Whenever we decide to take a long journey it is very important to make sure you have an accurate map to get you where you want to go on time and safely. Many young athletes dream about playing sports in college and even the pro’s. This dream can be a reality with the right combination of dedication, discipline, hard work, natural talent and some good fortune here and there. However even if you are able to maximize these elements it may not be enough. If it were easy to become a college athlete it wouldn’t be much of a dream would it?
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, only between 3.3% and 6.4% (depending upon sport) of all high school varsity baseball, basketball, football, and soccer athletes will go on to play collegiately.
It doesn’t require a great leap of faith to realize that our youth sports fields should not be viewed as proving grounds for future athletic conquests for most participants. That said, I think it’s great that kids have lofty goals and strive to become the best at their given sport of choice. Even though they may come up short the experience and skill they acquire along their journey will benefit them the rest of their lives (leadership, self-efficacy, discipline, goal-setting, teamwork, dealing with adversity, etc.).
Never one to discourage a child, over the next few weeks I will lay out a game plan or a map that will show you the most efficient way in my experience to develop the complete athlete. The complete athlete is developed gradually from the point of a basic movement education (like elementary school) on to a highly skilled sport specialist (college masters program). If you decide to skip the elementary education (jumping, running, climbing, kicking, crawling, etc.) and jump right into more advanced classes (sport specialization) your limitations will eventually be exposed in the latter stages of development when the competition is more intense.
Many young athletes will try workout programs that their friends, teammates, or favorite pros endorse. This is no way to start your journey! Even if you happen to stumble upon something you think “works,” how can you be sure something isn’t being left out? Basing exercise selection on whether or not you can feel the burn is not a good strategy.
Most training programs are nothing more than a few “cool” exercises that are thrown together just to see what sticks. Everybody else is doing it right? Again, this type of strategy is not a recipe for success. I will be your guide on this journey and show you how to base exercise selection on what the individual athlete requires most. Function (how the body moves) rather than form (how the body looks), will be our trusted compass on the journey.
A compass is objective because it shows us the direction we are heading in; it’s a simple tool that is not subject to emotion or opinion. We may not like where the compass is leading us but it is necessary to address weaknesses before building upon strengths.
Many times young athletes want to get right to the fun stuff during practice like shooting the ball, swinging the bat, or throwing the ball. But the good coaches almost always emphasize the fundamentals during practice. This is the coaches’ time to refine the weaknesses in an attempt to make the team more complete. A team that is complete is less likely to be exposed and will have more opportunities to display their strength.
Before we start our journey I thought it might be fun to find out what college strength and conditioning coaches (SCC) are looking for in young prospects. Dr. Toby Brooks is an Assistant Professor, Athletic Training at Texas Tech University. He asked 10 top NCAA Division 1 SCC three simple questions:
1. What are you looking for in an athlete?
2. What is the most common area of deficiency?
3. What are high school and private coaches doing right? And wrong?
1. These coaches are looking for…
• Vertical leap/broad jump
• Not strength (they think they can fix this)
• Capacity for improvement
2. What is the most common area of deficiency?
• Posterior chain (upper back, glutes, muscles you can’t see in the mirror)
• Hip flexibility
3. What are high school/private coaches doing right/wrong?
• The Good…
• More in tune with the college strength and conditioning type methods
• Good foundation established within athletes for the SCC to build upon
• The not so good…
• Importance of combine/showcase numbers and performances
• Sport Specificity vs. Athleticism
What does all this mean?
• Top college programs want complete athletes not combine or weight room heroes.
• Speed and agility is best attained in the developmental years.
• Work on the non-mirror muscles, more dead lifts and pull-ups, less squatting and bench pressing.
• Stretching is not for just for the ladies.
• College recruiters are more interested in how an athlete moves not how they look or how much they can squat or bench!
How can you get all of this done efficiently and effectively? The quest begins next week.
Dr. Toby Brooks is also Director of Education and Research for the International Youth Conditioning Association. I am a member of the organization and Dr. Brooks was willing to share his research with me.