In the first installment of this series we looked at the studies and learned that young athletes, who participate in the same sport for too long, without having adequate time for recovery, run the risk of several overuse injuries. There are several studies like R.M. Malina’s that discuss the nature that specialization may not only hinder future athletic success within that sport but could also lead to more detrimental health problems down the road.
“Limiting experiences to a single sport is not the best path to elite status. Risks of early specialization include social isolation, overdependence, burnout, and perhaps risk of overuse injury.”
Unfortunately, it seems that the trend of focusing on a single sport is not going to stop. Young athletes feel the need to play and the parents feel the pressure to give them every advantage as they can. This includes traveling teams, private training and even strength and conditioning programs.
Athletes have Goals and so should Strength Coaches
Ask one of the athletes what their goals are and they are most likely to respond with something physical; be stronger, be faster, be a better athlete. Strength coaches are there to help them achieve these goals and make them more efficient at performing these physical tasks; however it is important for strength coaches to also have a set of goals for their athletes. For my athletes, I remind myself that my main goal is to make sure they remain healthy. I want to work with them and not contribute to any potential setbacks for training or athletic performance by adding more unnecessary training stress to an already busy athletic child.
I see myself as their coach but not the type of coach who is going to try to break the athlete. Some strength and conditioning coaches have the mindset of making the training harder than the game and therefore pushing their athletes to the limit. Athletes should be tested at times but never broken and never when they are unable to perform optimally.
At Rise Above Performance Training, the goal is to help the athlete. I don’t try to bend, break or arbitrarily train athletes; I work with them to improve their overall performance potential. When you help the athlete you are choosing correct movements, loading parameters, volume and duration for that given day. Helping athletes in a positive and encouraging manner yields great results without less likelihood of sending the athlete down the road of self destruction.
Periodization with Improvisation
We might have heard the saying, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail;” I believe this to be true with strength and conditioning programs. I choose to start my programs with asking the athletes about goals, what their timeline is and if they have any important events coming up. Then I complete a physical assessment looking at basic mobility and stability of the joints and muscles. After considering all of these factors, a program is designed and a few weeks training cycle is implemented including: the training movements, sets, reps, rest and duration. In a perfect world an athlete would simply follow the program prescribed and get results; however there are other factors involved that could affect positive results, namely, the state of the athlete for that day.
With the athlete playing year-round, daily assessment of the athlete’s current condition is necessary to ensure progress, not regression. How are they feeling today? Did they get enough sleep, nourishment, recovery between training and competing? Looking forward to upcoming events also plays a big role in the athlete’s programming. Big events, heavy sport training and weekend tournaments all should be factored into the equation and planned for accordingly.
If the athlete is coming off a weekend tournament where they played a total of five soccer games in the heat and plans on coming into the gym to train the following Tuesday, chances are that the athlete is not going to be able to handle the full intensity of the program provided. Spending more time on restorative protocols like foam rolling, mobility drills, and stretching will deal with soreness and accommodate healing of the tired muscles.
Decreasing the volume and intensity allows the athlete to train without the heightened risk of potential overtraining. If training programs calls for deadlifts, four sets of six reps, at 70% max weight, an adjusted protocol might be three sets of three reps at 50% for that day. The athlete is still getting the movement in but the intensity and volume is much lower than planned so optimal recovery is gained.
Summing it all Up
As we learned from this two part series, participating in the same sport year-round is a very popular practice among young athletes and this trend seems like it is here to stay. Coaches and parents need to realize that this participation increases the athlete’s risk of overuse injuries.
Strength and conditioning coaches should formulate programs that are part of the solution and not the problem. Sport practices, training and games played are not likely to change much, therefore it is important for the strength coach to adjust his program to make sure that it continually helps the athlete, whether through strength training itself or through the restoration process.
Malina, RM, Early Sport Specialization:Roots, effectiveness, risks. Curr. Sports Med. Rep, 2010. Nov-Dec;9 (6):364-71.