Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Young Athletes Beware of the "Idiot Box"...

I wanted to wrap up 2015 with a few random thoughts on Sports Performance Training.  Over the past few months a couple of high profile professional athletes were “caught” on video seemingly displaying tremendous feats of athleticism. But as long-time strength and conditioning professional Mike Boyle points out in the excerpt below this should be a lesson in what not to do!

Box Jump Idiocy

The top box in the plyo box stack is either a 36 or 42-inch plyo box.
If you have one, please put it away. In fact, unless you are training some great athletes, put your 30-inch box away too. I have dubbed the big plyo boxes “Idiot Boxes”. Idiot boxes are jumped on by young men (it is always young men) looking to show off.

I have begun to refer to them as “skin donors”. I can tell you something for sure. If CSI showed up and dusted the high plyo boxes for DNA most of these boxes would test positive. There was a time when my athletes and I were foolish just like everyone else and did these foolish exercises. After coaching a few “skin donors” I realized that what mattered was the movement of the center of mass, not the height of the box. I no longer own a 36” box but own lots of 18’s, 24’s and a few 30’s.

Our rule is simple; jump and land from the same position. This means that take off and landing should look identical. If you jump from a ½ squat, land in a half squat.
I could post a few videos but, don’t want to get sued. Just Youtube “box jumps” if you want to see foolishness in action.

And please, don’t stack up a bunch of stuff to jump on. That’s even dumber. I just saw an article with a multi-million dollar athlete jumping on a collection of boxes and plates. Try to explain that during your deposition.
Remember, jump and land from the same position.

Mike Boyle- The God Father of modern sport performance training, has coached at the Olympic and Division 1 college level in addition to working with professional athletes and amateur athletes for nearly 3 decades. In short, no one has a better frame of reference than Boyle.

I can’t help but toss in my own two cents on this topic. The first thing I noticed in the most recent video (a certain Washington Nationals outfielder) was the location of his “act.” Needless to say once I understood where this took place I was not surprised in the least. There is a gigantic difference between and “trainer” and strength and conditioning professional SCP).  An SCP would never have allowed their athlete to waste time on a useless exercise like a maximum effort box jump.

Our time with athletes is extremely valuable wasting it on fruitless circus acts is irresponsible at best!

Gold Medalist calls it a career and calls out current youth sport culture in America

Abby Wambach is a 2-time Olympic Gold medalist and FIFA World Cup Champion (2015). Wambach is a six-time winner of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year award. As a forward, she currently stands as the highest all-time goal scorer for the national team and holds the world record for international goals for both female and male soccer players with 184 goals. In 2012, Wambach was awarded the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year.

Wambach was an elite athlete so her insight on her development and the current your sport culture in America is extremely valuable to all athletes/parents who dream of becoming an elite level athlete. I have preached on this topic for over a decade now but it always seems to be delivered with more impact when someone like Abby takes up the conversation.

While the whole interview is very good, pay special attention starting at the 56:00 make and the final 5:30 of the episode. Listen to episode #40.

2015 Male Golf Player of The Year is a tremendous role model for all athletes

I recently read a few end of year recaps in which Jordan Speith was honored with Player of the Year recognition. A few insights from expert analysts and competitors really stood out and should serve as extremely important lessons that all young athletes should work very hard at developing if they truly want to achieve great things in sport and in the game of life.

“What I admire most about him are the intangibles: the grind, the heart, the ability to get the ball in the whole no matter what.”

Zach Johnson- 2015 Open Champion

That statement from Johnson highlights the essential variable that must be present for any young athlete to maximize their potential. Without these intangibles you have no chance!

 I don’t want to dive to deeply into the intricacies of golf in this space but this next line is about Speith describing deficiencies/weaknesses in his game:

“It’s frustrating not to execute but at the same time I like having that weakness exposed, because it gives me direction in what I need to work on.”

Fellow competitor Paul Casey had this to say about Speith:

“I love that passion and drive and desire and that honesty. Ultimately, I think it’s that honesty that will keep Speith on top of our game for a very long time. You’ve got to have supreme confidence in your abilities, but at the same time you can’t be blind. That’s what Tiger was great at. He was never satisfied. Jordan is exactly the same way”

For young athletes that mind-set is golden. Speith is 22 years old and has proven it time and again. His fellow competitors acknowledge that he’s special. But notice they don’t mention qualities like his power or strength…

It’s the little things, the details that allow Speith to achieve the results on the Golf course.

Hard work and dedication are prerequisites but from there you have to be honest with yourself. You have to have a plan! All great competitors are open to a better way of doing things and they recognize that they don’t have all the answers.

I have talked recently about why strength and conditioning is a must for the modern athlete and it has little to do with advanced training concepts or “butt-kicking” workouts. In my world I see way to often athletes with good intentions wasting a lot of time in the gym. They don’t have plan. Sorry to say but Stack.com is not a plan! You can find exercises on line that look cool and are touted to enhance speed, power and strength but what’s often missed is context.

You need to be honest with yourself… do your goals and current training align? If you need help don’t be afraid to ask for it. Honesty and humility will serve you well in your athletic development.

Mike Boyle called out young men for their egos driving stupid acts in training. Young guys do dumb stuff in the gym, realize it’s a tool to help improve performance and it’s not where you should be doing a performance. All young athletes need a reality check. And I hear this all the time from young men but the truth is you “don’t got this!”

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Be a good cookie this Holiday Season and don't be afraid to have one either!

My wife and I have been busy with the usual chores: decorating the tree, sending Christmas cards, rounding out our year end charitable donations, and...

...delivering delicious cookies.

But before you ask me where to find our "healthy" cookies, I have a confession:

We're not delivering some low-fat, gluten-free, protein-packed,
artificially sweetened, possibly-hiding-beets, "healthy" version
of a cookie.

Nope, we're delivering the REAL THING, the kind of cookie that contains butter, sugar, and flour, the kind of cookie most "nutrition experts" will
tell you to avoid completely this year:

Anyway, when people learn that my family and I sometimes make
treats like cookies...or go out for ice cream...or don't eat 100%
protein and vegetables all the time...they get a little confused.
"But isn't a Life Time trainer all about eating good foods and
avoiding bad foods?"

The answer, I'm proud to say, is no.
Optimal nutrition is NOT all about eating "good" foods and
avoiding "bad" foods. (I don't even like those labels.)
In a minute, I'll share what optimal nutrition is really about.
But first I'm going to encourage you to enjoy some sort of
cookie, cake, or cocktail this holiday season, too.
In addition to songs, and friendship, and holiday cheer.

Here's why.
When men and women come into fitness, they carry their own ideas
about what food is...even if they've never really thought about
it before.
For them, food can be...
* fuel
* reward
* punishment
* escape
* shame
* freedom
* and more...
But for me, food is information. It's a story that shapes your daily life, your
health, and your function. When food is information, there is no "good" food or "bad" food.There are only choices. And that's it. But the choice IS the thing.

You see, every time you choose to eat one thing over another,
you're voting for what's really important to you right now.

Of course, you may not realize you're doing that. But every decision IS a calculation of what really matters to you, in that moment.

So, with the holidays here for most of us, what DOES matter to
you right now?
Is it...
Feeling good? Connecting with loved ones? Truly nourishing your
body? Feeding your soul? Remembering your heritage or family

No judgment here. YOU get to decide your priorities. And 
sometimes other things SHOULD win out over "nutrition".

So I'm not here to tell you what to do, think, or feel. Nor do I write this to make you feel guilty, ashamed, anxious, or deprived.

Instead, I'm here to help you think through the question. To help
you choose more consciously, with awareness and intention.
And the Life Time team is here to guide you along the path YOU choose.

Plus, we DO like to keep it real.
Because shortbread and latkes taste great when made with love and
shared with friends and family. They just do.

And, while some people in fitness have a hard time with this
notion, I think that feeling good is part of enjoying life and
being healthy.

Of course, if you struggle with this part of your "food story",
and would like to rewrite it to include joy, freedom, and
deliciousness - all the while working toward a better body -
Life Time can help.

Funny enough, here's my first prescription:

Enjoy a real cookie or two this holiday season! Or some other
thing you enjoy but think is "off limits".

Just do it consciously, mindfully, and - as we teach in our
coaching programs - slowly.
Instead of scarfing it down and waiting for the guilt, taste what
you enjoy, with intention. Then move on.

Because, with the right approach, you can work toward more
enjoyment and connection PLUS improved health and fitness.
All at the same time.

But even if you're not ready to embrace this mindset yet because
restricting is your only way to feel in control...
Because you can't believe that enjoying certain foods guilt-free
is possible...
Because you're stuck in the middle of a nasty cycle of restrict,
collapse, guilt, repeat... My family and I will still share some laughs, shed some tears, and nosh a few cookies this holiday season.

We might even raise a glass of egg nog in your honor.
Because, around here, we know that connection, love, and
enjoyment CAN exist while working toward better health together.
And we're hoping that somewhere along the way you'll discover the same thing. Besides, we'll probably burn up all those cookies climbing the
local sledding hills anyway ;-)

In case your looking for a last minute gift idea or love giving to terrific causes this will be sure to bring a smile to the recipients face while also warming your soul. You'll understand why after you read more about these cookies.

And after the Holidays if you feel you need to get back on track while still giving yourself a treat try these for a snack option.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Why Strength and Conditioning is Essential for the Modern American Baseball Player...

Here in the Midwest we are about to hit the fall sport season and high school football is about to "kick-off" and basketball/hockey seasons are just a few months away. It would seem that baseball would be the furthest thing from a young athletes mind right now.

Welcome to 2015 the era of sport specialization! Mother Nature used to limit our ability to play baseball during the late fall/winter but that’s not the case anymore. There is no shortage of facilities that cater to the needs of the baseball athlete. If an athlete wants to hit, throw or pitch during the winter they can do so under the expert tutelage of area hitting and pitching instructors.

I can opine until the cows come home that kids should take a break from year round sport participation but we can’t ignore the facts. Youth baseball is as competitive as ever and everyone is doing all they can to give themselves an edge.

I am not here to debate whether year round baseball is good or bad for developing young athletes… But if you truly have aspirations to be the best baseball player you can be you can’t ignore what happens as a result of this year round commitment to the sport.

I will circle back to the why but first allow me to introduce the what. Off-field strength and conditioning or Complete Baseball Performance (CBP) is essential for the modern baseball athlete!

As noted earlier everyone has access to expert baseball skill development through private/group pitching and hitting instruction. But there is a huge opportunity to set yourself apart with CBP. That’s because baseball players are an incredibly neglected population with respect to strength and conditioning.

Most training programs for young athletes are based off bodybuilding, football strength and conditioning or Cross-Fit. None of which are ideal, in fact they may do more harm than good.

A good baseball strength and conditioning program must address the unique demands of the sport. Baseball is a rotational sport with significant overhead activity with high velocity repetitive movements.

In fact throwing a baseball is the single fast motion in all of sport!

Humeral (upper arm bone) internal rotation velocity during throwing may reach 7500 to 7700 degrees per second.

And swinging a bat is not exactly a slow motion either…

During the baseball swing maximal hip rotational velocity reaches up to 714 degrees per second, where the pelvis rotates over a relatively fixed femur (thigh bone).

While qualities such as strength, speed and power are just as important in baseball as they are in other sports, it’s how you go about obtaining them that makes all the difference.

Now let’s get back to the why behind CBP.  First from a performance perspective two key qualities must be enhanced through training:

Durability- this allows you to stay on the field, where you’ll have the continuity to develop your skills. If you’re always hurt or experiencing pain you won’t be able to stay on the field.

Athleticism- the better athlete you are the better things tend to “stick.”  In other words the more fertile your athletic soil is the better the seeds your coaches’ plant will grow into something special!

There are also two other factors that necessitate CBP for the modern baseball player.

Sport Specialization- not only do you need CBP to counteract the demands of the sport, you’ll also need it to provide the diverse athletic stimulus that you’re missing out on by not playing other sports. This keeps your body fresh and increases your ability to adapt and develop elite level skill.

Athleticism is the foundation for sport specific skill; the more diverse and “deep” that foundation the better chances you’ll have to support high-level sport specific skill. If your foundation is to narrow it’s like trying to shoot a canon from a canoe! You’ll likely “sink” before you reach your potential.

Posture- due to modern technology kids are slouched and hunched over all day long leading to poor joint alignment and when you add on top of that extremely fast/one-sided/highly repetitive motions it can lead to significant muscle imbalances.

Start paying attention to how you stand at rest. Additionally, look around and notice how others stand at rest. I bet it looks a lot like the picture below (weight shifted into the right hip/low right shoulder/nipple, lower right hand, just to name the most obvious). This is something I see on extreme levels in some of our right-handed throwing athletes; they’re right handed people, in a unilateral sport, in a right-handed world!

Think of the poor alignment/posture as the athlete’s starting position. Their bodies have to work so hard just to play “catch up” (get the joints in position to execute the skill) it will likely lead to excessive stress on muscles, tendons, and ligaments in addition to the wear and tear on joint surfaces.

At least this will lead to poor timing and rhythm of hitting and pitching mechanics at worse it can lead to significant injuries to the shoulder, elbow, low back or hips.

Simply restoring alignment as close to neutral as possible could unlock significant gains in potential bat and running speed as well as throwing velocity.

Most strength and conditioning programs ignore this unique demand imposed upon the baseball athlete.

Baseball is an extremely fast sport and the one-sided nature and rotational demands require specific programming variables that simply aren’t addressed with Cross-Fit, Football based programs nor Stack.com.

The off-season is the ideal time to develop the body armor you’ll need to stay on the field and the athleticism that is necessary to develop elite level baseball skill.

Final Thought

Last week I spoke with my old friend Carlo Alvarez, Sport Performance Coordinator for MLB's Pittsburgh Pirates. There are two things from this conversation that I wanted to highlight.

First, Carlo told me that of the 40 athletes that the Pirates drafted this past June 39 had to be regressed from his basic conditioning program. He said they were a "mess" and lacked fundamental movement and general athleticism; they were not physically prepared for professional baseball. So essentially he had to take 39 kids that were skilled enough to be drafted and take them back to the basics (running, jumping, skipping, crawling...).

Secondly, the best athletes in America aren't playing baseball. 50% of the athletes in professional baseball were born outside of the U.S. Take a glance at the rosters of the 30 MLB teams and look at the starting shortstops... This is arguably the most athletically demanding position on the field and there are few American born athletes (7 out of 30 or 23%) playing that position at the MLB level.

What does all this mean? It tells me that there is a tremendous opportunity for those that make the commitment to improve their performance preparation and overall athleticism. If our best athletes don't play baseball then the kids that do choose the sport can make a huge leap by focusing on improving athleticism outside of baseball skill development. Further, skilled baseball players that are good enough to be drafted are grossly under-prepared for the demands of high-level baseball. This means athletes aren't doing the right things away from the field and they will likely stall out before reaching their potential.

The modern American baseball player spends plenty of time on skill development (possibly to much) and they are just as likely devoting time to speed and agility training and weight training that is not addressing their unique needs.  It's pretty clear (by the numbers) that the current formula is flawed, it's simply not working! If we keep running into the wall maybe it's time to find another way to get around it...

Friday, October 30, 2015

Baseball Manager Bans Junk Food...

I just read an interesting article about a potential managerial candidate for the Los Angeles Dodgers and what he did back in Spring Training that raised quite a few eyebrows.

Baseball clubhouses are the ultimate spot for young guys. There are big screen TV's tuned to ESPN/MLB/NFL choose your favorite sports network. There are workout rooms, hot tubs, places to nap, get a massage and tons of convenience foods.

The athletes spend a lot of time in there so I guess they want them to feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible.

While in his current role as the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league farm director, Gabe Kapler (former Tiger) used his authority to get rid of junk food from the clubhouse during Spring Training.*

The move was meet with mild push-back from the veteran MLB players who thought it challenged their "freedom" to make their own choices.

Kapler's move provoked me to think what I would do if I were running a baseball developmental system.

For the sake of brevity I will focus my "solutions" strictly to the nutrition side of the performance equation.

First of all I wouldn't do anything drastic nor would I make any grand announcements that things were about to change in dramatic fashion. This would actually hinder my cause because the initial shock and awe from the athletes would most assuredly lead to a revolt at worst and at best a rolling of eyes with an under the breath "whatever you say dude." I don't want to deal with that!

So I wouldn't "ban" anything. If the athletes want to buy stuff on their own that's up to them.

My first move would be not to have any processed food on hand. When it comes to maximizing sports performance (concentration, mood, energy, recovery, body composition) this is the low-hanging fruit and the easiest way to improve performance immediately.

The following items would not be made available by the club:
Soda, Candy, Snack Foods (chips, crackers, cookies, muffins, etc.), Energy Drinks nor any other processed foods. I would love to include Gatorade and the like but this is to dramatic for now.

I would make the following items widely available:
Jerky, nuts, high quality protein bars, super shakes, fruit, water.

I would also hire a full-time chef to make pre and post game meals from scratch. Using high quality whole food ingredients, nothing from a box nor any highly processed oils.

The foundation of each meal would be some type of meat (all pasture raised and antibiotic free it possible):
Beef, pork, chicken, turkey, eggs.

Plenty of vegetable options:
Roasted root and cruciferous vegetables
Whole grain based dishes like quinoa, brown rice, even whole grain pasta occasionally
Super salads loaded with the following options:
Lettuce (spinach, arugula, kale, spring greens)
Sliced fruit/vegetables: peppers, tomatoes, avocado, apples, figs, cherries, peaches, berries
Nuts: Cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachio
Cheese: goat, cheddar, gouda
Dressing: Olive oil and dijon mustard base
Dessert: home made cookies and brownies ( hey these are big kids after all and if we don't give it to them they are more likely to get it somewhere else where the quality won't be as good). I would make sure the chef makes the treats with whole grain unrefined flours and other high quality whole food ingredients. I would not tell the players what they are made with. Here have a cookie rookie... "These taste awesome!" Your welcome.

I would also create some type of competition like the guy that logs the most hours with the trainer or therapy staff gets to pick their favorite meal to be made by the chef. Hamburgers, pizza, lasagna whatever they want but the chef makes it with whole food ingredients, just like mom used to!

I would love to see teams do this. It is a great investment in the long term health and performance of their athletes. And money should not be an issue. Teams routinely "eat" the contracts of athletes that are underperforming or pay players millions that no longer play for them (Prince Fielder by the Tigers to his current team the Rangers). There are a lot of savings to be had in sports with wise budgeting and I have no doubt investing in proper nutrition for their athletes would pay off in the long run.

Currently teams make available cheap, low-quality food for their athletes and that makes no sense! They invest millions in keeping these players on the field yet provide them the nutrition equivalent of fast food.

They should focus their attention on better scouting and development if they want to avoid wasteful expenditures, they shouldn't do it by skimping on the post game spread.



Saturday, October 17, 2015

What Youth Sports in America can learn from USA Hockey...

While it may seem a lot of my writing tends to be slanted toward a baseball theme I am developing a healthy respect for the hockey community. I have actually been “rubbing” elbows with the folks that run USA Hockey’s American Developmental Model (ADM) in hopes of applying some of the principles to my own practice while also convincing the baseball community that the ADM is just what that sport needs to ensure long-term viability.

Last week I had the pleasure to meet with USA Hockey’s Strength and Conditioning Coach to discuss the nuances of the ADM. I came away from my time with Darryl Nelson extremely excited about the future of USA Hockey and I also could hardly wait to share what I learned from my time with the folks at USA Arena in Plymouth.

Some of the highlights:

Minnesota high school hockey plays only 25 games. Minnesota does not have “travel” or “club” hockey. The result is their youth hockey players practice more than they play. While the Minnesotans may not be as competitive as the kids from states that play more games they are more skilled.  Interestingly if you look at a state-by-state breakdown of the top active point scorers in the NHL guess what state is disproportionately represented?  If you guessed Minnesota you are correct! *

And one more point that works in favor of the Minnesotan athletes because they only play hockey for the school they actually have an off-season. This leaves more time to play multiple sports. All around athletes have better long-term potential due to decreased risk of burnout and over-use injury and increased durability and athleticism.

In Michigan, with a few exceptions, the best hockey players don’t play for the school and play more games. They travel all the time leaving scant time for skill development. While the Michigan kids are more competitive due to more game experience they are not as skilled.

Another way to look at this …

Who owns and operates many of the top travel teams in Michigan? Businesses and corporations! What’s the main role of a business from a shareholder or CEO’s perspective?  They need to have their product on the market.

Lots of games is good business, practice and skill development doesn’t provide a quick return on investment. Wait a second... I thought youth sports was all about doing what’s in the best interest of the kids!

A Better Way Forward

In the United States, there has been more emphasis on competition starting at a young age. In many European countries, there is more of a patient approach to the game where coaches stress skill development at younger ages with a focus on ultimately developing players for national teams when they’re older.

I watched a seminar with Tommi Neimila, a coach with the Finnish national team, during which he provided a glimpse of his country’s patient approach to player development when he divided a group of local players into three groups and asked them to work on a specific skill for eight minutes. It was an abridged version of what the Finns do with young players over the course of the season. Every practice features 40 minutes dedicated to working on a specific skill twice a week for three months.

“When they’re finished we are 100 percent sure that they have mastered that skill before they move on to another skill,” said Neimila, who added that players typically work on three different skills over the course of a single season.

“If we try to do too many things in too short a time, we feel that our players won’t master that skill. It’s a very patient approach to skill development.”

Neimila understands that such an approach may not translate to the current state of affairs in youth hockey in the U.S., where a greater emphasis is placed on playing games at an early age. But as for a coach who is paid to develop players for the Finnish national teams and ultimately to play in the NHL, Neimila feels that his approach is the best way to accomplish these goals.

“As coaches, no matter if you’re an American, a Swede or a Finn, you want to make your kids better players,” he said. “We’re all human, and we all want to compete and we want to win. But winning a championship when our kids are 13 years old is not priority one for us. I can guarantee that winning a championship when you’re 13 won’t get you to the NHL.”

The point is to allow Americans to develop more like kids in Sweden's renowned youth system, which has produced stars such as Henrik Zetterberg. "The Swedes don't send over fourth-line NHLers," says Bob Mancini, a local ADM administrator based in Saginaw, MI. "They send over stars. And it starts at the youngest levels." ADM is inspired in part by this model. In Sweden, kids don't play full-ice games until age 10 or play on all-star travel teams until after most of them have hit puberty.

The patience has its rewards. Sweden's national team won Olympic gold in 2006 and the world championship in 2006 and 2013, not bad for a country with just 53,334 youth players (the U.S. has 305,453, Canada 455,806). The standard-bearer is Swedish league champion Skelleftea (population: 32,775), a town that is half the size of Waterford Township. Five current NHL players hail from Skelleftea, along with 21 members of Sweden's U17, U18 and U19 teams. All of them emerged from a club that cuts no kids until age 17 and plays only six months a year.

The chiefs running USA Hockey know all about Skelleftea. Every member of the U17 and U18 national teams in Ann Arbor played multiple sports growing up. It will clearly take time for the multisport message to trickle down. "At the youngest ages, we shouldn't try to develop hockey players," Mancini says. "We should develop athletes who love hockey."

"Deep down, most parents know something is wrong," Mancini says. "They come up and say things like, 'My older son quit hockey.' They're looking for something better."

Parents aren’t the only ones looking for something better… The United States Olympic Committee purchased the rights to provide all national teams with the ADM format.

USA Swimming and U.S. Tennis Association officials support kids playing other sports to reduce burnout and overuse injuries. Beyond those reasons they also need better overall athletes entering their sport or they risk becoming irrelevant on the international level… Sorry to say US men’s tennis is already there.

In the end we have to ask the question what is our goal for youth sport participation?

  • Is it about teaching kids how to compete and win?
  • Is it about using the sport to teach kids valuable life lessons/skills?
  • Is it about optimizing their development to ensure they have the best opportunity to reach their full potential?
  • Is it about socialization, creating an environment where kids can have fun and meet potential friends?
  • Is it about heath and fitness promotion?

I believe youth sport experiences should check all of the above boxes.  That said every kid has different goals and interests. Believe it or not all kids that play hockey don’t want to play in the NHL!

In an ideal world we would develop “tracks” that are tailored to each kids interest and commitment levels.

The biggest difference between youth sports in American and Europe isn’t the ideas we have or the humans around us. It's the technology, the civilization and the expectations in our infrastructure.

The US simply has not invested in athlete development. We have not created the infrastructure to support it. A strong determining factor of who gets “picked” has more to do with when and where they were born than their true ability.

We are to fractured. Every organization thinks they have the secret sauce and they want to hide it from everyone else for some sort of perceived competitive advantage.

Countries like Finland and Sweden have taken the time to invest in an infrastructure that supports athlete development and it works for them. Maybe they have to do it because they are relatively small compared to the US.

But imagine if we were to invest in an athletic development system like they have, how much it would benefit the American athlete... It's easy to take youth sports for granted. After all it seems to work for some kids. But when you see an organization or nation that doesn't have our resources accomplishing way more on the international stage with far less it should serve as a powerful wake up call.

Here's something that's unavoidably true: Investing in infrastructure always pays off. Always. Not just most of the time, but every single time. Sometimes the payoff takes longer than we'd like, sometimes there may be more efficient ways to get the same result, but every time we spend time and money, we're surprised at how much of a difference it makes.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Random Thoughts on Nutrition and Food: October Edition

Over the years, my favorite posts to write have been my "Random Thoughts" pieces. Effectively, they are just "brain dumps" on a particular topic; they aren't really clearly constructed arguments. It occurred to me the other day that - after years of putting youth sports performance front and center- I've accumulated a lot of useful tips and information on nutrition. So, here's a brain dump on the subject!

Most folks associate doughnuts as a “poor’ food choice. But consider these 31 foods that have more sugar than a doughnut. 

Added sugars hide in 74 percent of processed foods under more than 60 different names.

Seemingly healthy smoothies, salads, oatmeal, and yogurt often have more sugar than a doughnut (or several).

Bottom line, if you eat processed foods, consuming significantly more than the recommended daily amount of sugar is far easier than you might think.

Consider this nutrient and flavor packed alternative for a quick and easy breakfast:

They took organic gluten free rolled oats and infused pea and rice proteins along with real dried fruit and nuts.  The result is amazing!

Simply add 8oz of unsweetened coconut, almond, or cashew milk and let sit overnight in the refrigerator. The next morning you have the perfect breakfast, Overnight Oats.

Only 5 grams of sugar, packed with protein, fiber and healthy fats for long-lasting energy for optimal concentration and performance in the classroom and on the field of play!

Potassium plays a vital role in heart health, digestive, and muscular function, bone health, and more.

Only 2 percent of US adults get the recommended daily amount of 4,700 milligrams of potassium.

Potassium needs to be kept in proper balance with sodium in your blood; if you consume too much sodium, which is common if you eat a lot of processed foods, you’ll have an increased need for potassium.

Increasing calcium intake through dietary sources or supplements is unlikely to improve bone health or prevent fractures, conclude two recent studies published this week. Collectively, these results suggest that increasing calcium intake, through supplements or dietary sources, should not be recommended for fracture prevention.

But we’ve always been told we need calcium for stronger bones? There is some true to this conventional wisdom however it sorely neglects this critical element:

As I'm certain you’ve heard by now, vitamin D is a critical nutrient for optimal health and is best obtained from smart sun exposure. However, many are taking oral vitamin D, which may become problematic unless you're also getting sufficient amounts of vitamin K2.

Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue, a naturopathic physician with a keen interest in nutrition, has authored one of the most comprehensive books on this important topic, titled: Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life

"When you take vitamin D, your body creates more of these vitamin K2-dependent proteins, the proteins that will move the calcium around. They have a lot of potential health benefits. But until the K2 comes in to activate those proteins, those benefits aren't realized. So, really, if you're taking vitamin D, you're creating an increased demand for K2. And vitamin D and K2 work together to strengthen your bones and improve your heart health.

... For so long, we've been told to take calcium for osteoporosis... and vitamin D, which we know is helpful. But then, more studies are coming out showing that increased calcium intake is causing more heart attacks and strokes. That created a lot of confusion around whether calcium is safe or not. But that's the wrong question to be asking, because we'll never properly understand the health benefits of calcium or vitamin D, unless we take into consideration K2. That's what keeps the calcium in its right place."

As quick aside when ever possible I like to get my nutrients from food and the best food sources of K2 are natto (fermented soybeans) and Gouda cheese.

If those foods aren't an option due to any number of reasons (I hear natto is AWFUL!) make sure you select a supplement with vitamin D3 and K2 in a balanced formula.

Hamburgers from these restaurant chains could lead to serious health issues

Chipotle’s and Panera Bread were the only fast food chains that earned “A” ratings; they are the only two that transparently affirm the majority of the meats served come from antibiotic-free producers.

Most fast food restaurants are still serving meat and poultry raised on antibiotics, despite the known health risks. Of the 25 restaurant chains included in the report, 20 received a “Failing” score.

The US uses nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics each year to raise food animals. This accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotics used; nearly 70 percent of which are medically important for humans.

The best option for a high quality burger is making your own with local pasture raised beef/turkey/lamb. But short of that I have discovered a very good and affordable option very close by, Moo Cluck Moo.

 As luck would have it you can get high quality meat and all natural gouda (and the vitamin K2 that comes with it) with their October specials.

If you stray from a diet, focus on your next meal, not the next day!

When it comes to "healthy" nutrition, I'll often hear of people "falling off the bandwagon" for a meal - and it leading to several days of poor food choices. For this reason, I always encourage folks to "right the ship" as quickly as possible.

If you go out with friends and indulge, break down and have a few cookies, or just aren’t prepared and have to settle for whatever’s on hand, don’t give up hope for the day and plan to start over tomorrow. Tomorrow may turn into the next day, and into the next day. So what do you do?

Gather your losses and do better on your next immediate meal, instead of restarting the next day. Don’t let a bad meal turn into a bad day of eating.

This is also one reason why I don't generally advocate full-on "free" days, where folks eat anything they want as a means of "de-stressing" from six days per week of quality nutrition adherence. It's a lot easier to get things back on track after a single bad meal (whether planned or unplanned) than from a full day. One "less than ideal" meal choice won't sabotage your results over the long-term but a series of them certainly will!

That does it for this round of random thoughts on nutrition. I will definitely do it again, as they really rolled off my fingertips!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Random Thoughts On Sports Performance: September Edition

Despite being one of the fastest runners on the team and maybe even in the sport, Detroit Tiger centerfielder Anthony Gose has a very pedestrian 67% stolen base success rate. What gives?

"He's still learning how to steal bases," said Tiger manager Brad Ausmus. "He's got the speed but there's a little bit of an art form to stealing bases. Especially when you are fast. People are very aware of you, so you have to learn to pick your spots and read the pitcher.”*

There are many athletes with average speed that steal plenty of bases and succeed at a high percentage because they have developed the skill of stealing bases. Ausmus also highlights that being known, as a fast runner can also be a negative because it draws extra attention from the opposing team. Being fast can be a bonus but you definitely need to work on the details to master the craft!

Something else that young players can learn from Gose…  "When I was in A-ball, I told a reporter before the season that I was going to lead that league in stolen bases," Gose said. "And after I stole a bunch early, I told him I was going to break the team record in Low-A. I stole 76 bases and broke the record.

"The next year (in High-A) he comes to me and said he wants to hear my prediction and I said I'm going to steal 100 bases. I stole like 45 and got caught 32 times. So I'm done with predictions. I will just say I am going to steal as many as I can."*

At the lower levels of the sport you can get away with number goals (results) but as you gain more experience and advance the competition gets a lot better and focusing on results will lead to a lot of frustration similar to what Gose has experienced this season. Focus on your approach (“I am only going to run in breaking ball counts when the pitcher is in the wind-up and has a high leg-kick”) rather than setting your sights on getting to a certain number. Focus on the things that are within your control (your approach/game plan) and the results will take care of themselves, especially when you have a good approach (coaches should help you develop one)!

While we are on the topic of sticking to your approach or process…

Much was made last winter of Tiger third baseman Nick Castellanos’ work with coach Matt Martin to improve his defense.

He carried that ethic through spring training and into the season. But somewhere in May, Martin saw him slack.

"Instead of going above and beyond, he was doing the minimal," Martin said. "For a lot of guys, that can be enough." But in Casteallnos’ case it wasn’t good enough.**

"He needs to stay humble, needs to stay hungry," Martin said. "You never arrive. You have to continue to improve on a daily basis. “**

Martin uses the analogy of a knife to describe the need for constant improvement and Miguel Cabrera is the example.

"Miguel and I work on things (defensive drills) two times a week in the cage – nobody sees that here," he said. "Miguel Cabrera wants to be a complete baseball player – wants to be great at running the bases, defense, everything. It doesn't just happen. He works at it.

"And he has the best knife there is. But he continually sharpens it. Some people are like, 'Hey, I got a great knife, I'm in the big leagues, and I’ve had some success.' Well, you need to keep sharpening that knife."**

Castellanos, for a time, stopped sharpening his knife.

"I had such high expectations for Nick, especially after he came to Lubbock (Texas for off-season training) and he had such a great spring training, process-wise," Martin said. "Results, they are hit and miss. But he got off to that great start, process-wise, and he started seeing results in that first month and he settled a little bit.”**

He carried that ethic through spring training and into the season. But somewhere in May, Martin saw him slack.

"He's in a good position now, but in a month from now, he needs to be in a better position than he is now. There is no such thing as staying the same. There is only progress."**

So just in case you think you’ve got this game of baseball figured out take a cue from Miguel Cabrera, you need to constantly sharpen your skills to stay at the top of your game!

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) just hired a new manager of player development. Why is this newsworthy other than the fact that you might be a tennis fan? Because it’s another acknowledgment by an American Sports governing body  (USA Hockey is the other notable) that our kids just aren’t athletic enough to compete at the elite levels. In short our best athletes aren’t introduced to tennis during the developmental years because most young athletes have already decided to specialize and will never give tennis a shot. On top of that the best tennis prospects in our country only played tennis during their developmental years and thus don’t have the athletic foundation to support advanced skill. It won’t be easy for the USTA to develop elite American tennis players but the solution is a simple one, find better athletes!***

Sean Newcomb drew little attention from scouts as a high school pitcher in Massachusetts where the season is short and the opportunities to pile up impressive numbers is skewed by the cold Northeastern spring weather. His counterparts in the South drew more attention and also accumulated lots of wear and tear from essentially playing year round. Newcomb was “forced” to play football and basketball and while his baseball career took a bit longer to fully develop he’s doing so know at the ripe age of 22.

Yet another example of a young athlete that played multiple sports during the developmental years and then once he focused on baseball at the college level he took off, becoming a 1st round pick.  Newcomb was also attractive to professional organizations because of the relatively light workload he experienced in high school. Excessive workloads in the developmental years usually set the stage for major arm injuries at the college and pro level. Playing multiple sports keeps a young athlete’s body fresh and gives them the best opportunity to reach elite status in a single sport once they are fully matured.

Speaking of talented young left handed pitchers…

The Tigers had to trade a great player (David Price) but they received a terrific athlete in return by the name of Daniel Norris. Another guy who played 3 sports growing up and then “took off” in baseball, no doubt due to his overall athleticism!****

I know a lot of folks believe baseball is boring and even I must admit I do fear that the younger generation may turn away from the sport due to the “slow pace.” One thing all baseball coaches should encourage is for the kids to have fun at the ballpark! Here is an awesome example from two Los Angeles Dodgers on how to do it!

Whatever happened to the idea of kids racing for fun? If you are looking for the perfect “drill” to enhance speed and acceleration just put two buddies on a starting line and then tell them the first one to that cone or tree wins!  

In summary keeping things simple and mastering the basics is the "optimal" route to becoming the best athlete you can be.


Related Info:

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s athlete gets a big boost by playing multiple sports!