The 3 biggest mistakes coaches make in Athletic Development (Part 2)

In the Part 1 of this series, we highlighted how going sport-specific too soon, chasing load too soon and lacking a long term view are common mistakes coaches make in Athletic Development across sporting contexts. In Part 2, we will suggest some coaching solutions to help you avoid these pitfalls!

1.Build a toolbox of varied skills

Physical training is just like technical training. Being brilliant at just one skill is likely to limit an athlete in the long run. It’s important to fill an athletes toolbox with a variety of skills, so later down the line when performance outcomes are of primary importance, they have the ability to draw on any of these tools developed to solve the performance problem. We’ve already discussed how athletes should be able to competently perform the fundamental movements of push, pull, squat, hinge, jump and land (on both 1 and 2 feet), but what about the variety of these movements?

Earlier these week I stumbled across a brilliant resource in @acheivefitnessboston who have a variety of brilliant photos and infographics which show a spectrum of varieties of the fundamental movements. In my experience many coaches jump into loading a novice once they’ve mastered just a single form of squat – usually the backsquat. In contrast, you could challenge the novice but altering the variation of squat performed to build a variety of skills, later choosing the best variation to load. This is also a useful strategy to use during the “Adolescent Awkwardness” phase when athletes may encounter some negative affects to coordination. Using variations for stimulus rather than load could help refine movement and avoid overloading a poor movement. Here are some great images demonstrating some examples of technical variations/progressions:

2.Utilise technical failure NOT muscular failure

Once you’ve built a good toolbox of movements and have decided an athlete is ready to build the load of the movement, it’s important to go about this in the right way. This is a simple approach which ensures athletes can maintain quality movement whilst building strength and load tolerance. Rather than using programs which might take an athlete to muscular fatigue (eg. 3x10RM or 3 x AMRAP), focus rather on programs that start slowly (even with an empty barbell) and gradually build the load on the bar week to week. It’s worthwhile teaching your athletes to keep 2/3 reps in the tank in the first few weeks of training to completely avoid muscular failure.

A simple way to use a method like this is to adopt a “Starting Strength”3×5 style approach, beginning with an empty bar or very light load and adding 5kg to lower body movements and 2.5kg to upper body movements each week. By slowly increasing weight over an extended period of time, this allows you to catch any technical faults before taking an athlete to muscular failure. Aim to have an athlete completed 3-6 cycles of this approach with a 10kg (lower body) and 5kg (upper body) deload at the beginning of each cycle. This will help build a good base of strength whilst maintaining a good technical movement. Once an athlete has complete numerous cycles, you might like to increase the volume of work to a Stronglifts 5×5 approach. Like any approach, you still need to be actively monitoring and coaching your athlete, but this helps set your athletes on a slow and steady track of progress. You may also want to add in some additional exercises such as single leg and trunk exercises. Bonus tip – make sure your athletes are keeping a written training diary of the sets, reps and weight lifted each session so you can keep tabs on their progress and so they know what load to aim for next session!

Image result for starting strength pdfStarting Strength and Stronglifts are good examples of slow, progressive overload.

3. No one cares about Junior World Champions

Allegedly, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius had an assistant who was hired to follow him as he walked through the town and to whisper to him “Remember you are just a man”. It would be worthwhile for many coaches to keep the mantra “Remember these are just kids” at the forefront of their minds…

The key message being that when working with kids, results, placings and winning should not be top of the agenda but enjoyment and helping them fall in love with sport should be. There are catalogues of athletes who were top of the tree at a junior level but now no longer even compete in the sport. If your athlete happens to achieve some success at a youth level, don’t take it as gospel that they are destined to achieve the same success as a senior. Continue to focus on helping them develop and progress in the sport by seeking out appropriate levels of challenge. It’s also important to assist them in keeping a balance of sport, academics, social life and other interests!

Remember these are just kids and Long Term Athlete Development is a marathon NOT a sprint!

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Are you a grassroots youth sport coach or PE teacher who wants to improve the athleticism of your athletes?? Check out our Fundamental series athletic development programs here.

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