In the rush to get results fast and take shortcuts, or to “get to the interesting stuff” young athletes get broken. Improving the structural integrity of the athlete is essential before moving onto other areas of fitness.
Watching Alien Covenant this week prompted me to update this blog as they used the phrase also.
I used to say that Structural Integrity is composed of 4 key components:
Balance: Static and dynamic, upper/ lower body, single limbs.
Stability: Joints are strong and can support body weight when moving and static.
Mobility: How you control limbs over a range of movement.
But, when presenting at the DAASM symposium in April, I was challenged on the use of “stability” By Dr. Homayun Gharavi MD, PhD, PhD. He suggested that the word “control” is better than stability. Stability has been overused and is vague, the body is designed to move, unlike a table, and so control is more accurate.
This means the new schematic would be this:
The Foundation of Athletic Development
Most of the athletes I initially encounter have glaring deficiencies in their structure or posture that limits their ability to progress. Loading athletes like this either through volume, intensity or weight, will lead to breakdowns. Saying someone needs to get fitter and then giving them a running programme, without seeing them run, is poor coaching.
Instead, after their initial musculo skeletal and movement screening, we start to work on their structural integrity. This is the foundation of Athletic Development and then allows the athlete to work on their athletic ability involving spatial awareness, rhythm, movement abilities and timing. This then allows greater ease of skill acquisition. In this video you see an example of work with young gymnnasts.
Children who get injured or burntout may be competing at sport too much and have too little opportunity to just play. These words on shoulder operations by Hall of Fame baseball player John Smoltz ring very true.
“I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there to understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old. That you have time, that baseball is not a year-round sport. That you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports.
Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses that this is the way. We have such great, dynamic arms in our game that it’s a shame we’re having one and two and three Tommy John (shoulder operation) recipients.
So I want to encourage you, if nothing else, know that your children’s passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without a competitive pitch. Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don’t go outside, they don’t have fun, they don’t throw enough – but they’re competing and maxing out too hard, too early, and that’s why we’re having these problems. So please, take care of those great future arms.”
Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech, former Atlanta Brave pitcher John Smoltz
If an adult is present, then the sport is organised. If the kids are left to their own devices they play more, compete with each other and on their own terms.
Why hiring an expert coach will save you time and money
Young athletes (and their parents) are overwhelmed with information from varying sources that is often conflicting. It is my job to help them navigate the maelstrom.
Originally designed as a concept to deal with organising and displaying online information and layouts, information architecture could as easily be applied to coaching.
“I mean architect as in the creating of systemic, structural, and orderly principles to make something work — the thoughtful making of either artifact, or idea, or policy that informs because it is clear”
Richard Saul Wurman
Too much information, too little time
Athletes I work with come home from a Regional or National camp with a sheet of paper and a directive to “do these exercises or else”. They then ask me what a “SLDRDL” or a “One legged Monkey Puzzle” is.
They go to a p.e. class the next day where they are made to hold a plank position for endless minutes to “strengthen their core”, but not told why or how to improve and if there is any transference to sport.
Finally, they visit their club where the coach drills them through ladders, hurdles and doggies to finish off their last remaining reserves of energy and enthusiasm.
The poor parent in the meantime is standing on the sidelines forking out cash and time for kit, petrol and accommodation. Wondering if they are “doing enough” for their child.
The job of a good coach is to make sense of all this information, filter out what is noise, but still stay abreast of latest research and developments.
That is different from telling all athletes to eat pilchard eggs because one study of 3 Eskimos found that they were able to run faster after eating pilchard eggs for 2 weeks.
The coach then needs to present this information in an orderly and systemic fashion, rather than all at once.
This does include selective delivery of information, feeding it to the parents and athletes at regular intervals. This allows positive behaviours to develop.
3 steps to becoming a winner
Find out what is happening in all aspects of the athlete’s life and write it down. I get the athlete to fill out a 4 week planner that shows all sporting and p.e commitments.
Write down what current exercises are being done and when. Clarify the exact nature of these exercises and make sure the meaning is understood. Any exercise that is written down but has never been coached is binned. Look for duplication of work: hockey might be doing doggies, rugby might be doing 3km runs. Avoid doing both.
Look for gaps between current ability and what is required. Put in exercises accordingly. You might be doing lots of running, but zero postural work. You might be able to hold the plank for 5 minutes (why?) but are unable to stand on one leg with free hip held high: essential for running well.
The complete picture is often forgotten due to the confusion of information and dealing with the logistics of getting the young athlete to the venues, school and training!
Hiring an Expert Coach
Life is too short to do everything yourself. Trying to do it all on your own can cause unnecessary stress. If you want to be the best that you can be, then you will need some help along the way.
The Excelsior Athletic Development Club was started to help parents, coaches and athletes work together. By informing parents and sports coaches of best practice, we are working together, rather than against each other.
It requires coaches of different sports to stop trying to force early specialisation (a difficult task) and to think of next year, rather than next Saturday.
It requires parents to take an active role in planning and ask questions of the p.e. teachers and coaches.
It requires athletes to think about why they are doing things, and to learn how to organise their time.
It requires us at Excelsior to continually strive to make sense of this information and develop ways of improving our ability to coach.
Sign up to our newsletter today to get 2 free ebooks on coaching young athletes.
“Injured young athletes are older, spend more time in organized sports, and specialize too early”
Could this be prevented?
The evidence is quite stark if your child is spending too much time in organised activity rather than free play, if they have specialised in one sport and if they have gone through their growth spurt, then they are more likely to get injured (1).
34% of middle school sports participants get injured each year with an estimated medical bill of $2billion (5).
Talented (or early developing) children get asked to play more sport and therefore have higher injury risk (2).
The cumulative workload increases injury risk e.g. Cricketers who do more than 75 throws a week (3).
Early specialisation in one sport leads to an increase in injury risk (4).
Young athletes participating in more sports hrs/wk than their age and participating in>2 times organized sports:free play are more likely to have a serious overuse injury (1).
Injury risk increases in teenage girls from 12-13 years old and teenage boys from 14-15 years old: at their growth spurts (6).
Injury Prevention is always better than cure
Why wait until your player is injured? I prefer to have healthy athletes available all year round.
A 2 pronged approach is necessary to greatly reduce the risk of your child or player getting injured.
Plan your schedule of training and competing. Include free play time.
Implement a strength/ co-ordination exercise regime and stick to it.
Planning: The best place to start is to look at the next 4 weeks. Use this free 4 weekly planner to help. Put in all the school p.e., games and matches, then club training and matches, plus other activities.
You will probably see a lot of competing and travel, with very few rest days, and little planned physical preparation: running, speed or strength work.
How much free play does your child do? That is “jumpers for goal posts” mucking about with friends in the local park or school playground? None? Then they are at greater risk of injury!
Decisions will have to be made about what is a priority, what is “need to do” rather than “nice to do”. If you are playing more than one age group of a sport, then you should consider dropping the lower one.
Coaches should look at the overall workload that their best players are undergoing: it is unsustainable! Can you afford to lose your best player mid-season?
Strength/co-ordination training: It is the ability to control your own body throughout the match and the season that is the key to avoid getting injured. Your exercise programme has to be specific for young athletes: time spent on crosstrainers, exercise bikes and lying down on a bench is time wasted.
They need to lunge, squat, brace, rotate, push and pull: in combination with braking, landing, jumping and moving from 2 legs to 1 leg, up, down and side to side.
I get athletes to implement daily routines, at first only 5 minutes, then building up from there. This summer I have designed specific warm up routines for team sports players based on the recent research and my experience.
Members of the Athletic Development Clubhave all been given my newly designed protocol cards to help them through the season.
Leg strengthening work
The 11-12 minute warm ups contains all the movements necessary to help reduce the likelihood of injury, as well as improve their sporting performance. If done before every training session and match, the cumulative positive effect will be huge.
Coaches and teachers need to take responsibility
“Quality does not just happen. People who believe so, are people who trust in miracles to make their way through life. Quality excellence is an outcome of preparation and relentless practice. It is surely a given then, that there is time set aside routinely for this.” Frank Dick, Winning Matters.
Resisted running drills
I often hear coaches and teachers bemoan the fact that they are struggling to field a team by December due to injuries. Are they still practicing warm up routines that are ineffective and full of time fillers such as jogging, or encourage incorrect mechanics such as high knees and heel flicks?
Do they have a strength programme that helps improve performance and prevent injury? Or do they just use generic exercises that require little co-ordination and involve a lot of sitting or lying down?
A lot of coaches say they are doing the right thing, but how do they know?
Badminton coach James Elkin, Volleyball coach Denise Austin and the Fencing coaches at the SWFencing Hub have shown a great Growth Mindset by looking at what we are doing with their athletes and then changing their practice.
Injuries are far from things “that just happen“. Chronic pain is abnormal in teenagers, it can be prevented.
I set up theSports Training Systemto help busy parents and teenage athletes fit in physical preparation in a safe, effective and time efficient manner. Join nowand in 4 weeks
Parents, look at how much physical preparation and free play your child is involved in compared to organised camps, travel and competing.
A Guaranteed, Free and Easy Way to Improve Performance…
In a recentworkshopwe ran, every athlete was found to be SLEEP DEPRIVED. Find out how this can impact on your sporting performance here.
In that little training diary that any successful athlete keeps, will be a history of:
the exercises they perform
the weights they lift
the foods they eat
how they feel (RPE -rating of perceived exertion) and ….
how much sleep they are getting
Why we document exercises, weights, nutrition and RPE and how they affect training and performance is well understood, but why do we keep a sleep diary?
Sleep has been shown to have a big impact on sporting performance as well as potentially changing the physiological effects of training.
This article aims to highlight the importance of sleep for athletes and how it affects training and performance.
Evidence of the effect of sleep on performance
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation has lasting negative impacts on health!
Sleep deprivation has an impact on the body’s metabolic and endocrine functions, with some of the effects listed below:
Affect glucose metabolism and appetite (Van Cauter & Spiegel, 1999)
Have a negative impact on the brain and cognitive function
Reduced immune system
Increase Cortisol levels (stress Hormone)
Affect on growth Hormone
Increased injury risk due to reduced muscular control
Dr. William C. Dement, a sleep researcher at Stanford University, suggests that:
“that alleviating the burden of sleep debt could save thousands of lives every year.”
Cheri Mah who has been studying the sleep patterns of Stanford University athletes over the last few years has found increasing sleep has led to improved sports performance for all types of athletes (Mah et al, 2009).
One specific study on University swimmers found increasing the athletes sleep to 10 hours a night improved their 15m sprint time, start reaction time and increased their kick strokes.
She also replicated these findings in American Football athletes with increased sleep improving their 20 yd shuttle time and 40 yd dash time.
With evidence that sleep deprivation can physiologically and psychologically affect individuals and evidence of increased sleep improving sporting performance, are you getting enough?
Why does sleep affect trainability and performance?
Firstly and most importantly sleep is very important for recovery.
Sleep deprivation has shown to
increase cortisol levels,
decrease activity of human growth hormone,
and reduce the efficiency for glucose metabolism.
All of these things can affect our sporting performance (Samuels, 2009).
In addition when we are tired concentrating is hard and our reaction times are slower, not great for competition!
On top of these physiological changes sleep deprivation is also shown to reduce cognitive function and therefore reduce the ability to learn a new skill.
Effect of Glucose metabolism
So why is glucose metabolism important?
The energy we require for any exercise comes from the metabolism of glucose. If this source of energy isn’t readily available then our body is unable to perform at its best.
Food is our fuel but if we are unable to convert our fuel into energy then it becomes useless!
Sleep deprivation also impairs the ability of our body to store glycogen so our energy stores are depleted, something that will hamper your preparation prior to a big competition!
Effect of Cortisol
Cortisol is more commonly known as the stress hormone. Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase the levels of this particular hormone.
With cortisol the athlete will often feel irritable and short-tempered as well as have a lack of energy.
Effect of Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
Everybody knows rest and recovery are important or high-level performance as it gives the body time to repair and strengthen itself. HGH is the hormone responsible for stimulating this growth and repair.
HGH is actively required for this tissue repair by stimulating growth via cell reproduction and regeneration. It is naturally produced by the pituitary gland in the brain and is a protein based peptide hormone.
If our HGH levels are low or not doing their job properly then it can result in a decrease in muscle mass and energy levels.
Therefore with sleep deprivation affecting the efficiency of this hormone you can see why it is not great for sporting success!
Am I Getting Enough Sleep?
This is the big question and below are some guidelines to help you answer it.
It is recommended that adults get 7–9 hours of daily sleep and 9-10 hours of daily sleep for adolescents and teens!
If you fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed and wake without an alarm you are probably getting enough sleep say sleep experts.
However if you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow and wake to an alarm you are probably sleep deprived!
So I will leave you with a few tips to ensure sleep is not a factor hindering yours or your athlete’s performance:
Firstly and most importantly make sure you are getting enough sleep (hours highlighted above).
You can achieve the above by prioritizing sleep as a part of your regular training regimen (noting it in your training diary).
Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, get into a pattern.
Take brief 20-30 minute naps to obtain additional sleep during the day, especially if training hard.
Increase your sleep time several weeks before a major competition to ensure you are not sleep deprived!
Switch off your phone/ tablet an hour before you go to bed: the blue light can reset your circadian rhythm to a later time, making it harder to fall asleep.
I hope this article has highlighted the importance of sleep for athletes wanting to be at their best? It really is the #1 Recovery supplement
For further information on how sleep deprivation can lead to overtraining, read our free ebook here
Van Cauter E, Spiegel K (1999). “Sleep as a mediator of the relationship between socioeconomic status and health: a hypothesis”. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci.896: 254–61
Mah, C. (2008). Extended Sleep and the Effects on Mood and Athletic Performance in Collegiate Swimmers. Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.
Samuels, C. (2009). Sleep, recovery, and performance: the new frontier in high-performance athletics. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am.20(1):149-59, ix.
Children and adolescents endure many of the same injuries and mechanical dysfunctions as adults. However, in the maturing skeleton there are some specific conditions that are only seen in the young.
Here is an overview of the common conditions, their causes and how to manage them.
Osgood -Schlatters, Sinding-Larsen-Johansson and Severs lesions
These are non-articular types of osteochondrosis or ‘traction apophysitis’. These specific conditions affect the growth plates, where muscle tendons attach to bone.
They are normally seen in the more active and sporty adolescents during or after a growth spurt. Either one or both limbs can be affected. All three of these conditions are self- limiting and in some cases the symptoms can continue for years.
Recovery rates will vary between each child. Investigations such as x-ray and diagnostic ultrasound are not normally indicated to make a diagnosis.
A common cause of anterior knee pain in the young athlete. Pain, swelling and local tenderness will be present at the tibial tuberosity, where the patella tendon attaches below the knee joint. In some cases a boney lump can be seen. Affects boys more than girls.
A less common cause of anterior knee pain in the young athlete. Pain, swelling and local tenderness will be present at the inferior pole of the patella, at the superior end of the patella tendon (at the bottom of the knee cap).
A common cause of heel pain in young athletes. Pain, swelling and local tenderness will be present where the Achilles tendon attaches onto the heel.
What are the causes of Growing Pains?
Growth spurt (during this period bone will lengthen before muscle. This will put increased pressure on tendon attachment during exercise) Increased intensity of training
Adaptation to a new sport, especially those which involve running and jumping.
Reduced muscle length, especially during or after a growth spurt.
Reduced muscle strength.
Poor control / stability at the spine and pelvis.
Poor foot mechanics.
How to manage the condition
Monitor and keep a record of the child’s growth. This can help to adapt training needs specifically .e.g. during a growth spurt an increased emphasis on stretching is required and maybe some reduced activity.
Reassurance to the child that his/her condition is relatively short term and that by continuing with their sport is not doing any harm.
Activity modification (this should be guided by pain levels. There is no evidence to suggest that prolonged and complete rest is beneficial)
Regular stretching of the surrounding muscle groups
Strengthening of the surrounding muscle groups. This should be focused on during periods of reduced symptoms and limited growth.
Spinal and pelvic stability / control work.
Assessment of foot mechanics Maybe a need to change footwear or use of orthotics. Small heel raises or gel cushions can be useful to control the symptoms of severs.
Use of ice locally
Use of massage to surrounding muscles
Seek medical advice regarding use of analgesics and anti-inflammatories.
Growing Pains could be considered a normal part of growing up. A sound training plan and recognition of sudden changes in growth can help guide the young athlete through the problem.
‘A heel cup improves the function of the heel pad in Severs injury : effects on heel pad thickness, peak pressure and pain.’ Perhamre et al. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science. August 2012.vol 22.4.p516.
‘Childhood lower-limb apophyseal syndromes : “what is the egg on my leg?.”’ Stickland. SportEX Medicine. Jan 2011.47.p22.
‘Adolescent anterior knee pain’ Gerbino et al.Operative techniques in Sports Medicine. July 2006.vol 14.3.p203.
Clinical Sports Medicine. Bruckner et Al. Third edition 2006.Mcgraw-Hill Australia Pty Ltd.
This was her way of describing to young teenage boys the necessity of developing strength in a safe and progressive manner.
Unfortunately in the rush to “look good nekked” a lot of bad advice is heeded by these boys.
In the desperate attempt to develop limb size (rather than strength) the training programme negelects the fundamental needs of the developing body.
“No one ever died of weak biceps”
Roy Parsloe: lecturer on my A level p.e. course in 1991.
Why on earth would we put a preacher curl into a school gym? The kids spend all day sat down in classrooms as it is.
If you train sat down or lying down, then your entire trunk area is made redundant. We then have a situation where people need to work on their “core stability“.
Pull ups are better
This lady may be trying to “tone” her arms, compared to the boys who would be trying to “get hench“, but they are all sat down.
Every dumbbell exercise and 90% of the bodyweight exercises I demonstrated on the course were done standing up or in prone support. This limits the overall weight you can lift, but it is our ability to apply strengthon the field that is important.
The young person has to learn how to control their own body weight in different planes of movement and at varying speeds before picking up a weight. The quick fix is to sit or lie down (and have a mate pick up the weight and pass it to them) but there are no benches or chairs on the rugby pitch.
Thanks to all the candidates who threw themselves with abandon into the practical sessions and the classroom discussions.
I hope I managed to stimulate some thoughts into how they go back and work with all their players: solid foundations and sound programming beat fads and short cuts every time.
“If you ask me how I want to be remembered, it is as a winner.
You know what a winner is? A winner is somebody who has given his best effort, who has tried the hardest they possibly can, who has utilized every ounce of energy and strength within them to accomplish something.
It doesn’t mean that they accomplished it or failed, it means that they’ve given it their best. That’s a winner.”
Walter Payton NFL Running Back
In the current climate of “because I’m worth it” generation of young athletes who expect a lot, but maybe don’t realise the work involved here are11 questions every athlete should ask themselves.
Do you have a goal or a wish? Lots of athletes have idle day dreams, but taking the time to write down your goals and set up a plan is crucial.
Do you have self -discipline? That is the discipline to make every training session, to do the little things well, consistently. The discipline to follow a plan even if you are tired or busy.
Do you get quality sleep? Sleep is the foundation from which you can recover. It is also an indicator that there is balance in your life: too much stress, poor diet, or poor lifestyle can all impact on sleep quality.
Do you fuel yourself properly? After sleep, this is an easy way of distinguishing between those who are serious about performance and the also-rans. The 3 step approach to fuelling properly will ensure consistency.
Do you have the 4 cornerstones of training in place? It is easy to do what we are comfortable with, or what seems most urgent. However, you need to have all 4 cornerstones in place to be most effective.
Are you mindful: of others, of your body, of your strengths and weaknesses? Mindfulness allows you to focus on one area at a time. It will help boost your immune system and reduce blood pressure. Being mindful in training means you are less likely to get injured and more likely to improve.
Do you train to gain an edge? It is often easy to get the big things in place, but the little things accumulate over time and soon add up. If you are doing them daily, then you will be gaining an edge over your opponents who are resting.
Do your sessions have purpose? Or are they organised despair? There is a big difference between doing “stuff” that gets you tired and training with a purpose so that you get better.
Are you getting stronger? Strength in some form underpins all athletic movement: posture, stability, power, balance and pure strength all require a strength training plan of some form.
Do you challenge your technique? “Skill is technique under pressure” so do you seek to improve and develop your technique in different circumstances and environments? It is easy to be good when training at your own club: very different in the maelstrom of away fixtures under pressure.
Have you given it your all? This may be hard to quantify, and you can only give the best that you are capable of at that time. If you look in the mirror at the end of the day and say “I had a little bit left” then how will you be able to cope when that choice is taken away from you? Sometimes you have to empty your tank and train beyond your reserves.
Walter Payton is an NFL legend, who knows if you are going to be as good as him? But , as an aspiring athlete, if you answer Yes to all of these questions, then you are well on the way to making the most of your ability.
(Pictured are Dan James, Jenny McGeever and Tom Baylis: 3 of our current athletes who answer these questions).