elitefts™ Sunday Edition

Working with high school athletes presents the strength and conditioning professional with a unique set of challenges. However, few things are more rewarding than guiding a young athlete to success.

Below are four common issues that high school strength coaches face and strategies for dealing with them:

1. Navigating competitive demands and time management:

One of the most challenging aspects of working as a high school strength coach is helping the athlete find the time to devote to training among a host of competing demands. Coaches should recognize that high school athletes are students first and athletes second. Hence, the role of student precedes the role of athlete in the hyphenated dual identity of student-athlete. As such, student-athletes should be instructed to prioritize academics over athletic pursuits, such as participation and preparation, and to never sacrifice scholastic responsibilities for extra practice time.

Other significant competing demands as they pertain to athletic development include participation in multiple sports, skill development, and, in the case of specialized athletes, which nowadays is becoming a common occurrence, concurrent participation in a number of leagues, skills showcases, and combines. Not related to athletic development, but as equally if not more impactful, are factors such as familial obligations, possible occupational responsibilities, transportation procurement issues, club and extracurricular involvement, and the seemingly weekly doctor/dentist/orthodontist appointment.

The aforementioned demands place the strength coach in a serious bind. Your role must shift to that of a coach to a time management consultant if you expect to get that athlete to step foot in your weight room.

Tip: Instruct the athlete on the value of time management and the ability to juggle commitments. Have him provide you with a copy of his class schedule and find out when he has any downtime during the day. Additionally, find out what he's doing outside of school. Inevitably, kids are going to have free time throughout the day. However, it’s usually atrociously spent on social media, texting, mobile apps, and snap chatting. While extra practice time and skill work are great, it may be counterproductive, especially when the student-athletes aren't doing anything to make their bodies stronger. Make them cognizant of the time they’re wasting that would be far better invested training with you.

2. Overcoming programming paralysis by analysis:

Programming high school athletes usually becomes somewhat of an analytically crippling task that leaves most coaches banging their heads against a stack of periodization texts.

Tip: The best approach to take with high school athletes is to focus your efforts on coaching. Observe how they move and teach them how to move better. Introduce compound lifts early and properly demonstrate them. With regards to periodization, linear works best with younger, lesser experienced athletes. Utilize progression with movements, moving from ground-based stabilization exercises to ground-based compound exercises. For example, a sensible continuum regarding movement progression is as follows: supine — prone — quadruped — half kneeling — double kneeling — split stance — squat hold — standing — hinging — squatting — landing — bilateral jumping.

In younger athletes and those with fewer training years under their belts, abide by simple progressive overload guidelines and conservatively increase resistance (load progression), mechanical work and physiological output (volume progression), and planar progression (i.e., sagittal to frontal, frontal to transverse).

With regards to Olympic lifting, a top-down approach works well once squatting patterns are developed and the athlete has the ability to remain stable while standing with a load overhead. In some instances where Olympic lifting may be contraindicated (throwing athletes), modifications can be made. For example, the front squat can be performed with a cross face grip instead of a clean grip or pulls can terminate below the clavicle.

3. Dealing with athletes who have specialized:

It isn't any secret that early sports specialization is plaguing America. Strength and conditioning professionals often receive requests and, in some instances, demands that a child or athlete receive “sport-specific training.” While that term is all but dead in the strength and conditioning industry, it’s alive and well in parenting and coaching circles.

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Tip: When dealing with specialized athletes, the strength and conditioning coach should identify pathologies frequently common in the sport and work to prevent them through education and proper training. Proper training doesn't entail replicating skill or competition-specific demands in the weight room. It’s vital that the strength coach doesn’t stray from the objective of improving the athleticism of the specialized athlete through a wide range of activities. Parents and coaches should be made aware of the likelihood of their child or athlete suffering an injury that stems from overuse. As such, skill work, practice, and the competitive schedule should be closely monitored.

Parents, coaches, and the athletes should be reminded that motivation for specialization must hail from the athlete’s love of the sport. Each week, the athlete should take a break from his/her sport for a couple of days and engage in a different activity or casually play another sport in a non-structured manner. Athletes should also take a few months off each year from competition to prioritize physical preparedness to support their chosen sport or activity.

4. Sleep:

The final challenge is ensuring that high school athletes are getting enough quality sleep. Sleep is vital to the performance and well-being of the athlete.

Tip: Athletes, especially youth athletes, should be advised to aim for eight to nine hours of sleep per night. In order to accomplish this, a consistent bedtime should be established throughout the week. Caffeinated beverages should be abstained from after 12:00 p.m. each day. Sugary foods should also be avoided prior to bed, as they will trigger an insulin spike, which will disrupt sleep. High carbohydrate foods have also been shown to blunt growth hormone production. Consuming more than eight ounces of fluid or ingesting water containing foods should also be avoided before retiring for the night. Lastly, relevant to our social media and mobile app frenzied high school athletes, they should avoid Tweeting, texting, and updating statuses before bed, as research has shown that artificial light can increase alertness and suppress the pineal gland’s secretion of melatonin, which helps you fall asleep.