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Team Conditioning Systems:
Working With High School Athletes

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

By Gregory "Graig" White
SJSports Physical Fitness Advisor

Working with high school athletes, you can sometimes get caught up in all of the hype that goes along it, and one of the things I think that is being “hyped” is “Speed kills”. Speed is a wonderful tool, it does kill, I get it, but what if you aren’t fast, then what can you do? Well if this is the case, then you may want to check out how to improve your agility. To many coaches around the country, agility practically defines ability in most sports.

What is agility? It has been defined as having the ability to recognize, react, accelerate, change direction and stop quickly. Which is a definition I can work with; having the ability to perform all of these skills truly put you at an advantage when it comes to competing in most sports. Athletes, and coaches who focus mainly on speed are doing themselves a great disservice, you are creating athletes who may not be working to their full capacity, it is the duty of the coach to make sure that each athlete is performing at their very best.

When working to enhance your ability, the first thing you need is a plan, like one of my favorite athletes once said, “Plan your work, work your plan” these are words to live by. In a case like this, my plan is to create athletes who can and will compete on many different surfaces and many different planes. And the first part of the body we start with is the “Core”. Abs, hips, and lower back, these sections of the body are the key. By creating strength and flexibility in these areas, good athletes become great, great athletes become legends. I have had the pleasure of working with athletes who get “it” and some who haven’t. Trust and believe, the ones who get “it” always do better than those who don’t, and by get it I mean; they have a better understanding of their bodies. Think about it; if you are working as a professional athlete of aspire to become one, you have to think of your body as a multi-million dollar “corporation”. All of its elements must work together in order to get the most production out of it, these three areas drive the “corporation”. A body that is effective and efficient tends to stay that way for along time.

Another aspect of the plan is to make sure that the athletes have as much fun as they can, the moment this stuff seems like work, I run the risk of losing them, we’ll play games like “Red light” but in our game the athlete has to stop and hold their position on one leg, if they fall over we start all over. This exercise not only promotes fun but it will help us with our balance and body awareness in space. We will do a modified “obstacle course” where the only “obstacles” are the player’s minds. We will set up cones and at each cone the athlete will have to perform a skill ranging from a cart wheel to front shoulder roll. Watching the kids go from not wanting to do this, to not only wanting to but doing them really well makes my all warm and fuzzy.

Now, just because we are having fun doesn’t mean this isn’t work, throughout the whole ordeal the one aspect that we stress is technique. I have heard way too many times how basketball players will shoot 500 jumpers a day to help them with their shots. To this I say, that if you aren’t stressing technique it doesn’t matter how many shots you take, you will still be a bad shooter. While doing the drills, we stop and correct and any and every athlete who doesn’t do the technique to my liking, yes, sometimes these things can drag on, but at what cost? I spent a four year stint at Salem High School and in those four years we didn’t lose any man-games to an injury that wasn’t a broken bone, we did have a kid that did get hurt, he tore his hamstring in the last game of the season. I truly believe that this was due to the attention we paid to our agility training in the summer before.

Which leads me to my next point; training agility also lends itself to injury prevention, training the body to compete on different planes and angles leads to bodies that are better developed physically. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone into training facilities and the only lifts the athletes were doing were on the vertical plane, squats, cleans, push press, were like the only moves these guys were doing, and at that moment I knew that these guys were in a world of trouble when it came time to move in the lateral plane, or the horizontal plane.

How often should you do agility work? In our protocol we work to do it twice a week with a couple of days in between each session, and we work to do no more than five drills per session, that may not seem like a lot but the secret here is to adjust the intensity, we start out very slow as to work on the techniques and by the end of the session we are going at full speed with a very short rest interval.

As with any training protocol it is important to assess its effectiveness, my suggestion is that you video your sessions. By doing this you can follow your progress as you go through the different moves and exercises correcting any faults in technique you may observe, this is an excellent tool to motivate athletes, once they can visually assess their own performances it makes it so much easier to correct any flaws that may arise. Most athletes truly enjoy agility training, it easily translates to improvement in the activity of their choice, remember to have fun, be mindful of your technique and great things will happen to you and for you.

Photos by Nancy Pope

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