It takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice, determination, discipline, and an inner hunger to be the best you can possibly be at your chosen sport. From a strength & conditioning standpoint, the goal is to put yourself in the best possible position physically to help your team win at the end of the season. Having worked for the Kansas City Royals as a Minor League Strength & Conditioning coach for the past 9 seasons I have seen a lot of young men do exactly what I have just described. Long before your players take the field and before the first official practice, your team should be in the weight room getting stronger and preparing themselves for the upcoming season. However, this can be complicated at times. You may question yourself, what do we do? Where do we start? How should the workouts be structured? How hard should the workouts be? You see, there are a lot of unanswered questions which I hope to simply answer for you here. In the world of strength and conditioning it can be easy to do what we like or find fun instead of doing what we need to do. Let me explain. Many times I go into high school training facilities across America and I see young athletes doing exercises that their bodies are not ready for. If you want to keep your young athletes strong, healthy, and more importantly have a direct impact on his or her athletic career, start with building an athletic foundation before providing more complex exercises and heavier loads. Ask any engineer and they will tell you that building a foundation is most important when building a house or structure. The same goes for the human body. We must build a strong solid foundation in order to improve athletic performance. By building this foundation you create a strong and stable base where your players learn, grow, and develop physically into an all-around athlete. By looking at the big picture and keeping a “what is best for the athlete” mentality you will ensure that you and your program are heading in the right direction.
Core Strength & Stabilization Training: You cannot talk about building a solid foundational base without mentioning core strength and stabilization training. Being stable at your ankle, knee, hip, spine, and shoulder joint will allow your body to transport energy, strength, and power more efficiently through the ground as you run, jump, throw, and swing. These exercises should be the ground work and focus for the first 4 weeks of training. Performing unilateral and contralateral exercises will ensure your central nervous system (CNS) is selecting your muscles in a systematic order to produce movement. Core training is much more than doing hundreds of sit ups and crunches. Exercises such as one arm rows, single leg squats, farmer walks, various weighted carries, chops, lifts, twists, and various plank exercises should be done weekly.
Strength Training: Exercise selection is very important when building a young athlete. Choose exercises that work multiple muscle groups, exercises that for the most part are on your feet, and exercises that are performed in various planes of motion. Stick with basic movements in the beginning. Some examples would be the squat, deadlift, pull-up, push-up, kettlebell swing and the overhead press. Aim to complete 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions three days a week over the course of four weeks. This will build a solid foundation for your athletes. You may find that you have one or two players who are a little more advanced. If this is the case, you can adjust their intensity of the workout. For players who are more advanced, select a heavier weight than the rest of the group and do 3-5 repetitions for the primary exercises.
Speed Agility and Quickness: The goal is to ‘build better breaks rather than bigger engines’. Many athletes can move quickly, but they have difficulty slowing down or with stopping to change direction. Due to the inability to slow down or to change direction, there is an upward trend of seeing more non-contact injuries. With proper training in the beginning, these injuries could have been avoided. During the early stages of their speed, agility and quickness training select drills that have an emphasis on eccentric deceleration. Foot ladder drills should be used to develop foot work and coordination. These drills are the mesh of movement and strength. By this I mean that your foot work will help mesh your body’s strength with the movement of sport into an efficient working machine. In order to become more athletic your players must do athletic things. Therefore, agility and plyometric training must be performed within each training session. Some examples of these exercises are cone drills, jump rope, box drops, box jumps, Mini hurdle drills, and foot ladder drills.