Just over a year ago, I quit my job as a Personal Trainer at a Gold’s Gym to be a strength and conditioning coach for a youth sports performance facility. I’ve written about what I learned during that first year before, but in reflecting further I’ve seen a large shift in perspective.
Now, I must admit that a large part of my training philosophy shifted as a result of the kids I trained hating me. Most of the kids who were training there when I first came on board are no longer training at our facility, which is understandable since the coach before me had a good bond with those athletes, and anything other than his way was a huge shift for them. I am very much a Type A person, who lives a scheduled life to the T. The coach before me was Type B, coaching in a way that was more relaxed, loose, and fun. In the three days that we did work together, I saw him come in a half hour before the class started and appeared to just come up with workouts (any prior planning I didn’t see).
I write about this contrast, because it began the shift in my philosophy that has happened over the past year. I have followed a block periodization for my own training and the training of previous athletes for the past 8 years, all of which has been in month long mesocycles. I tried to do so with my athletes right off the bat, and they hated me for it. I was accused by my athletes of being no fun, of which I had no defense: I indeed was no fun. I tried to abolish the concept of Fun Friday, a day in the training that had been in place with the previous coach, I tried to hound the basics so strictly that the kids probably thought I was a dictator. My boss asked some of the kids what they thought of me, to which all of them responded, “We hate him.”
They were right to hate me. I treated my young athletes like I had treated clients in corporate fitness: get fast, visible results so they keep training with you. I wanted them to have more weight on the bar, to be more mobile, and get faster. Training has a high turnover rate, so I thought that if I got fast results, the kids and their parents would value the program more.
But kids don’t always care about that. Kids want to have fun, to hang out with their friends, and to be “noticed” (this isn’t a new thing caused by social media, in my opinion). They want someone to care.
Fast forward a year, and the way I approach training with kids has completely changed. For starters, I stopped caring about the short-term goals of “bigger, faster, and stronger” to looking down the road. I started caring more about the big picture, about what happened after they left training. In large part, my thinking shifted after finishing Brett Bartholomew’s book Conscious Coaching, rereading the introductory chapters of Bob Takano’s Weightlifting Programming: A Winning Coaches Guide, and listening to the far more experienced coaches talk about things that were wrong youth training.
I realized I was what was wrong, and that I was attacking training for kids from the wrong angle. Takano’s book talked about the Soviet Sport Schools and their athletic development process, but I didn’t understand it until I sat through presentations at varying conferences by Angelo James (James Training Systems), James Baker (Aspire Academy), and Olie Trotman (Athletic Development Wales). These individuals lead me to question everything I had been doing with my athletes and the way I trained them. I had been trying to train kids like adults, expecting similar motivations, commitment levels, but with slightly less ability.
I started by creating a framework that I had to follow. It wasn’t perfect, and still needs even more fine tuning, but it helped bring about a shift in our training, and ultimately has led to something greater than what I imagined.
Smiles. If kids aren’t smiling, then the program isn’t working. Even for the older kids who have clear cut goals and don’t do tons of game-based work, the desire is for enjoyment in training. A mom asked me recently about how I measure the success of the program if the evaluation results (we still do a monthly combine, which the kids love!) aren’t always positive, to which my response was: “If they’re not smiling and don’t want to come back, then it’s not working.” Coaches know that consistency is key to success, and I myself had to realize that if kids don’t want to be there or aren’t having fun, they’ll be less consistent.
In one year, my perspective on coaching and youth training has turned 180 degrees. I used to be results oriented, now I find myself retention oriented. I used to be uptight and had a “stick to the plan” mindset, where now I find myself relaxed and ready to change on the fly. I know that I’m not done growing in this area either, and that a year from now I’ll probably write another article on this exact topic and say something completely different. I’m okay with that, because if nothing changes then I more than likely standing still and not moving forward. And no one got anywhere by standing in the same place.