Friday, September 29, 2017

Thoughts on the Value of Coaching Young Athletes

One of our former interns stopped by last week. She's deferred admission to a graduate program in S&C for a year to work in the private sector.

She's the head of performance training for a small, private rehab/performance facility. The owner has given her full reign to revamp the youth training program. As some side work, she's taken on a few adult personal training clients at another commercial gym.

This is an experience all young strength coaches should have--the opportunity to work with adolescent athletes, and apply/progress basic bodyweight movements with them. I'll argue there's also excellent value in doing the same with general population adults.

She's seeing results. Decreased joint pain in her adult clients and youth athletes. Increased confidence and function. She's learning how to build proper movement progressions and seeing the power of these movements applied over time.

Young strength coaches working in the collegiate or other type of "elite" athlete setting are unlikely to have the opportunity to implement or observe the long-term implementation of bodyweight movements.  Many times, regardless of the athlete's actual training age, there is great pressure for the strength coach to go straight to the barbell and other advanced, equipment-dominant movements. After all, these are adult-sized (or larger!) athletes who have been labeled "elite" or maybe even "best in the world." How could any of these athletes possibly have the physical literacy and movement competency of a 12 year-old? You mean we need to start with bodyweight work?

Yes. We need to start with the basics. But there is pressure, from many sources, to do things that not yet appropriate.

There is the expensive software beckoning for the elaborate periodization scheme.

There is the multi-million dollar facility with the fancy equipment.

There are sport coach and strength coach expectations of what weight room work looks like.

There are the never-ending training/competition schedules and training time limitations.

So instead of building the physical literacy and movement competencies, a novice strength coach feels pressured to squat heavy, clean heavy and implement "mental toughness" tasks that are simply busy work. Last time I checked, vomiting isn't on anyone's list of movement competencies.

If coaches skip the foundations, at any level, they are building a house of cards and doing everyone a disservice. Coaches need time to develop skill sets and a "coaching eye." Athletes need time to develop movements. Progressions are key to developing higher level athletic skills.

It's a difficult challenge. There are pressures to do what is nice versus what is truly necessary and appropriate. To overcome these pressures, the strength coach has to have confidence in his or her principles of preparation and have developed the ability to use movement in a systematic manner, not just throw technology or the latest exercises at athletes. S/he has to have earned the trust of the sport coach and the athletes. Everyone involved needs to understand that basic doesn't mean easy. Or monotonous. Consistency and proper progression are key to sound athlete preparation. Ritual and consistency are part of the elite athlete tool box.

We must find ways for strength coaches to become "athletic development coaches" ---to spend time working with the young, developing athletes prior to working with college level or other highly-skilled athletes. Without equipment. Without pressure. Without crazy schedules. They need to see the power of doing simple things well, over time. They need to develop an extensive toolbox of movement progressions and feel confident applying them.

Many in the profession look down upon the private sector coaches. But outside of a school or academy setting, where else can a novice coach learn the art and skill of developing athletes?  Does the current crop of internship opportunities provide a good learning environment and support this type of coach education?

I guess I have more questions than answers right now. But it is my observation that a strength coach needs experience coaching athletes of all ages if s/he wants to be a well-rounded athletic development coach.








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