Put the Spring in Spring Training
How to best prepare your young athlete By Susan Moore, owner of Better Gym in Gig Harbor, WA
The idea of spring training is when professionals of all sports unite with their teams and start training together to see what changes need to be made to the roster and who has put the most effort into being the valuable parts of the team. For our youth, it’s more about getting the individual athletes prepared for the upcoming season. The pros, they get to show how well they have already prepared. We should take a note from the pros and prepare our kids well before the spring training begins. Athletics is a year-round endeavor. Our kids can be multi-sport athletes, specialized athletes, or both, by utilizing a strength, conditioning, speed and agility program.
Playing different sports trains our body to adapt, learn and master varied sets of skills, resulting in more well-rounded athleticism, higher potential and a reduced risk of injury. Kids learn how to be a team player in different environments and get introduced to more coaching styles, learn how to interpret more physical cues and cultivate the ability to maintain good sportsmanship by having different expectations and teammates. This can help reduce social anxiety and acquire the coping mechanisms to deal with and overcome adversity. Your child may be the star in one sport and a support position in another. Both are important life lessons.
They become athletically versatile - Kids who excel in one sport become masters of their craft, so to speak. Good, right? Maybe not. Typically, once they get into high school, they’ve reached their ceiling. The athlete spends a tremendous amount of time going over the same patterns day after day, season after season. Without adding the coordination and versatility gained from multi-sport play, they typically go from big fish in a little pond to little fish very quickly. When they play different sports that require different body mechanics, loading and movement patterns, the athlete is more likely to have developed the ability to increase their aptitude to move faster, stronger, and with more precision. They also increase their potential for the physical and emotional demands of high-stress environments. Essentially, they can take what life throws them.
More coachable - When kids have only been coached in one sport, they tend to only understand the coaching of their sport and more specifically their position. When kids have had different experiences with completely different sports or athletic training, their bodies gain the ability to add neural pathways; the signal pathways they need to rewire their brains for optimal performance. Every time the brain processes new information, neurons fire, new pathways form, and the malleable brain alters its shape and structure. The more pathways, the easier adaptation becomes.
Injuries - People get hurt. It’s part of life and sports. They practice what they know, and they practice it year-round. Without complementary and completely different athletic sports or practices, their bodies stop adapting and, in essence, stop improving. They wear out instead. Injuries become more likely. We can build muscle to protect the athlete, but we also need to train for the unexpected.
In most areas, to be truly competitive in any given sport, your athlete is expected to play year-round. Between school teams and clubs, there isn’t any more time to be competitive in other sports. We, as parents, have to make a lot of tough decisions. No matter how great the work ethic our student athletes possess, they need to be kids. It is the time when they learn not only scholastically and physically, but also how to manage expectations and create and maintain relationships. Between school, homework, sport practice, and whatever other activities we schedule our kids for with all the best intentions, we need to make sure they have time to learn to interact with different people from different walks of life. Practicing good general physical preparedness with a productive strength program can introduce different kids with different goals to one another, learning to work together for overall team environments.
Increased enjoyment of sport - Having additional athletic practices gives an athlete the much-needed physical and mental break from their sport to keep them wanting to come back excited for the next season. Playing multiple sports decreases the risk of burnout which, in turn, decreases the risk of quitting the sport early or generally not reaching their potential in their preferred sport.
What to look for in a strength and conditioning program: When looking for a program, you need to do some research. I always recommend speaking to the coach who will be interacting and training your child. Find out what their programming goals for your athlete are and how they accomplish them. A good program should emphasize not only strength, endurance, speed, agility and mobility, but also recovery. Your athlete should be in a program that increases skill, confidence and accountability. Steer clear of the coach who emphasizes constant sessions that seem like punishment. Any coach can make your athlete tired, but great coaches make them better by knowing when to add complexity and when to dial back. The right amount of stress creates optimal adaptation; too much just adds the likelihood of injury. Advanced strength and conditioning can be your athlete’s additional sport. Learning multi-sport mechanics, multi-planar strength, mobility and endurance can keep your athlete in great shape and always ready year-round. Training smart and rotating from in-season to off-season, learning to utilize minimal doses of training for maximal benefit—instead of the constant highest tolerable dose. Learning to not burn out by going all out all the time but rather waving the load of work capacity and density. Thus, making your athlete a durable, coachable and injury-resistant member of any team they choose to play for.
A properly developed training plan can help develop other athletic abilities to make a single-sport athlete a better and more rounded athlete, so that they can stay focused on their sport while improving their athleticism.
The most confident players should also be the best cheerleaders. The kids who have been told they are the best without being expected to hype their team’s ability to play turn into kids no one wants to play with or even coach. A well-rounded student athlete is really what we are after.