Athletes are committing to colleges younger than ever.
This is especially true in girls’ soccer where it is not uncommon to see high school freshman committed to play at a major program.
Many athletes are playing their sport for the chance to potentially play in college. Some have done it before they have even taken Algebra 2. This is actually unlike most hockey programs that wait to see an athlete play a year of post grad or juniors and evaluate how they are against older players.
This should dramatically affect training in a couple of ways. The first priority now becomes to make this athletes as healthy as possible. Injuries are not preventable but the risk can be greatly reduced by taking a few proper steps.
One injury as a sophomore in high school could be enough to pull an offer and force the athlete to stay at a local school instead of their dream program.
When an athlete commits to college it often means that they have the skills necessary to play at a high level. I do not doubt that those skills must be refined somewhat, we are talking about 14 year olds in some cases.
These athletes must get the most bang for their buck when they are choosing a team to play on. If the chosen team is not going to give the athlete the tools to play at the next level, then playing for that team needs to be seriously considered.
Anyway, that really isn’t my realm. My goal as a performance coach is to give the athletes the best possible chance to stay healthy while improving their performance.
- Bring up weak areas
Generally speaking, most young athletes have weak glutes, hamstrings, and core. This is where the athletes are going to get the biggest improvements. A stronger core means that the body is going to be more stable. This means that the athletes will run faster but they will also have better control over their body. This control is important for changing direction.
Rollouts, stir the pot, pallof presses, and chops fit the bill here.
The glutes and hamstrings are most important for deceleration. Most non-contact injuries happen during deceleration. Being able to improve strength in those areas will reduce the risk of injury but also improve performance. The athlete will be able to slow down and change direction quickly, giving them a 2 step advantage.
A lot of deadlifts, RDL’s, and GHR leg curls will get the job done.
I would also argue that upper body strength is a weak point for many young athletes. If the culture of the sport does not promote a strong upper body then it is often lagging behind. Football players are usually good on this front. But a lot of soccer, basketball, baseball, and even hockey players need more upper body strength. That goes for boys and girls.
A college athlete should be able to do 15 perfect pushups. I do not think that this is even all that hard but there are many that cannot even do 1. I would also like to see these athletes be able to do at least 1 chinup.
Those are conservative numbers that a lot of people cannot even hit. I would consider those minimum requirements.
- Minimize the pounding on the body
These athletes that commit early are doing a lot of pounding on their body. Usually, the sport is played year round and there aren’t a lot of breaks.
These athletes may not need to be doing a ton of running volume when it comes to training. If an athlete is playing 4x/week they probably do not need running conditioning since they get plenty of it at practice.
Instead use resistance training as a means of conditioning. If I want an athlete to improve their aerobic system, the base for all other conditioning, I can make a circuit of exercises aimed to target that system.
I can use an upper body push, upper body pull, knee dominant, and hip hinge movements repeated for a total of 10-12 minutes. This will spare the lower body the stress of running a mile and a half while also improving strength in the areas that they need it.
That is an efficient use of the athlete’s time in the weight room that is going to yield tremendous results.
If an athlete is an early commit they will need to stay healthy for 8 years, instead of just 4, to keep their scholarship. Adding in volume of their sport must be getting great results in the skill department. If not, then why continue?
Beyond that, athletes need to train to bring up their weak points while minimizing undue stress on the body. This will help to build a bulletproof athlete, ready for success on the grand stage.