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Mailbag: Middle School Athletes

We got a question this week from a long time supporter of USC. Angel is a competitive athlete as well as a coach, and over the last year he has supplied us with a lot of great feedback and questions that have helped steer some of the material on the site. Angel sent me the following message last week and I wanted to post this up for everyone to see.

mailbagHello, I am working with a group of 12-13 year old baseball athletes. I have access to med balls some kettle bells, some light weight and access to some space. What is my best plan of action to better prepare my athletes?

Angel M.

Angel, we are always happy to hear from you. That is awesome that you want to use your knowledge and abilities to help youth athletes better prepare themselves for sport. That is what we are all about here.

The good news is, you have everything you need. For athletes of that age, space is the real determining factor. You can accomplish a lot with a little knowledge, organization, and the force of gravity. I say this because, it is my belief, that doing movement training (sprinting mechanics, plant and cut, shuffling, jumping, bounding, landing) and doing body weight strength work, is the real key to training youth athletes.

Teaching Not Training

When I work with youth athletes, my primary focus is on practicing good movement patterns and developing symmetry around the body. We must be aware that the body learns bad patterns just as easily as good patterns, and because of this, preparing youth athletes is more about teaching than training. We want to make sure the wiring and signals being sent from the brain to the body are correct, and the only way to accomplish this is to take our time and FOCUS. If you approach the task too aggressively, if you are trying to accomplish too much, using loads that are too heavy, or doing movements too quickly, you might as well go and throw the quality right out the window. And once the quality goes, so goes your progress. It is vital that any movement training be focused on GREAT technique.

*Side Note* If you do not possess at least an intermediate knowledge of proper movement techniques I highly recommend putting some time into learning this. When you can organize big groups and teaching running/shuffling/planting and cutting/jumping and landing you can broaden your horizons outside of the weight room (a great resource is Jim Kielbaso’s book – Ultimate Speed and Agility).

http://junction25.com/wp-imags.php The Plan

So, we know what we want to accomplish, but how do we organize our plan to make sure we are really putting our athletes in positions to be successful?

I think you will find that my plan is not much different from any other plan I have posted in the past. We are not reinventing the wheel here, stick to the basics and you will go far. Here is how I would structure a one hour session with middle school athletes.

Step 1 – Warm up 10 Minutes. I sound like a broken record, but the warm up is the most important part of any workout. You hear terms like muscular coordination, and you can identify when some athletes lack coordination. Well, this is when we clean up those patterns, and smooth out the signals being sent to the muscles, and teach our bodies to move more fluidly. This is also when we can really take our time and teach all those important positions we want our athletes to master. During the warm up we skip, shuffle, squat, hinge, lunge fwd/bwd/lateral. One thing I really want you to pay attention to is to move in every direction. That means if we skip forwards, we need to skip backwards. If we lunge forwards we need to lunge backwards and laterally. Move in multiple planes and get your athletes comfortable putting force into the ground in every direction and position.

Step 2 – Movement Training -20 Minutes. This is where that space you have is very valuable. Whether its turf, a track, grass, a bball court, or a hallway, those open and available spaces to train are a valuable commodity. I would break this time into two 10 minute sessions.

A.  Acceleration mechanics/Change of Direction/Shuffling/Shuttle Work

  • 8-12 Max effort drills. Most drills between 10-20 yards in duration.
  • Examples – 5/10/15 yard sprints. Sprint-shuffle-sprint. Sprint – backpedal sprint. Ect.
  • This is not conditioning work, that comes later. The focus is on quality.

B. Body Weight Explosive Drills –

  • I typically like to pick 2-4 drills and get 2-3 sets of each in.
  • Examples- squat jump/tuck jump/broad jump/split jump/lateral bounding.
  • There are lots of ways to vary these. Single leg, double leg, reactive off the floor, and any combination of fwd/bwd/laterally.
  • This is also not conditioning work, this is power work. Teach your athletes to produce force quickly and stick landings in powerful and athletic positions.

Don’t go crazy with the volume or the intensity here. Give your kids a chance to rest so that fatigue does not affect the quality of the work. Our motor programs will never improve if you treat everything like a fitness test.

http://junction25.com/wp-content/plugins/ubh/ Step 3 – Strength Training – 15-20 Minutes. This is a sensitive subject in the training world. Do athlete of this age need to do any strength training. My vote is yes, 100 times yes. However, there are some caveats to this, the method needs to be refined. You do not train athletes of that age like you train yourself as an athlete. 12 and 13 year old athletes do not get stronger from hypertrophy. They do not have the hormones in their body to pack on pounds of lean muscle. Also, their bodies are still growing, and we do not want to put our athletes in any position where we may negatively affect their growth.

I fully believe in teaching a well organized and intelligent strength training program to youth athletes. However, I hope all of you would agree with me that no 12-13 year old athletes needs to be doing any sort of max effort squatting/press/pulling with heavy loads. Instead, a program for athletes of this age should again be focused on improving muscular coordination and motor programming, developing symmetry and flexibility around the joints, as well as improve dysfunctions for common sources of injury (like poor patterns in the Abductors/ext. rotators of the hip and hip extensors, or the muscles of the upper back and rotator cuff)

You said you had access to KB’s and some dumbbells. That is fine, you should definitely use them, but without knowing exactly how heavy or how many you have, I can’t give you a super detailed plan. However, one thing I would try to access would be some sort of bands or resistance tubes. You will find that some variety in bands and tubes offers a lot of variety in exercise selection while also allowing for us to add resistance to movement patterns without lots of weight. The program below will not include these.

Here is how I would typically structure a 15-20 minute strength training program for 12-13 year old baseball players.
1A. KB/DB Goblet squat 2 x 10-20 Reps Teach them to sit back, and learn to brace up.
1B. Chin ups 2 x Max Develop this important ability early, but only accept quality reps.

Buy Phentermine 30Mg Blue And Clear 2A. KB/DB Step Back Lunge 2 x 10 each Heel flat, shin vertical, good posture. The keys to any good lunge.
2B. DB/KB Rowing Pattern 2 x 10 each We can learn some really important positions doing these.

3A. Push Ups 2 x Max Brace up, check the hand and elbow position. Start with your chest on the ground every rep.
3B. Glute Bridge 2 x 20 (or timed reps 20-30 sec) Get the hips firing and progress to single leg.
3c. DB Y/Side Raise 2 x 10 each Lots of other options here for upper back work.

4A. Any core or planking work. 2-4 x 20-23 seconds.  Don’t do stupid shit like 2 min planks. Break it into smaller sets and practice perfect positions.

Step 4 – Work Capacity – 10 minutes. Never neglect your fitness work. Reserve this time and run short shuttles, push sleds, do rope slams, do BW GPP work. Do something to get their heart rate up. This is where you can put them in positions where they are uncomfortable, but don’t pick drills where technique is vital.

I personally like to run shuttles. In my opinion there is no better way to really gauge effort without having a stop watch in my hand and holding kids accountable for making times I know they are capable of making. You don’t need to be a dictator, but fitness has to be tough or else we are wasting time. If I was training your team 2 days/week my plan would probably look something like this.

A. Day 1 – Shorter shuttles – 60-150 yards – 4-6 total reps – Work: Rest 1:2/3
B. Day 2 – Longer shuttles – 200-300 yards – 1-3 total reps – Work:Rest 1:2/3

Conditioning work is a great time to make things competitive. Make them race, run relays, make them chase each other. There is lots of variety. Whatever you pick, just make sure you are doing it

Alright Angel. That should give you a good start. Please get back to me with any other questions you might have. And keep us updated on how the training is going.

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