Building an athletic development program for a high school, part 3

So, this is where the rubber meets the road and the things get real - the session programming. The programming of your training is made out of exercises/movements and that is the part where the individual differences make every program, every environment, every coach and every athlete, unique. That said, maybe it is would be good to offer the following disclaimer before presenting my own version of programming: 
My program: 
1. Certainly is not perfect, it's a work in progress.
2. Has been evolving with the athletics program and with me for the past 7 years
3. Follows the principles that I think are the most important in a high school setting

So if you disagree with the exercise selection, I'm glad, that makes us different. But I hope we can agree about the principles.

What are my main reasons behind the format?

1. Simplicity
It might not look simple to you but it is very fast for me to choose the right exercises for an individual by using a highlighter pen. Not everyone does all the exercises, I take the first small step towards individualization by selecting exercises/movements based on the person. It gives me a 'template' without forcing me to use a 'protocol'.

2. Progression
Although everyone has their own pace and order in progression, I have tried to follow a progression that increases the amount of challenge/difficulty/stimulation step by step. Obviously there might be a need for regressions as well and if an athlete would not be successful doing the base level program (1) then individualized regressions are introduced. Same way is dealt with pain in movement; we find a range of movement or path of movement that is pain-free and start with that. I am always surprised how often the movement improves and pain decreases by just staying within the pain-free threshold. 

3. Time
I don't have the time to teach every single exercise from A to Z, I wish I did but that is not a reality in my environment. That is why I mainly choose movements that are fast, easy and simple to teach and show. Ultimately, I know something is working when the athletes are teaching each other the movements. 

Anyway, I love programming, so I could go on but I probably don't need to. The last thing... this is really a tool to help make my life and work easier. It that is not achieved, then we are going into wrong direction. I also had an opportunity to switch to an online training platform, but I decided to hold off for at least another year.

So here it is...

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Systematic approach to Athletic Development

The more comprehensive the system of athletic development is, the more moving parts and chances there are to miss the forest from the trees. That is why each program should have over arching and simple principles guiding the whole process. These are some of mine:

1. Future
Coaching athletic development for young people is more about their future and long term growth than it is about this season. My work and their participation is an investment into their future. The goal, of course, is a healthy and athletic future in the sport and/or life in the capacity that they choose to engage in it. 

2. FUN
FUN can be challenging. FUN can be rewarding. FUN can be effective. FUN can bring 'serious' results. In fact, I believe it is the best way for long term success. 

3. Functional
Yes, of course it needs to be functional. But, there is more to that. It is doing the right things, at the right time, for the right reason - for the right person! In other words a) Specific to the task and the person b) Appropriately designed and adjusted program for a given situation and environment c) Guided by the big WHY's on the background. The HOW and WHAT only stay under control when the WHY stays close to the hearts and minds of the coaches.

In practice, the actual system or set of guidelines of Athletic Development is there to guide us, to remind us and to help us make good decisions when writing down the actual plan/program of the day for our athletes. This table helps me keep me organized and prioritized. 

Keep it up friends! 

Tommi the Trainer

How to make the youth fitness program safer for the kids

As a parent myself  I think safety is the most important element of any children's activity. But what does safety really mean and how do you create it as a coach? And are ‘safe’ exercise programs less fun or athletically more passive by nature? I don’t think so. Let’s look at different components of a youth conditioning program and think how the safety can be built in the activities.

1. Failing to plan is planning to fail

Safety stems from well-designed activities that consider, among other things, the age of the participants, size of the group, nature of the environment and goals of the program. Through the process of planning the coach should imagine each activity happening in the given space and make mental notes of the ‘observations’. Is the given activity too fast for the size of the space? Are there too many pieces of equipment on the floor at the same time? How should I arrange the group to avoid kids running into each other at full speed. Planning the lesson carefully is, in regards to safety, even more important for the younger groups, such as a group of 5-7 year olds. A proper lesson plan forces the coach to go through the lesson each element at a time and evaluate the need for time usage, equipment, organization and instruction.

2. Communication of the rules  - make it interactive

I like to ask the kids what the good rules for the lesson would be. Most of the time I will get all the answers from them and I don’t have to be the one telling them what not to do. The children know that they are not allowed to hit/kick/push anyone but by having them verbalize those rules, they will become more aware and more responsible. They will also automatically feel safer mentally because they know the coach cares about this issue that they might potentially be worried about. One additional rule I always add is the rule about the whistle; 'stop the activity immediately and wait for the instructions'. A whistle used effectively, and sparingly, is a great safety tool that can stop the activity and demand the attention faster than trying to shout over the noise that often exceeds the legal limits.

3. Crowd control tools that work

If the space has lines on the floor, I already have one of the most important crowd control tools in place. If it doesn’t, I carry masking tape with me to mark at least one line on the floor where I want the group to arrange themselves periodically during the lesson. The line serves as a landmark and a ‘calibration tool’ especially if the activity looks like it might start getting out of control. Lining up on a straight line next to each other seems to work in the military, so why not with kids’ groups as well.

Another important tool is the use of your voice.  You might notice how the normal use of your voice might suffer from lack of authority from time to time and it might be a good idea to try lowering your voice instead of shouting louder. If this doesn’t calm the crowds, you can also let out the “hole in the tire” sound with the extended ‘sssshhhhhhhhhhhhh’. Most of the groups respond to this fairly well.  Generally speaking, you need to have tools that bring the activity to stop quickly, whether it is the whistle or your voice or a boxing bell. This is important for example if someone happens to get hurt or there is another reason to gain the full attention of the group.

4. Safety in numbers (of coaches)

I like to use assistant coaches, such as parents, to help me with certain activities. I also don’t mind the extra eyes on the group at all times if something goes by without me noticing. Sometimes too many additional people standing on the sidelines might be a distraction, but I still prefer that to being by myself with a group of kids. The people helping out could just be older kids who want to help out and that works too, just as long as safety increases in all perspectives. It is also good to take a note that a lot of schools and town recreational programs have tightened their rules about who can be involved in the programs and mandatory background checks are becoming more of a rule than an exception. This hopefully adds to the safety of the kids as well.

5. Prepare for the worst – safety is in the preparation

Most of us do not want to run the worst case scenarios in our heads. It can be stressful to think what COULD happen if something really went wrong. The best way to deal with this is to get those fears or scenarios out of your head and on the risk analysis form. It is better to deal with them analytically and systemically than emotionally. Write down what could go wrong and how you are prepared to respond to that. This also helps you bring the necessary safety and first aid tools with you. Here is the list of things that should be considered in the case of small incidents and bigger emergencies:

  1. Always have a phone with you in order to call a parent or the emergency number.
  2. Bring basic first aid kit and cold packs.
  3. Know the emergency exits in the facility.
  4. Carry all the information about the group with you (waivers, medical releases).
  5. Avoid being by yourself with the group.

The safety measures are at their best when they are preventively built inside the program through proper programming and preparation. There are a lot of ways to increase physical, mental and social safety in the class and none of them need to take anything away from the fun and active dynamics that the youth conditioning programs should be all about.

Tommi The Trainer

Teaching and Training Athleticism for the Youth

TEACHING + TRAINING = SCHOOL OF YOUTH FITNESS

The School of Youth Fitness is about learning how to move and exercise in a safe, effective and fun way. First we teach and coach the specific movement skills and then it is time to train and practice them. Teaching methods and training tools support each other in creating an optimal learning environment. We want to bring back the culture of teaching and learning the skills of movement.

At the same time, we emphasize the absolute importance of the free, spontaneous playtime that is fed by the imagination and not confined by adult supervision. We call this "backyard conditioning".

Both of these environments are needed for optimal results: 1. Supervised teaching and learning but also 2. Free "backyard playtime".      

ATHLETES, NOT JUST PLAYERS!

The secret to consistently improving in a sport is “athleticism”. A solid foundation of athletic abilities and motor skills allows the sport specific skills to develop in a most balanced and healthy way. We aim to build athletes with a wide and deep foundation, so that they can enjoy their physical activity and advance in their sport as far as they choose to.

CONDITIONING FOR TODAY, HEALTH FOR TOMORROW

Appropriate youth conditioning should target and improve a) current fitness level and
b) health for the future. The most important job a youth conditioning specialist is to
help the young athlete in building a positive relationship with fitness & exercise and
a healthy lifestyle. We want to condition and train the youth for the challenges of today,
but to also look beyond and set them up for success for tomorrow as well.       

AGE-SENSITIVE EXERCISES FOR OPTIMAL DEVELOPMENT

Kids are not small adults. Their developmental stage determines the proper approach in choosing exercises and conditioning programs. The growing body is like a “sponge”, ready to absorb specific skills and physical attributes. By taking advantage of these windows of opportunity, we can develop an effective age-sensitive fitness program. Elements of movement such as flexibility, balance, coordination, agility, speed and strength can and should be trained in regards to the developmental stage of the youth.

Tommi The Trainer

Athletes first, players second! Movement skill development.

What are most sports made of?

Running, hopping, squatting, turning, avoiding, jumping, landing, lunging...
Balance, coordination, speed, agility, power, strength, mobility...

Most of the sports develop these fundamentals. Some sports enhance one attribute more than the other. That is why engaging in different sports and activities can improve the overall athleticism more than just by training one sport.  

 
MOVEMENT SKILL TRAINING PROGRAM       

Athleticism is an outcome of several factors. Some of them we are not able to influence (genetics etc.) but most of them we can improve. Every athlete can become faster, stronger or more flexible.

The goal of Movement Skill Training is to ensure the integrity of the movement foundation.

Movement Skill Training:  

1. Aims to find and fill the missing links in athletic development.   
2. Improves all the fundamental movement patterns and skills
3. Covers the development of all motor components such as balance, speed or strength.


Other important objectives of Movement Skill Development for Youth are:

- To support healthy growth and development and to ensure a healthy future
- To introduce supplemental movement to the most physically passive generation yet  
- To compliment the psychological, emotional and social development of the youth