Sunday, February 17, 2008

Challenges Working with High School Athletes

I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with a wide range of athletes in my work with swimmers, and as a Tae Kwon Do instructor and strength and conditioning coach. Working with high school athletes and students today poses some unique challenges that you generally don't see as often with age-group kids or adults.

By the middle teen years, there is a clear division between the "haves" and the "have nots" when it comes to athletics. Many, if they begin an exercise or athletic program, will require extra time until they have enough self-discipline and self-efficacy to sustain and attempt further efforts themselves without encouragement and focused guidance.
Motivation and volition are learned thinking patterns and teens need help developing these. A good coach will help teens to set appropriate personal training goals and benchmarks, and then assist in their reevaluation as necessary.

*Challenging Authority
Teens can be tough to work with and probably one of the most perplexing is apparently sudden and unexplained mood swings from jovial to cynical or angry. If singled out by a coach or teacher for misbehavior or poor performance, teens will always respond in a manner that makes them look strong over weak and smart over dumb, and will be visibly frustrated and angry if they can perceive no graceful way out. Rare is the teen that will be able to listen to a sharp criticism and apply it constructively.
Allowing teens some input in the programming process will go a long way to giving them a sense of ownership in the process. Individual attention, constructive criticism when necessary, as well as praise when it's earned will go a long way toward establishing a respectful attitude.

*Fossilizing Form Errors
It's sad to see high school freshman with technique errors and then see the same high school students as seniors with the same form errors. Often they have only made marginal improvements in their game. I see this every year with some teams and it's unbelievably frustrating.
High school athletes are often just beginning to train seriously and consistently. Coaches need to be willing AND ABLE to address form errors early in their athletes. Small investments of time in form work and drills can reap huge benefits and potentially turn mediocre athletes into starters or even state-championship quality athletes - I've seen it happen enough to know it's true.

I get asked by teens frequently "What kind of supplements do you take?", or "Should I take creatine, Nitro-fuel, amino-bulk, or dianahugongo oil?". My first response to them is always "Do you eat breakfast?", and if the answer is "yes" (it usually isn't, by the way), my second question is "What do you eat for breakfast?" Among teens who eat breakfast, typical morning training table staples are pop-tarts, sugared cereal, and juice. No protein whatsoever, plenty of sugar, and few calories. Not the best diet if you want to get strong.

Add to this that many teens eat about as many fruits and vegetables as your average tyrannousaurus rex, and not only are kids setting themselves up for disappointing athletic performance, but long-term health problems down the road as well.

Dan John said it best when he said "Recovery is not a drink. Recovery is sleep." Kids will be kids - yes, and an occasional late night isn't a bad thing, but when every night is a World of Warcraft, text messaging, and Guitar Hero marathon until 3 am, it's going to make serious inroads into recovery and growth. Caffeine only compounds the problem, but kids will drink Redbull like it's going out of style to power through their week and then sleep until 2 or 3pm on the weekends to play catch-up. It doesn't work but many will look like they are getting away with it because they're young - as coaches and trainers, let's do what we can to, at the very least, discourage this.

1 comment:

Dan Cenidoza said...

Nice article! Thanks Boris!