5 Random Thoughts on Improving Sports Performance

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At Evolution Sports Performance we develop athletes based on their age and ability level, guided by the Long Term Athletic Development Model.

In the most basic of terms what we try to do is teach athletes how to run, change direction, and lift weights properly so that they can use the skills in their sport. There is not a single athlete out there that does not want to get stronger and faster, which is precisely our goal for them.

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We are not reinventing the wheel, but at the same time we are not ignoring the important parts of a program for young athletes.

Today, I have some random thoughts about making athletes faster and stronger, plus a few other skills that I want to start to learn more about and work on.

  1. The industry is still stuck in the past when it comes to strength training

Athletes have to be strong to excel on the ice, court, or field. Lifting weights is a must for those athletes. Now, I am absolutely not talking about the old school body building programs that were around in the 20th century. Those are not good for athletes.

Good strength training programs include the following

Multi-joint movements– no more body part splits. Athletes should not train with a chest/tricep day, back/bicep day, shoulder day, and optional leg day. Athletes should be training upper body pulling (rows, chin-ups), upper body pushing (bench, pushups), knee dominant (squats, lunges, step ups), and hinge patterns (deadlift, RDL). Mix in core work and some specific mobility/prehab and you have a rock star program.

Core Stability training– We need to train for core stability. This means avoiding movement and owning the rib cage. “Ab work” like crunches, situps, bicycles, etc. is not good enough anymore. They do not promote stability, they force bad habits on the major lifts, and they are risky on the spine.

Big Rock movements– Athletes need to stick to the major lifts to develop strength. The program should be built around deadlifts, squats, bench/pushups, and chin-ups/rows. Obviously, individual differences will substitute some of these things out and they are not for everyone. The big lifts have worked since the beginning of lifting and they will continue to work so long as they are appropriately loaded and coached. You just cannot get all that strong from (too) light weights, resistance bands, and corrective exercise. They all have their place in a good program but not in pure strength.

  1. High School Weight Rooms are just…unfortunate

I really envy those that get the opportunity to be a “strength coach” in a high school weight room. Yes, it is usually a volunteer and doesn’t buy the groceries but they have access to a lot of athletes, many days/week, for a long time.

In MA, we do not have enough qualified strength coaches in high schools. A lot of times a football coach who likes to lift is the strength coach and [insert various horror stories here].

This is not a complaint that all weight room volunteers should have a degree, a certification, and a parade for their accomplishments. It is just disappointing that the programs are not as good as they could be.

If some of these coaches could get their ego in check and even just buy a better program from someone that is a full time performance coach, the athletes would get much more out of the time in the weight room.

  1. To sprint fast, athletes have to sprint fast

Warning: generalization. High level athletes will always go all out when they are doing drills. This could potentially be why they are at a high level but I do not want this to be a chicken or the egg thing.

When I ask athletes to sprint 20 yards. We have some people going hard and some pacing themselves. The ones pacing themselves are usually not as good in their sport.

Anyway, not that I’m done stereotyping effort levels. Athletes need to sprint hard to improve their speed. They also need a long rest time after a hard sprint.

They cannot physically sprint hard, rest for 10 seconds, and then sprint hard again.

I like to give between 5 and 10 times rest. A 5 second sprint would then be given a 25-50 second recovery. This means they have enough time to sprint all out again.

  1. Athletes are not mini adults

Athletes are young kids, not adults. We cannot train kids like they are.

Kids need to work on basic movement patterns and practice them until they cannot do them wrong. When it seems like they have mastered the skill, they are probably going to grow and will then need to relearn them again.

Patience is key here and complex exercises can be thrown out the window. There are some kids that take longer than others to learn the deadlift. It will look good 1 week, 3 will go by, and the deadlift looks like a foreign movement.

Mastering the basics is essential for young athletes. When choosing progressions or variation, make sure that they are right in line with the basic movement. Switching from a KB front squat to a barbell front squat should be straightforward since they are similar patterns.

  1. I want to get into more hand eye coordination work

I was watching a video that said young athletes struggle catching across their body. For example, catching a ball on the left side of their body with their right hand.

Sometimes we get too wrapped up in speed technique and drills that we forget some of these other skills. I like making the kids kick a soccer ball or catch and throw a football.

We have some kids as young as 8 train with us and I think this could be another skill set for them to work on.