I Failed Your Athlete

This time of year is the time of year that is traditionally spent in reflection for people and businesses. What went right and what went wrong. The reason for reflection is so that we can learn and remember these things so as to grow as an individual or business.

For athletes this is typically done at the end of their sports season, however with the advent and popularization of year round sports, there is no real off-season and therefore no real time to reflect. This is a shame as I feel it is a valuable part of becoming a better athlete.

At Red Zone Training we have had a great year. We have the highest number of athletes training, since we moved to the athletic development model a few years back.

A greater number of our athletes are making their “A” teams and/or are playing for, what they consider to be, the better club team for their sport.

More and more of our athletes are on teams that win their division, section, or even national competitions. Two of our athletes won the Babe Ruth World Series, soccer and basketball athletes winning their division, 2 hockey athletes won their region again, soccer athletes winning State Cup, Freshman athletes making the JV or Varsity teams, a sophmore Lacrosse athlete already being contacted by colleges, swimmers hit PR’s, and softball athletes hit more and more homers; however great that it is for them, I judge our success on the number of injuries and the overall health of our athletes.

This is the part where I feel we have failed our athletes.

Although injuries happen in all sports, to just arbitrarily dismiss them as un-preventable I feel is a waste of an opportunity to assess what we could have done better. I like to take the opposite to the traditional approach, I approach every injury personally as if we caused it or didn’t prevent it.

Although we can’t control everything an athlete does, I like this form of extreme ownership which I got from the book Extreme Ownership. If I look at all injuries as my fault I am constantly looking for ways to prevent them, instead of just blaming the coaches, athletes, or random chance or fate.

Looking back this year at the injuries our athletes have had, that have caused them to miss some playing time (I’m not going to address minor injuries or superficial injuries like cuts and bruises unless there is a pattern of them within an athlete), we have had a couple of ankle sprains, a spondylolysis, a partial ACL tear, knee/patellar pain/tendinitis, shoulder tendinitis/tendinosis, lower back pain, and an apophysitis of the iliac crest.

Ankle Injuries:

I’ll address the ankle sprains first. Most of the ankle sprains have occurred to our elementary and middle school athletes, and ironically during P.E. or recess. Since these injuries have occurred in the younger age range I feel we could have helped to prevent these injuries with more agility, footwork, core strength/stability and hip strength stability work with these athletes.

About mid-year we added more speed, agility and quickness work into our programming and have seen less of these injuries since then, so I think we are on the right track. Luckily these have been relatively minor ankle sprains, with only one of our older athletes being affected for more than a week.

ACL Injury:

Our first athlete in 10 years to have an ACL injury and it happened while training with us, and doing a hill sprint of all things – of course it would!! UGGGH. Luckily for the athlete it was a partial tear and he only missed about a month, and actually was back training with us within a couple of weeks.

So how did we fail this athlete? The athlete was doing hill sprints with a team mate and was trying to beat the teammate so he over reached during his last step to get across the “finish line” first. When he over extended, his foot slid forward and he hyper-extended the knee and at least had the wits, strength or luck to flip forward over himself so as to no have the knee go into dislocation.

Knowing how this happened we can see how we failed this athlete. We should have done a better job of communicating to the the athlete, that although we are running them together to get them to push each other, it should not come at the expense of breaking form to win.

Athletes need to learn to go all out, but in a controlled manner. This is where we failed to impress upon him that the process, focus and control, is more important than the outcome, beating his friend.

Knee Issues:

All of the knee issues we have encountered have been due either to growth spurts, over use, movement compensations, or a combination of the previous.

Each case is different and most athlete have missed a weekend competition once to allow recovery, and all have lost practice time. Overall though the athletes and their parents have managed these injuries pretty well

When athletes grow, their bone grows faster than their muscle, which stretches the muscles. Reason #1 why we don’t stretch almost all of our athletes. Compound this with too much running or jumping, and the tendons and ligaments get inflamed. Throw in not enough recovery between practices and/or games and this inflammation start to break down the tendon or pull at the bone where it is attached.

How did we fail these athletes? First we need to communicate better with our athletes and proactively ask them if they have experienced any aches or pains. This step will help ensure that we do not do anything to exacerbate the problem. We also need to emphasis to the athlete and their parents that if not addressed this pain could get worse and that taking a day off or ramping down the volume in practice would benefit the athlete immensely.

With regards to movement compensations, we need to constantly be on the lookout for these as they are a tell tale sign that something is not right either because pain is causing them to move differently or their movement patterns/motor programming is not correct.

Shoulder Issues:

Ah my swimmers and pitchers. All of their shoulder issues stem from over use and under recovery – plain and simple. This may lead to shoulder mobility restrictions or movement restrictions or compensations, but the main underlying issue is over use and/or under recovery.

How we fail these athletes. We need to impress upon them that pain in the shoulder should not be taken lightly and empower them to speak up to us and their coaches if they are in pain. We also need to make sure that their shoulder mobility and thoracic mobility are in line with their sports. If they have limited mobility, they will not only work harder but put stress on the joints where it shouldn’t be.

We have made great headway in this area and most of our swimmers feel confident enough to talk to their coaches and their coaches have seemed to respond well to their concerns and have adapted their training somewhat. Thankfully I don’t think any of our pitches have lost any game time, maybe a few practices here and there for extra recovery, but all in all very little time missed due to injury.

Low Back Injury:

Our swimmer with lower back pain. I believe the cause here is a combination of poor core control (they have the strength but are not using it correctly) which causes flexion and extension in their lumbar spine. They have also had shoulder issues so movement compensation for restricted or painful shoulder movement is probably contributing. Throw in too much volume and not enough recovery and there you go.

How have we failed this athlete? This is a tough one because I don’t feel we have failed this athlete, as by all means they should have taken a month or two off, but that wasn’t really an option for them at this point. The fact that they are doing well and a few colleges have looked at their times is very positive.

This athlete has lost more practice time than meets, I’m not even sure they missed a swim meet, however missed practice time adds up and is not something we want for our athletes either.

Where I feel we could have done a better job was to regress some of her work down even more than we did, but this swimmer has the talent to be really good and there is a lot of pressure on them to put it all together, so we tried to balance recovery work with performance which to be honest is really hard to do and I’m not even sure how well we are doing it as its not something that is usually done at the same time.

Our most recent injury, apophysitis of the iliac crest, is very interesting since I’ve never heard of that before which in itself is concerning as it is another growth/over-use injury that has popped up. An apophysis the part of the growth plate where a muscle attaches via a tendon.

I really can’t say yet how we failed this athlete as I’m trying to figure out how it was caused in the first place. I’m having trouble wrapping my head around what the doctor thinks caused it to what I think caused it.

This injury popped up at the end of this athletes season, and so I don’t think any games were lost here. Whatever the reason ends up being I will figure out how we failed this athlete and move forward appropriately.

Stress Fracture:

The last of our injuries is also the one that we’ve have had to deal with the longest, not only because it takes a while to heal, but that it has happened twice to the same athlete.

A spondylolysis is a stress fracture in the a thin part of the vertebrae known as the pars interarticularis and is a common injury in young athletes that endure repetitive stress, most notably gymnastics. You don’t even have to present with pain to have a spondylolysis and a good percentage of gymnasts who do not present with pain will actually show via and MRI, a spondylolysis.

Where did we fail this athlete? I’ve worked with this athlete on and off for a long time, like almost as long as Red Zone Training has been in existence. This athlete is also a very likeable and respectable person and that is where the problems begin.

Because of this athletes personality and our history I feel I let them talk me out of things too easily. In other words, if they said they were tired or sore, I didn’t question them like I would other athletes, I just regressed their workout.

I don’t feel like the athlete was doing this on purpose, not at all, I just heard what they said and ran with it without questioning further to understand what was actually going on. So because of this, after the injury happened the first time, I really handled them with “kid gloves”, if it “hurt” we stopped.

Sore and hurt are two different things and I did not investigate more to find out which was going on. Due to this, the athlete did not put in the work that they needed to do before returning to their sport and I feel was partially responsible for it returning. I can’t be afraid to hurt an athletes feelings by not telling them to quit making excuses to not do something, even if they are one of your favorite people.

Now I’m not saying I should have beat this athlete down, but I should have pushed them a little harder to see where they really were at physically so as to help them better handle the stresses of their sport.

Bonus Injury:

This one was my most interesting injury to deal with, even more so because they came to us partially because of this injury. What makes it even more interesting is that it is not classified as an injury in the first place.

A swimmer came to us to help their strength, but also their conditioning. After a few weeks in, and several conversations with this swimmer it became apparent that all was not right.

This swimmer after only a few laps in, would have a huge jump in their heart rate and would have their body go numb during their sets. In between sets, they could not catch their breath or recover in time before the next set started.

Being curious I had her put on a heart rate monitor and was going to do a modified max heart rate test on the bike. Basically this test would be a ramp up of intensity during a 12 minute period. After 5 minutes I killed the test as her HR was already up over 200 bpm and she was starting to turn white.

“You NEED to go to the doctor!” I told her. Long story short, after several test of the heart and lungs she came back as no physical issues, which told me maybe it was her swim training program.

I told the athlete that they needed to rebuild their aerobic system since anything they did pushed her anaerobic real quick. This entailed that they swim at slower speeds and take longer recovery breaks. As they progressed they could begin to swim faster, as long as they got full recovery between sets.

To their credit they talked to their coach and told them what they were going to do. At this point, I think the coaches were so freaked out, and rightfully so, that they would have let them do whatever they wanted.

Just over a year later this swimmer is completely back to where they need to be and are starting to pop times again. While this has somewhat of a happy ending, this athlete lost almost 2 years, since during the first year they were improperly training and not making any progress and then the next year building back up.

Even though this injury was not our doing as they came to us with it, it still serves a valuable lesson. There is no way an athlete under your supervision should work to the point where not only is the athlete not progressing, but regressing – severely.  We have to be more responsible for what we are prescribing them, and to take notice when athletes are not progressing, or even worse regressing.

I’ve had talks with several athletes recently and we all seem to be converging on a similar thought: There are a lot of good technical coaches, but very few coaches are good at overall programming and implementation. This is sad, because it is the overall programming that is going to have a bigger impact on whether or not the overall goals of improvement happen.

So another year has gone by and many lessons learned. Although I am happy that with all the athletes we have worked with we have lost very few games and competitions to injury, I still want that number to be zero next year.

Untile then we will continue to educate ourselves and our athlete and learn from any mistakes, and mistakes will be made unfortunately. 🙂

Speed and Strength Train Like Spiders

Before I get into spider webs, I just wanted to give a shout out to a couple of athletes for their recent accomplishments.

Congrats to current RZT Athletes:

Nic B. and Zach R. for winning the Norcal U13 Babe Ruth Tournament to send them to Utah for the next round of the Babe Ruth World Series. As of this morning their team was 2-0 in Utah!!

Zareena M. – moved up to the top team at her club, Pleasanton Rage!

Charlie P. – her team won their tourney and she hit her first Home Run of the season!

What do Spider Webs Have To Do With Training

Between being a camp leader for our church last week down in Oakhurst and getting my house ready to be painted, I have seen a LOT of spider webs. Has anyone else cleared off a spider web only to have it reappear the next day or two? The reason a spider can spin its web so quickly and efficiently is due to the simplicity of the design. Lately I have had a greater appreciation for simplicity; that and minimalism, but that’s whole different topic.

In health, fitness, and performance, complex is often celebrated or worn as a badge of honor. “Look at me! I just did a single leg, barbell snatch, while standing on a physioball, with my 2 year old strapped to me!”

While I’m not here to bash the complex by any means, I feel we often sacrifice the simple, the basics, and the fundamentals in search of the complex, the intricate, and the advanced.

Pareto Principle basically states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the input, or work. What that principle doesn’t say is that 20% of input, or work, comes from basic, fundamental input.

Take baseball for instance. A pitcher typically has a specific strikeout pitch they go to. So, applying the Pareto principle, 8 out of 10 strikeouts will probably be from that pitch, with the other two coming from a secondary pitch. Which pitch should the pitcher continue to work on and refine, the one which gets the majority of strikeout, or a lesser pitch that is not as effective?

With Athlete Development, we have seen the continued shift to more advanced, exotic, and complex exercises and drills. While this may be absolutely appropriate for an advanced, fully mature athlete, we should not be seeing this in the younger population where they are not even close to mastering the basic, fundamental movements.

For instance, I had a parent bring me a video of an exercise that his baseball coach wanted him to do. Just watching the video of the kid performing the drill, I could tell right away that he was in no way prepared to perform this drill correctly, so we broke it down into several basic parts. Get better at the basics so you are eventually able to progress to the more complex.

I think a lot of the time, exercises and drills are progressed too fast, or to advanced forms, due to the boredom factor. Adults and kids say they get bored doing the same thing over and over again. They say this, yet in baseball/softball you throw and hit over and over, soccer you run and kick over and over again, basketball you dribble and shoot over and over again; so why is strength training and conditioning different?

It’s not, it becomes boring because you perceive it to be. Your mindset has tainted your perception of what you are doing to the point that it will start to affect your results. You change the focus from the process to the outcome because the real results come much later down the road, years in fact and our instant gratification mindset wants to focus on the immediate.

You strength train to not only improve your performance, but more importantly to resist injury so you can continue to practice and play your sport. One of your results, improved performance may not pay off for a few years as you are building your fundamental base upon which performance can be improved. The other result, being injury free, is often the unseen and not thought of since the goal is not something that we ever really reach, since it is always on going. Most goals have a tangible time frame, but remaining injury free is a constant.

Speaking of goals, my goal with this newsletter is hopefully get you to see that the improvement can be and often is the result of the basics, the fundamentals and if you want to progress to the complex or advanced you have to master the basics and fundamentals first and earn the right to go there.

We hope this helps and if you or your athlete is looking to invest in their health or sports, maybe we can help

Change This One Thing To Make A Huge Impact

“Everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality.” – Robin S.Sharma, author; The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

Recently we changed some of our warm up exercises so our athletes have had to learn a few new things.  Several athletes have had issues with remembering what the words on the board represent.  The other day, one athlete asked me what several of the warm up exercises were.  I asked her, “How can you not remember this?  You are here twice a week and most of the stuff is the same, just in a different order.”

They said to me, “I don’t know why I don’t remember it.  How do I remember it so I don’t forget?”  I told them, “Show Up.”  They said, “I do, I come twice a week.”
I explained to her, “That’s not what I mean.  When you Show Up, you are present, you are focused, you are mindful of what you are doing.”

This time of year, is especially difficult for a lot of athletes, long seasons are winding down, others are starting up, school has been wearing on everyone, and summer is right around the corner.  Although we get a lot of athletes coming in, fewer and fewer Show Up this time a year.

Most of the athletes will tell you I’m pretty laid back.  My goal is to help them see the importance that athlete development will have on their sport and I choose to do this by encouraging them, guiding them, and letting them find their way.  So when athletes don’t Show Up like they should it would be rational for you to assume that I would give them some more leeway.  You would be 100% wrong.

This time of year my patience wears thin more easily, (not for new athletes since they are still often trying to find how everything fits together and how it will make them better) because not showing up is a habit that will take you farther from your goals.

Not being focused, not being present, not being mindful leads to athletes getting lazy, getting complacent, getting passed by the competition or getting hurt.  This is the time when being more laid back as a coach pays off.  I’ve built trust with the athletes, they know that I want what’s best for them, not what looks the coolest, and not to stroke my own ego; so when I start raising my voice or threatening to sit them during their session, they typically respond.

With summer break coming up, we get a lot of our athletes back who have had to take a break because their schedule is tight, and we get a lot of our current athletes coming in more often.  Summer is one of the few times a lot of our athletes can get in consistently, so we NEED them to show up and walking through the door only means you have arrived for your training session.  Whether you Show Up or not remains to be seen.

The Long Game For The Long Gain or Loss.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Chinese Proverb

The other day I had a client come up and tell me that they are officially a size 6.  I was like, “Cool, what were you when you started?”  Six years ago she was a size 12.  That got me thinking about a post I put up on my Instagram @SynfullyFit about how the longer it takes to do something, the easier it is to maintain.

The opposite seems to be true as well.  The quicker it takes to do something the harder it is to maintain.  It’s kind of like when someone does a crash diet, they may lose the weight initially, but it usually comes right back up, and up, and up.  My client played the long game, but in this case it was the long loss, and because of it she will have an easier time maintaining it.

Regarding athletic development, the long game has an athlete building up parts of their athleticism over a long period of time instead of trying to accomplish everything in a condensed period.  Unlike fat loss, where you usually gain it back shortly after a crash diet; trying to “crash” develop an athlete will usually end up with the athlete crashing and burning.  First the body is not good at adapting to multiple or competing demands at the same time.  For example trying to develop top speed and cross country endurance isn’t going to end well.

So how does this apply to sports?  Focusing only on developing pitching, hitting, swim stroke or other sport specific skills, leaves you open to injury, decreased athleticism, and performance degradation as the season wears on.  You just don’t have the strength to maintain.

When you are young, you may display very good speed, strength or power attributes.  You may be able to run for a long time, pitch fast, or hit far, because they are relative to your body.  Smaller kids are faster because they have less mass to move.  Bigger kids can hit farther because they have the mass behind the swing.  However as smaller kids grow, their light weight which was an advantage is gone and they need to rely on strength and power.  The bigger kids may still have the mass behind the swing, but the pitching gets faster and they don’t have the strength/power to swing fast enough to hit and when they do, they don’t have the speed to run the bases adequately.

The same hold true for the opposite as well.  An athlete who only works on strength and speed will not have the necessary sport specific skills to use all that strength, power and speed.  This is why you want a solid, all encompassing, long term development plan that blends both your sport specific skills, with athlete specific development.

Don’t get me wrong there are times, or cycles, when an athlete will focus more on one attribute over another, but you have to intelligently program that, and have built up the foundation and enough of a gain in the other areas so as not to get yourself out of whack.

For example,  the early off-season is a good time to work on more strength.  The late off-season, more power and beginning sport specific skills.  Pre-season transition over to more sport specific skills, power and and energy system development.  In-season is for maintenance.

Get your athletes playing the long game, so they can play their game for a long time.

How To Find Time To Train

“Action express priorities.” – Mahatma Gandhi

How often do we put something off with the reason being we don’t have time?  Then we tell ourselves, “I need to find time to do….”. Ironically I was inspired to write this while I was listening to a podcast while brushing my teeth.  You see, I was trying to find time to get caught up listening to about a 100 podcasts that are queued up and waiting for me to go through.  Even more strange was the fact that I was listening to a Christian podcast talking about making time versus finding time.  Time is such a universal commodity that its constraints are felt by everyone.

Personally I struggle with time.  There just isn’t enough time in the day for me.  Or is there?  I tell myself all the time that I need to find time to do this, that or the other; to the point that I am listening to podcasts while getting ready in the morning, making breakfast, and driving to work.

While that is one way to find time, certain things can not be accomplished as easily as listening to a podcast.  Take training for instance.  I can’t really deadlift while brushing my teeth and working on aerobic capacity is not very feasible while I’m trying to drink my coffee.  This is where finding time is not the answer.  The problem is I’m searching for an answer to a question when really I need to be asking myself a different question.

If you watch TV, get on Facebook, play video games, get your nails done, meet people for coffee, or volunteer at your kids school; you have time, you just choose to use it for something else.  This doesn’t mean you are wasting time, as volunteering for anything is a noble use of time and the friend you are meeting for coffee could be going through a rough time in their life.  The point is we have time.  We don’t need to find time, we need to use it differently.

Health and fitness take time.  Working out/Training takes time.  Meal planning and food prep take time.  Having a house takes time.  Work takes time.  Kids take time.  Laundry, takes up way more time that in should!  So how do you balance all of it and still focus on being healthy and improving your fitness?  That is the question we should be asking ourselves.

Recently I have had two women, who train with my morning women’s group, get part time jobs.  Both of them looked for and took jobs that did not interfere with their morning training times.  Their health and fitness is a priority so they made time for it.  Obviously this won’t work for everyone, but that’s not the point.  The point is they made time for something they thought was important.

Last summer I had a swimmer who had double and triple practices come in between practice almost everyday.  They did this because they knew their bodies needed to do some recovery work to get them ready for their next practice.  They didn’t go home and play video games, or go hang out with friends.  They came in, got what they needed done, went home and ate, took a nap and got ready for the next practice.  This is probably why they got the swim scholarship they were trying to get.  They made time to do the things they needed to do to achieve their goals.  So how does one make time?

Both my women’s group and my athletes made time by making it a priority.  So if health and fitness, or athletic development like speed/agility and getting stronger are important to you then you have to make it a priority as we tend to make time for things that we consider a priority, which is why it seems most people don’t do laundry until they are close to having nothing to wear.  Doing laundry isn’t a priority until you don’t have clean clothes to wear.  Strength work isn’t a priority until you get hurt.  Speed work isn’t a priority until people start passing you by.  When we don’t have priorities, we will fill up time with other stuff.  It may be good and/or productive like volunteering or it may be wasteful like just watching TV.

So instead of looking to find time, find ways to make time by figuring out your goals.  Once you have your goals set, make them a priority by setting aside time to work on meeting those goals.

So what is your goal?  What is something you want to achieve that you are putting off under the guise of not having time?  I bet if you really looked at it, you have the time you need.  Whether or not you want to sacrifice the things that are currently occupying your time is only something you can determine.  If you have a goal, make it a priority and then make time for it, don’t wait around trying to find time for.

Thank you for trusting us with your athlete and we hope this helps in some way

Are Coaches Ruining Sports

“The NBA has made a real issue about really making these superstars the premium that everybody wants to go to. That’s their calling card and their marketing tool. But the coaches at the other end of the sphere are trying to make everybody on the team, even nine, 10, 11, 12, just as important, and have a real role that’s meaningful.” – Phil Jackson


I recently read an article titled, “Strength Coaches are Ruining Football” (I couldn’t find the article to link to or give proper credit to the author) that was written in response to last months Oregon football off-season conditioning program that sent 3 players to the hospital, one with Rhabdomyolysis.  Rhabdo as it is know as, is when skeletal muscle tissue breaks down rapidly causing high levels of waste product, like protein myoglobin to enter the blood stream.  If continued and left untreated this could result in kidney failure.

The article was talking about how strength coaches try to use conditioning to make their players mentally tough.  The writer explains how this toughness is actually a “fake toughness” and so it really is an antiquated method.

Recently we have a had several athletes come in with practice related injuries due to misapplication of training methods both by their sport coaches and their school strength coaches.  So in reality the article I read could have been titled, “Coaches Are Ruining Sports.”  Let me first off state that it is only bad coaching that is ruining sports and I know several good coaches so this is not a bash coaches article, as I myself would be included since I am a strength, conditioning and athlete development coach.  I am starting to see a trend in more and more unqualified or inexperienced coaches trying to coach outside their scope of knowledge.

That being said, we are seeing more and more cases of athletes being literally broken by their coaches.  We had a swimmer whose practice, 10 days before a meet mind you, was so intense that their body became numb and they developed a shoulder injury which made it difficult to even left their hand up over head.  Another swimmer came in with a biceps strain.  Come to find out they were doing bicep curls as part of an in-season strength program?!?!  Also they had them doing trunk twists with a barbell on their back.

For those who don’t know why those are completely inappropriate, swimmers need to get their arms/bodies long.  Doing biceps curls is going to make the muscle tight.  Going out and swimming and trying to get the arm long, after spending time making the muscle short/tight is going to lead to a strain at best.  Don’t even get me started not the barbell twists right now.

These incidents are not relegated to just swimming either.  An in-season volleyball conditioning as punishment drill included 52 gassers (sprints across the short court) followed by a dive at the end.  Yes, lets dive on the court 52 times, in a fatigued state, in a short amount of time; What could possibly go wrong?  Another coaching technique more than likely caused a stress fracture in another athlete.

Track coaches having de-conditioned athletes running 5+ miles on their first day of practice.  Having catchers catch 3-6 games over a weekend.  Soccer coaches doing conditioning as punishment the day after losing a tournament, when their athletes bodies haven’t even recovered from the wear and tear of the tournament.  Strength coaches doing high intensity jumping during in-season basketball.  Having a pitcher do bench press and curls during pre-season conditioning (this is actually bad pretty much anytime of the year for a pitcher).

These are all the things our athletes or parents have told us that have happened in the last month and a half!  Seriously what is going on in my profession?  There are too many uneducated, over-zealous, and/or incompetent coaches in charge of youth athletes.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was nowhere near the coach I am today when I first started.  For all intents and purposes I was the least knowledgeable coach to start a business in the health/fitness scene.  Fortunately for me, I did not have the ego that most coaches do, so I leaned on those who knew way more than me and took their advice.  The other thing that I did was to error on the side of caution.  I knew I didn’t know about training athletes, so I leaned on my former business partner Jason Owings while I was in the process of educating myself.

He had been in the fitness profession for several years before he came to us.  Although he had knowledge, he had not worked with kids either, so he also took an error on the side of caution approach as he educated himself on working with kids.

While I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable coach when it comes to working with youth athletes, I am not the smartest so I still continue to learn from those better than me.  I have over a dozen youth oriented certifications; from active movement and play for toddlers through High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist.  I have certifications for adults and just passed a Conditioning Coach Certification.  I read books and articles daily, follow a couple of dozen coaches who are the top in their industry, and continue to educate myself through other means.  My next project is a nueroeconomics course to learn how fatigue affects decision making.

What I’m getting at, is lack of knowledge or experience isn’t the reason athletes are getting hurt; it is a coaches grand ideas of coaching the next Micheal Phelps, Mia Hamm, Madison Bumgardner, Gabby Douglas, Steph Curry, Usain Bolt, etc. that is the root of the problem.

As coaches, parents, athletes, we look at coaches who have coached superstars and feel we need to do what they are doing, but how many times have you stopped to think about how many athletes have they taken that far?  Maybe Micheal Phelps coach isn’t really that good, or maybe he got lucky that he got such a genetically gifted athlete.  How many athletes did so and so’s coach ruin.  How many athletes succeed/survive in spite of their coaches and/or training?  These are things we all need to think about as we judge the efficacy of a coach or a training program.

I’m willing to bet you have never heard of Dr. Anatoliy Bonderchuk.  He could be one of the greatest coaches of all time regardless of sport.  Bonderchuk, a hammer thrower, is a former world record holder and 1972 gold medal winner in the hammer throw.  What he accomplished as an athlete is nothing compared to his coaching resume.  He has coached medal winners in 5 olympics and several world record holder.  I have read that he coached the Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners in 3 consecutive Olympics.  Now that is a coach whose methods and training program work!  That is a coach all coaches need to strive to be.  What makes him great is that he coaches what he knows, he doesn’t try to coach everyone. He coaches Olympic hopeful atheltes.

As smart as Bonderchuk is he probably also realizes that his skill set would not transfer over to elementary school, middle school, and probably even early high school athletes.  There in lies the elephant in the room.  Too many coaches or former players turned coaches, are trying to use advanced training techniques with youth athletes.  It doesn’t work well.  Sure you may get an athlete or two who survive your training methods so you can make a name for yourself, but how many athletes did you ruin seeking that glory?

For us, its just not worth it.  We will continue to error on the side of caution, because we are in the business to build athletes, all of our athletes not just the genetically gifted one.  We don’t ever want to break one.  Even our least gifted, no shot at making a college team or even a high school team athlete deserves not to be broken.  Besides, as we are finding out, your best ability is availability.  If you are hurt, you can’t play.  It’s that simple.

Thank you for trusting us with your athlete and we hope this helps in some way.

Train Smart and Dominate!

Strategies All Athletes Need To Embrace

Last week I mentioned how time is not a friend to an athletes’ career, and time spent wasted is something you can not get back.  But what can athletes do when they don’t seem to have time but still need to cram other things in?

Be More Efficient:
It’s easier said than done, but all athletes should take advantage of the opportunities to get better when they present themselves.  For example; How many athletes do you see go through their warm ups haphazardly, or without purpose?  The warm up is an opportunity to work on so many aspects of training, such as posture, proprioception, spatial awareness, form and technique to name a few.  Unfortunately we see so many athletes not take advantage of this opportunity to get better.  Being more efficient with the time you have, will not gain you more time, but it will allow you to do more in that time frame which in essence is like having more time.

Rest and Recover:
Athletes do not spend enough time recovering from all their training and practicing.  Improvements are made during the recovery period.  Your brain shifts short term memory items to longer term memory when you sleep.  The body repairs muscle damage, while you sleep.  Sleep is where most of what you spent doing in the day translates into improvements going forward; yet so many athletes when given the opportunity, will stay up late watching TV, texting with friends or playing video games.   If you wouldn’t skip practice to do those things, why would you skip sleep to do those?

Fuel the Body Properly
You can’t fuel a jet with gas from your lawn mower, yet so many athletes who want to perform at a high level will fuel their bodies with junk food.  The body can adapt for a while before all the consequences of it having to adapt to your not fueling it with enough vitamins and minerals catches up.  You want to be shorter than you are genetically capable of, you want to have weak bones and/or muscles, you want an impaired immune system, do you want impaired decision making?  The body will pull what it needs from other systems so that you can practice, but if you don’t put those nutrients back in, expect to be a high level athlete for not very long.

Make Time:
We hear it all the time, that athletes can’t miss practice.  In reality though, you miss practice when you are sick, when you are on vacation, if the coach cancels it because of the weather or if they have something come up.  Practice is not the mandatory end all be all that most coaches would like you to think. Practice is only beneficial if it improves your short term and long term abilities.  If you are over-stressed or over worked, practice and/or training can be bad for you.  If you do not have the requisite strength or gross motor skills necessary to perform the fine motor skills, movements or techniques that your sport requires, how is practicing going to make you better?  This is even more so true for younger and less developed athletes.  If you don’t make time to fix these weaknesses your game or your body will suffer at some point. Take the time needed to build the foundation needed to create a bigger athlete.  There is a quote in the coaching circle that goes; “The greatest ability is availability.”  Another similar one is “Durability is the greatest ability.”  We have a saying at Red Zone Training, “You can’t get better if you are hurt.”

Even if you can’t get in to train with us, incorporating the other 3 strategies above will go a long way in helping with your availability and durability.

Why I Pulled My Daughter From Her Sport.

“I understand that I’m not perfect.  I made mistakes and I had a hand in everything that’s happened to me, good and bad.” – Dwayne Wade

Let me state for the record that I have nothing against gymnastics, or any sport for that matter.  Gymnastics in particular can be very good at developing balance, strength and coordination.  At Red Zone Training we often say, “There is no good or bad exercise, only good or bad applications of them.” (We didn’t make that up, I just don’t remember who said it first.)

With sports the same can be said, “There are no good or bad sports for kids, only the proper or improper application or coaching of them.”  My daughter, as with a lot of girls, has a good amount of anterior pelvic tilt (ATP).

While anterior pelvic tilt can be advantageous for some aspects of sport, it is not good long term for her back health.  The large curve in the lower back adds strain to the back, as the vertebrae are designed to be stacked, more or less, on top of each other with the two curves being less exaggerated.

Not only does this large lumbar spine curve make for potential long term back issues, it also corresponds to issues further down the kinetic chain.  When the pelvis tilts forward, you lose the ability to drive the femur into higher ranges of hip flexion  For every degree of anterior pelvic tilt, the hips lose the same amount of hip flexion.

Not only do you lose hip flexion, you lose hip internal rotation.  An ATP of 10 degrees results in a lose of 6-8 degrees of hip internal rotation.  ATP can also cause knee valgus, think knock knee’s which can cause pigeon toeing and collapse of the arch.  The hamstrings are also pulled tight since the are attached to the bottom of the pelvis which has been rotated upward from the backside.  None of that is something we want for our athletes, let alone for my own daughter.

(Note:  This is why you should never just arbitrarily stretch an athlete.  You need to know why they are tight in the first place.  If you stretch an athlete with ATP, all you are doing is altering the length tension relationship of the muscle and probably making the problem worse since the hamstrings are pulling tight to keep the pelvis from tilting anteriorly even more.)

So why did I pull her out of gymnastics?  Back bends and handstands.  Since she was developing a significant arch to her lower back, whenever she did a back bend, the majority of the bend came in the lower back, instead of dispersed more evenly throughout her entire spine.  Bending backwards with the majority of the bend coming over 3-5 vertebra is definitely not a good thing.

Handstand, you would think would not be a problem, but the handstand was what was probably compounding the issue.  This is where solid coaching and a fundamental understanding of anatomy/physiology play a role; which is why I am not very big on teenagers coaching sports or exercise.

In sports and exercise we often put the cart before the horse, because we all want to do the cool stuff, but don’t want to earn the right to be able to do them.  With a handstand you need sufficient shoulder mobility and core strength.  If you don’t have those two your body can compensate to do what you ask it to do, but you may not like the long term results.   If you do not have sufficient core strength and you have a pelvis that wants to anteriorly tilt, you end up smashing your vertebrae and disks together in a position not ideal to their design.  On top of that you have your entire lower body pushing down on it without anything impeding it.

Ironically a bad hand stand position is almost identical to a overly arched back squat, only inverted.  We have parents all the time tell us they don’t want their kid putting any weight on their back, but I don’t ever recall hearing a parent saying they don’t want their kids doing hand stands.  Again its not a good or bad exercise thing, its whether it is done properly or not.

Ironically you can google handstands and back bends and you will see a lot of people doing yoga poses.  Look how the back bends at a sharp angle and that is where the back is most susceptible to injury.  Flexibility and mobility are a good thing, but there is such thing as too much of a good thing.  This is why you can look cool with your Instagram photo doing a handstand or yoga pose on the beach, then throw your back out picking up a load of laundry or pulling something out of the back seat of your car.  What allowed you to get into extreme positions is also what is going to limit your functionality with something else.

So allowing my daughter to continue reinforcing and compounding this issue is not something her mother (who is a former gymnast) and I were willing to do, which is why we pulled her from it and I started having her do some strength exercises to address the issue and get her back into gymnastics as soon as her body has earned the right to.

Train Smart and Dominate!

Observations of 160 Athletes

“Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.” – Marcus Aurelius

What can 160 athletes tell you?

It’s another new year. For a lot of people, it is time to make changes or renew their efforts to changes that they set forth in previous years.

At Red Zone Training, we seem to always have some sort of change going on: partly by design, partly by circumstance. Last year was no different, and this year will likely be the same.
We change things up frequently due to the perceived needs of our athletes. If we feel we can better serve them by changing something, we change it. It works well for what we do at Red Zone Training and it worked very well for us at a soccer camp.
Most of you know that last Friday we served as the speed and agility coaches at a high level soccer camp and got to rub shoulders with 8 professional soccer players. While the experience for us was a great one, it was also an eye opener, as well.
As you can see it was no joke. This is only what I did while I was there (although afterwards, I was too tired to do anything else, so this was pretty much my day.)
These athletes were pretty serious soccer players, a one day camp taught by professional soccer players does not come cheap. So we expected the attendees to be better than average athletes. While a lot of them seemed to be well above average soccer players, as athletes, this wasn’t as true.
Observation #1: They do not warm up very well, if at all.
We ran the warm up for the whole camp. It was split into two sessions, with around (90) 7-10 year olds in the first session and over (70) 11-16 yr olds in the second. Obviously we ran two different styles of warmup, the younger kids was more of a fun movement warmup and the older kids did more like what our athletes do. They did marching, skipping, side shuffling, bear crawls, and running at different speeds (with walking rest periods built in, to catch their breaths after anything intense); however after about 8 minutes, they were getting gassed – with two having to go throw up! Pretty much all of our athletes would have still been going. 😉
Observation #2: Their movements are limited.
We decided to keep some things simple and use the agility ladder (its not a speed ladder) for the younger group. Basic linear in and out patterns proved to be challenging for a lot of them; however, they all seemed to have the lateral one down (typewriter). One kid kept telling me, “I only know how to do the typewriter.”
All athletes need lots of movement patterns in their toolbox to draw from. For a lot of these kids, they have a hammer in their toolbox and that’s it. If it isn’t a nail, they are going to be in trouble. Also, they are still getting horrible coaching on movements. So many of the athletes were chopping their arms up and down like a robot on overdrive. For the love of all that is good, please stop teaching athletes to do that! We had them do some fast feet drills with their arm chopping like they were taught, and then had them do them with a relaxed upper body, and EVERY athlete said that it was much easier to do with a relaxed upper body.
Observation #3: They only had one speed.
Apparently most of the athletes have coaches who only know the word “faster”, because that is the only speed a lot of these athletes had. A lot of the kids tried to go through the ladder as fast as possible, regardless of if they were doing it correctly or not. I told one kid, “All you did was run through it like the ladder wasn’t even there. What’s the point? I’ll just take the ladder away and we can just run back and forth and accomplish nothing if that’s what you want to do.” (Seriously he stepped in maybe three of the boxes and the ladder looked like he picked it up and threw it in the air.)
The older athletes were a little better, but we had to hammer home the technical points we wanted them to work on and were reminding them to slow down and do it right. It was easier with them though because we showed them what they were lacking, which is the next observation.
Observation #4: They have ZERO stability.
Oh my goodness, these athletes could not stabilize after a skater hop to save their lives (or more appropriately, their knees). Most couldn’t even balance on one foot without squeezing their knees together to find some semblance of stability. A lot of this is because they use momentum for stability, which is also why we need them to slow down, as well.
The last observation was one that was really nice to see and will set them up to succeed in the future.
Observation #5: They really want to learn.

With our older kids, we cut out 5 minutes early to let them ask questions about speed, agility, training, etc and each group asked some real good questions. They wanted to know what they can do to get better, they wanted to know how to avoid injuries, they wanted someone to show them how to do things properly.

All things considered, the athletes did really well.  There is a lot they can improve upon that would help them play easier and longer, and hopefully they will work on them.  Look at your athletes movement and see if any of the previous observations apply to them. If they have any of these issues, maybe we can help. 🙂
Train Smart and Dominate!

Mindset Matters

Mindset Matters Most.” –  Brian Grasso

The hardest things for a youth athlete to realize is that mindset plays a huge part in their sport.  Our mindset can be shaped by many things from how much we believe in ourselves to whether or not the spectators are supporting you or not.  This past weekend I was able to go watch an athlete of ours play in a tournament.  I don’t get to do that often, but they happened to be playing pretty much across the street from where I live and several of the times were when I was off work, so it worked out great.

I always like to watch our athletes play, even if it is just a recording, although live is much better.  You get to see so many things you normally wouldn’t get to see just observing them in the gym.

One of the biggest things I noticed was how the kids reacted to adversity.  It interesting that they work on so many intricacies of their game, however mindset is rarely worked on.

There were several instances where you could see the athlete was losing their composure when things went wrong or they didn’t perform as they wanted to.

Before I get to things I saw and how I, as a coach, would have handled it, I must first explain that I’m not calling out the coaches in any way.  First it was an all-star tournament, so I don’t believe the coaches get to work with these kids consistently over a length of time, and even if they did, there are so many things a coach is responsible there is no way they will be able to cover everything that could be covered. (This is mainly why we do what we do, because sport coaches can not dedicate time for athlete development, nor do they really have the time to do so).

So one of the things that I observed was a kid who struck out, slam his bat into the dirt while walking back, then hit it against the fence while walking in, then toss it against the fence where the bats were either hanging or laying against, and it just fell to the ground and another kid had to hang it.  Then finally he slammed his helmet on the ground and walked to the back and pouted.

I had football coach in high school who was a tough love kind of coach.  Our football helmets couldn’t touch the ground, unless it was knocked off of us while playing.  If it touched the ground the whole team would be doing belly busters BEFORE practice, which was basically running and doing head first slides in full pads up and down the field until he thought it was enough.  So needless to say the slamming a helmet down would NOT happen.  The reason our coach was strict about this was not because of the helmet, it was the logo on the helmet and what it represented.  That logo is you and your teammates and the school you represented, and we were to show it the respect that it deserves.  All sports are a privilege to play and you really need to show it some respect.

Hitting the bat against the ground I don’t get either.  When I miss a lift, I don’t slam the weights or the bar against the wall.  If you miss a dunk do you try and bend the rim?  Ok, I actually do know some kids who used to do that so they could dunk, but that’s different. ;). What I’m getting at is that it isn’t the equipments fault, it was yours.  Deal with it, learn from it, move on.

One last thing that I didn’t mention above is that several teammates and coaches tried to pick him up and he completely ignored everyone of them.  How many professional coaches do you think you will be allowed to get away with that behavior with?  You probably won’t be playing long if you tried, so why do it now?

Another thing that you can observe in any game is when an ump gets a call wrong.  There were several bad calls in the game, but it’s the coaches job to talk to the ump and let them know they disagree or to try to get another ump to consult.  Too many times I saw the athletes talking about it, sometimes with the coaches.  Athletes need to let go and move on.  Yes bad calls can sometimes go against you, so don’t put the game in the umpires hands.

I had a referee in high school, that before the game came up to us all and said, “I won’t yell at you every time you miss a shot, please don’t yell at me if I miss a call.”  If you do your job, it’s hard for an umpire to rob you of a win.  Ironically one of the blown calls only happened because one of the athletes made a mental mistake and the play would have never happened if he would have not made that mistake.  So sometimes we cause the play that leads to a bad call.  Don’t look for a scapegoat to bail you out of your mistake.

Talking with the athletes about the bad call is usually not a good idea, because it takes their focus from what they are supposed to do, to what someone else is doing.  Let them know, “You guys made a great play, and we think the ump got it wrong.”  And then move on, end of discussion.  Get them focused on their job again.

Lastly, after the game one of the athletes on the team that came up short had called the other team, “over-rated”. A parent and some of the kids heard him and I was impressed that they jumped in quickly and said to him, “come on now, they aren’t over-rated.”  He knew it too and agreed they weren’t, he was just frustrated.  He was talking about how they had something that was basically predicting they were going to sections before the game was even played.  Since the game was over and I didn’t feel I would be overstepping any coaches I said, “If they didn’t believe they could make it, they might as well just not play right?”  What the kid said, really impressed me for his honesty, but also saddened me a bit because you could see it was really weighing on him.  He said, “That’s probably why we lost today, because I didn’t think we could win.”

Pressure does funny things to each person, some it turns them into the best player in the game, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Joe Montana and Mariano Rivera just to name a few, thrived under pressure.  But often times pressure makes us doubt ourselves.  When we doubt ourselves one of two things happens most often.  One, we crumble under the pressure and give it a half hearted attempt or we just quit on our team..  The second thing that most often happens is that we try to do too much and this is where the quicksand analogy comes into play.  Instead of letting the game come to us we try and force us in the game.  I believe that is what happened with Harrison Barnes over the finals.  All the talk about the Warriors wanting Durant had him trying to prove something and he just played too tight.  Often times when we are most worried about making a mistake is when we do make the mistake.  The quick sand analogy basically is saying that the more you fight it the faster you will sink.

Again, I not saying the coaches did a bad job at all.  There are so many aspects into an athlete’s development, sport coaches must be sport coaches first and foremost, and if there is any other time left; then therapists, surrogate parents, entertainers, conditioning coaches, taxi drivers and one of many other hats they may have to wear at some point.  There job, I say job but mostly it is a volunteer position that they let take time away from their families to help kids and for the love of the game, so in no way am I disparaging coaches.  These were just observations that I noticed that I feel could help kids and as parents we are their first and longest coach in their lives so maybe we can help all the other coaches your athlete may encounter by instilling in them a respect and a different perspective on how to handle adversity, because as you now know Mindset Matters.