My wife and I do not have children yet, but it is most definitely a plan in the making. Though I cannot fully empathize what it is like to have and raise children, I often find myself feeling fatherly through training younger athletes to be more than just better athletes: better humans.
Training athletes of all ages, sports and calibers has given me the greatest job perk of all: everlasting personal relationships.
Most recently, I have received questions from passionate parents regarding training their young hockey player.
- How do we create long-term athletic development?
- How does my kid get faster and stronger?
- How do you optimize my kid’s overall well being and nutrition?
My Sports Story
Growing up in Malden, Massachusetts, a city just North of Boston, I was obsessed with sports (and still am). I played a ton of baseball and football. I also loved playing street hockey and boxing.
Most of all, I fell in love with Rocky. Rocky was not just a movie; it gave people hope. Stallone created a plot based on himself in his early thirties getting the “big shot” of a lifetime. I think most of you know the ending to that script. When I was 14, all I wanted to do was train like Balboa.
Since 1998, I was a young man on a mission. I was willing to train hard and work hard for whatever sport could lead me through high school, and potentially play a college sport.
Now, at 33 years old, I realize the numerous mistakes I’ve made turned into learning experiences, which have helped me become the person I am today. The past 20+ years of “living and learning” have allowed me to offer young athletes the optimal training they need to accomplish whatever goal they wish to tackle.
Trying It All
Different sports have unique benefits:
- Boxing teaches hand-eye coordination, as well as agility and breathing.
- Soccer teaches foot-eye coordination.
- Gymnastics teaches the body how to tumble, land and fall.
- The foundation of a hockey player is first and foremost skating; everything else is secondary.
The more sports kids can be exposed to, the better they will be. Exposing young athletes to unique environments is essential.
Most importantly, kids have to enjoy what they are doing. Unfortunately, in this day and age, we are dealing with all children becoming the next [insert professional athlete name here].
Here’s the deal: If a child tries a sport and they decide they like it, that’s a home run. If they don’t like it, they should not be forced into it. Children deserve a chance to feel things out. It is important to realize that it is okay to try something (hockey, broccoli, etc.) and not like it. That’s what life is about: figuring out what you like and who you are.
My personal goal for each and every kid that I work with is to develop a well-rounded, good human first.
Teaching them to be healthy through various movements, lifts, nutrition and attitude is extremely meaningful for both parties. If you’re thinking “Why focus so much on human-development?” I will say this: One day, these athletes will no longer be athletes, unless they are a part of the small percentage that become a pro. This is a tough concept for kids to grasp, and that’s why I’m here. All they need to do is show up and want to be better.
Training the Whole Person
My goal is to create a 360-degree athlete. Is their mindset clear? How well do they move? Do they know how important rest is? Do they eat fruits and vegetables?
Too often we see young athletes getting thrown into workouts that are not fitting for their body. Anyone can run a stopwatch for a :30/:30 interval, scream and yell. High intensity circuits should not be introduced in the infancy of someone’s training.
Where is our pillar training? Why aren’t we performing planks and principle-based exercises first? Because they are not “hockey specific”?
The best athletes in the world were multi-sport athletes in their younger years. If you are lucky enough to commit to a high level of post-secondary athletics at 17 or 18, then we can start worrying more about specifics that you would require to excel. Until then, move well, lift hard, eat well and get enough sleep.
Prepare The Pillar For Movement Patterns
Teaching kids about the muscles that surround the hips, torso and shoulders is extremely important because they are the ones stabilizing our pillar (AKA: our core). If we are going to train big movement patterns, we have to marry the pillar and movement integration. Below are examples of exercises that create this pillar and movement relationship.
- Squatting – Goblet squats, split squats, front squats, off-set kettlebell squats, single leg eccentric squats, sled pushes
- Pulling – Dumbbell rows, inverted rows, pull variations, sled drags
- Deadlifting – Hex bar, off-set variations, single leg RDL patterns
- Pushing – Push ups, dumbbell bench pressing, overhead single arm pressing
- Loaded Carries & Planking – Front/side planks, bilateral and unilateral carrying
- Sprinting – Uphill, flat tempos, integrated shuttles & technique
- Steady Work – Density circuits – the length of time for which you perform each exercise
We train movement patterns well and then we load them. Training is based off of a needs analysis. Working out is based off of a wants analysis. Proper human movements performed well under load creates strength that can be sustained over time.
Learning How to Stop
Deceleration. We need to know how to stop and land. Too many times I’ve seen a non-counter movement box jump go down the drain because an athlete has landed straight legged, or has fallen forward because they have no intent of stopping. We have to coach deceleration because it is just as important acceleration. The vehicle will not perform well if it doesn’t know how to stop. In other words, you rarely see athletes getting injured accelerating. They get hurt decelerating: slowing down, stopping, changing direction, landing.
We need to teach how to land with knees out, and chest and eyes up.
Are their lower body joints maintaining control when they stop or land? If the athletes cannot slow down then how will they explode?
Bottom line is…
If you want an efficient engine in your vehicle, then you need a great set of brakes.
What we do as trainers, strength coaches or performance specialists is a big deal for young athletic development. What we learn during training can carry over in later ages. We will always need health and wellness to perform better in our lives, so why not make a constant investment and train properly?
Our job is to be great coaches to these young athletes every time we work with them. They deserve it. They are the future.