Project Jonah: The Final Report

TAGS: sport specialization, college admissions, college athlete, Hoss's project jonah, college scholarship, sport performance, combine training, high school sports, high school athlete, Scott Cartwright, off-season training, strength development, Rugby, soccer, youth sports, football, powerlifting

Three years ago I wrote an article about how to train and prepare young athletes for optimize their sports potential. The idea was to track my son Jonah Cartwright through high school with the goal of documenting his sports growth. My schedule was so tight I never got around to delivering updated articles on Jonah’s progress. This article is to not only give an update on how Jonah has faired, but also lessons learned from this journey. We found things that worked and things that didn’t work. I made mistakes in the process and I had success. These lessons  I learned will now help his freshman brother Jack through his sports growth. My hope is that this article will help others get a jump on how to help you prepare your kids for sports.

When the original article was released in January 2013 Jonah was a 140-pound freshman. Jonah has played three sports all through high school and his first love has always been football. His freshman year Jonah played corner and running back. By his senior year he had moved to outside linebacker and running back. His senior year he played at 180 pounds and was one of the fastest and strongest kids on the team. Jonah finished his varsity career being All-League for two years, team captian for two years, while also being named Team MVP and Offensive MVP. Jonah has grown to also love rugby. In rugby he plays fly half and outside center. Jonah has had lots of success on the rugby pitch and was nominated to the Northern California Rugby All-Star team. In club soccer Jonah plays sweeper on a nationally ranked soccer team. I think it is safe to say that Jonah has maximized his sports potential in high school.


MORE: Hoss’s Project Jonah, Part I


When people that have no exposure to powerlifting ask me about powerlifting, they always ask the same questions “how much can you make powerlifting?” The response is always the same: very little. I have won money in meets, but not enough to even cover the cost of a meet. The reason I bring this up is it seems people always want to equate high school sports success with college scholarships. There is rarely a time when people see good high school athlete and understand that sometimes sports end when high school ends. The measurement of high school sports success shouldn’t be college scholarships.

My parental sports goals for Jonah have been two fold: 1) make sure Jonah learns life lessons through sports by developing his competitive juices, and 2) use sports as a conduit to college. Both of these are really difficult to ensure success. I never had grand visions of Jonah playing running back at USC. Rather, I knew the reality of Division 1 sports. The idea was really about getting Jonah help with college. Today college admissions are extremely competitive, and any small advantage could be the difference for a kid. The good news is that Jonah will be playing football next year for the Stags at Claremont McKenna Mudd Scripts. Small college football at one of the best engineering schools in the world has satisfied my requirements and Jonah’s. My plan to help Jonah learn to work hard, have fun, and not be unrealistic about his expectations has worked out.

Jonah would on occasion refer to me as “Marv.” He would usually do this when I would push him a bit. After telling him to do something I would hear, "Okay, Marv!” The reference came from Marv Marinovich. If you are unfamiliar with the Todd Marinovich story, essentially his father (Marv) trained him from birth to be an NFL quarterback. Mark would push his son to the point of abuse. If he had a bad football practice, he’d make him run 5 miles home while Marv followed him in the car. The point is to make sure you understand that strength training for sports needs to be something your athlete looks forward too. They shouldn't dread the training sessions. They need  to understand that training isn’t easy but they need to learn to enjoy the challenge. They also need to understand the challenge they face is helping them become better at their sport. At the end of the day, teach them early in life that its not always easy, but hard work will pay off.

Our kids schedules are so impacted by school, sports, and social activities these days.Sometimes Jonah had to miss training. I hate missing training for myself, but for Jonah it was okay for the right reasons. Make sure they know what the right reasons are. Make sure they value the training enough to know when they have the right to miss training.

Specialization in youth sports is killing sports. This is a polarizing topic. Many kids get to high school or even as young as junior high school when they are asked to specialize in one sport. Once they focus all their energy into that one sport, it eliminates so many opportunities to build character and physical assets. To that end I think it is okay to focus on one sport, but never at the risk of giving up on sports they may love or eliminate potential opportunities.

Making kids choose at 12 years old or making that decision for them is absurd. I have found that the benefit of playing multiple sports helped Jonah develop lots things he may not have in some sort of training. I had a master plan early in his life to get him active and gain speed. As much as I hated soccer, I knew soccer develops fitness, coordination, and speed. By playing soccer year round, Jonah is running and working on footwork year round. I don’t think there is anything else he could have done to get better footwork then play soccer every week. Rugby has helped develop aggression and tackling; tackling is an art. For some, tackling comes more naturally and for other its developed. The point is that I think that playing more then one sport can only help kids get better at what may be considered their primary sport. It has certainly helped Jonah.

Early in Jonah’s strength and conditioning development he was faced with many challenges. One of the biggest decisions was whether or not he should lift with his high school football team. These football training sessions, as I stated three years ago, were practically a waste of time. Let's face it, EVERY high school football coach thinks they are a strength coach. I see the value to the coach, as it's a great team-building exercise. I did not see any value when it came to strength and speed development when the coach doesn’t know what he is doing.


MORE: Hoss's Project Jonah, Part 2


The issue is that these coaches think that because they lifted 15 years ago in high school and they have access to google, they have it figured out. Jonah got very frustrated with the football off-season training sessions. Jonah has the luxury of being raised around strength development and gaining an understanding of what is productive and what is not. The truth was that football training lacked intensity. Given I didn’t want the coach upset that Jonah wasn’t training with the team, I needed to allow him to go to these sessions. Jonah and I had to find ways to work around his required off-season football training. Part of this juggling act was making sure I didn’t have him work muscle groups that may have already been hit with football off season training. We somehow found ways to fit in real training and not upset his coach.

In all the combine-like camps that Jonah attended (Nike Sparq, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, UC Davis, Stanford and Cal-Poly) they asked kids to bench press for reps, push Medicine ball, 40-yard sprint, vertical jump, pro shuttle, and broad jump. Had I known this three years ago, I would have incorporated more combine-specific training for Jonah. We did get some of this training going a year ago, but it was really a little too late. If you are looking to use a football as a leverage tool to college, remember college football interest is all based on combine measurements. In addition to strength and speed training for these events, there is also lots of  technique involved in all these measurements.

Diet has been a struggle. It is a struggle for most kids because they have easy access to garbage foods. Jonah has understood and exercised good judgement with regards to getting protein in, but sometimes he was feeding the machine lots of fat and sugar. The lesson I have learned with Jonah is that I should have done a better job of pitching him on eating better foods. I think this adherence to better diet would have helped Jonah. Sometimes schedules requires access to food with very little time, so better planing would have helped. Your kids do not need to be on the Hoss Transformation diet; rather, just teach them to eat as clean as they can will make a difference. If you could only do one thing with their diet, get soda out of it. Soda is a killer when it comes to training. Lots of kids live on soda, but we were lucky that Jonah wasn’t one of them.

Many people ask me how to train their kids. They ask if they should hire a trainer, if their kids should do CrossFit, etc. In general, I’m asked how they cam get some direction in developing their child's sports potential. My response is always that you don’t necessarily need a trainer or a class of some sort. It all depends on what the goal is. Identifying your athletes goals will determine who you should talk to. Be careful, there are lots of experts out there! Will some random 24 Hour Fitness trainer help? The answer is no.

I have seen so many kids from my son's team go that route and it makes me cringe. If you're going to incorporate a trainer, you need to get the right one. You need to ask them hard questions about objectives and goals. Make sure they know what your son or daughter is trying to achieve. To that end, make sure you know what they need help with. I do not think a running back should be doing the same training as an offensive lineman. Many trainers feel that one size fits all. Ask them how they would train your athlete as compared to a different type of athlete. I have a fairly extensive training background but I still asked questioned of other experts. I would often hit up a friend of mine, strength coach Ryan Horn at Wake Forrest. I was also fortunate enough to be able to have Jonah go train with Harry Selkow. So keep in mind that if any trainer you talk too thinks they have all the answers, they don’t! Any good strength development expert will always be looking at new ways to help their clients.

All the handwork Jonah did certainly accomplished the goals I set for him. I wanted him to develop competitiveness and to use sports to leverage entrance into college. The lessons I learned from this journey may be different from what Jonah has learned, so I asked Jonah to write a little about what he learned. Here's what he had to say...

"I found a lot of the time in the weight room to be wasted with a multitude of lifts that were in no way conducive to improving my performance on the football. Of course one of the favorite lifts among my teammates has and always will be curls. However, while they trained a muscle whose best use was flexing at the beach, I trained a different part of my arms. My dad explained to me that the tricep was one the most important parts of your body for football performance. When you think about blocking, which I was required to do a lot in a spread system, your biceps are rendered useless as you use your triceps to push. Another nonsensical lift is the the push press. I’ve seen more guys get hurt doing it than any other lift, and never have I seen anyone get stronger doing it. When on the football field do you ever push something over your head? The best method I’ve learned to gain strength quickly is to train in core lifts (squat, bench, deadlift, and even cleans), while working out those same muscle groups with auxiliary movements.

In retrospect, I missed a lot of offseason training time due to my commitment to other sports. Many would consider the time I took away from football to be detrimental to my strength training goals. However, I never found myself playing catch-up to my teammates when football began again in the summer. No matter how often you commit yourself to going to your local gym in the spring, there is no way to match a regimented schedule of playing a real sport. Some weeks homework or tests can come up and before you know it you've lost a week of training and all the gains you've achieved.


RECENT: 225 Bench Press Repetitions Test — What Are We Really Testing?


With playing another sport it is much harder to just skip days when you are too tired or busy. I never showed up out of shape to football and I never lost my competitive edge. Another advantage of playing other sports like rugby and soccer is the footwork skills and speed training they provide. Both rugby and soccer are non-stop sports that require precise foot skills and endless endurance. I really would recommend trying whatever other sports you desire in high school. You're never going to have the opportunity to do it again and it is only going to make you a better football player.

But the question isn’t what made me a better football player, it is what I learned about strength training. Of course, with my dad's extensive knowledge I learned a lot. I learned more about technique and strength development than I could ever write to you here. Not everyone is going to have the same opportunity I did to grow up in the world of powerlifting. However, a commitment to success and becoming a better athlete trumps anything else. You can know everything there is to know but if you don't commit 100% to your goals, training plan, and diet, you'll fail overtime. In conclusion, there are no shortcuts to success and strength. There are ways to do it better and ways to do it faster but they all start at the same place: with a desire and commitment to get better.”

I think the journey for Jonah’s freshman brother Jack “The Hammer”Cartwright will be easier. We know that he should focus on combine-specific training. We know how to manage the football coaches off-season training better now. Jack already has his diet fairly dialed. I will continue to ask questions of people in the strength development industry, because I certainly don’t know everything. Jack will continue to compete in gymnastics; you will not find another sport that will help more with development of unbelievable explosiveness. The summary here is this: don't be a Marv. Work with your athlete to make diet and training work for them without making them hate you and the sport!


Scott "Hoss" Cartwright is 46-year-old father of three. Hoss played college football at Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo, has 3 International Rugby Caps and has also competed in Bodybuilding. Hoss's most notable accomplishments have come from Powerlifting where he has Professional and Elite totals in all three types of powerlifting. He also has Elite and Professional totals in four different weight classes.  Hoss's best totals are  single-ply 2468 lb., raw 2105 lb., and in multiply 2625 lb. totals.  

DSMD-2PSK20

Loading Comments... Loading Comments...