Coaching Young Athletes
The key is aptitude training
Brian Grasso explains his approach to teaching a movement skill to young athletes
In the initial phases of training with a young athlete (technically referred to as General Preparatory or GPP), the undeniable key and focus (outside of fun) should be aptitude development. This aptitude should transcend to both movement-based skills in their basic elements (balance, jumping, throwing, linear and lateral motion progressions etc.) as well as strength-based exercises. I have always firmly believed that basic squatting techniques, for example (along with squatting variations and unilateral efforts), should be introduced into the training sessions of young athletes.
How does one begin the process of teaching movement habits?
When working with young athletes (6 to 7 years old), one needs to adopt a progression template within which to work. No template can ever be applied to 100% of your athletes 100% of the time - that is the beauty of coaching; understanding what to apply, when and for how long (i.e. knowing when to progress or regress on an individual basis).
After 10 years of working with young athletes, I have reached one undeniable conclusion - the more I learn, the more I realize I do not know and the more I want to change my methodologies. Having said that, let us look at how I progress the teaching of a movement skill e.g. the "lateral deceleration". Firstly, break key points of the movement into skill sets that are easy to remember so that kids can recite them to you and to themselves (this makes teaching and cuing much simpler). I have four points I require my young athletes to learn/know/commit to memory with respect to the "lateral deceleration" movement skill:
Once the young athletes understand each of these points individually and in conjunction with each other I then progress the learning in three phases - statically, dynamically and randomly.
Have the athletes assume an athletic position or stance. From here, they will 'hit' the decelerating position upon command. Be patient with this step and make sure all your athletes are comfortable and competent with the motion. Add fun to this by calling out different legs unpredictably.
When you feel your athletes are ready, have them perform one or two moderately paced side shuffles prior to 'hitting' the decelerating position. The side shuffles should be slow and easy. At this point, you will begin to ascertain if further teaching is necessary (it likely will be). With the additional movement prior to the deceleration, a common mistake you will see is athletes not planting their foot outside of the box far enough. This results in a poor alignment and a less than satisfactory deceleration (even at these slow speeds). My colleague, Lee Taft, calls this a shoulder sway (because the shoulders lean towards the decelerating leg rather than sitting back in a 'braking' type position). I love this term and reflects what the actual concern looks like.
Now that the athletes are comfortable with the motion, create games and situations within which they react to a particular signal and move (unpredictably) different directions. On your 'point' for example, the athlete will take one or two moderately paced side shuffles and then 'hit' a deceleration. Have them hold the position so that both you and they can ascertain what is right and wrong with their posture.
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About the Author
Brian Grasso is the President of Developing Athletics which is a company dedicated to educating coaches, parents and youth sporting officials throughout the world on the concepts of athletic development. Brian can be contacted through his website at www.DevelopingAthletics.com
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