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Early Specialization Talk

Early Specialization

One rarely talked about tenet of early specialization in sport is the amount of emotional stress it puts on children and the physical ramifications of that stress.

Quite often the emotional impact of early specialization happens because physically the athletes are unable to perform at the required level on a consistent basis. This hits more boys than girls because girls physically and emotionally mature faster than boys - check gymnastics, diving, dance and figure skating. However, even girls are susceptible to many issues from stresses placed upon them.

Sonia Lupien did a study published in 1998 on prolonged levels of high cortisol.

A quick refresher: Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands but regulated by the pituitary gland. We need it to live. It helps us maintain our blood pressure levels, with immunity and with inflammation to name a few things. 

However, too much cortisol for too long of a time, and as Lupien noted, the opposite of the above can happen. It aids in us actually getting high blood pressure, osteoporosis and screws up sleeping patterns. It can aid in us increasing our fat deposits throughout our torso, neck and face.

Lupien also noted that prolonged cortisol resulted: in a shrinking hippocampus (in laboratory rats the hippocampus returned to regular size within a week of the stress being removed), reduction in the production of neurons and an affected memory and mood.

So, folks tell this to the parents who are put this kind of pressure on their young athletes. They're hurting their own kids both mentally and physically and that hurt can have long-term ramifications.

Understand, Lupien's study was performed on 51 individuals who had an average age of 73.That important when dealing with kids because, at 73, the brain is well beyond being fully developed. So, the effects of stress are intense, but there will not be the same the long-term affects developing brain could have.

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TEN WAYS TO MOTIVATE YOUNG ATHLETES - PART 1

CONTROL THE OUTCOME

There are a few things that transcend age boundaries when it comes to developing athletes from an early age. What is good for 4- and 5-year-old athletes do not always equate to what’s good for their 8- and 9-year-old brothers and sisters. They are vastly different groups, motivated by equally distinctive plans and thingamajigs.

Twelve year-olds, though chronologically close in age, are, biologically wired differently than their 13-year-old best friends. In the process of coaching, which is putting an athlete in the position where he or she can have the most success, we need to treat the two independently.  But, in the practice of running a successful youth program, there are ideals that need to permeate the thought process of every staff member who comes in contact with the young athletes.

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I have been fortunate to work with a lot of young athletes in the past 25 years. What follows are the archetypes of movement enticement. They are methods, or modalities, that work with all athletes, no matter the age.

We go into the whys and what-fors of controlling the outcome extensively in the TPI Junior Level II class and Level III seminar. At Dynamic Golf, we teach the practicality of this. In October, the youth training certification from the Coalition for Launching Active Youth, will have entire classes and lessons on controlling the outcome. If you want to get more in to this - especially if you are into golf - I urge you to check out both: www.mytpi.com and www.dynamicgolfsolutions.com.

There has been a lot l more than this learned, but these are the 10 biggest things - at least they are as of this typing! I might train an athlete today who changes an aspect of my perspective. In other words, I have the right to add to and take away from this list at any point. In other other words, if you talk to me five months from now, and this list has changed, I’m going to tell you, “ahhhhhhhhh…you gonna catch up with the rest of us!?! C’mon! That’s old news!"

That said, here is the list. It is not in any particular order either, because I think they are all important.

  1.      MAKE IT FUN
  2.      ADULT VOICE ADULT WORDS
  3.      PRAISE SPECIFIC EFFORTS
  4.      MONKEY SEE MONKEY DO
  5.      TELL THEM WHAT TO DO
  6.      NURTURE VICTORY
  7.      NURTURE FAILURE
  8.      ENCOURAGE COMPETITION
  9.      LET YOUR INNER CHILD SHOW
  10.      CONTROL THE OUTCOME

Now that you have the list, starting today and going every week for the next 10 weeks, I’m going to go into a bit more detail with each sentiment. If your list is different, cool! Share it! If you think I am crazy, call me out, and let us both learn something.

Remember, this is in no particular order. I believe they are all important and are all related and dependent on each other.

Control the Outcome

When we control the outcome, we as coaches know the proper steps in our athletes’ maturation process. The athletes have little clue about what’s supposed to happen next and are merely following our lead and instructions. It is our job to get them to do what we know they need to do, but make them think that they are the ones who came up with the solution to do it.

If it sounds like trickery, it is! But it’s not disingenuous. We’re helping them take the next step.

Humans learn in several ways: by being told what to do; by being shown what to do; by doing it and by teaching other athletes what to do.

Young athletes, 6-9 biologically, best learn physical skills and coordination through a process called discovery. Coaches, we set up the parameters of the practice or the drill. Then the athlete plays or practices, discovering the best way to practice or complete the drill. Whatever the athlete decides gives the athlete ownership of that attitude, movement, skill or coordination – at least for that practice. It will take numerous practices for the “ownership” to become a learned behavior.

And, let us not forget that in getting the athletes to that ownership role, we have simultaneously make sure the young athletes are having fun.

Controlling the outcome should be done both globally and locally. Globally means in perspective, constructing a drill with the thought process of the outcome as the primary focus. Locally is specifics. The mode used to reach the outcome is important when thinking locally. Understand, this is not as simple as an “ends justify the means” or a “means justify the ends” phenomena. We are guiding, not validating.

In both situations, coaches benefit by constructing drills such that the only possible outcome is the only one the coach wants or the one the athletes need. We, however, must make sure the athletes are motivated by something that gets them to complete the task.

An example: One of our coaches was dealing with a particularly spirited group of 4- and 5-year-olds. They were on a tear, not listening the first, second or third time they were talked to. He could not do the drills he wanted to do with them because the athletes were not motivated to do those drills.  Our coach found motivation elsewhere. He got their attention, telling them: “Hey, we’re playing in the big game and we’re getting beaten 21-0!” The young athletes quizzically looked at him. Coach kept at it. “We’re down 21-0 because we’re goofing off and are not focusing on the drills in each station. Maybe if we focus on the drills, we can score some points. But, I don’t know if you all want to win or want to score any points. Do you?”

Of course they did. Nobody wants to lose.

The rest of the practice was a breeze because coach, thinking globally, got them to do the drills by enabling them to create a positive attitude toward the stations. Focusing and completing each station was essentially a necessary evil to get the prize possession – a victory. They wanted to win. But on the way to winning, which they did, 22-21, the athletes did exactly what the coach wanted them to do. The coach controlled the outcome and did so in a fun way for the young athletes.

The athletes got better that day.

Another example: Lower-body stability was the goal. Past practices proved that some of the standard vertical balance matrices got too boring too quickly for these 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds.

Catching small objects, such as tennis balls, was still a challenge for many in the group. So, balancing while tossing tennis balls back and forth (one way of removing the boredom) was out of the question. This coach liked the idea of the ball toss. Instead of tossing to each other, the coach had the athletes toss into an open bucket. But, they had to do it while balancing.

Coach used a stability disk, a Bosu ball and a stability block. The use of each tool was designed to exacerbate the athletes’ stability issues, forcing each to fight the instability to remain stable enough to toss the ball into the bucket. Making a ball into the bucket far exceeding anything else in the athletes’ thought process.

They did not worry or care that their neuromuscular system was being trained to provide more stability. They just wanted to get the ball in the bucket and were having fun with each attempt.

The only outcome the coach truly cared about was training them to increase the lower body stability. The coach did that.

Those athletes got better, too.

 

 

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OBNOXIOUS PARENTS

SO, had two conversations yesterday with women we train. The first talk turned to youth sports as the women have young children doing everything from flag football to soccer, basketball, dance, baseball and lacrosse. The second talk was pretty much about the first one. Didn’t take long in the first talk to get on the subject of obnoxious parents. The more we talked, the more irritated I got. My facial expressions, after hearing some of their stories, must have been good because they each got a nice laugh. One even prompted me to, “Get on your soap box! Where’s the soapbox!”

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Yes folks, I do have a soap box my youngest daughter made me a few years ago. And, yes I will get on it from time to time to wax poetic about some issue I see within youth training, athletics and sports.

That said, no soap box today. But, I’m sure I’ll have one on this subject sometime soon. Until then here are a 40 things I have to say obnoxious sports parents.

You might just might be an obnoxious youth sports parent if you’ve ever found yourself:

1.     Looking at your child’s opponents, and thinking, “Ahh yeah. We can beat this team.”

2.     Looking at your child’s opponents, and thinking, “Ahh yeah. We’re getting our asses kicked.”

3.     Comparing your child’s athletic feats to another child’s athletic feats.

4.     Making excuses for why your child’s team didn’t play well.

5.     Coaching from the sidelines or the stands.

6.     Writing an email to the league board complaining about your child’s playing time.

7.     Complaining to other parents about the coach instead of taking issues directly to the coach.

8.     Keeping your child in one sport all year.

9.     Allowing a youth league the power that makes you keep your child in that sport all year.

10.  Losing a game then complaining so much to the youth league board that they schedule another game.

11.  Not wanting your young athlete to make a mistake.

12.  Forgetting that your child is FAR from being a professional.

13.  Treating your child differently after wins and losses.

14.  Scouting next week’s opponent for your 8-year-old’s flag football game.

15.  Pressuring your child to achieve athletic feats that you never could.

16.  With unrealistic expectations for your child.

17.  Fighting a referee.

18.  Fighting an opposing coach.

19.  Fight at any youth sporting event.

20.  Scouting other teams for the best players and trying to convince the parents to move their child to your child’s team.

21.  You give winning a bigger priority than your child’s health.

22.  Undermining the wishes or instructions of the coach.

23.  Never volunteering your time to coach.

24.  Going to work happier after your child’s team wins or sad/depressed after your child’s team loses.

25.  Bragging about your young athlete’s accomplishments.

26.  Paying for or bribing your athlete for scores, hits, steals, tackles, aces, yards, 3-pointers and more.

27.  Only talking about sports outcomes.

28.  Tailgating like you’re at an SEC football game.

29.  Less effective at controlling your emotions than your child is at controlling his or hers.

30.  Letting your young athlete take off practice time or part of practice time because, “I don’t like doing those drills.”

31.  Flipping through photos of your child, and EVERY SINGLE PHOTO has something to do with sports.

32.  Judging your parental acumen on your child’s athletic ability.

33.  Still talking about the game or meet an hour after your athlete stopped competing.

34.  Conspiring to get a coach fired – yet you’re not volunteering.

35.  Not playing with your athlete.

36.  Ending or creating extra drama in relationships because your athlete’s team got beat by your friend’s athlete’s team.

37.  Failing to relate what happens within the context of the sporting event to life situations.

38.  Not letting your athlete take age-appropriate responsibility for his or her sports.

39.  Shining laser pointers into the eyes of your child’s opponents. … On second thought, you’re just an ass for that.

40.  Flashed your bare breasts to a group of 11-year-old boys to distract them so your son’s team would win.

I’m sure there are many more, but I only had five minutes to think of these.

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Q&A: You have 20 kids and 15 minutes for physical. What do you do? - Sergio M (Spain)

Wow Sergio! Thanks for lobbing this softball! :) Do you all even play softball in Spain? Seriously, just wondering how many of my jokes will get lost in translation (which was a strange movie).

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Anyway, 20 kids, 15 minutes.

You didn't mention their ages, skill or ability levels, sport or amount of support. Each of those matters tremendously when it comes to specifics. So, I'll just stay general and assume that there will only be one coach.

I want to hit the whole body, regardless of age and ability. That means four exercise stations: lower body, core body, upper body and total body. I will pick one of three modes to do for each exercise: muscular endurance, muscular strength or power/explosiveness. Within those modes will be 1-3 exercises.

  • 4 Stations
  • 5 Athletes each station
  • 3 Minutes each station
  • 12 minutes total workout time + 1 minute to switch between stations = 15 minutes. 

Examples

15- to 18-year-old Females (Explosive)

1. Plyo pushups 2. Tuck jumps 3. Hanging body curls 4. Medball squat, thrust and sprint

4- to 7-year-old Males (Muscular Endurance)

1. Bear Crawls 2. Net Climbs 3. Tug-of-War 4. SUV tire flips

The set up is the most important part of this. Set up the structure of what you want to accomplish, and it's easy to plug in the specific exercises.

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