Would your season benefit from a boost of intensity?
The NFL Combine takes place every February to showcase all the up and coming talent in American Football.
So, on 31st January, I’m organising The Speed Academy Combine in Horsforth!
Open to young athletes from all sports, it will be a series of sports specific tests to see who’s got it and who hasn’t.
It is a massive opportunity for young sports people to work hard on certain universal sports skills and pit their abilities with friends, teammates and athletes from other sports.
This testing event will highlight where they are strong and what needs attention.
Each test has a scoring structure, a bit like the decathlon in athletics. The athlete with the highest total in the 2 age categories (11-13 and 14-16) will receive 1 term FREE membership to Speed Academy (value up to £175) or a half day Speed Camp for their team (value up to £300).
There will also be on the spot prizes of training apparel for outstanding individual performances.
There are no losers.
If you find that your athleticism is holding you back, then you’re in the right place. That’s what we do!
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.
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…]
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.
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
STEP BACK TO MOVE FASTER
Explosive and reactive on field movements require immediate and efficient action, which is why the following statement is one of the biggest controversies in sports training.
When some Australian scientists at Edith Cowan University had athletes use this “false step” technique to trigger a sprinting motion, the men covered five metres significantly quicker than when they took off by initially stepping forwards.
In order for an athlete to initiate forward movement of the body, their driving foot needs to be behind their centre of gravity in order to maximize the first step.
There are two ways to achieve this:
It has been the eternal argument in speed and agility training. A few years ago, this study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, appeared to shed some definitive light on the matter. [Read more…]
As far as young athletes are concerned, this is massive for them. It’s their New Year. A time for a clean slate and new beginnings.
Whatever their goal, making the school or representative team, last season is forgotten. Some kids come back from the summer holidays looking, sounding and moving completely differently. Like some one stuck them in a grow bag and fed them steroids for 6 weeks. With some, the transformation is huge. Others may appear to have been left behind.
In a time of new beginnings, there can be a tendency for coaches to introduce the new stuff they learned over the summer. Big mistake. That’s basing training on what THEY want rather than what their athletes need.
This is the perfect opportunity to strip things right back to basics.
Ensure the foundations are solid so that when you introduce the sexy new drills in later, it’s easier to coach.
Let’s step into the kid’s shoes for a minute, you’ve been given a new body that’s bigger, stronger and more powerful than the previous one. Chances are it’ll take a while to get the hang of it. Going back to basics is a chance for the coach to see where everyone is at and for the athletes to get to grips with their longer limbs. [Read more…]
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.
The football and rugby seasons are over. The best thing a young athlete can do to improve their football or rugby is to do no football or rugby.
Yes, that’s right NONE.
Their body needs a break from the repetitive movements of the sport which can lead to overuse injuries in growing bodies – as an aside, if your child has had a none contact injury then this is paramount as it should never happen.
The summer is an opportunity for them to move up to the next level. Do you think that will happen if they keep doing the same thing? Would you want your school to ONLY teach Maths or English in the hope to make the kids fantastic at those subjects alone? Young bodies as well as young brains need to be challenged. They also need variety to prevent burnout, both mental, physical and emotional.
All the top sports stars are great all round athletes. Look at Michael Jordan who had a dabble with baseball, Roger Federer who’s quite handy at football (as is Andy Murray), Gary Lineker had to choose between football and cricket.
When the focus is purely on one sport, the athletic foundation of that child will be narrow. Meaning the height of possible performance will be reduced. Challenges are few. With fewer challenges, they will not be able to fulfill their potential.
On the other hand, if that child were challenged on areas of weakness or different movement patterns, they will return to the sport a stronger, more capable athlete. More than that though, their attitude to their chosen sport will be enhanced for the break.
Tennis and other racket sports challenge the upper body in ways that football and rugby can’t. Working on striking movements, hand eye co-ordination, lateral footwork, torso strength and linking upper and lower body.
Cricket involves powerful throwing actions and again, striking. Track and field offers a world of opportunity to get faster and stronger. All these summer sports truly complement the winter ones.
On top of this, climbing trees, swinging on ropes and just free play will improve strength, balance and body awareness.
Summer. Use this time well and you’ll really see a forward leap next season.