elitefts™ Sunday Edition

As I write this first installment of Project Jonah, I’m considering what’s next in my son’s preparation for sports in the future. But I am not alone. Thousands of parents face the dilemma of how to prepare their kids for sports. We ask ourselves, "how do we maximize our child’s potential while not making them hate us in the process? Do we hire a trainer, a speed coach, a nutritionist? Should we train them on our own and/or just let their high school coach deal with it? Are we making decisions regarding what they want vs. what we think they want? How do we determine if it’s our kids' dream or if it is us wanting it for them—to perform at a level that meets their potential? What’s the goal? Is it a college scholarship, recognition from piers, and/or just trying to become the best they can be?" Even given my experience and background, I find myself asking these questions regarding my son, Jonah.

My background, as it relates to training and sports, is a little bit diverse compared to most. All of the sports in which I participated required some level of lifting and strength development. I began playing football at the age of 11 through University at Cal-poly San Luis Obispo; therefore, I was required to gain speed and strength. Then, after my football career, I continued to lift but in more of a fitness mode. Next, I found the sport of Rugby, where I gained multiple Caps for the Hong Kong National Team. And then, after my rugby career, I started running (yes, of all things, running) and ran the Portland Marathon at 250 pounds. Finally, after the Portland Marathon, I found the sport of powerlifting. Powerlifting came very quickly to me because of the strength I had built throughout my many years of lifting for sports, and I have now been competing in powerlifting at its highest levels for that last seven years. I have squatted over 1,000 pounds more than two dozen times, and I have been deadlifting above 800 pounds in meets. Today, I have a day job but also own Hoss’s Gym. Given my background in sports and lifting, I think I bring plenty of training knowledge to my son Jonah’s sports preparation.

Meet Jonah

Jonah is 14 years old, five foot seven, 140 pounds, and fairly shy. Yet, he is a supremely confident kid. Jonah is a freshman at Rio Americano High School in Sacramento, California, where he started both ways on the junior varsity football team. His first quarter's grades are all A’s, even while taking Honors courses. Additionally, he is playing in competitive club soccer right now and plans to run track in the spring. The point of this is that Jonah is very busy, athletically as well as academically.

This column, going forward, will be a way to track what’s working for Jonah and what is not. I think it’s important to note the methods that are not working just as much as it is to note the methods that are. Hopefully this column will teach people and save them some headaches.

When I was Jonah’s age, I remember entering the high school weight room with a bit of excitement and fear. Then, once I was in the weight room, I remember thinking to myself, "what do I do now and how do I do it?" We had a coach that taught us how to lift, but there was no real plan. There was also no real schedule; we showed up and lifted with recklessness. I remember every Monday how I’d max on the bench press. We all got stronger, but we certainly didn’t maximize our potential in the weight room. The good news is that we had a coach to help us with technique. The bad news is that we could have had better guidance in terms of training programs and plans. Jonah is a bit more fortunate in that he knows about lifting from me and my years of powerlifting.

Challenges Ahead

The first major challenge we all will face is that there are always those coaches who think they know the weight room and how to train kids. For instance, over the summer I let Jonah do some lifting with his football team. He would come home and tell me all of the things the coaches were telling him to do that were contrary to how he had been taught to lift. The squat technique is what set me off the most. I had to think about how to respond to the coaches' poor technical advice. As a parent, you do not want to be in conflict with your kid’s coaches. Therefore, I would tell Jonah to just lift the way I taught him and when/if they told him something, he was to say “OK.” I told him to not argue or discredit the coach, just agree and lift the way I had taught him. Luckily, the coach didn’t notice that Jonah didn't change his lifting to adhere to his advice. Now, if we were talking about an English paper or Trigonometry, I would have told Jonah to agree with the teacher. I truly think my background gives me the right to teach Jonah as I know a bit about lifting. This does, however, pose a problem for many who may not know how lifting should be taught. Just remember that it's okay to disagree with how training is being done, but try and be politically correct with these coaches. Many coaches truly believe they know the best ways to train kids, and some do... but not all.

After the season had ended, I went into the weight room to talk to the coaches and to offer my help in any way they needed. I expressed that I had no need or desire to be compensated, rather I would love to volunteer in order to help make sure these kids were lifting properly. As expected, I was treated with a very high level of skepticism. I tried to explain my background but could sense the other coaches' uneasiness with my delivery. I will certainly volunteer if asked, but right now I have a point to prove. Jonah is only 140 pounds, yet he is the strongest freshman playing football. In turn, there is perhaps only one kid on the junior varsity team who can challenge him in the weight room. And no one challenges Jonah in the 40-yard dash. I think the only way to teach these coaches that they may not know as much as they think is to have your kids simply out-perform the rest of the team.

Another issue you may face in training for sports like football is that coaches want the kids to lift together. This is not only for strength development, but it’s also for team building. So in Jonah’s case, I need him to be part of the team even though I know much of what is going on in that weight room at school is horseplay, not training. Thus, Jonah will be lifting his core lifts with me, and I am telling him he can lift with his team, but only arm and ab like work. This is a tough one because I do not want him wasting good training days horsing around in the gym, but I also need him to be part of the team. Somehow we need to decide how best to handle this as we go forward, so I will need to play it by ear. I may need to sit in on a few team training sessions just to see how it's handled.

Jonah is more of a skill player and will likely never be a “big guy,” but this doesn’t mean that he isn’t in need of adding bodyweight. At 140 pounds, he really needs to gain 20 to 25 pounds this year if he plans on playing on the varsity team as a sophomore. Like most kids these days, Jonah’s diet is lacking consistency and quality. The meals are here and there, and he lacks sufficient protein. Is a nutritionist needed? Not really, just some discipline by Jonah. And obviously it’s my job to make sure he has the food and protein needed to be disciplined with his diet. If you do not understand nutrition, it's worth your time to consult a trainer who does. If your kid’s diet is garbage, his training will be also. Jonah learned this just the other day when, for the first time, he didn’t hit a PR in training. He was three pounds below his bodyweight and had slept in without eating until 11:00 a.m. The impact on his training was apparent. Lesson learned. Benching below his max, combined with all the other Hoss Gym Members teasing him about not eating, helped with his recognition.

Now the challenge of all challenges: how should I train Jonah. He is a speed guy who needs to gain 20 pounds, increase his speed, and get more powerful. Does this mean he needs to lift the way I do? NO, certainly not. Jonah’s training will be based on a variation of the Westside method with less max effort movements. In other words, Jonah will be doing lots of explosive speed work with accommodating resistance. I will document his plan in the next installment of this column. This way we can measure his progress. We will also focus on cleaning up at least two meals a day, with the goal of making it at least three clean meals a day very soon.

This column is a way to measure the development of a kid over the course of his high school years. My hope is that people can learn from this column and help their own children in the process.