the better they will be in more ways than one. Exposing young athletes to unique environments is also essential.
Most importantly, kids have to ENJOY what they are doing otherwise it becomes a stressor for the young individual. I say this because unfortunately, in this day and age, we are dealing with all children becoming the next ” insert professional athlete name here”.
Here’s the deal: If a child tries a sport and THEY DECIDE they like it, that’s a home run. If they don’t like it, they should NOT BE FORCED into it. Children don’t need to be pushed into something at a very young age – they deserve a chance to feel things out. It is important to realize that it is okay to TRY something (hockey, broccoli) and not like it… that’s what life is about; figuring out what you like and who you are!
My personal goal for each and every kid that I work with is to develop a well-rounded, good human first. Teaching them to be healthy through various movements, lifts, nutrition and attitude is extremely meaningful for both parties. If you’re thinking “Why focus so much on human-development?” I will say this: One day, these athletes will no longer be athletes, unless they are apart of the small percentage that become a pro. This is tough concept for kids to grasp, and that’s why I’m here. All they need to do is show up and want to be better.
Standard training according to the LTAD model should begin at about 13 years old. This does not discount movement, and suppleness throughout the earlier stages in life. Still, the focus should be on proper movement, playing sports, agility, etc.
So what do we do for begginers when it comes to training?
In the gym, my goal is to create a 360 degree athlete aka a complete human. Is their mindset clear? How well do the move? Do they know how important rest is? Do they eat fruits and vegetables?
Too often we see young athletes getting thrown into workouts that are not fitting for their body. We see circuits in the initial phase of one’s program because it is “hard”. ANYONE can run a stop watch for a :30/:30 interval, scream and yell. My 3 year old nephew can do that (Henri I’m talking about you pal). The sad thing is, high intensity circuits should not be introduced in the infancy of someone’s training stages.
Where is our pillar training? Why aren’t we performing planks and principle based exercises first? Because they are not “hockey specific”? I hate to break it to you, but if your kid can’t stand and squat off of two legs, then he or she will have way more difficulty standing on one leg with a stick on a bosu ball shooting a puck with one eye closed juggling a tennis ball (mic drop).
This sport specific epidemic is NOT DEVELOPMENT people! The best athletes in the world were multi-sport athletes in their younger years. IF you are lucky enough to commit to a high level of post-secondary athletics at 17 or 18, THEN we can start worrying more about specifics that you would require in order to excel. Until then move well, lift hard, eat well, and get enough sleep. And please, put the cellphones away. Snapchat streaks don’t matter to me.
Prepare The Pillar For Movement Patterns
Teaching kids about the muscles that surround the hips, torso, and shoulders is extremely important because they are the ones stabilizing our pillar (core in the common language). If we are going to train big movement patterns, we have to marry the pillar and movement integration to complete the equation. Below are examples of exercises that create this pillar and movement relationship.
Squatting – Goblet squats, split squats, front squats, off-set kettlebell squats, and single leg eccentric squats, and sled pushes.
Pulling – Dumbbell rows, inverted rows, pull variations, sled drags
Deadlifting – Hex bar, Off-set variations, and single leg RDL patterns.
Pushing – Push ups, dumbbell bench pressing, overhead single arm pressing
Loaded Carries & Planking – Front/ Side Planks/ Bilateral and Unilateral Carrying
Sprinting – Uphill, flat tempos, integrated shuttles & technique ( not just 300’s) and getting someone the feel of an assault bike because it’s you vs. you when it comes to that bike.
Steady Work – Density circuits – the length of time for which you perform each exercise ( 5-8 exercises performed technically sound for a given amount of time to produce a combination of energy systems).
We train movement patterns well and then we load them. Training is based off of a needs analysis, working out is based off of a wants analysis. Proper human movements performed well under load is a powerful component of athletic development because it creates simple strength that can be sustained over time (aka being healthy not hurt).
Other Training Components For The Young Bucks
Deceleration. We need to know how to stop and land. Too many times I’ve seen a non-counter movement box jump go down the drain because an athlete has landed straight legged, or has fallen forward because they have no intent of stopping. We have to coach deceleration because it is just as important acceleration. The vehicle will not perform well if it doesn’t know how to stop. In other words, you rarely see athletes getting injured accelerating. They get hurt decelerating; slowing down, stopping, changing direction, landing…
We need to teach kids how to land with their knee’s out and their chest up as well as their eyes. I am starting to tell kids that if they drop their eyes down they will be sorry during their sport ( if you drop your eyes in the ring or on the ice GAME OVER).
Are their lower body joints maintaining control when they stop or land?
If the athletes cannot slow down then how will they explode?
Bottom line is this…
If you want an efficient engine in your vehicle, then you need a great set of brakes.
In conclusion, what we do as trainers, strength coaches, performance specialists, etc. is a big deal for young athletic development. What we can learn during training can carry over in our later ages. We will always need health and wellness to perform better in our lives, so why not make a constant investment and train properly?
Our job is to be great coaches to these young athletes every time we work with them. They deserve it as a young kid, and we deserve to display our skillset in the correct manner for their relevant success.
I always say when we coach groups that “the curtain is always up, you never know who is watching”. It is so true. If we are in the field of upgrading performance then we must continue to upgrade our youth first because they are the future.
Young athletes regardless of the sport need to know how much we care about them, and if they don’t realize it in the short term, they certainly will in the long term.
Big thanks to all of the Coaches who I have had an experience with through my journey.
I am thankful for all of the lessons you taught me. They relate to everything I do today.