Every few months we take all of our athletes through a series of 13 tests to evaluate their physical skills. For those who have been with us long enough to have done this previously, we have the luxury of showing them their progress in each category.
These combines have become the cornerstone of our training programs.
It’s where our athletes can learn valuable lessons about how their efforts are translating to their long-term development. Because of this system our athletes now have a clear progression for how ready they are to transition from middle school to high school, and then to college as far as their physical preparation is concerned.
And each quarter, we as a staff learn more about how the previous season went. We also learn where to focus more of our energies moving forward.
This season, after sifting through all the data, we’ve found four major keys that will guide us into the future.
TAKEAWAY #1 – OFF SEASON PROGRESS FOR OUR COMMITTED KIDS
We broke down test scores for just those kids who were completely in their off-season, and consistently trained with us 2-3 times per week throughout the winter. They also had to have completed testing in the fall, as well, so we had two sets of data to compare.
These twenty-five kids showed an 19% improvement on average in their scores over a 3 1/2 month period.
This tells us a few things:
Kids need a true off-season to advance their physical skills. Year-round game play is keeping many of our top young athletes in place physically because they’re never able to train often.
With targeted training and great effort, kids age 10-17 can make significant progress in just 2-3 hours per week. You don’t need to ‘live in the gym’.
Making a commitment, sticking to it for long enough, and training hard pays off. You may not see it from one day to the next, but it is gradually adding up with every tough session you complete.
TAKEAWAY- #2 – CAN YOU GET BETTER IN-SEASON?
Once kids move into their season, training time gets a lot tighter and a lot of kids drop their physical development training to focus solely on their sport.
But we had 33 kids in our program who faithfully stuck to a 1 session per week, in-season program who tested last fall and this spring.
At the end of their long season, where kids tend to lose strength and power, 21 of our 33 kids (64%) actually improved from their pre-season scores.
Their gains weren’t as large as our off-season group, but at a time when the goal is just to maintain what you built in the off-season, this presents a significant competitive advantage for those who can find just one hour per week to commit to training.
If you’re a kid who takes 6 months out of the year or more off from training to play a sport, know that the kids who do sneak in that one hour per week regularly are slowly getting better than you.
TAKEAWAY #3 – THE SHOULDER ISSUE
One test we run determines if an athlete’s shoulder is ‘stuck’ in a position where it sits forward and slightly inward in the socket.
This would be referred to as an internal rotation position.
In this test we’ve found that 7% of our tested athletes have one shoulder that cannot get out of an internal rotation position when isolated.
To us, this is a significant finding because it means that their other shoulder is moving just fine. Rarely, if ever, is anyone born with this asymmetrical condition.
Every one of the kids who had this contrast either played a contact sport (football, ice hockey, lacrosse), was a baseball pitcher, or had an injury to the tight shoulder in the last year.
To a fairly high degree of certainty, I would say that it is their sports that is causing this.
We cannot stress enough that just because pain may be resolved from a sports injury, that does not mean that the situation has gone away. So often, the lingering mobility problem leads to a future injury, then another, and on it goes.
And that’s to say nothing of overuse issues, which lie hidden under the surface until they eventually erupt into a much larger issue.
Identifying the problem should be followed by either some basic mobility work or, in more advanced cases, a trip to the physical therapist to correct the issue before it leads to bigger problems down the road.
TAKEAWAY #4 – ANOTHER REASON TO STRETCH PROPERLY?
We don’t have exact numbers on this, but we are seeing more and more that kids who make significant improvements on their flexibility scores are also seeing gains in their explosive power scores (vertical jump, long jump, etc).
Stretching is typically seen as an injury preventer, and not a ‘performance’ skill. But we’re starting to believe that improving your flexibility, when coupled with strength training, can be far more beneficial to performance than most athletes give it credit for.
Flexibility gains and losses are some of the quickest changes to occur, so regular work on tight areas will only show improvement if you commit to doing them long-term. Through training, team practices, and on your own, athletes should have plenty of opportunity to stay mobile and powerful over their careers.