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3 Things I am thinking about in Sports Performance

As seasons change my brain has always used this transitional period to evaluate what is working and what could be improved in our facility. In the land of training youth athletes, constant evaluation is a necessity. Here’s what I’m thinking about right now…

1) Autonomy is subjective and athlete’s don’t always NEED it.

Unless you are the coach or captain of/on a team, you are typically ‘following’ a model or course of action that your organization implements. I’m not saying this is bad, but what I want to bring to light is that athletes are brought up being ‘told’what time practice is, what time to be on the field, what color their jersey is going to be, and what time they need to be in the weight room. When you’re IN the weight room, giving too much autonomy to athletes can actually be a cog in the wheel.

Example…

We are the strength and conditioning provider for a few Division 2 teams at a local college. One team has trained with me for over 3 years. By this point, the upperclassmen have a pretty solid idea of what’s going on and how to execute the movement. This past spring during their in-season block I had programmed the athletes to do 40 reps of their favorite variation. My mindset was to just get a little volume with a horizontal pull and the difference between a TRX, incline row, or 3 point row was marginal during a 6am lift in the middle of the winter. Get the athlete’s doing something they like, right? What actually happened was everyone would just do whatever the captain chose…

Because sometimes autonomy is subjective and isn’t always critical in every setting. In this case, Relatedness and Community > Autonomy. And that’s okay.

2) Pelvic control needs to be trained, in multiple planes of movement, in every session.

This may not seem like a no brainer. However, I would challenge you to think about the positions that you put athletes' in during their sessions. Are they always prone/supine? How long are the moment arms above and below the hips (trunk and legs)? Is your program entirely frontal plane? Are you always using a fixed, static, load?

The list can continue, but what I’ve been digging in with is getting athletes to flex, extend, anti-flex and anti-extend, and control rotation to their right and left in each session. Between the warm up, power/strength/accessory work, and in the cool-down, I can get it all in.

What I’ve found? a TON of opportunities to create context for more advanced movements and body positions. I’ve also found that the environment of the exercise does a lot of the teaching.

3) Isometrics are very underutilized as a mode of increasing intensity AND as a primary programming strategy for youth athletes.

I’ve written about isometrics in the past and I am still going to beat this drum. Again, 90% of the people I train are young kids, under the age of 18. Relative body strength isn’t typically sufficient, motor control is all over the place, and their recovery strategies are questionable (unless Fortnite becomes a recovery strategy?). My point? Take the thinking out of the exercise, control one aspect of the force/velocity curve and work on the FORCE aspect by way of teaching great positions.

Other added benefits…in-season athlete's that need to minimize contract points with the ground (decrease total stress), rehabilitation settings (minimizing pain responses through concentric/eccentric forces), added exposure (isometrics are programmed for time), ability to program higher loads (less total range of motion), ability to load various positions of the total movement, and my FAVORITE, as a method of teaching total body ‘tension’ (something athlete’s can struggle to learn).

Should your whole program be isometrics? YES…kidding…but don’t be afraid to pair isometrics with something that has a high neural fatigue. Positional isometrics also work really well priming athletes for the upcoming movements and their positional demands.

They’ve been something I’ve been dabbling with more and more and each training phase that goes by I have grown to adore them.

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3 Things that have my attention in Strength and Conditioning

A popular question I ask guests on The 3 Things Podcast (if you don't know what that is, click the PODCAST part of my website...) is what they are excited about in their respective field. No one asked me, but you clicked on the link so you're getting my thoughts anyway!

1) Stress management

The more I talk to the parents of our athletes and of course the athlete's themselves, the more I realize that sports performance is really stress management. A lot of our athletes are year-round in their sports, or are year round in developing the skills required in their sports. That's cool, more power to you. However, our job as strength and conditioning professionals needs to be to educate the families we work with on what stress is, how the body recognizes it, and  how to manage the variety of stress athlete's face.  

2) Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

I posted a question last month on my Instagram (@CoachCaseyLee) asking what technology's role is within strength and conditioning. The number one answer was to provide tangible feedback to coaches and athletes. I absolutely agree with that. Playing off stress management from above, HRV has been something we are looking to include in our summer collegiate training program at Parisi to better give athletes a tangible 'score' that will help them better understand where their body is. More importantly for us as Coaches, it helps us start the conversation as to WHY. I also think this is something very powerful to teach our athlete's as they go back to campus. 

3) Aerobic work. 

Yeah...I think it's cool again. 

I've made a living in the last 8 years being 'the speed guy'. More times than not, I have athletes (and parents) who think that running dozens of repeat sprints will make them faster. They aren't necessarily wrong, however, what I see as the dude with the stopwatch and heart rate monitor is an athlete with a wompy (science-y term, right?) central nervous system that is unable to handle the high demand that maximal effort (of any kind) puts on the body. Often overlooked is a strong aerobic base that acts as the backbone to the body's parasympathetic nervous system. It aids in recovery, and go figure, allows the body to handle increased amounts of stress. Long story short, make sure your assessment includes some kind of aerobic capacity work, something like a modified/coopers test will most definitely fit the bill. 

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