Are you microwaving your athletes?

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy a good meal. Especially a steak…
For me, you just can’t beat a piece of quality, aged beef cooked to medium rare, or some slow roasted barbecue pulled pork, or a nice beef joint roasted slowly. If you cast your mind back to a really memorable meal, I doubt it came out the microwave!

So what on earth does food have to do with training athletes? The answer is simple: Time.
One thing I come across constantly in the world of youth strength and conditioning is people in a rush. Coaches in a rush to progress athletes too quickly, parents in a rush to get their kid into the best team and athletes in a rush to reach a certain performance benchmark. Usually this is to the detriment of the athlete. Long Term Athlete Development is a marathon, not a sprint. A really simple comparison to use is food.
Are you slow cooking your athletes, or microwaving them?

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You just can’t beat a good bit of slow roasting!

Slow cooking a meal takes time. It takes an array of herbs and spices, a low temperature and lots of patience. But the result is a well cooked piece of meat, succulent and falling off the bone and satisfying. Full of good nutrients and flavour.
Slow cooking an athlete means understanding the quality takes time. It means being patient to ensure technique is efficient, not rushing or skipping steps until a solid base of athleticism is achieved. Understanding that the best method of preventing injury is good movement, efficient and good levels of strength. Not asking athletes to play through injury because “the under 15 title is at stake!” It often means 2 steps forward and 1 step back, with slow and often painstaking progress. It means a real focus on mastery, investing the time that true mastery deserves. From a coaching perspective, it requires confidence in the process and your own ability, not being swayed by the latest fad or trend, or unqualified opinion.
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It might be tasty in the short term, but what is the long term gain?

In contrast, a microwave meal is easy. You peel off the plastic film, bung it in the microwave and hit the timer up for 2 minutes. Job done. No effort, no expertise. Little to no nutritional quality. Probably plenty of preservatives and artificial flavourings, maybe even a little MSG thrown in for good measure. In the long term, potentially quite hazardous for your health.
Microwaving an athlete often looks like copy and pasting a top professional program onto your 15 year old athlete, try to “peak” for every performance, taking failure and success too seriously, getting distracted by the result (outcome) over gradual and continued progress (process). It looks like sudden changes in a program, spikes in a workload or the latest fad or trend. Athletes playing with injury so they don’t “let the team down”. It often results in a injuries, particularly overuse injuries. It often manifests itself in coaches’ videos of their young athlete posting some feats of strength with questionable technique (outcome over process) and getting too caught up in the fact an athlete won an age grade title at national or international level.
Ultimately, what the issue is here is a long vs short term approach to athlete development. The best coaches I know, are not in a rush. They coach with an eye on the long term, knowing there’s time and they have patience with the process, confidence in his/her coaching methods and the athlete’s future at heart. However, often those coaches who fall foul are those who are focussed more on the short term, often ego-oriented and with a point to prove. Sacrificing the long term performance for the short term result.
So the question is – are you microwaving your athletes?
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