Knee Injuries in Youth Sports – Part 1

knee injuries in youth sport

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The number of adolescents and pre-adolescents who participate in organized sports has increased over the last couple of decades. With this increase has come a corresponding increase in sports injuries.

Knee injuries are very common in growing bodies and can be devastating for both the injured athlete and their team, often costing a whole season of play. Strategies to reduce the number of such injuries and to ensure prompt and accurate diagnosis are critical.

[Read more…]

More On Early Specialisation

If you have a pre-adolescent child in a football academy, you may want to read this.

Dr Andy Franklyn-Miller just posted an interesting article from the British Journal of Sports Medicine looking into the relationship between the frequency of football practice during skeletal growth and the presence of a cam deformity in adult elite football players.

The study isn’t ideal and leaves us with more questions than answers but the correlation between training frequency within a professional club before 12yrs and the formation of bony growths on the hip is significant. Here’s the quick science bit from the study. [Read more…]

The Enemy Of Excellence in Youth Sports

I was intending to write an article voicing my opinions on the state of youth sports in this country. But as I was doing some research, I came across the best article I’ve ever read on youth sports. It says it all.

In the article O’Sullivan deftly highlights what he feels is the “greatest obstacle to child-centred sports”. Unfortunately, the environment of youth sports is one that measures success in wins and losses rather than excellence. Once again we place too much value on the outcome as opposed to the process. It may seem a daunting task to alter the whole youth sports environment, but it is absolutely necessary to nurture the youth of today to grow into the healthy, active adults of tomorrow. This article will provide suggestions on how to shift the paradigm in small and meaningful ways! Enjoy!

By: John O’Sullivan

Source: http://changingthegameproject.com/the-enemy-of-excellence-in-youth-sports/

 

“My daughter is the tallest fourth grader in her class and loves to play basketball,” said a father to me recently. “Sadly, I know that she will ultimately grow to be of average height.  Since she is now only allowed to rebound and give the ball to shorter-ball handler players on her team, she will never develop the skills she will need to play basketball.  After her last game, she told her 5-year old sister that she did not shoot or score because her job is to rebound and play defense, because that is what her coach told her. What should I do?”

The plight of this parent highlights what I believe to be the greatest obstacle to a child-centred youth sports environment.

It causes many children to drop out and quit. [Read more…]

Growing Pains

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

There’s something strange happening to a large number of adolescent and pre-adolescent children on sports pitches every where.

It’s not a new phenomena, but it seems to be getting worse and is occurring right under our noses. If the national media get hold of it it will be labelled an epidemic.

It’s not obesity… or acne… or the sudden personality change. Something far more disturbing.

Young, talented, hard-working sports people across The land appear to be having their bodies snatched, and replaced with the body of someone who has never played sport before.

Get after their Number 8. He looks like he’s going through a growth spurt.

It’s heartbreaking. One minute your child is an athletic young player enjoying their sport and displaying all the attributes of a future champion. The next they look as coordinated as a new-born giraffe on roller skates.

Years of hard work. Hours of dedicated practice and honing of their skills seems to have disappeared.

Not only that, but they spend most of their time with niggling injuries. Knee pain. Unidentifiable muscle pains. Thigh strains. Shin splints. Back ache.

The doctor tells you it’s growing pains and will pass.

The physio advice is to stretch the tight muscles to regain mobility.

So they stretch their hamstrings, quads and groin. They do it for a while but then give up.

Then on the return to the Physio, there’s a stand-off. The Physio says they aren’t seeing any improvement because they aren’t complying with the stretching. The child’s says the stretching feels like it’s going to snap and saw no improvement so lost the motivation to do it.

In the mean time, your young player is rapidly losing confidence. They have had to adapt the way they move to still play their sport with their new body. And these awful movement patterns are becoming permanently ingrained.

Players who were way behind them on the pecking order are now overtaking them.

The sport they loved is now just a constant source of frustration and inadequacy. Nobody has an answer for them and the coaches that couldn’t do enough for them a year ago, now seem to have little interest in their issues.

As a parent it’s painful to watch. You can see the pain and anguish they’re going through, but feel helpless.

This is one of the key reasons I formed Speed Academy. The majority of young players that come to me are in this exact situation.

Most parents don’t see the need for dedicated athletic development until certain developmental issues highlight the deficiencies in sports training and school PE.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

When you understand what’s happening, it’s actually quite a simple solution.

Even better, if you have kids who are yet to go through this stage, it’s avoidable.

The medical advice that many parents get told is that the bones grow in spurts while the muscles and tendons grow at a steady rate.

So there will be periods, where the bones get too long for the muscles, making them tight.

So the answer is to wait until the soft tissue catches up and you can speed the process by stretching.

I used to advise this too. It kind of makes sense.

But then, when I started working more with young athletes, I actually had a chance to see what was going on.

The kids presenting with Osgood-Schlatter disease and other related knee problems all had the same faulty movement patterns.

Movement patterns that would cause huge stress for the knee joint and tendons. Allied to the multi-directional nature of the sports that they played and you have all the mechanisms for a chronic knee problem.

So what was the nature of this faulty movement pattern?

Why was it happening to young people that previously moved so well?

To demonstrate what’s happening, you need a hammer.

Get a big mallet and hold it in one hand half way down the shaft and lift it up and down using just your wrist.

Your wrist represents the hip, the shaft is the thigh, and the hammer mead represents the additional weight of the lower leg and foot.

Shift your hand a couple of inches further away from the head and repeat. Not as easy, huh?

Now try holding it right at the end.

This is how it feels when your thigh bone rapidly grows.

Where previously, the body could handle the shorter limb through a full range, the now longer and heavier levers create a higher strength demand.

The hip muscles can only control these levers through a much shorter range. Anything outside this range would be beyond the capabilities of the muscles thus leading to possible tear.

So in order to protect them from being torn, the body limits the length available.

With certain muscles shortened, movements have to adapt.

Feet splay out like a clown when trying to accelerate.

When they decelerate, the back bends like a willow tree in the wind. And posture all round is weak.

When they try to run, it looks like their feet are stuck in treacle. It looks like the whole body gets involved in dragging the foot off the floor and through for the next stride. Knee lift is none existent.

This isn’t a flexibility issue.

It’s a strength one.

We need to create a buffer zone of strength in the hip and trunk muscles. Then and only then, will the body will remove the safety restrictions.

Therefore, through this growth period the focus should be on postural awareness, and full spectrum strength through full range of movement.

Basic strength exercises performed with good technique are all that is required here.

With this understanding it is possible to prepare your players in advance so that the growth spurt has a minimal effect on their athleticism and hence enjoyment of sport.

It is criminal that young athletes – even those in professional football and rugby academies – can fall completely out of the system having shown so much promise.

It’s unnecessary if robust training systems are in place and the children, coaches and parents are educated and buy into it.

As part of my ‘Developing The Growing Athlete’ month I’ll be holding an educational workshop for parents and coaches on Thursday 17th April.

If you’re interested in helping your child/ren achieve their potential and continue to enjoy playing sport then please contact me via email, Facebook or Twitter for further details.

If you have found this article useful, I would be most grateful if you could share it in the usual social media channels.

Yours in speed

RG

Reduce Injuries This Preseason

Is it really August already?
I can’t believe the Football League has already started with the Premiership to follow.
For most amateur football and rugby clubs, it’s pre-season time.
Everyone’s excited about the season ahead. It’s a clean slate. You just want to get pre-season out of the way and start playing.
Everybody dreads pre-season. It’s those never ending running sessions. The endless press ups, burpees, piggy backs and anything else the coach can think of in order to break the players. Some coaches even take pride in the fact they made players throw up.
The only guarantee are the injuries. Why do we do it?
Coaches tend to blame the players for not looking after themselves.
Whereas players blame the coach for the torturous training sessions.
Both have a point.
I have a problem with the way pre-season is generally done.
Traditionally, the idea is to build a broad platform of general fitness to then get more specific, using matches in the latter stages to get match sharpness. Most coaches and players would agree that the only way to get ‘match fit’ is to play matches.
Is that the only way? Or just the way it’s always been?

[Read more…]

Is It Worth Screening Young Athletes?

I know there are many coaches out there that believe that you don’t need to screen athletes. Just seeing how the athletes deal with certain drills and exercises tells them all they need to know.

Well I apologise now, but I’m not that good.

Firstly, when you have a squad, it’s hard to objectively look at the specific movements of every member and glean all the information you need. 

You may pick up that Jonny’s on his toes too much, or is posturally weak and struggles with stepping off his left foot. Or that Jenny’s knees collapse inwards when she jumps or changes direction.

Over the course of the first few weeks of preseason it becomes clear what each player can and can’t do. 

How is that going to direct the programme? 

Do you have a strategy to clear up the movement issues? 

Or do you just hope that your programme and coaching skills are robust enough to develop them through it?

If you’re reading this then I’m sure you’ll already know that you can’t develop a skill if the players don’t have the required movement ability to execute it. 

So this is a problem holding the team’s development back.

This is why I screen ALL my athletes. 

Just so you’re clear, I’m not talking about a medical screen or genetic screen or anything like that. This is just a simple Movement Screen that highlights any basic movement dysfunctions.

After the first session, I now know what each player’s problems are. Not only do I know WHAT they can and can’t do, but more importantly I know WHY. 

What does each individual athlete need to work on to get to where we want them? What do I need to include in the session? 

Is it Movement Quality, Strength, Power, or Technical Skills related to their sport? 

Without a good screening and testing procedure set up, how will I ever know? 
 
Screening young athletes is a vital step in the training process. I take the time to do a movement screen (as well as the performance tests) with each and every athlete that joins one of my programmes. This directs what to work on during each training session and how each person can can get maximum benefit from the programme. 

It’s my responsibility to enhance each athlete’s performance when they come to train with Speed Academy. After all…that’s what the parents are paying for, right? They’re paying me to help their child get more from their sport. Whether that’s to make them more competitive in a performance setting, or to get a more enjoyable experience from sport leading to a healthier relationship with exercise in adulthood.

Most athletes tend to spend a lot of time working on the technical skills of the sport. I think all NGBs now understand that technical proficiency is critical. But for every specific skill, there is a certain physical demand. 

If the movement skills and athleticism aren’t there in the first place, then execution of a skill will be impossible no matter how good the coach is.

I had a lightbulb moment at an FA Sport Science Conference about 5yrs ago.  Athletic development guru Kelvin Giles stated that
“you need the physical qualities in place to do the skills work, and the specific skills to do the tactical work, in that order.” Or something to that effect.

This struck a chord with me as it seemed at the time that many clubs and coaches were only really working on the skills and tactical side. So they’re just waiting to be given a great athlete so that they can turn them into a football or rugby player.

The problem here is that some kids move brilliantly at a young age, then grow a bit. This growth spurt causes them to lose control of their limbs and posture, start to move a bit like C3P0. Because of this, they have to adapt the way they move to account for the lack of stability and mobility. Many never recover from this as the new, less efficient movement patterns become engrained.

There are other young athletes that have the perfect attitude, co-ordination and awareness, but are physically easily dominated. These players are often missed and it’s too late when they catch up ini the late teens. The opportunity has gone. The potential was there, but completely overlooked.

Gray Cook a Physical Therapist from the States came up with the very simple Functional Movement Pyramid. This pyramid consists of three different blocks, or primary focuses, that need to be addressed to improve sporting performance and explains in a picture what I think Kelvin was saying..

Movement is the base of the pyramid and establishes a base for us to work from.  Without good, clean efficient movement…performance will be decreased and injury rates are sure to increase.  I have noticed over the years that in order to play at a high level, my athletes need to be able to squat, lunge, step, reach, push, pull, and crawl.  I first recognised the effectiveness of this approach with my golfers. 

For a long time I’ve worked closely with a very good golf coach called Mark Pinkett. 
Early on in our relationship, Mark sent a young payer to me because he saw the value of athleticism in golf.

As always, the first thing I did was screen him. Now he might have been 16 and playing for England, but not knowing much about golf at the time, I just treated him like any other athlete and stayed true to what the screen was telling me.

I wanted to see him be able to master the basics of movement. So for the first 6-8 weeks we just focussed on specific mobility, stability and posture to enable him to perform basic movements such as squat, static lunge, push and pull.

After about 6weeks I got a phone call from Mark. His first words were “What the bloody hell have you been doing with Cameron?” 

First thought that went through my head was “Sh*t! I’ve screwed up his swing by doing none specific stuff.”
“Just some foundation stuff, why?” Keeping my poker face.
“He’s hitting the ball miles, and I’m getting him to do things with his swing he couldn’t do before…”
We’ve worked together on a lot of players since then and we’ve never failed to get at least 25yds or dramatically improve consistency.

This experience with those golfers highlighted to me the importance of movement screening and creating the broadest foundation possible in the time I have with an athlete.

You can build a beautiful house on sand, but it won’t be long before it crumbles and you have to start again.

Using the Functional Movement Screen, I am able to screen each athlete and see what we need to work on. This sets up everything else and enhances performance. 

Next, we want to attack the performance level.  If they are moving well, this is where we will reinforce that good movement by loading it using resistance exercises. A good strength and conditioning program will help reinforce proper movement.  Resistance training will basically tell the body we like what we see.  If we like the movement, we want to load it.  We want to tell the body this is good, so strengthen and reinforce this movement.

That’s why the base is so important.  If we start to strength train on a poor base of support or movement, we’re going to reinforce faulty, inefficient movement. You will undoubtedly get some gains in performance, but what you have is an over-powered athlete. This is an injury waiting to happen. Imagine putting an F1 engine in a beat up Fiesta.

Fast yes. But it’s only a matter of time.

Clean up the movement first, and then move into some traditional strength and conditioning routines to build a stronger, more powerful athlete. 

Finally, the top of the pyramid is the last thing we want to focus on.  This stage is important, but building a solid athlete begins by working on building a foundation…A foundation based upon being strong and moving well.  If the athlete is weak or moves like crap, there is no amount of skill work that will help enhance their game.  

During the offseason, we focus primarily on the bottom two blocks of the pyramid.  We want to build each athlete up by laying a foundation of good, efficient movement capacity.  After we like what we see there, we start to reinforce that movement with strength and power work.  

Finally, as the season gets a little closer, we will start to integrate more skill work in their programming.  We may focus more on sprint, cutting, deceleration, reaction skills, and other technical skills related to being a good athlete.

However, we only focus on this phase if we have established a proper pyramid based on movement before performance and then performance before skill. 

The short time it takes to run a good screen helps guide the development of a game plan for each athlete.  

Whatever the scenario is, a good screen will help apply the best plan of attack in addressing the weaknesses of each athlete or the team as a whole. Taking the time to screen on the front end reaps huge benefits if the info found is used appropriately.  

Are You Training Or Developing?

If you want your young players to fulfil their potential and get maximum enjoyment out of sport, you need a developmental system. 
  
Training for speed regardless of the sport, has to be developmental in nature.
  
With younger athletes (6 – 9 years old) training for speed is a matter of allowing them to explore various aspects of movement from a self-learning perspective. Remember that it’s not about trying to make them fast NOW. 

Think of lifetime performance potential as a pyramid. These early years are where the base is set. You will never have another chance to lay this foundation, so if you want to build high in the future, you’d better start broad.

As a Coach or Trainer, the objective is to create games, drills or situations that provide this broad-base of movement. The central nervous system is very plastic at this stage, so the more different situations and challenges you expose them to, the more ‘memories’ are created in the nervous system, thus providing a broader base from which to work. 

By limiting the stimulation of movements to one sport, you are narrowing the base of their foundation. Running, jumping, landing, skipping, hopping, crawling, balancing, reaching, throwing, catching, striking, pushing, pulling, bending, manipulating. It’s important that they are exposed to all these movements regularly in a challenging environment where they have to figure it out for themselves. Playing football all year round will lead to a very narrow base. You may have a very good junior player who may even get into an academy. But with such a narrow foundation, the height of the performance pyramid has been limited. 

The result is that many get frustrated and drop out of sport as they become less dominant figures. The ones that stick at it end up being injury prone. 
  
It is important to resist the urge to ‘over-teach’ or ‘make perfect’ the way youngsters are performing these skills. Babies go from lying on their backs to crawling then walking and running in a logical progression without any input from a coach. They’re very good at working things out for themselves. A coach’s role is to inspire in them the desire to learn.

Young nervous systems must be given the opportunity to learn through a trial and error process, what quality movement feels like. 
  
With pre-adolescent athletes, training efforts can become more teaching based. The focus will shift to honing movement habits and and putting into more complex scenarios. a strength component should be introduced here to facilitate the skill progression. This is important to understand. We are not trying to get really strong or build muscle. Pillar/core strength is of utmost importance to make skill progression a smooth process. It allows for better manipulation of their centre of mass (agility) and control over limbs.

Eventually as we reach 14-18 there will be more repetition of specific skills and they can be made much more sport specific. The ability to reproduce the skills under the pressure of higher speeds, loads and fatigue need to be introduced.
  
Do not be fooled into thinking that young athletes and more mature athletes can learn the skills associated with speed & agility in the same way. Programming must have a plan. 

There’s a reason they don’t teach Shakespear in Primary school. Speed and athletic development is no different.

Yours in speed

Rob

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT WORD IN SPEED TRAINING?

I was reading an article by an American sprints coach called Latif Thomas. And whereas I don’t coach track and field, what he said resonated with me. The main crux of this article was that there is one thread that runs through all our training. And without constantly referring back to that thread, those different areas of training become disparate and fail to transfer to improvements in speed.

I was going to rewrite the article with my own spin for multi directional speed training rather than just sprinting. But I think it’s better that Latif should take all the credit.

Besides, he says it much better. Even with the track focus, you can easily transfer the information to multi directional sports.
Take it away Latif:

“Our athletes will be faster when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will be more explosive and powerful when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will be on the board (instead of over and behind) and won’t trip over hurdles (or themselves) when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will consistently hit their times during tempo runs and race modeling sessions once they develop more of this quality.
So, if all I’ve said here is true, then what is the most important word in all of speed training?

Coordination.

Everything we do in practice is designed to improve the ability to express technique in order to positively influence performance. An athlete’s inability to express said technique simply boils down to lack of specific coordination.
Of course, I didn’t invent this concept. I heard Gary Winckler (coach to Alyson Felix, Olympic 200m champion – Rob) talk about it. Then I thought about it. Then I stole it. Now here we are.

Here’s an example. Last week I ran the exact same workout with two different athletes.

One was a 16 year old high schooler with a 200m PR of 26.1. The other was a 22 year old post collegiate with a 200m PR of 24.7.
The high schooler has been doing consistent technical work all summer and fall, going back and forth between me and another great sprints coach, Marc Mangiacotti.

In our last session, she looked incredible. Her bad runs are now vastly superior to what good runs looked like in June. She can break down her own technique before I say anything which, to me, is a sign of wildly improved kinesthetic awareness and skill acquisition. Her confidence is light years ahead of where it was 6 months ago. I’m very proud of her and can’t wait to see her reap the rewards of her hard work.

The post collegiate, on the other hand, comes from a (Division I) college program that did absolutely no technical work, no speed work and sent 200m specialists out for 30 minute runs on a routine basis even in the middle of the competitive phase. She came from a good high school program (cough, cough), so that’s roughly the last time this athlete had good technical instruction (a 25.02 HS PR vs 24.71 collegiate PR is not a comforting improvement over the course of 4 years at the D-1 level).

Needless to say, this athlete was some sort of Hot Mess. She could feel it wasn’t right.

It wasn’t lack of effort or focus. And it sure wasn’t lack of ability. It was pure lack of coordination.

She lacked (’lost’ might be a better word) the strength (coordination training under resistance), endurance (coordination training under event specific time constraints), speed (coordination training to express highest force in the least amount of time and resulting in optimal displacement) and mobility (coordination training to dynamically express forces through desired/required ranges of motion) to accelerate to top speed and maintain that velocity with any semblance of efficiency or consistency of execution.

Once she acquires the coordination that the high schooler currently possesses, I know one thing for sure, she won’t be grinding to dip under the times she ran when she was 16.

My point is pretty simple. If you want to run a 21st Century program, it’s not enough to just run fast in practice. As coaches we have to have our own process for solving the acceleration equation. And, just as importantly, we have to be able to help our athletes solve it themselves. Because we can’t cue them or engage in technical feedback once the gun goes off. Their success fundamentally depends on the ability to feel what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ and make corrections in real time, under the stress of competition and with 6-7 other athletes trying to beat them. Or with a crowd of people staring at them while they barrell down the runway.

It’s not enough to send kids into the weight room if you don’t have the same technical standards for a squat or clean as you do for coming out of blocks or doing phase work in the triple jump.

But if you reframe your training perspective with coordination being the ultimate goal and strength, speed, endurance and mobility being interdependent qualities, it will be easier to connect the dots between movements, event groups and specific skill development.”

OK, I’m back. Thanks Latif. Those Americans are good at self promotion aren’t they?

So what am I trying to get across with this?

Any body who has worked with me knows that I will not let poor technique go unchecked. In the weights room, it’s not just about shifting heavy loads. We want to understand what good movement feels like and how, when we have good movement, the force you can create is greater with more control and less stress.

In movement training, if we can hit the positions correctly, movement is much more fluid and effortless. What are the standout characteristics of the world’s best players? Fluid and Effortless. 

Fitness conditioning is about maintaining technique while resisting fatigue. 

By focussing on coordination you get a better understanding of what good a nd poor movement feels like. With this quality you can self correct. An essential ability to have once the whistle goes and there’s no coaching instructions to prompt you.

In your next practice, perform all your drills and exercises with this concept of ‘coordination as the ultimate goal’ in mind. It will be both liberating and overwhelming at the same time. Ask the coach how they want you to move. What should it look like? Get them to break the movement patterns down and demonstrate perfect technique (if they can). 

Slow it down, try different ways and see how they feel. Ask for coaching feedback. Only when you’re happy that you’ve mastered the technique should you then start to speed it up. If you haven’t learned something in your session, then it was pointless.

Yours in speed

Rob 

IS YOU WARM UP LEAVING YOU SLOW?

The job of the warm up is to turn you from a sedentary being (usually having just stepped out of a car) and turn you into a high performance animal. No mean feat!

Before we go into what needs to be achieved in a warm up, we’ll tackle what is being carried out by most teams across the country. Traditionally, warm ups for sport and training have contained the 2 following components:

  1. General warm up – to raise body temperature
  2. Static stretching  – to increase muscle length

Let’s look at them individually.

1.  The general warm up usually consists of a 10-15min jog round the pitch. In the gym it might be carried out on a bike/rower/treadmill, whatever is handy or the athlete likes. No real thought goes into that then.

Now, there’s actually very little wrong with the jog as a general rule. The desired outcome of raising the body’s internal temperature is effectively achieved. However, it doesn’t achieve anything else in preparation for the movement and energy system demands to come. It’s not a particularly effective use of the first 10-15% of your session.

2.  Static stretching sends the signal to the central nervous system to “shut this tightness off”. This causes the body to relax ad release the muscles. In so doing, neural activity is reduced for up to 2hrs and studies have shown strength and power to be reduced by between 5 and 30%. This is not ideal preparation for explosive movement. Post workout? Absolutely, as it normalises tissue length, calms the nervous system and restores structural balance.

This tends to last about 20mins before going into a more specific part of the warm up. Rather than setting you up for optimal performance, it leaves you with diminished power and strength potential for a length of time that will last the whole session. Plus it’s all a bit, well, sedentary really and absolutely nothing has resembled the movements you’re about to ask of your body.

Finally, do you find that you have to switch your mind from warm up mode to game/training mode? Yes? Then it doesn’t challenge or stimulate you enough to get your mind focussed. SO you are neither mentally or physically ready for performance. Remember, you are what you repeatedly do. If you are regularly training at less than optimal intensity/speed, then that’s all you can expect come match day.

So what CAN be achieved in a 20min warm up? Firstly, The name “warm up” implies that it does just that. Warm you up. What we really want to do is to prepare the body for the specific movements to follow in the session.

 

MOVEMENT PREPARATION

An efficient, systematic and purposeful approach used to prepare the individual for the specific demands of the day’s training sessions or competition.

Prior to Movement Preparation, all athletes at Speed Academy have undergone 7-10mins of Pillar Preparation involving soft tissue work, active stretching and muscle activation techniques focusing on identified dysfunctions, limitations and weaknesses. In a team setting it is the individual’s responsibility to carry this out prior to going out on to the pitch.

Then we move on to Movement Prep

There are 4 components of Movement Prep:

1)      Glute Activation

2)      Dynamic Flexibility

3)      Movement Skills Integration

4)      Neural Activation

 

GLUTE ACTIVATION

A massive problem with many athletes is that their glutes are often “shut off” through poor posture and repeated or lengthy sitting. The gluteal or bum muscles are the power source for the legs and are vital for multi-directional speed. We also know from our physiotherapy friends, that weak or inactive glutes lead to a variety of soft tissue problems such as hamstring and groin strains as well as further down the chain to chronic and acute knee injuries.

We use various types of mini-band walks to fire up the glutes while moving in a sporting position. Muscle activation in movement is dictated by proprioceptive feedback and movement intent. It should be reactive and automatic. Just squeezing the muscle doesn’t carry over to movement, just as firing a muscle from a prone position on the floor will not activate the muscle to work while in a standing position.. The muscle firing patterns when lying on the floor is very different to standing. Gravity can be such a pain sometimes.

Exercise Examples:

  • Lateral Walks in Athletic Base Position (band round knees or ankles)
  • Hip External Rotation in Athletic Base Position (band round knees)

 

DYNAMIC FLEXIBILITY

Here we move actively through various movement patterns specific to the training demands of the day. This provides us with active elongation of the muscles and active mobility of the joints. Any range of movement improvement is usable because it is task specific.

These exercises or movements are a rehearsal of the fundamental movement patterns and sequencing relative to the work to be done. If you don’t perform them well, on the field, movement will be poor.

Examples:

  • Lateral Squats
  • Lateral Lunge
  • Drop Lunge

 

MOVEMENT INTEGRATION

This now builds on the movement pattern efficiency where we progressively increase the force and velocity. We also progress from simple movement patterns to complex movement skills (depending on skill level of the athlete). Here we are looking for complete mastery of movement skills apparent in the training programme.

Examples:

  • Lateral Pillar March
  • Lateral Pillar Skip

 

NEURAL ACTIVATION

We are now almost ready to start. If the tempo was right, athletes should be breathing heavily, sweating and feeling like they’re already mid-workout. Now we put the cherry on the top to optimise performance. We need to prime the nervous system to work at optimal speed. We want very quick, short bursts of controlled movement.

Rapid jumps from an athletic position or 2” runs work well here. Bursts last about 3 seconds only. Long enough to fire up, short enough to prevent fatigue.

Examples:

  • Rapid Response Hip Turns
  • Rapid Response 2” Run

 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WARMING UP THIS WAY?

  • Gradually increases core temperature; this helps with

  1. blood flow
  2. tissue elasticity
  3. range of motion
  • Muscle Activation

  1. Improves body awareness and control
  2. Improves self correction
  3. Decreases injury potential via better mechanics
  • Actively elongates muscle –  strengthening and lengthening

  • Creates Integrated Stability through

  1. Engaging key stabilisers of the trunk in multi-joint movement
  2. Decreases energy leaks – improved power transfer
  • Engrains Good Movement Patterns

  1. Repetitive ritual
  2. Unloaded so none fatiguing
  3. Covers all planes of motion through full range
  4. Provides coaching opportunities to focus on quality and set tone for session
  • Nervous System Activation

  1. Sharpens nervous system and prepares to respond quickly
  2. Elasticity (reactivity)
  3. Challenges dynamic mobility and stability

 

The time spent on movement prep should depend on the needs and ability of the athlete along with the needs of training today. There should be 2-4 exercises in each phase, depending on the needs of the athlete and the demands of the session, lasting anything from 10-25mins.

You should now be ready to go into your plyometric drills, specific movement skills work or pre-match drills.

 

Olympic Legacy – Are We Just Chancing It?

Early Sport Specific Training Allied To An Otherwise Sedentary Lifestyle Is Leading To Chronic Injury And Unfulfilled Potential In Our Young Athletes.

 

The next generation of sports stars may have been inspired by the amazing performances at the Olympics, but long periods of sitting and the health and safety police mean they stand no chance in the world of elite and professional sport.

 

This is compounded by early sport specialisation that is being promoted by sporting governing bodies to ensure that the best athletes aren’t lost to other sports. Repetitive movements lead to asymmetries, inhibited movement ability and pattern overload leading to chronic muscular/joint conditions.

 

Despite the fact that success in football and rugby is heavily reliant on athleticism, very little emphasis is placed in the coaching curriculum on developing good mechanics in acceleration, deceleration, changes of direction and athletic body positioning. While lip service is paid to Istvan Balyi’s recommendations on Long Term Athlete Development, how many coaches out there has the skill and knowledge to be able to correct a player who is off balance when decelerating? It’s not the coach’s fault. He can probably see the problem, but no amount of cueing will get a body to hit a position that it doesn’t have the physical capabilities for.

 

What does the coach do? Shout the cues louder? Accept that the kid is not going to make it?

 

Relying on “natural talent” coming through will provide an ever decreasing pool in years to come.

 

In previous generations, schools and sports clubs didn’t need to teach these qualities because they were  developed through general play. However thanks to the health and safety police, along with the fear of expensive law suits, climbing trees, jumping off high walls, British Bulldog, playground skipping and evasion games have become, in the main, extinct.

 

Our children have replaced running, jumping, throwing, dodging, landing, cycling, pushing and pulling with sitting, slouched over a pc or x-box.

 

When they aren’t doing this, they are playing or training for their chosen sport. The training at sports clubs tends to be focussed more on doing things more or faster than doing it better. So movement quality always gets compromised. Supplementing training with going to the gym and doing single plane, muscle based workouts, or going for a long run will only exacerbate the problem.

 

It seems the coaching federations have been a bit slow to respond to this change in youth lifestyle. They were probably wasting time looking at what the successful countries a doing. Do you think Spain, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand have an outdoor play problem?

 

Recognising Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) and testing for physical competencies is a start, but it’s not widespread enough and the lack of experience, knowledge and coach training in this area means that its implementation is average at best. Don’t get me wrong. This is neither the coaches’ nor clubs’ fault. I’m a believer in coaching only what you’re good at and doing it very well.

 

*****

After working with and testing many young football and rugby players coming through professional academies, I recognised a trend. They were not physically prepared to cope with the requirements of top level professional sport.

 

I don’t mean they weren’t strong or fit enough. That’s easy to rectify. No, they were mechanically poor.  And this takes a lot more time and dedication to reverse, as well as being far more dangerous. Imagine Lewis Hamilton going out in the next Grands Prix driving your car, but with an F1 Engine. How long do you think the tyres, brakes, clutch, suspension, chassis would handle it? How competitive do you think he’d be?

 

I set up Speed Academy to bridge this gap in LTAD and provide young athletes with the athletic foundation required to succeed in professional sport.

 

Most people are not slow because of their genes. They’re slow because their co-ordination is compromised. Why? That’s where a good assessment comes in, but in most cases, co-ordination is something you lose rather than gain. Look at any 5yr old run, squat, jump and land. By the time we leave school, our movements are a product of what we repeatedly do. If we are not doing all the movements I described earlier, we lose that ability.

Very rarely in training will a football or rugby player sink into a full deceleration position. Most of the time it will be a rushed and abbreviated movement. Then, when required in a game situation, the movement isn’t strong enough. So a compensation is made.

 

The period from 14-18yrs is a time of high speed growth. Limb lengths grow at a different rate to the muscles and tendons. This leads to co-ordination, strength and flexibility issues. This is also the time when there is a pressure to be bigger, stronger, faster. Loading up faulty or compromised movement patterns will compound the poor movement.

 

Training at this age must be very movement quality focussed. Strength, speed and power improvements will come as a consequence of this. You can’t rush strength and size gains at this stage. The hormones in the body will control this. If you maintain co-ordination and movement quality through this period, the player/athlete that comes out of the other end of this hormonal cyclone will be awesome.

 

At the end of August, I’ll be running a 1 day Speed Camp to give aspiring future champions an insight into what is possible. They’ll discover areas where they can improve their athleticism. But most importantly, they’ll learn HOW.

 

At the Future Champions Speed Clinic, attendees will learn how to:

 

  • Warm up for optimal performance
  • Optimal athletic stance for reactive movement and strength
  • Accelerate quickly and efficiently
  • Decelerate rapidly while keeping your eyes on the game
  • Change direction with balance and control
  • The first step tricks used by the quickest players

All this will take place outdoors on a 3G surface at La Liga Soccer Centre in Thornbury.

All attendees will receive a free Speed Academy T-shirt, supplemental speed training handout and a £50 voucher for Speed Academy.

Who is it for?

Anybody playing a multi-directional field or court sport aged 14-18 who want to get an edge on the competition.

Date: Thu 30th August

Time: 9:30-4:30 

Venue: La Liga Soccer Centre, Thornbury, Bradford

Only 20 Places available

 

You can learn more and register here

 

 

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