Some time ago I attended a UKSCA pre-conference seminar/workshop on strength and conditioning for youth athletes. There were numerous speakers including Joel Brannigan – then Head of Strength & Conditioning at Northumbria University. His lecture gave an overview of his role and responsibilities as a University level S&C coach in the UK. At the time I was working at the Leaf Elite Athlete Academy in Bournemouth. The athletes I was working with were younger, but ultimately should have been aiming to compete at university level in the future.
At the conclusion of the lecture there was some time for questions. So I asked something along the lines of “As a university S&C coach, what would you like the athletes coming to you to be competent at?”. His response was that they should be able to run, jump and possess the basic fundamental skills of training.
This might seem like a relatively banal thing to ask, but I think many youth S&C coaches miss the point when it comes to the ultimate aim with their athletes. It easy to get chase “sport-specific” programs with youth athletes and get sucked into coaching them to do fancy exercises or focus only on the skill-set required for the sport. But ultimately this is inefficient for a few reasons:
- If you do your job right, the athlete should progress onto training at a higher level, probably with another S&C coach
- The athlete may end up competing in a different sport than the one you are training them for (we had 2 athletes successfully change from volleyball to powerlifting)
- It’s not about your ego and what makes you look good to coaches/parents, it’s about the skills the athlete needs
- You are doing your athlete a disservice if you fail to equip them for what they may encounter in the future
It was this train of thought that led myself and my colleague Tom Smale to map out some fundamental skills that we thought athletes should be fully competent in when they left us. Essentially, the desired outcome of this method is that upon moving on from you as a coach, your athletes should have a wide variety of skills or “tools”, which the following coach (who will be grateful you have made his job easier) can build upon further.
So the question is what’s in your athlete’s toolbox? And what do you think should be in there? Are you happy to have just a hammer, or do you want a full set of Alan keys, spanners, screwdrivers and a socket wrench set?
Here are some key skills Tom and I decided on. I personally think these should be in nearly every developing athlete’s toolbox are:
- Upper body horizontal pull
- Upper body horizontal push
- Upper body vertical push
- Upper body vertical pull
- Bilateral squat
- Unilateral lunge
- Hip hinge
- Bilateral countermovement jump and land
- Linear deceleration
In terms of the specifics, we created a pathway that addressed these movements with the following exercises and appropriate progressions:
- Inverted row/Bent over row
- Box Press up/full press up
- Strict press/Kettlebell overhead press
- Band Assisted pullups
- Goblet/Front/Back/Overhead squat
- Forward/lateral lunge
- Romanian Deadlift
- Box jump on/off
- Linear acceleration/deceleration drills – both planned and spontaneous deceleration
It is a very useful exercise to physically list the skills you want your athletes to ultimately be capable of. Then work backwards from these to construct your progressions and ultimately you will end up at your “beginner’s” variation or introductory exercise for each skill.
You may have a more restricted list, or if you have plenty of contact time with athletes who are mentally mature, this list might even be a little longer. But, the question is – where are you leading your athletes? Up the garden path to a world of never ending stability ball exercises? OR are you progressively building skillsets they will need in the future as athletes?
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