Saturday, June 29, 2013

Why LeBron is the Best Basketball Player in the World...

Why is LeBron James the Best Basketball Player in the World?

LeBron James seems to be a pretty polarizing figure, most people either love him or they can’t stand him. I guess I am one of the outliers in that I have no strong opinion of him as a person though for such a high profile athlete you rarely if ever hear anything negative attached to his name.

But if you were starting a basketball team tomorrow and you could choose any player in the world James would be the best investment (if your goal is to win). Some may argue but I think most would reluctantly or enthusiastically agree.

If you were to speak with professional talent evaluators and asked them who the best player was in each of the following categories:

Ball handling

James would likely only get the nod in one category and that is defense, a quality that is based more on athleticism and determination than any sport specific skill. That said how could James be the best player in the sport if he’s not the best in any single basketball skill (though he’s still very good in all categories)? James is the best overall athlete in the sport! No player has his combination of size, speed, coordination, strength and power. He can get anywhere on the court whenever he wants to and no can really stop him without leaving his (James) teammates unaccounted for.

Most people would think James was born with a basketball in his crib and started dribbling before he could even stand… Not true! James was not even introduced to the sport until the age of 9. He was also a fantastic high school football player; he was all state and won a state championship in the sport but missed his senior year because of a broken wrist suffered in summer AAU basketball.

So here we have the best player in his sport and he did not even find out about basketball until he was nine and played multiple sports through his junior year of high school. Now given, James is a freaky athlete but his early developmental years are an excellent example of how crucial it is to diversify in order to accumulate a warehouse of physical literacy. Sport specific skills can always be refined in the late teen years and professionals do it all the time. James was a very mediocre jump shooter when he first entered the NBA but now he is a very good shooter.

On the flip side if a child doesn’t acquire fundamental movement skills during the critical years (generally between the ages of 6-12) they will never be able to fully realize their athletic/physical potential. Fundamental skills are the building blocks upon which technical sport skills are built. In the NBA you will see long-distance specialists whose primary roll is to enter the game and hit 3-point shots. These athletes are very limited because if they aren’t making their shots they are a liability because they lack overall athleticism and can’t contribute effectively in other aspects of the game. This is very likely the byproduct of showing early proficiency in shooting the basketball and devoting a disproportionate amount of time to refining that skill while failing to address their overall game.

Early sport specialization leaves an athlete vulnerable to developmental gaps that can never be closed.

All sports begin with basic fundamental movement and core sports skills. The ABCs of movement include agility; balance, coordination and speed, while core sports skills include running, jumping, skating, catching, striking and throwing. It has been shown that children, who have a strong, broad-based foundation in the fundamental movements and sports skills from a variety of sports and activities, increase their potential for future success in sports. Whether this is confidence to lead a healthy, and active life in sport, or to become an elite athlete, this strong foundation in the FUNdamentals will help children reach their full potential. Without this foundation, children may never reach their genetic potential.

”Young athletes who participate in a variety of sports have fewer injuries and play sports longer than those who specialize before puberty. Well-rounded, multisport athletes have the highest potential to achieve.” (Brenner 2007)

                       - Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

If you are a hockey fan you know whom the Great One is/was. For the younger generation Wayne Gretzky is generally credited for bringing hockey into the mainstream in America. Gretzky has this simple message for parents (and coaches, emphasis mine): Let Your Kids Have Fun!

"In youth hockey, in most cases, it's really important for kids to play other sports - whether it's indoor lacrosse or soccer or baseball. I think what that does is two things. One, each sport helps the other sport. And then I think taking time off in the off-season - that three or four month window - really rejuvenates kids so when they come back at the end of August, they're more excited. They think, 'All right, hockey's back, I'm ready to go.'" Wayne Gretzky.

Excerpt from Globe and Mail, September 26, 2008, Erick Duhatschek.  Gretzky was a multi- sport athlete himself growing up as he also excelled in baseball and lacrosse.

There is strong evidence that elite athletes at the professional and Olympic level spent a majority of their developmental years (6-12) engrossed in general and diverse sporting experiences. The “generalists” were also considered late developers as compared to early specialists who peaked early but were soon caught and bypassed by the generalist late bloomers when it should matter the most in the late teen years.

The most diverse athletic backgrounds when experienced during the most opportune times of youth serve as a powerful foundation for long-term sport and physical excellence.


Speaking of youth sports I would like to share a pair of short videos from another polarizing figure (though I am not certain why) especially for Detroit fans, Jim Leyland. He shares his view on the youth sport culture:

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What's The Plan?

When we watch professional sports we expect the athletes to perform their best each and every time they step onto the field/court/ice. In reality that is impossible! For example there are 162 games played in a Major League Baseball season covering 6 months that’s 27 games a month, it’s a massive workload. There is very little room for travel let alone an off day. And if a team like the Tigers play well and make the playoffs they could add another month’s worth of games at the back end of the season when theoretically they’d like to be playing their best.

Now before I make you feel to sorry for these guys it should be noted they stay in the finest of hotels, have private flights, and a team of therapists, strength and conditioning coaches and various other professionals who tend to their every need. That said the season is grueling and they simply must pace themselves to survive until September when they need to be at their best.

Justin Verlander the Tigers best pitcher is off to a relatively mediocre start by his standards, though he is still pitching very well by any other measure. But Verlander is a seasoned veteran now and he went into last off-season feeling he needed to back off on his throwing and training program. The Tigers played in the World Series last fall so their season didn’t end until close to November. With only a few short weeks to recover before heading back to Spring Training to prepare for this season in early February, Verlander felt he needed to ease into his normal routine.

The results indicate Verlander may have sacrificed some of his early season success to ensure he is giving himself the best opportunity to succeed when the games matter most in the fall. Now if you spend $150.00 to take your family to watch him pitch a game in early June you want to see him at his best. But realize if he pushes himself to his limits too much to early he won’t have the reserves left to kick his performance up when needed in September.

A few years ago at a seminar I heard the Strength and Conditioning coach of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs state that they likely sacrificed games early in the year because their focus was on playing their best in the playoffs. If you push your athletes to aggressively early in the season or in the pre-season they will peak to soon and won’t be able to sustain that high level of play, it’s impossible!

I worked with a young athlete this past winter as he prepared for his baseball season in the spring. This young man’s goal was to get stronger and add muscle (at 5’9 and 118 pounds he was extremely thin). During his assessment I found he had a rather significant movement imbalance.  In the two months I had with him bulking him up by lifting heavy weights would have made his movement imbalance much worse and likely would have exposed him to unnecessary injury. So we had to take a more conservative approach. Especially considering that this young man’s team had very high expectations for the upcoming season.

His program was geared toward making him more durable so he could play his best when it mattered the most. His team had a terrific season that finally ended with a 1-0 defeat in the state championship game and he played his best at the end of the season. If he was pushed to hard in the pre-season he very well could have missed out on a terrific experience with his team. As an aside this young man weighed exactly the same after 2 months of training and yet he was much stronger. Am I telling you that it’s possible to get stronger without adding body weight? Yes, very possible but that’s a story for another day.

The point of all of this is simple, when it comes to sport participation you have to have a plan.  The training plan needs to be dictated by the athlete and teams ultimate goal. If the goal is a state championship in high school baseball you want to be at your best in late May and early June and your training plan should be geared with that in mind.

This is yet another reason why early specialization in youth sports can be such a problem. Often young athletes play year round on multiple teams and they are pushed to be at their best every time they step out to compete. If it’s unrealistic for professionals it’s downright reckless to expect this from still developing children.  Remember the pros have all the advantages that come with being a highly compensated adult living in a tightly controlled environment. It should also be noted that the most successful pro athletes have spent their entire lives building up the work capacity and resiliency to handle a long competitive season. Children are much more vulnerable to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion when subjected to the non-stop circus atmosphere of club and travel sports not to mention that harrowing stage of life known as puberty. What’s the goal of these club teams? To win a pee-wee hockey tournament with 8 year olds…

Until the high school years youth sport should be centered on fun and developing FUNdamental skills while participating in multiple sports seasonally. Once they enter high school if they have the desire to pursue one sport at least they have the safeguard of the breaks between seasons, you can’t play for you high school soccer team for 9 months. It’s much easier to plan for a season that lasts only 2-3 months and provides a tangible goal that can bring the team together such as a state championship.

Professionals who understand youth development designed the interscholastic athletic season with logic in mind. It may not be perfect but it works pretty well. Year round youth sports and club teams are designed without any logic or structure by people with little understanding of the art and science of guiding children.

I am sure you have heard that old saying; “failing to plan is a plan to fail.” Check back with me in September when ideally the Tigers and Justin Verlander will be playing their best baseball of the season. That’s their plan!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

McDonald's V Subway: The Winner is...

Apparently Germans don’t eat enough fish and likely aren’t getting adequate amounts of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. To solve this potential problem Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in the Bavarian town of Freising has developed the omega-3 sausage. [1] Food manufacturers are always ready to profit from popular trends. Polls tell them that people know that omega-3 is beneficial to health but they aren’t following the recommendations to eat more fish. Food processors are more than happy to give the people what they need in the foods that they do eat like sausage and even ice cream. According to a representative from the Fraunhofer Institute, “despite the added value in terms of health benefits, the sausages are just as tasty as their “regular” counterparts.”

In other words if they neglected to label their product you would never even know what you are eating. Take your medicine it’s good for you! Just a thought but any kind of meat product from an Engineering and Packaging entity sounds a little fishy to me. It won’t be long and we will just accept and eventually expect omega-3 to be added to just about anything. My strong opinion is that like all nutrients (vitamins and minerals) omega-3 should be consumed in its natural package, i.e. in fish and nuts. When you isolate a nutrient from the whole it’s likely not as beneficial. It’s kind of like taking Justin Verlander’s pitching arm off and giving it your dentist. I doubt Dr. Molar is going to pitch in Major League Baseball.

Meanwhile a Russian company that specializes in the production of protein-enriched foodstuffs is making ice cream more nutritious with meat waste. How yummy does that sound? It seems meat waste is being underutilized by the industry. Using the meat waste has traditionally been used in the production of biodiesel (proven to be too expensive) and factory farm animal feed. Thanks to a process involving enzymes to digest food, poultry leftovers such as bone and meat trimmings can be converted into proteins dubbed functional animal proteins hydrolyzates. This stuff is added to all kinds of processed foods like protein powders and don’t forget about Uncle Ben’s chicken flavored rice. [2] If your food comes in a box it’s virtually guaranteed to contain heavily processed and cheap byproducts like meat waste.

Speaking of processed food there has been a media blitz in recent months that the quick serve industry is making a strong push to improve the nutritional quality of their kid’s meals. How are they doing so far?

A recent report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) showed that children's menus in most US restaurant chains have too many calories, too much processed salt and fats, and often don't even provide a hint of fresh produce.

 The report, titled "Kids' Meals: Obesity on the Menu", found that among the 3,500 combinations surveyed, kids' meals failed to meet nutritional standards 97 percent of the time.  This is however, a marginal improvement over 2008 when kids' meals failed to meet standards 99 percent of the time. These are based upon standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nutritional recommendations, as well as those set by the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell Program. [3]

McDonald’s and Subway are the two largest quick serve chains in the world.  McDonalds is probably not a surprise and maybe Subway has grown as an alternative for people that want better nutrition choices when in a need for a quick meal. But is Subway really a better choice?

According to recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health researchers found that children who purchased Subway meals consumed nearly as many calories as they did at McDonald’s.  The researchers found that the participants bought meals containing an average of 1,038 calories at McDonald’s and an average of 955 calories at Subway. [4]

Additionally, consumers tend to underestimate caloric intake to a greater degree at Subway than at any other chain; adults and adolescents eating at Subway underestimated actual calories consumed by 20% and 25% more than those at McDonald’s.

I conducted my own experiment several years ago with a group of 6 boys ages 15-18, and though my sample size was far smaller I recorded similar results:

900 calories, 40.5 grams fat, 13 grams saturated fat, 2415 mg sodium, 100 grams carbs, 33 grams protein. [5]

My experiment was conducted at another quick serve; Panera, that is considered a better choice from a nutrient quality perspective.

As a point of reference The Institute of Medicine recommends that school lunches not exceed 850 calories. An adolescent should consume an average of about 2,400 calories in a day.

In this context calories are used as the measure for the quality of the meal. For the research to even mean anything we have to accept that counting calories is an effective indicator of a meals quality.  While counting calories can be useful as a general reference point, in isolation they do nothing to indicate the quality of a meal. 900 calories from McDonald’s for a 60-year-old diabetic who doesn’t exercise is a poor meal choice. A 900-calorie meal of grass fed beef, sweet potatoes, broccoli and olive oil for an active 16-yeard old boy is a pretty awesome choice.

Irrespective of the total calories a food is said to have it’s the nutrition you get out of that food that matters most. A McDonald’s or Subway meal is full of nutrient deficient processed foodstuff made with who knows what while a home cooked meal supplies your body the fuel it needs to be strong and vibrant especially when you use whole food ingredients. And when you cook from scratch you don’t have to worry about calorie counting because when you feed your body with real food it will satisfy your appetite long before you consume 900 calories.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Panera Experiment

The Panera Experiment

Last week after a training session I treated a few of my young athletes to lunch at Panera Bread.  Before we arrived I advised them what a good choice would be.  Ultimately however I let them choose whatever they wanted. 

Here are the details:

½ Chipotle Chicken Sandwich (450 calories, 28 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 1050 mg sodium, 26 grams carbs, 25 grams protein)

Broccoli Cheddar Soup 8 oz. (190 cal, 10 g fat, 6 g sat fat, 1020 mg sodium, 16 g carbs, 8 g protein)

1 baguette (140 cal, 2.5 g fat, 27 g carbs, 310 mg sodium)

8 oz. Soda (120 cal, 31 g carbs, 35 mg sodium)

Each young man ordered similarly.  They all had sandwich, soup, baguette and soda.  They finished off all of their food.

Total consumption for this one meal:

900 calories, 40.5 grams fat, 13 grams saturated fat, 2415 mg sodium, 100 grams carbs, 33 grams protein.

I opted for the Strawberry Chicken Salad (290 cal, 9 g fat, 1 gram sat fat, 300 mg sodium, 29 g carbs, 26 g protein).  I was attempting to set a positive example.  That strategy didn’t work on this particular day but I am hoping they noticed. 

The young men were 15-18 years of age.  It would seem they would be capable of making good choices on their own.  The preceding data proves otherwise.

I have a new appreciation for the challenges parents face with their busy schedule while attempting to keep their families feed.  Home cooked meals are always the best option but that’s not realistic for most families.  That having been said you must be aware of how much you are actually consuming at a typical restaurant.   At the end of this article is the Government recommended Percent Daily Value based on a 2500-calorie diet.   The one area the boys already surpassed in this one meal was sodium.  That should be a red flag when dining out.  Almost all prepared meals are loaded with sodium.  You can usually do a good job keeping the fat intake under control but sodium is the real stinger.

The salad I ordered was decent choice but could have been far worse.  The salad supposedly contained fresh blueberries and strawberries (fiber rich carbs), plain pecans (healthy polyunsaturated fat) and all natural antibiotic free chicken (lean complete protein).  The salad also comes with a fat free dressing, mandarin oranges and pineapple.   I omitted the dressing (likely loaded with sugar and sodium) oranges and pineapple (fairly certain they came from a can).  After that the salad still had 300 mg of sodium.  If you have to eat out that salad would be a good choice with the omissions of course.

I can only imagine what these young men ate the rest of the day.  I will continue to educate them on the importance of good nutrition to on field and off field performance.  One sure way to waste a good workout is to follow it up with low quality re-fueling.

Percent Daily Values:

Based on 2500 calories diet

Fat 80 g
Sat. Fat 25 g
Sodium 2400 mg
Carbohydrate 375 grams

Saturday, June 1, 2013

If I Knew Then What I Know Now...

If I Knew Then What I Know Now…

When I was a kid I was a big dreamer.  At around age 6 I wanted to be Batman but by age 10 I figured that probably wasn’t very realistic so I turned to baseball and I’ve been hooked on it ever since.  After the competitive career ended my adult/professional life has taken many turns but I have finally settled into something I am truly passionate about and will likely sustain me for the rest of my life and that is coaching/guiding young people.

I always hear athletes mention what a big influence certain coaches had in their lives in the form of valuable life lessons in addition to athletic skill development. I never had an impactful relationship with a coach during my youth/teen years. In fact, after my competitive career ended I began to learn certain things about the game of baseball and athletic development that definitely would have helped me as a young athlete. Initially I was frustrated because no one took the time to work with me.   That is the driving force behind my desire to share what I have learned with the young people that I work with and it goes well beyond the playing field.

I never want a child that I coached to look back in ten years and say I wish my coach had told me…

Just for fun I thought I would share the strategy I would use if equipped with my current life experience and education to optimally develop myself starting at the age of 4.

My goal is to develop a broad base of athleticism early and use that foundation to help me excel on the baseball field by the late teen years.

Ages 4-9
I would not play organized sports at all. I would take gymnastics and martial arts to develop balance, mobility, body control and spatial awareness. I would swim a lot during the summer but just for fun no lessons. And when the lakes and ponds froze in the winter I would ice skate and play hockey again just for fun. Free unsupervised play would dominate my free time with friends.

Ages 10-13
I would start in organized sports. I would however only play seasonally, baseball in the Spring/Summer and basketball in the Fall/Winter. I would continue with the marital arts and start doing an off-field/court training program with an emphasis on body weight movements and speed and agility development. I would play pick-up games of football and hockey with friends in the fall and winter and tinker with tennis in the summer.

Age 14-18
I would devote more time to developing my baseball skills and overall athleticism through off-field/court training. I would continue to play basketball for my school in the winter and would totally separate myself from the game of baseball for at least 4 months out of the year.

Post High School
I was fortunate at one time to have an opportunity to play baseball in college and I would strongly consider doing so again. However, my main priority would be to put my education first and baseball would take a backseat to that, I wish I could say that was priority the first time around.  I would use my education to cultivate the visions and dreams that I have right now to better serve young people.

You see a funny thing happens when you are riding buses throughout the Midwest and South playing ball you start asking yourself; is this what I really want to do?
Living off Subway, Shoney’s and all-you can eat buffets was not something I was particularly interested in.

Sometimes the things you pursue with the most passion and dedication actually ends up draining your energy while limiting or stalling your long-term potential.  In the youth sport culture it’s easy to get caught up in the competitive surroundings with your blinders on and you begin to lose touch with what the whole process should be about.

Which brings me to the last and most vital lesson of all; have fun! It really is only a game. After my sophomore year in high school I started to take baseball way to seriously and this carried over in to college and baseball became a job. As parents and coaches we need to ensure that our kids are involved in sports for the right reasons and becoming a superstar and winning trophies should be at the bottom of the priority list.

The bottom line is baseball and sport would be nothing more than tools that I would use to shape the career and person I ultimately wanted to become. I recall a quote from sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman who once stated; “you have to use the game or otherwise it will use you!”  


The other strategy I would have used is insisting that my family only eat meat, eggs and dairy from pasture raised cows and chickens in addition all of our fruits and vegetables must be grown with only organic methods. I would have driven my parents insane! Upon further review I wouldn’t change a thing! I developed just fine athletically and I ultimately ended up right where I most needed to be. As a bonus my parents are both full of vigor and not exhausted from dealing with a boy with to much knowledge for his own good.